Review By W. Blake Gray
Stop the presses -- no, wait, this isn't printed. OK, stop the Internet -- I found an excellent nigori sake!
Nigori is the White Zinfandel of sake. It's tremendously popular, particularly with people just discovering sake. It tends to be very sweet. And experts turn up their noses at it, usually with good reason.
Nigori sakes are white and cloudy because they contain bits of rice that didn't complete fermentation. They have an interesting, chewy texture. What turns off sake aficionados, more than their sweetness, is their lack of complexity -- you don't get the fruity, floral flavors and aromas that are the hallmark of quality sakes. Nigori sake reminds me of amazake, a warm, sweet, nonalcoholic rice drink sold at winter festivals in Japan. Imagine saying that a wine reminds you of cocoa.
John Gauntner wrote in 2005 on his authoritative sake-world site, "I have not had a full glass of nigori-zake in at least umpteen years, maybe more."
I'm generally in the ABN (anything but nigori) crowd myself. Just as with White Zin, I think nigori sakes are great for the industry because they introduce new drinkers who can move up later. But I don't order White Zin off the wine list either, even the reserve list.
Here's an example of the U.S. market affecting Japanese sake production: enough people here like nigori sakes, and are willing to spend money for them, that a few companies make upscale versions. (There's a difference from white Zin; the most expensive white Zin I could find online was $14.99.)
For Kamoizumi brewery in Hiroshima prefecture, making a premium nigori falls in line with company history.
The Maekake family who run Kamoizumi committed to unfiltered junmai production in 1971 when most of Japan insisted on charcoal filtering. Where most breweries saw impurities, Kamoizumi tasted complexities. But Kamoizumi junmais had a touch of color at a time when all sakes were expected to be clear. That decision had to be a lot more difficult than the decision to take Nigori upscale.
Kamoizumi "Summer Snow" Nigori Ginjo is good enough to seduce an ABN drinker. In fact, my bottle emptied with surprising alacrity.
Hiroshima is known for its soft water, a good base to start from. This sake is not chunky; instead it has a viscous mouthfeel. Yet it also rings with acidity and is not at all like the sweet, stewy nigoris that dominate the market.
There's a strong olive-oil note in aroma and flavor, something I don't usually detect in sake. You also taste notes of white peach, cream (of course), lemon zest and clay. The medium-long finish never cloys. It's only very slightly sweet; with an SMV of +1, it's akin to a German halbtrocken Riesling. I have tasted many expensive non-white Zinfandels that have more residual sugar than this.
It's the best nigori sake I've ever had. Is that damning with faint praise? No, but at the same time I'm not sure it's convincing to the typical nigori drinker, since I'm openly ABN. Yet I really liked this sake; my bottle emptied rapidly. If nigori is the White Zinfandel of sake, this one's the dry Pinot Noir-based rose.
Appropriately for an American-targeted product, this sake would work with American-style sushi, like spicy tuna roll, which overwhelms the delicate flavors of daiginjos, for example. The viscous mouthfeel makes it an interesting partner for rich-tasting fish, like salmon sashimi or steamed sablefish. I actually had it with slightly spicy Chinese food (salt and pepper squid, pea sprouts with garlic) and it was outstanding.
Overall Score: around 9
How much?: $28
This sake is available for purchase on the Internet.
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