Sake Tasting Notes

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P. Willenberg
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Sake Tasting Notes

#1 Post by P. Willenberg » February 14th, 2018, 8:36 pm

I write lots of Sake reviews since I have a monthly newsletter. I thought I'd post them here and hopefully start some discussion. Please post your tasting notes too and feel free to ask me any questions.

Most sake is pasteurized twice, once before bottling and once after, but Namazake aren’t which typically gives them fresh, heady aromas and a slightly thicker texture. Refrigerate these and once you open them, you’ll need to drink within a day or two.
You’ll notice Kanji for Namazake 生酒 has the same first character as Kimoto 生酛 and it means living. So for Nama, it’s a live sake (unpasteurized) and for Kimoto it’s a live starter (bacteria).
One of the Sake below, the Eiko Fuji is a Namachozo which means it’s been pasteurized only once right before bottling. I included it this month so you can compare the difference between completely unpasteurized and pasteurized very lightly, only once.


Shichi Hon Yari Junmai Muroka Namazake
Pours a clear color. Nice grain on the nose but it’s subtle and relatively soft. There’s talcum, just a hint of pear juice and freshly dried hay. This is playing tricks though because it’s a blockbuster in the mouth. Incredibly thick palate with lots of pear juice. Chewy! Fleshy! There’s no way you could predict the depth of the palate from the soft nose. The finish is relatively long but clean echoing more of the grain from the nose. Enjoy this before and during dinner.

This is from one of the oldest and smallest breweries in Japan: founded in the 1540s and operated with only 4 employees. They even have antique spears from the 1500s. The rice variety is a relatively new one though, developed in the 1960s. It’s designed for Junmai type sake where the rice is the dominant character, not fruity Ginjo aromas. It’s expensive to work with because it’s not as highly bred as some other more common rice like Yamadanishiki.
Given the small production volume and high quality, this Sake is very difficult to find, even in Tokyo. Only a handful of cases came into the US and you can try it for $135 a bottle at Sushi Nakazawa in New York ;)

Shichida Junmai Ginjo Muroka Namazake
This favorite sells out in moments every year so I bought a couple cases just for you. You’ll remember this brewery from the October offer featuring the Shichida Sake. Their website has a number of great videos if you’re interested in Sake brewing.
It pours clear with heady aromas of fresh plums. The mouthfeel is full as you’d expect but then it’s incredibly invigorating. Reminds me of a sunny winter walk. There’s a supporting acidity keeping it in perfect balance. As the fantastic palate lingers, there’s cocoa powder and earth, finishing very long with that pitch perfect acidity sitting on the back of your throat. This is a Sake for lovers of Hermitage red wines! I can likely get you a couple extra bottles of this if you want, more than just the one that’s in the offer. Let me know by Monday.

Eiko Fuji Junmai Ginjo Namachozo
Founded in 1778 this brewery is lead by the 13th generation family. It’s 50% polish and could be labeled as a Daiginjo. As I mentioned earlier, this is a namachozo, or only pasteurized once. The brewery holds this at 5 celsius until it’s ready for shipment. Once you get it, you should store it there too if possible (41F).
The nose is stunning with fleshy white peach aromas and some crisp green apple. The palate delivers the flesh and cream you’re expecting but it’s also quite clean and in balance. Often Sake like this is described as “harmonious.” There’s a hint of rice here and a touch of alcohol which isn’t the flaw it would be in wine. I recommend drinking this as an aperitif or with lighter foods such as mild cow cheeses or fresh burrata.

Akishika Okarakuchi “Super Dry” Junmai Ginjo Muroka Nama Genshu
Brewed in the mountains between Kyoto and Osaka this Sake is showcases the biodynamically grown local rice. It’s fermented to one of the driest Sake in the world. Indeed is has been labeled O-Karakuchi, Super Dry. It pours just slightly yellow from the lack of charcoal filtration. The nose is soft and elegant showing chalk and talcum with a touch of grape skin. The palate is really clean and well put together with some raw mushroom common in nama. There’s a surprising amount of juicy texture for as dry as it is. Given the rice is polished to 60% it is labeled as a Ginjo but I think of this more like a Tokubetsu.

Soma no Tengu “Forest Spirit” Junmai Ginjo Muroka Nama Genshu Usu-Nigori
This is an Usu-Nigori or light Nigori. All Sake by law is filtered but this one is just coarsely filtered to keep some of the lees in. This gives it a nice texture without the treacle of that pink bottle at conveyor belt sushi restaurants. The nose is incredibly fresh and vibrant with lots of juicy Meyer lemon. At first you might get a funky smell but that will blow off quickly. There is, however some fermented bean notes along with triple cream cheese--fascinating!. The voluptuous palate is incredibly juicy featuring salted pomelo. The palate echoes with some pulp texture but not cloying or sweet in any way. The finish lingers with the lemon returning and nicely balanced acidity. Pair with Issan Thai. This is a fresh batch and is tasting profoundly more bold than the last batch. It’s also now in 720ml instead of 500ml.

