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09.12.2009

The World's Best Sake: Tasting at the Joy of Sake Soiree 2009

joyofsake_yoshis_2009.jpgOne of the public wine tastings I most look forward to every year doesn't serve a single drop of wine. There aren't many opportunities (OK, there are almost none) to taste a large number of high quality sakes anywhere outside of Japan, let alone here in San Francisco. Which is why I make an annual pilgrimage to a yearly event called the Joy of Sake, which is effectively the largest sake tasting outside of Japan. This event highlights the finalists and winners of something called the Annual U.S. Sake Appraisal, which is the largest (and only?) sake competition held outside of Japan.

Much to my continued delight, America seems to be discovering fine sake at a fantastic rate. And I don't mean the hot stuff that every sushi restaurant has been serving since the early Eighties. Apart from the dedicated and authentic Japanese restaurants that even years ago managed to import just enough to serve their customers, fine sake first began gaining traction about 8 or 10 years ago in luxury dining restaurants. I remember my surprise when I found some very nice sakes on the list at the French Laundry for the first time. From the upper echelons of dining, sake has spread to nearly every sort of moderately upscale restaurant, and is also featured in many of the hippest new cocktails in lounges and bars across the country.

All of which is why, despite the economy, nearly 300 people turned out this past Thursday at Yoshi's Nightclub for a slightly modified version of the Joy of Sake event. Because of tightening budget constraints and concerns about how many people would attend, instead of showing all 250 or so finalists and medal winners from the competition, the organizers chose a smaller list of 140 sakes -- the medal winners and a few select finalists -- to offer to San Francisco sake lovers.

The event was a bit of a mixed bag. Yoshi's was an interesting choice for a venue. The live music and a significant supply of food were appreciated. However, the layout of the restaurant, coupled with what seemed like an oversold crowd meant that the space felt pretty cramped and people waited on line for a long time to get food. Luckily Yoshi's made sure there was a lot of food available, so it didn't seem to run out, at least during the two or so hours that I was there.

At one point during the tasting, the fire alarm went off, complete with strobe lights and automated "please proceed to the nearest exit" announcements, which were gamely ignored by a crowd of people that, despite the conditions, seemed to be having a pretty good time.

Strangely, the organizers only brought a single bottle of each sake for the tasting. This was a huge shock to me, but given that people were tasting using the traditional eyedroppers, only the most popular sakes ran out completely in the first couple of hours.

The event organizers dropped the price by $30 to $50, no doubt partially just out of concern for how many people would come, but as one of my readers said recently, the event seemed like it lacked around $30 worth of excitement that it has offered in past years.

I for one would love to see the event back at a large (and better lit) venue like Moscone center.

New York sake lovers should take note, the "full" version of the event will be held on September 24th in Manhattan.

For those of you less familiar with sake as a beverage, especially the various grades of quality, I recommend my article entitled, Sake Drinking, Serving, Storing, and Enjoying.

Finally, one of the minor reasons I love sake is the beauty of many of the labels. A while back I started "collecting" them in photographic form. If you're interested, you might take a look at my collection of sake label photos.

OK, now, let's get down to it!


Daiginjo Sakes


SAKES SCORING BETWEEN 9.5 AND 10
Obata Shuzo Manotsuru "Maho" (Junmai Daiginjo), Niigata.


SAKES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9.5
Dewazakura Shuzo Dewazakura "Daiginjo", Yamagata.
Okunomatsu Shuzo Okunomatsu "Junmai Daiginjo", Fukushima.
Okunomatsu Shuzo Daiginjo Shizukusake "Juhachidai Ihei", Fukushima.
Shimizu Jozo Zaku "Daichi" Daiginjo, Mie.
Dewazakura Shuzo Dewazakura "Ichiro", Yamagata.
Kamenoi Shuzo Kudoki Jozu "Junmai Daiginjo" Aiyama, Yamagata.
Momokawa Murai Family "Daiginjo Sake", Aomori.
Suishin Yamane Honten "Kiji Meiyo Suishin" Junmai Daiginjo, Hiroshima.

SAKES SCORING BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5
Akita Seishu Dewatsuru "Hihaku" Junmai Daiginjo, Akita
Akita Seishu Kariho "Koun" Daiginjo, Akita
Amabuki Shuzo Amabuki "Aiyama" Daiginjo, Saga
Ishimoto Shuzo Koshi no Kanbai "Chotokusen", Niigata
Nanbu Bijin Nanbu Bijin "Daiginjo", Iwate
Saito Shuzo Eikun "Ichigin" Junmai Daiginjo, Kyoto
Shirakabe Gura Shirakabe Gura "Daiginjo", Hyogo
Yasumoto Shuzo Hakugakusen "Sen Daiginjo", Fukui
Aoki Shuzo Kakurei "Daiginjo", Niigata
Honda Shoten Tatsuriki "Nihon no Sakura", Hyogo
Nishiyama Shuzojo Kotsuzumi "Shinraku", Hyogo
Tonoike Shuzoten Seishu Sanran "Daiginjo", Tochigi
Yoshida Shuzoten Tedorigawa "Yamahai Junmai Daiginjo", Ishikawa

