Sunday, May 20, 2007

Virtual Sake Tasting

About two months ago, our friend Melinda who we met at John Gauntner's Professional Sake Course in Tokyo in January, very kindly invited us to participate in her second "virtual sake tasting." Since then it has taken some time to pick sake that all in the tasting panel (particularly we in the "deprived" part of the world) could purchase that allowed us to meet the objective of comparing sake of two different (rice milling)classifications by two brewers . Ultimately, we were all able to acquire the Hananomai and Suigei offerings that came close to conforming to our goal. The panel's participants are Melinda, Etsuko, and Robert-Gilles from Japan, with Valerie, and Tim, joining us from the U.S. Check in with each of their blogs too to get the full global perspective on these sake and then, go try them yourself! Here are our notes and overall conclusions....

Hananomai: Junmai Ginjo vs. Junmai Daiginjo

The Junmai Ginjo had a pale straw color, with a nose of toasted rice and faint notes of roasted meat. Its flavor profile was dominated by lactic acid combined with a bit of sweetness on the mid-palate and a fairly rich texture. The flavors didn't linger in the mouth too long, but it had a richer finish than the Daiginjo.

In contrast, the Junmai Daiginjo had a hint of sweet vanilla aroma with more lactic acid induced vanilla yogurt flavors than the Junmai Ginjo. The finish wasn't particularly long nor was it short either, but strawberry flavors filled the whole mouth at its conclusion. While just a tad rich, it was a surprisingly simple and straight forward sake.

Suigei: Tokubetsu Junmai vs. Junmai Ginjo

The Tokubetsu Junmai had a faint aroma of mushroom and an anise flavor. It was richer than the Junmai Ginjo, and had a dry, slightly longer finish with a hint of caramel vanilla flavor.

The Junmai Ginjo's nose reminded us of fruit blossoms and its taste of fruit matched that promise. Its acidity and tartness were prominent, but well balanced and the overall character was rather dry. It was not as complex and multi-layered as the Tokubetsu Junmai, but it did have a very clean finish with sweet strawberry flavors that linger in the mouth.

Overall, we liked Suigei's high acidity level, which delivered a pleasing balance of sweetness and dryness. Hananomai to us was a little flat in the flavor department.

Our overall rankings:
Hiroko: 1. Suigei Junami Ginjo 2. Suigei Tokubetsu Junmai 3. Hananomai Junmai Daiginjo 4. Hananomai Junmai Ginjo

Rick: 1. Suigei Tokubetsu Junmai 2. Suigei Junmai Ginjo 3. Hananomai Junami Ginjo 4. Hananomai Junmai Daiginjo

Just for a fun experiment, we paired these sake with three cheeses: (a very inexpensive) fresh goat cheese from Spain, an Australian cheddar (mild), and Roncal, a sharp sheep's milk cheese from Spain.

These cheeses were not necessarily the "perfect match" for the sake that we were tasting but we like to subject all sake that we taste to the "cheese meter." The overall best match was the Australian cheddar with Hananomai Junami Ginjo and Suigei Junmai Ginjo. This Australian cheddar is not a sharp cheddar, but it paired well with both Junmai Ginjos. The creaminess of the cheese found its compliment in the acidity and tartness of these two breweries' JG offerings. The Roncal was a bit sharp for the sake, but if we had to pick one, our vote would go to the SuigeiTokubetsu Junmai, which had the tartness and body to stand up to it. With the goat cheese, the sharpness was well matched with the Suigei Tokubetsu Junmai.

Well, that's it for the moment but it's now time for dinner and we still have lots left in the bottles to try with our Asian tuna ceviche, kanpachi sashimi, ginger sauteed green beans, and daikon with mentaiko sauce....


Melinda said...

Great post!

We came up with the exact same results as far as the ranking goes!

I love that you guys tried cheese with the sake. So far, everyone has had a different approach to pairing.

etsuko said...

Hiroko-san, Thank you so much for doing the research and coming up with wonderful selections! It was really good to know that the US market offers wide variety of line from kura. I do not know how you managed to pick same rice and kobo for those two kura we tasted.
Your take on Cheddar with each sake is similar to what we had with katsuo-no-tataki. Interesting!

Hiroko and Rick said...

It is funny that we both tried to match those sake with food.

Etsuko, Katsuo no Tataki sounds so delicious and now making me so hungry.

Melinda, your food always sounds so tasty. Risotto with nihonshu, that's a great idea!

Anonymous said...

Hi Rick-san!
Hi Hiroko-san!
on this side of the East River, we enjoyed the Suigei, too although the complexity of the tokubetsu junmai won the most fans.

after our first round of tasting, we paired with chicken yakitori, which was a big hit. I did not do the cooking! it was local take out , but worked just fine ;-)

Melinda said...

Oh, I'm a butt. I meant to say thanks to Hiroko for all the research, too!

So did you guys have a tasting party, or did you tackle the task alone?

I'm also curious to know what you thought of the Hana no Mai the next day (or days later). We really found that it improved!

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