Hakurosuishu “Moon’s Mountain Dew”Junmai Ginjo Muroka Nama Genshu
Made with Dewasansan rice which is typically specific to Yamagata. It’s a relatively new variety developed to brew Sake in the cold climate of the Dewa Mountains. Similar to Omachi rice, you’ll sometimes find iron and blueberries. This pours just slightly off clear and has an incredibly huge nose you can smell from across the room like a Daiginjo twice the price. On this roller coaster we get juicy tangerine, sweet floral vanilla, crenshaw melon and even tipping toward marshmallow the sweetness of the nose is so intense. As it opens it there’s more grain and iron with some supporting wild rice on the back end. The palate is thick and sweetly textured. The finish is perfectly clean and balanced in every way.
Paul (@pwillen1 on CT, Twitter, Instagram)
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Scott Butler
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Sake Tasting Notes

#2 Post by Scott Butler » February 15th, 2018, 11:55 am

Nice notes, I am a big sake fan, I don't understand it that well where I can talk about it, but I love it.

Have you ever had Kikusui Funguchi sake that comes in a can? Super good stuff, though not for the meek, they tend to be 18-19% abv. Packs a punch!
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#3 Post by Kris Patten » February 18th, 2018, 12:44 pm

I always drink Watari Bune 55 when out. We represent a pretty vast portfolio of Sake as about 12 or 13 years ago I hired the first dedicated Sake Specialist in WA, so it's a house favorite beverage. I even used to drink sparkling Sake after mowing the lawn vs. beer, usually Hou Hou Shou.

Thanks for starting this, looking forward to some recommendations.
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Sake Tasting Notes

#4 Post by P. Willenberg » February 21st, 2018, 7:56 am

Scott Butler wrote:Nice notes, I am a big sake fan, I don't understand it that well where I can talk about it, but I love it.

Have you ever had Kikusui Funguchi sake that comes in a can? Super good stuff, though not for the meek, they tend to be 18-19% abv. Packs a punch!
Yes! there is also a 3 year aged version in the same can format.
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Sake Tasting Notes

#5 Post by P. Willenberg » February 21st, 2018, 7:58 am

Kris Patten wrote:I always drink Watari Bune 55 when out. We represent a pretty vast portfolio of Sake as about 12 or 13 years ago I hired the first dedicated Sake Specialist in WA, so it's a house favorite beverage. I even used to drink sparkling Sake after mowing the lawn vs. beer, usually Hou Hou Shou.

Thanks for starting this, looking forward to some recommendations.
Watari Bune 55 was my aha moment in Sake. great stuff. It's only pasteurized once like the Eiko Fuji mentioned above which is one reason it has a thicker mouthfeel than most Sake. It's also brewed with an heirloom rice (though I'm sure you've read he back of the can and know that).

Everything above is available in Seattle though some may be allocated.
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Sake Tasting Notes

#6 Post by Kris Patten » February 22nd, 2018, 7:56 pm

P. Willenberg wrote:
Kris Patten wrote:I always drink Watari Bune 55 when out. We represent a pretty vast portfolio of Sake as about 12 or 13 years ago I hired the first dedicated Sake Specialist in WA, so it's a house favorite beverage. I even used to drink sparkling Sake after mowing the lawn vs. beer, usually Hou Hou Shou.

Thanks for starting this, looking forward to some recommendations.
Watari Bune 55 was my aha moment in Sake. great stuff. It's only pasteurized once like the Eiko Fuji mentioned above which is one reason it has a thicker mouthfeel than most Sake. It's also brewed with an heirloom rice (though I'm sure you've read he back of the can and know that).

Everything above is available in Seattle though some may be allocated.
Yeah....I'm the guy who sells it. :)

Technically now I represent it and our team sells it. I'm just a desk jockey now.

If you're in Oregon, you must know Marcus who works with us.