SAKES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
Aihara Shuzo Ugonotuski "Junmai Daiginjo", Hiroshima
Ippongi Kubo Honten Denshin "First Class" Junmai Daiginjo, Fukui
Kodama Jozo Taiheizan "Tenko", Akita
Morishima Shuzo Taikan "Hizoshu", Ibaraki
Nanbu Shuzojo Hanagaki "Premium Gentei Shichiemon", Fukui
Takenotsuyu Hakurosuishu "Junmai Daiginjo" , Yamagata
Tanabe Shuzo Echizen Misaki "Gin no Shizuku", Fukui
Tonoike Shuzoten Seishu Sanran "Daiginjo Shizukuzake", Tochigi
Uchigasaki Shuzoten Hoyo "Yamadanishiki Daiginjo", Miyagi
Yamanashi Meijo Shichiken "Onakaya", Yamanashi
Kato Kichibee Shoten Born "Tokusen" Junmai Daiginjo, Fukui
Kinoshita Shuzo Tamagawa "Gold Medal" Daiginjo, Kyoto
Masuda Tokubee Shoten Tsuki no Katsura "Heiankyo Munouyaku Iwaimai", Kyoto
Nakashimaya Shuzojo Kanenaka "Kimoto Junmai Daiginjo", Yamaguchi
Saura Urakasumi "Yamadanishiki Junmai Daiginjo", Miyagi

SAKES SCORING BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
Chiyonosono Shuzo Chiyonosono "Excel" Daiginjo
Kamenoi Shuzo Kudoki Jozu "Daiginjo"
Kitaya Kitaya "Junmai Daiginjo"
Miyasaka Jozo Masumi "Yumedono"
Nagai Shuzo Mizubasho "Daiginjo Premiere"
Shindo Shuzoten Gasanryu "Gokugetsu"
Yoshida Shuzoten Tedorigawa "Iki na Onna"
Koshi no Hana Shuzo Koshi no Hana "Chotokusen", Niigata
Rihaku Shuzo Rihaku "Junmai Daiginjo", Shimane
Saito Shuzo Eikun "Koto Sennen" Junmai Daiginjo, Kyoto
Tajima Shuzo Fukuchitose "Fuku", Fukui
Tokoro Shuzo Bojimaya "Junmai Daiginjo", Gifu

SAKES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
Fuchuhomare Wataribune "Junmai Daiginjo", Ibaraki
Hokusetsu Shuzo Nobu "Daiginjo", Niigata
Machida Shuzoten Seiryo "Daiginjo", Gunma
Saiya Shuzoten Yuki no Bosha "Akita Sake Komachi" Daiginjo, Akita
Saiya Shuzoten "Kachogesseki", Akita
Sakuramasamune "Kinmare Muroka Junmai Daiginjo Sango", Hyogo
Eiko Shuzo "Yume Tsukiyo" Junmai Daiginjo, Ehime
Nagai Shuzo Mizubasho "Junmai Daiginjo", Gunma
Tanabe Shuzo Echizen Misaki "Daiginjo", Fukui
Tohoku Meijo Hatsumago "Shozui" Junmai Daiginjo, Yamagata

SAKES SCORING BETWEEN 8 AND 8.5
Kizakura Kizakura "Daiginjo", Kyoto
Mifuku Shuzo Mifuku "Daigingokujo", Shiga
Shindo Shuzoten Gasanryu "Kisaragi", Yamagata

SAKES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8
Miyasaka Jozo Masumi "Nanago", Nagano


Ginjo Sakes


SAKES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9.5
Kusumi Shuzo "Nanadaime", Niigata

SAKES SCORING BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5
Dewazakura Shuzo Dewazakura "Dewasansan", Yamagata
Nagai Shuzo Mizubasho "Ginjo", Gunma
Nishida Shuzoten Nishida "Kikuizumi", Aomori
Yoshinogawa Gokujo Yoshinogawa "Ginjo", Niigata

SAKES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
Okunomatsu Shuzo "Sakura Ginjo", Fukushima
Okunomatsu Shuzo "Adatara Ginjo", Fukushima
Saiya Shuzoten Yuki no Bosha "Hiden Yamahai" Yamahai Junmai Ginjo, Akita
Seitoku Meijo Seitoku "Junmai Ginjo", Gunma
Shimizu Jozo Zaku "Miyabi no Tomo" Nakadori, Mie
Tajima Shuzo Fukuchitose "Toku", Fukui
Takano Shuzo "Koshi no Tousetsuka", Niigata

