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Dewazakura Shuzo "Oka" Namazake Junmai Ginjo, Yamagata Prefecture

If there was a single sake that might be responsible for the fact that you now see sake on all sorts of restaurant menus outside of Japan, this might very well be the one.

Up until the latter part of the 20th century, there weren't high-end grades of sake. The Ginjo and Daiginjo designations which are now normally associated with ultra-premium sakes didn't exist. When they finally debuted oukaginjo.jpgin Japanese sake competitions, they quickly caught on, but even then, only within the competition circuit, as the Ginjo and Daiginjo sakes were just too expensive to produce for mass consumption. For the most part, everyone went on drinking and making their standard Futsuu-shu (undesignated) sakes, because that was basically all you could get.

Then one day in 1980, a sake brewery named Dewazakura Shuzo released the first mass market Ginjo sake, which they called "Oka," and the era of premium sake was born. It didn't hurt that this was about the time that money was pouring into Japan faster than anyone could count it, but within several years there were hundreds of premium and ultra-premium sakes available in restaurants and stores from reasonable to outrageous prices.

Slowly, slowly, they trickled over here to the United States, and now they are finding their rightful place as excellent companions to all sorts of food, thanks in part, to this little bottle and with its label of falling cherry blossoms.

Dewazakura is named for the sakura (cherry blossoms) that occupy so much of Japan's attention in the months of March and April each year, and which can be found plentifully on nearby Mount Maitzuru in the Yamagata Prefecture where Dewazakura has been making sake since 1891. This kura uses local everything: local rice, local water, and local artisans, as opposed to many sake operations who employ seasonal craftsmen who travel from brewery to brewery. Despite having some technologically advanced aspects to its production, the brewery insists on some traditional practices, such as carrying the rice in burlap sacks, rather than distributing it by air hose, which can crush the kernels of rice.

Dewazakura, now owned by the Miyasaka Breweries corporation, is known not only for this famous sake, but for producing a class of sakes called namazake, which are unpasteurized sakes. Most sakes are pasteurized, even most of the Ginjo and Daiginjo sakes on the market, but some brewers prefer the slightly more pungent and intense flavors that they claim can only be experienced without pasteurization. Namazakes, as a result, spoil much more easily, and unlike pasteurized sakes, must be kept refrigerated at all times, and generally should be drunk even more immediately than normal sakes.

This sake is made using the cryptically translated "Association #10 Yeast" which is apparently popular for premium sakes made in the northern parts of Japan, though not normally associated with aromatics as strong as those found here.

Tasting Notes:
Near colorless, with a slight tinge of bronze in the glass, this sake has a very floral nose, like a garden after a rainstorm, smelling of roses, melons, gardenias, and wet wood. In the mouth it is smooth and soft, with primary flavors of marshmallow, rainwater, and cedar, enveloped in just a slight hint of sweetness. The finish is unusually long for such delicate flavors.

Food Pairing
This would be a great match for this tempura fried soft shell crap and asparagus with a yuzu-Maui onion salad.

[Just as an aside, what is it with the complete lack of decent Japanese recipes on the Internet? Oh sure, there are 1001 recipes for miso-glazed black cod, sushi rice, and everything-teriyaki, but you would think from Google's search results that these three things were the entirety of Japanese cuisine. We're really missing out, us Americans.]

Overall Score: 9/9.5

How Much?: $30 per 500ml

This sake is available for purchase on the internet.

Comments (5)

Barbara wrote:
10.14.05 at 3:42 PM

Love the tasting notes Alder. I haven't drunk enough sake (yet) to know what to look for in aroma or taste.

Mora wrote:
10.14.05 at 4:13 PM

Excellent review, Alder. Namazakes have been favorites of mine for years. I'm thrilled more Americans are coming of age to sake, especially its nuances.

For one of the most extensive sake lists in the Bay Area, be sure to visit...and I'd be shocked if you haven't already...Sushi Ran in Sausalito. Yoshi Tome, the owner, has superb knowledge and is an outstanding host as well. Be sure to ask what sakes they have that are not on the list. Frequently they may have only a few bottles of a particular sake. The plus side: you have an opportunity to savor something special. The downside: due to limited production/distribution you may not savor it for many months to come.

My one wish for sake's further acceptance by Americans is that it be taken seriously...yes, as seriously as wine. The wild cocktail concoctions do nothing to promote its beauty. Wait...there's one more wish: for those who like nigori sake, try something different than this sweet, milky-white sake with training wheels.

Keep up the great work. Your site is a treat to read.

James Spader wrote:
10.15.05 at 7:54 PM

I'm a Kurosawa fan:

Jun-Mai Dai-Gin-Jo Sake
The ingredients and the method of fermentation and are unique.Toji gathers only the finest rice grains and then refines them to forty percent of the original grain size which is the bare essence of the rice core. this reduced rice core is then gently brewed and fermented to just the right degree as only a Toji can do,thereby earning the recognition of a Dai-Gin-Jo.Kurosawa sake, is so unique and pure in taste that it complements almost any cuisine or it can be enjoyed by itself. You will never be disappointed by choosing Kurosawa as your sake.
Alcoho1 15%-16% by vo1. Net Cont. 720 ml


samoti wrote:
10.25.12 at 6:16 AM

i don't think Miyasaka brewery is owns Dewazakura brands.
The owner called Mr Masumi Nakano but nothing to do with Miyasaka brewery.

Alder wrote:
10.25.12 at 3:43 PM


I certainly see no mention of Miyasaka on the Dewazakura web site. This article was written almost 8 years ago, and as a result, one of two things could be true: either I was mistaken at the time, or the ownership could have changed since then.



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