Monthly Archives: December 2012
I have to admit it’s been a while since I had a daiginjo. Despite their status at the top of the sake totem pole, I tend to go for more of the regular drinkin styles of sake rather than the high flying elegance of the daiginjo. Don’t get me wrong, I love daiginjo but I kind of think of them as a sake for special occasions rather than everyday drinking.
Which is why it was kind of ironic that I was at a casual dinner drinking several different sake in a lively environment when I first came across Onna Nakase Junmai Daiginjo. Although the sake on offer that evening were all of different styles and grades, there was something about this particular sake and its clean, fresh flavour that seemed to wake my palate with each sip drawing me back. Fast forward a couple of years and it was on a recent trip to Japan that I happened to spot it in a bottle shop and the memories came flooding back. So, of course I grabbed a bottle.
Onna Nakase translates as “make the girls cry”. Makers Oomuraya Brewery in Shizuoka (south-west of Tokyo by the sea, home of Mt Fuji!) have a bit of a knack for coming up with memorable names for their sake. Their Wakatake Onikoroshi Junmai (Demon Slayer) is an immensely popular sake in North America and Japan that I recently spotted on the list at O-Sushi prompting me to check up on the bottle of Onna Nakase I had stashed away. (Incidentally, there are quite a few sake in Japan that bear the Onikoroshi name. Since years gone by it has been popular as a name for sake so dry and easy to drink it would kill a demon. There is at least one other available in Australia from Kyoto brewery Kizakura).
Oomuraya have been brewing since 1832 and source their soft-water from the Southern Alps of Shizuoka. Proudly Shizuoka, about half of the rice used in production is grown locally as well as using yeast strains developed by Shizuoka breweries.
While I’m careful not to make too broad a generalisation, I find there is something summery about Shizuoka sake I can’t quite put my finger on but it is often clean, light and well suited to light foods. Upon revisiting this sake it’s easy to remember why it stood out so much that evening. Quite a show-stopper; flamboyant aromas of melon, pine, banana, watermelon are all over the place. On the palate it hits with a bold, fresh slap; there’s considerable body behind it and obvious koji presence. Umami laden, this would be fantastic with sea urchin or maybe eggplant grilled with white miso. As I said, I don’t think of daiginjo as everyday drinking style of sake and Onna Nakase proves the theory. Quite lavish and over the top, a couple of glasses and I’m wearing out. Not from the alcohol but from the decadent richness.
I’m yet to confirm that Onna Nakase is available in Australia, but the fact that Wakatake Onikoroshi is here is a good sign that we might see it soon.
Onna Nakase おんな泣かせJunmai Daiginjo
Seimaibuai: 50% Rice: Gohyakumangoku (Shizuoka) Yamadanishiki (Hyogo)
Niigata sake. Who doesn’t like Niigata sake? I mean really.
If you didn’t know already, Niigata is pounding out some of the best and most consistent sake around. Located on the Western Coast of Japan’s main island, Niigata’s climate is perfectly suited to sake brewing with very cool winters and a widely envied supply of crisp, pure water that trickles from the snow-capped mountains to the underground well supply.
A sake I still don’t know much about but enjoyed tremendously from Niigata is Koshi no Kanchubai (Mid-winter Plum of Niigata). This particular one is a Ginjo Nama (unpasteurized). Namazake gives a fantastic bright zippiness to the sake which makes it great for summer and gives a lively vibe you don’t always get from pasteurized sake.
This Koshi no Kanchubai has all that fresh nama zip and a refreshing yeasty aroma driven by strawberries and melon. Mild acidity and a nice weight balance it out very nicely. A good solid textbook nama rich with umami that would’ve been great with some scallops but alas I have none, so I just drank it on its own. Lonely, but delish! Sake from Niigata, you rarely go wrong.
It seems everywhere you look these days someone is talking about matching food and booze. Wine dinners, beer dinners, whiskey dinners; matching a few courses of gourmet cuisine with the chosen beverage to show off the versatility of food and drink matching. Having been to a few of these I have to admit one of the things I have never understood is something I call the “forced match”. This is where the wine or beer is matched to a dish that it just isn’t suited to in an attempt to show there are “no boundaries!” I’m all for being open-minded but sometimes you just gotta let go and accept that some matches aren’t meant to be. Red wine and Indian food, beer and sushi (yes, I mean it!) are a couple of examples but the most common one I see is wine and cheese. Sure, eating cheese with wine offers the feeling of sophistication and there are some great matches particularly with dessert wines and fortifieds, but in many cases it just doesn’t “go”. Step in sake! Despite cheese not having a long or traditional place in Japanese cuisine it has definitely been embraced by chefs and restaurants. Some would suggest it is the umami in cheese that appeals to the Japanese palate. Regardless, it is arguably the presence of umami in cheese that suits it so well to sake.
If I can find the discipline I hope to do a few posts over the next few weeks exploring the sake and cheese combo starting today with Tamanohikari Junmai Ginjo Yamahai (Kyoto) and some simple Jindi Reserve Washed Rind cheese.
But first, a tangent…Yamahai sake is basically one the old schools of sake brewing. As mentioned in a previous post the original brewing method was Kimoto where the rice, koji, water and yeast would be stirred and pounded into a puree to get the fermentation enzymes active. However in 1909 it was discovered that all that stirring and pounding wasn’t necessary and the moto (mash) would ferment on its own with just a slight increase in water temperature. This method relies on naturally occurring lactic acid to find its way into the mash and take out any unwanted micro-organisms and bacteria. This style of sake produces a flavour profile similar but not the same as Kimoto. High acidity is a common thread but Yamahai tends to be much more funky and gamey.
Back to the cheese. While this particular cheese is not overly pungent like some washed rind cheese can be, it does have the funk. The milder acidity of sake compared to wine helps it melt in with the soft cheese rather than cut through it and those gamey, earthy flavours in both the cheese and the sake line up perfectly. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, sake and cheese is the best match you’ve never tried!
Tama no Hikari Junmai Ginjo Yamahai
Kyoto, Seimaibuai: 60%