SAKES SCORING BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
Hakuro Shuzo Koshi no Hakuro "Junmai Ginjo", Niigata
Hamachidori Hamachidori "Gingingashikomi Junmai Ginjo", Iwate
Saiya Shuzoten Yuki no Bosha "Junmai Ginjo", Akita
Suishin Yamane Honten Suishin "Junmai Ginjo" Inaho, Hiroshima
Umenoyado Shuzo Umenoyado "Gin" Junmai Ginjo, Nara

SAKES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
Akita Seishu Yamatoshizuku "Junmai Ginjo", Akita
Fukuchiyo Shuzo Nabeshima "Junmai Ginjo", Saga
Imanishi Seibei Shoten Harushika "Junmai Ginjo Genshu", Nara
Ishimoto Shuzo Koshi no Kanbai "Kinmuku", Niigata
Ninki Shuzo Ninkiichi "Kuroninki Junmai Ginjo", Fukushima
Tamanohikari Shuzo Tamanohikari "Yamahai Junmai Ginjo", Kyoto
Yamanashi Meijo Shichiken "Itsutsuboshi", Yamanashi

SAKES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8
Momokawa Murai Family "Sugidama Sake", Aomori
Rihaku Shuzo Rihaku "Chotokusen" Junmai Ginjo (Wandering Poet), Shimane

SAKES SCORING BETWEEN 7.5 AND 8
Miyao Shuzo Shimeharitsuru "Jun", Niigata

SAKES WITH A SCORE AROUND 7.5
Fukuchiyo Shuzo Nabeshima "Nakakumi Junmai Ginjo", Saga

SAKES WITH A SCORE AROUND 6
Aoki Shuzo Kakurei "Junmai Ginjo", Niigata


Junmai Sakes


SAKES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
Okunomatsu Shuzo Okunomatsu "Tokubetsu Junmai", Fukushima
Shirakabe Gura Shirakabe Gura "Kimoto" Tokubetsu Junmai, Hyogo

SAKES SCORING BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
Kayashima Shuzo Nishinoseki "Tezukuri Junmaishu", Oita
Saura Urakasumi "Junmaishu", Miyagi
Tenzan Shuzo "Jizake Tenzan", Saga

SAKES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
Momokawa Murai Family "Tanrei Junmai Sake", Aomori
Murashige Shuzo Kinkan Kuromatsu "Junmaishu", Yamaguchi
Rihaku Shuzo Rihaku "Tokubetsu Junmaishu", Shimane
Shindo Shuzoten Ura Gasanryu "Fuka", Yamagata
Suehiro Shuzo Suehiro "Densho Yamahai Junmai", Fukushima

SAKES SCORING BETWEEN 8 AND 8.5
Goto Shuzojo Kuwana "Tokubetsu Junmai", Mie
Midorikawa Shuzo Five Seasons Rice Wine, Niigata
Sakuramasamune "Yakimare", Hyogo
Takijiman Shuzo Takijiman "Junmai Iga Yamadanishiki", Mie

SAKES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8
Akita Seishu Dewatsuru "Kimotoshikomi Junmaishu", Akita
Akita Seishu Yamatoshizuku "Yamahai Junmaishu", Akita
Ishimoto Shuzo Koshi no Kanbai "Muku", Niigata
Machida Shuzoten Machida Shuzo 55 "Gohyakumangoku", Gunma
Saiya Shuzoten Yuki no Bosha "Yamahai Junmai", Akita
Yoshida Shuzoten Tedorigawa "Yamahai Junmai", Ishikawa

SAKES SCORING BETWEEN 7.5 AND 8
Fukuchiyo Shuzo Nabeshima "Kimoto Junmaishu", Saga
Kasumitsuru Kasumitsuru "Kimoto Junmai", Hyogo
Matsunoi Shuzojo Matsunoi "Tokubetsu Junmaishu", Niigata
Tohoku Meijo Hatsumago "Kimoto Junmaishu", Yamagata
Tonoike Shuzoten Seishu Sanran "Junmaishu", Tochigi

SAKES WITH A SCORE AROUND 7.5
Akita Shuzo Akitabare "Fuwari Hyakkoten", Akita
Kasumitsuru Kasumitsuru "Yamahaishikomi Tokubetsu Junmai", Hyogo
Machida Shuzoten Machida Shuzo 60 "Wakamizu", Gunma

SAKES SCORING AROUND 7
Kurosawa Shuzo Kurosawa "Junmai Kimoto", Nagano


The question of course, is where to buy any of these sakes should you want to get your hands on them. The answer is tricky. Most are not available for purchase online. If you live in New York or San Francisco, pay a visit to one of the specialty sake shops in town. If you live elsewhere, try calling the largest independent wine merchant around.

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