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08.25.2005

Uchigasaki Hoyo "Kura no Hana" Junmai Daiginjo Sake

Part of the joy traveling to another country for an extended period of time comes from the opportunity to not just sample tidbits of culture, art, food, and drink, but to stew yourself in them for periods of time and figure out what you really think.

In my 18 months or so spent living in Japan, I didn't "figure out" a lot about Japanese culture, despite my enjoyment of every minute, but I did completely fall in love with sake.

My first real experience of sake beyond the hot little carafes that provided endless sake bomb entertainment in college was at one of the first dinners I had in Japan. Some Japanese colleagues took me to a members-only sushi restaurant and when I expressed some curiosity about sake, they were all too willing to indulge me. The first chilled glass of Kubota Manju was a revelation that there was a depth to sake experience that rivaled my experience with wine.

With some ad hoc guidance from business colleagues, and a store that sold sake just down the street from where I was living, I slowly began to discover some of the range and variety of sake, and found it the truly perfect companion to much of Japanese cuisine that I was also discovering at the same time.

I suppose I have those business colleagues to blame for what is now a fairly expensive taste in sake. I have no doubt that I haven't actually sampled the true upper echelons of sake production (the sake equivalent of a 1982 Lafite Rothschild) but I do tend to only be satisfied by what are known as "ultra premium" sakes.

Of course, we don't really have a good translation of the various classifications of sake that exist, so it's best to just learn the Japanese classifications. The grades of sake, ranging from "Futsuu" at the lowest end to "Junmai Daiginjo" at the highest end, have to do not with the specific location of the where the sake is made (though there are some areas which are renown for their sake) but with the kuro.no.hana.label.gif quality of rice and water used to make the sake, whether alcohol is added, and in particular, with how much of the outer part of the rice kernel is milled or polished away before being made into sake. The more the rice is polished, and the absence of added alcohol generally means a higher grade of sake.

This sake is of the highest possible grade, a Junmai Daiginjo-shu (the -shu just means sake), which indicates that it was brewed with rice kernels that have been washed and polished to the point that they are at least 50% of their former size, and contain only the sweetest, purest part of the rice kernel. This classification also means that the sake does not have any added alcohol.

Known in English as "Fair Maiden," this sake is made by a family run sake brewery named Uchigaseki in the Miyagi prefecture of northeast Japan. The brewery has been making sake for over 300 years under the sign of the phoenix, which is said to protect the family.

"Kuro no Hana" is handmade in small quantities during the cold winter months using the local "sasanishiki" sake rice. Like nearly all sake, it does not have a vintage, and is made every year with only minor variations in taste and quality.

I hope that I've pulled the right label off of the brewery's web site. Perhaps some of my Japanese readers can correct me if I haven't.

Tasting Notes:
Colorless in the glass, this sake has a nose of wet pine planks, light grape notes, and hints of floral aromas. In the mouth it has a reasonable but not ideal acidity and a somewhat viscous mouthfeel carrying flavors of rainwater, light melon, and nasturtium flowers that taper into a rather long finish.

Food Pairing:
This sake would be a great accompaniment to this tomato-basil crab bisque.

Overall Score: 9

How Much?: $30 per 500ml bottle.

This sake is available for purchase on the Internet.

Comments (10)

Olivia wrote:
08.25.05 at 1:13 PM

Very nice post Alder! Sounds like a wonderful way to get to know sake. Have you checked out True Sake in Hayes Valley? It's reputedly the nation's first sake specialty store and the owner, Beau Timkin, is a great guy and true enthusiast. Would be curious to hear your thoughts on the selection.

Barbara wrote:
08.26.05 at 8:47 PM

I had my first sake experience this week when we received a parcel from Japan which included 3 bottles of sake. Our Japanese house guest was unable to tell us how sake is made so your post is very useful. Like you, I'm besotted and eager to learn more and start tasting the different sakes.

Alder wrote:
08.27.05 at 9:48 AM

Barbara,

I'll have a more complete post on how Sake is made next week, and will be posting about the largest Sake tasting in the world outside of Japan, which is coming to the US (San Fran, NY, and LA) in September.

Alder wrote:
08.27.05 at 11:32 AM

Olivia,

Sadly (and embarassingly) I have STILL not been to True Sake. That's sort of like not seeing the movie Sideways, which I didn't do until far after I should have. It's high on my list. I'm gonna have to go get dinner at Frjtz next week and stop by afterwards.

Jean-Louis wrote:
08.30.05 at 10:53 PM

there is a big deal sake tasting at the nikko on 9/15 (is that the one you meant, Alder?) I went last year and was delighted. Lots of choices and excitement.

Alder wrote:
08.30.05 at 10:56 PM

Yep. I'll be posting the event listing later this week.

Alder

Tom wrote:
09.17.05 at 6:24 PM

There is a store on the California penisula, that I heard deals in Sake. Alot of different Sakes. Does anyone know that store? I have read about it, seen it on TV, but of course I did not write it down, and being a Sake lover, I guess I am just plain stupid.

Recomendation: do you like a sweet sake? dewa zakura. dry? yamada nishiki.

And of course if you have money- Kubota

Alder wrote:
09.17.05 at 6:56 PM

Tom,

I don't know about one on the penninsula. Only the one in the city mentioned in the comments above.

Kubota is one of my all time favorites.

Miss K wrote:
08.27.08 at 8:55 PM

I brought home a bottle of this and enjoyed it with some fine slices of Scottish salmon sashimi and Tuna. Very elegant and delicate sake with a beautiful, light yet lingering fragrance to it. Enjoy it chilled but you'll find it reveals a nice, rounded warm blanket of flavor on your palate. Great to savor and easy to sip on over good food and the company of good friends & family. Do beware, your buzz will creep up on you without warning!

10.19.14 at 2:31 AM

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