A Sake Tasting

by A.J. Coltrane

We did a light dinner/sake tasting last night with a total of seven attendees, including us. As a group, nobody really knew much about sake going in. We’d previously decided that the right way to learn was to buy a bunch of bottles and do a big side-by-side tasting. With the exception of #4, the bottles mostly ran in the $17-25 range. This represents “mid-tier” in the sake market — anything better likely would have been wasted on us. All were served out of the wine refrigerator at 55F. The Gekkeiken website recommends 50-59F as an appropriate temperature for the varieties that we were drinking.

140302 sake

The list for posterity — The brand and title are in bold, followed by the type of sake, the text on the bottle is in quotes, then our impressions are in italics:

#1 – Mura “Canyon”. Junmai Ginjo. “Aromatic, crisp and dry with green apple and mineral notes.”  Dry. We intentionally opened with three somewhat contrasting sakes, to try to cover as many bases as possible before everyone’s pallets were shot. Well liked.

#2 – Mura “Mountain”. Junmai Ginjo, Nigori Genshu. “Shake well.” (It’s the only cloudy sake that we served.) “Rich and complex. sweet, full bodied, delicate coconut and tropical fruit aromas.”  The sweetest sake that was served, and big hit with the youngest person at the table.

#3 – Mura “Meadow”. Junmai Ginjo. “Rich Custard Aroma. Smooth lingering finish. Well balanced.” Balanced between sweet and dry. This one was a big hit with everyone.

#4 – Rock Sake. Junmai Daiginjo. “blah, blah, blah…and pure mountain spring water results in a delicate sophistication of aroma and flavor.”  The most expensive bottle with the least descriptive text. Very, very smooth. One taster remarked that it was reminiscent of wine — that it almost didn’t taste like sake.

#5 – Momokawa “Organic Medium Rich”. Junmai Ginjo. “Vibrant tropical aromas open this fruity, medium-bodied organic sake.” This one drew a few comments such as “When I visualize what sake is supposed to taste like, this is what comes to mind.” Another big hit.

#6 – Momokawa “Ruby Lightly Sweet”. Junmai Ginjo. “Lush fruit and dense rainforest aromas with layered tropical fruit and red berry flavors.” #5 was better liked than its cousin here, but this one is still solid.

#7 – Sake “G”, “Joy” (A squat black bottle.) Junmai Ginjo Genshu. “Intense deep lush layers of flavor.” Everyone had already decided what they liked by the time we got to this one. It was a nice bottle, but nobodies’ favorite. I think to some degree seven sakes was one or two too many.

Most of the sakes (perhaps predictably) recommended pairing with seafood and other  “lightweight”  foods. With the sakes we served:

Proteins:  Smoked salmon (from a bottle recommendation), ginger beef, Chinese BBQ pork.

Starches:  Wheat thins, Triscuts, No-knead bread, Pita bread.

Cheeses:  Smoked Gouda, Emmentaler (at least one of the sakes called for Swiss cheese), Kefalotyri, Montasio (the last two were recommended by the cheese monger, and they worked very well)

Dips and spreads:  Butter, Dill (sour cream) Dip, Roasted red pepper (sour cream) dip, tzatziki.

Fruits:  Cantaloupe, Honeydew, Strawberries, Red Grapes.

As a guess, I’d say #1, #3, and #5 were the most universally liked, but I’d feel comfortable serving any of these to guests. Ultimately it’d be about the pairing.

Really, I don’t think you could go wrong with any of them.

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