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02.18.2006

Kizakura Tokuri-Ikkon Dai Ginjo Sake

kizakura_bottle.jpgJust to the south of downtown Kyoto, Japan, a 15 minute train ride from the main station brings the lucky visitor to Fushimi, a sleepy little section of the city that is tucked against the Eastern mountains. Here, after wandering up through quiet streets, you will find one of my favorite places to walk in all of Japan, a shrine named Fushimi Inari, where it is possible to walk literally for miles under a solid canopy of bright orange Tori gates, one after another, each inscribed and painted by a reverent donor. These surreal paths wind their way up the mountain, past many shrines dedicated to the patron Shinto god, which takes the form of a fox, to a small crossroads where one can sit on the deck of a small rest house, and gaze out over Kyoto far below on the valley floor. Idyllic hardly begins to describe it.

Probably even before it was known for this shrine, Fushimi was known for sake. Home of the famous Fukusui well, whose mountain spring fed water "Fushi Mizu" was said to make the best sake, this area has been the center of sake production in Kyoto for many years, and some claim (with reasonable authority) that it is the earliest recorded sake producing location in the country. Many believe that Kyoto's deep cold winters and the purity of the air that comes with them are ideal for sake brewing (the most active steps of which take place during the winter).

The Kizakura Sake Brewery (named after the rare yellow cherry blossom) was established in Fushimi in 1925 and has been one of the areas major producers since that time, and a pioneer in sake advertising as well as packaging. Lest American wine drinkers think that they are on the cutting edge of alternative packaging methods, Kizakura has been promoting Sake in a box for decades!

Kizakura is one of the larger producers in Western Japan, but they continue to experiment with methods that one might consider to be more artisan in nature, including a focus on the use of wild yeasts and strains of the koji mold which are used to begin the sake fermentation process. Like many reasonably successful Japanese companies, Kizakura has its hands in many different businesses in addition to its primary role as sake brewery, perhaps most notably a restaurant named Kizakura Hanashibe in Tokyo.

This particular sake, as far as my very poor command of Japanese can make out, is called "A Cup of Chestnuts." It is a Dai Ginjo sake, which means that the rice kernels have been polished down to at least 50% of their former size prior to being fermented. It has 15.5% alcohol and 1.4% acidity. I do not believe it is a Junmai sake, which means that at some point in the fermentation process a bit of alcohol was added, a common process that can sometimes make for a smoother final product.

I believe this sake is only sold in 180ml bottles.

Tasting Notes:
Perfectly clear in the bottle with a reasonably high viscosity, this sake has a slightly nutty nose (perhaps the reason for its name?) of dried mixed nuts and malted milk. In the mouth it has a decent acidity and a woody character with flavors of cedar, malted milk and a little cool minerality of rainwater that is overshadowed by a slight bit of alcohol flavor on the finish. Pleasant and mild, but not particularly complex.

Food Pairing:
This sake would be an excellent accompaniment to Aji (horse mackerel) sashimi with a light ponzu sauce.

Overall Score: 8.5

How Much?: $12

This sake is difficult to find for purchase on the Internet. It is imported by the Nishimoto Trading Company in Los Angeles.

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