If you make it to Seattle let me know, I haven't pulled Sake samples in far too long.
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#7 Post by P. Willenberg » February 23rd, 2018, 9:14 am

I will take you up on that. I am from Seattle and travel there often.
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#8 Post by Brandon R » February 26th, 2018, 1:46 pm

Sake offline! I am a true sake novice, having only tasted the cheap crap at sushi places. I'm eager to try something that is considered "good" or better by someone who knows what they're talking about. Where is the best place to buy, Kris?
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#9 Post by P. Willenberg » March 1st, 2018, 12:47 pm

Brandon R wrote:Sake offline! I am a true sake novice, having only tasted the cheap crap at sushi places. I'm eager to try something that is considered "good" or better by someone who knows what they're talking about. Where is the best place to buy, Kris?
If you're in Seattle, Uwajimaya and Sake Nomi both have excellent selections. Online there's True Sake in SF or I do as well.
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#10 Post by P. Willenberg » March 7th, 2018, 7:25 pm

Here are three expertly made Sake from the Tenzan Brewery in Saga under the label named after the President, Shichida. He’s a brilliant experimentalist known to try different rice and yeast combinations. It was established in 1873 and he’s the 5th generation president.

Shichida Junmai Natsujun
This is a very special seasonal Sake. Natsu are summer sake, often pasteurized only once. It’s brewed earlier in the year, then held unpasteurized at the brewery. It’s made with Dewasansan rice which is typically specific to Yamagata. You may have had this rice in Sake from Dewazakura. It’s a relatively new variety developed to brew Sake in the cold climate of the Dewa Mountains. Similar to Omachi rice, you’ll find iron and blueberries. It’s brewed at a relatively lower alcohol of 14% so feel free to keep this stashed in the fridge for easy drinking. If you like it, I encourage you to try a bolder Sake made from the same rice Hakurosuishu “Moon’s Mountain Dew” Junmai Ginjo Nama.

Shichida Yamahai Junmai
This pulls in a totally different direction. Because of the warm lactic fermentation that creates natural acidity, Yamahai typically aren't fruity at all. Instead it shows Porcini mushrooms and savory Coppa. It has a rich, beautiful mouthfeel with a long nutty finish. Pair this with charcuterie or cooked savory dishes such as root vegetables or pork.

Shichida Junmai Daiginjo
It is perfect. It’s made from local Saga Yamadanishiki milled down to 45%. I get sweet cherry and white flowers on the high toned nose then super clean pear in the mouth. Drink this as an aperitif. Not the greatest value but really fantastic.
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Sake Tasting Notes

#11 Post by Kris Patten » March 8th, 2018, 5:01 pm

Brandon R wrote:Sake offline! I am a true sake novice, having only tasted the cheap crap at sushi places. I'm eager to try something that is considered "good" or better by someone who knows what they're talking about. Where is the best place to buy, Kris?
I'd ask your local wineshop to order some for you, Waji is best retail selection. I go to Kisaku for sushi, good selection and prices.
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#12 Post by P. Willenberg » March 9th, 2018, 6:26 am

Thank you for the Kisaku rec Kris!
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#13 Post by Dale Bowers » March 11th, 2018, 8:03 pm

nobu sake hokusetsu shuzo co daiginjo tk4

I have a bottle of this. Know nothing about what I have. Any help?
Cheers!

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#14 Post by P. Willenberg » March 12th, 2018, 7:51 am

Dale Bowers wrote:nobu sake hokusetsu shuzo co daiginjo tk4

I have a bottle of this. Know nothing about what I have. Any help?
I have not had this.
-It appears to be a white label product produced for the Nobu restaurants. I've actually had better success with these types of bottlings than with wine.
-It's a daiginjo meaning the highest grade of polish. At least half of each rice grain has been polished away, meaning the resulting Sake is very clean, without flaws or funk.
-It's also from Niigata which is famous for their soft water Sake. I'd expect a very expressive nose, then a short and clean finish, almost clipped, assuming it is typical of the region.
-I would serve it at cellar temperature in a white wine glass.
-It won't age, so drink up now with some cheese and charcuterie.
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#15 Post by Dale Bowers » March 12th, 2018, 10:24 am

P. Willenberg wrote:
Dale Bowers wrote:nobu sake hokusetsu shuzo co daiginjo tk4

I have a bottle of this. Know nothing about what I have. Any help?
I have not had this.
-It appears to be a white label product produced for the Nobu restaurants. I've actually had better success with these types of bottlings than with wine.
-It's a daiginjo meaning the highest grade of polish. At least half of each rice grain has been polished away, meaning the resulting Sake is very clean, without flaws or funk.
-It's also from Niigata which is famous for their soft water Sake. I'd expect a very expressive nose, then a short and clean finish, almost clipped, assuming it is typical of the region.
-I would serve it at cellar temperature in a white wine glass.
-It won't age, so drink up now with some cheese and charcuterie.
Awesome info Paul. Much appreciated. [cheers.gif]
Cheers!

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#16 Post by P. Willenberg » March 12th, 2018, 10:39 am

My pleasure. Happy to decode any other bottles board members have. Or restaurant Sake lists, send those my way too!
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