Award Winning Sakes – IWC 2011

One of those charming early autumn afternoons it was this Thursday – I thought, as I was rushing from Green Park tube station to the Japanese Embassy. Pleasantly warm, the lush green of the trees from the park was striking against the greyness of Piccadilly and the gently red sky-line.
It was slightly after 5pm and I had promised to be there in time for the gate opening at 4.30pm. Rie Yoshitake, one of the organisers, had asked me to come as early as possible as they were expecting almost 300 guests. You are heard it well. Almost 300!!! Why? For the tasting of 27 sakes from breweries, whose products had won Gold or Trophy at this year’s International Wine Challenge in London.

There were sakes from 7 prefectures. In terms of categories, there was one honjozo, some ginjo-s, quite a few daiginjo-s and also such special ones as the tokubetsu – a sake polished to less than 60% – and koshu, the aged class of sakes.
As usual, I scored the sakes and, interestingly, out of the 8 Gold and Trophy winners, I had four in my top five. My top 5 sakes included a variety of styles in terms of texture, from milky and floury to silky and delicate ones. Some were more floral than others, which displayed more exotic spices, such as anis or white-pepper. All of them were delicate with good concentration and a sense of complexity in both texture and flavours.
The Hidematsu Aka, a honjozo sake from the Ichisima Brewery, is a good point in case that sakes made from less polished rice can also show a great sense of finesse that comes through clarity and harmony of flavours – even if not overtly complex – and a beautiful length.
Regarding the question whether the addition of alcohol results in superior or lesser sakes, I would argue there is no difference as long as the overall balance and body of the sake can carry it through. Dewazakura Junmai Ginjo Omachi – made without the addition of alcohol – showed intensity, concentration and length with an exotic mix of rose petals, almond and pig skin. Probably a strange descriptor it is to use pig skin, but if you ever had fresh, uncooked and only salted skin of a pig, then you know what I mean. You rightly suspect I did not always use to be a veggie. The Kamenoumi Daiginjo Yamadanishiki – made with the addition of alcohol – was sake par excellence in terms of combining a silky lightness of lime, rose and anis with the floury aftermath and delicate structure.
Speaking of the textural impression, there are a number of gradations you can observe when tasting sake. For example, Fuji Shuzo Brewery showed two sakes of quite different texture. Their Hakuro Koshu 1996 had a soft and gentle body on the palate, which was followed by a floury aftermath, whilst their Misamasamune Daiginjo remained silky all the way through closing with tones of acacia flowers. A starker contrast is between the extremely silky Dewazakura Junmai Ginjo Omachi, mentioned above, and the Saura Brewery’s Junmai Ginjo Urakasumizen, where the fruit, floral and floury tones combined into a velvety mouthfeel.
My absolute top sake of the tasting was the Fuji Shuzo Brewery’s Hakuro Koshu 1996 vintage, which had almost 20% alcohol, yet it was gentle on the palate with delicate texture and a lovely complexity of medium intense flavours, such as rose and linden mixed with some honeyed touch.
Thank you to the Sake Samurai Association, the International Wine Challenge and the Embassy of Japan for their generous hospitality and making a Thursday finishing so deliciously. Here I publish my tasting notes – starting below the photo – organised as per the tasting catalogue at the event, so please do look out for the various styles, types of rice and keep in mind scores are mixed, neither ascending nor descending.

Producer: Fukuchiyo Shuzo Ltd, Region: Saga
Nabeshima Daiginjo(Daiginjo)
Polishing ratio: 35%, Alcohol: 17.40%
IWC2011 Champion Sake – Ginjo / Daiginjo Trophy
Light lemon. Rose water, anis and fresh almond in the nose. Medium intense. Palate is lively with anis, white-peppter and mint. (16.5)

Producer: Fukuchiyo Shuzo Ltd, Region: Saga
Nabeshima Tokubetsu Junmaishu(Tokubetsu junmai)
Polishing ratio: 55%, Alcohol: 15.50%
Light lemon, pink hue. Floral os with lychee, rose petals and a bit of anis. Silky texture, pig skin, fresh almonds and milky smoothness. 16.3 (16.3)

Producer: Fukuchiyo Shuzo Ltd, Region: Saga
Nabeshima Tokubetsu Honjozo(Tokubetsu Honjozo)
Polishing ratio: 60%, Alcohol: 15.50%
Watery with lemon hue. Rose petals, flour and peach in the nose. Quite fresh. Dry, marked alcohol, soft milky texture. Thick on the palate and long finish. (16.1)

Producer: Fuji Shuzo Ltd, Region: Tottori
Hakuro Koshu 1998(Koshu)
Polishing ratio: 55%, Alcohol: 18.80%
IWC2011 Koshu Gold Medal
Pronounced lemon, tiny watery rim. Livley nose, straightforward nose of honey, and fresh flour. Dry, quite big body, white-pepper, anis and almonds. Extremely concentrated, long finish. Almost like an explosive acacia tree aftermath.  (17.4)

Producer: Fuji Shuzo Ltd, Region: Tottori
Hakuro Koshu 1996(Koshu)
Polishing ratio: 55%, Alcohol: 19.80%
Pronounced lemon. Medium intense nose, smooth and light honeyed aromas with linden and rose petals. Soft, gentle on the palate. Alcohol quite marked. Floury aftermath. Delicately textured. (17.7)

Producer: Fuji Shuzo Ltd, Region: Tottori
Misasamasamune Daiginjo(Daiginjo)
Polishing ratio: 45%, Alcohol: 15.60%
Light lemon, bit watery. Medium intense nose with fresh almonds and pig skin. Silky texture on the palate, very light body. Tons of fresh nuts followed by acacia flowers.  (16.2)

Producer: Shata Shuzo Ltd, Region: Ishikawa
Tengumai Yamahaisikomi-junmaishu(Junmai)
Polishing ratio: 60%, Alcohol: 15.90%
IWC2011 Junmai Trophy
Pronounced lemon. Medium intense nose, rich in ripe almonds, floury with some florals. Quite marked alcohol, velvety texture with flour. Layered and long finish. (16.8)

Producer: Shata Shuzo Ltd, Region: Ishikawa
Tengumai Yamahai-junmaiginjo(Junmai ginjo)
Polishing ratio: 45%, Alcohol: 15.90%
Pronounced lemon with a pink hue. Medium intense nose with flour, almond, apples and pear. Almost sticks to the palate, a gummy texture. Medium finish. (15.9)

Producer: Shata Shuzo Ltd, Region: Ishikawa
Gorin Junmaishu(Junmai)
Polishing ratio: 60%, Alcohol: 15.90%
Light lemon, pink hue. Medium intense nose with cherry, almond and some flour. Dry, velvety, quite a bit of pig skin followed by lilies. Nicely opens up. Moderately long finish. (16.3)

Producer: Tsuchiya Brewery, Region: Nagano
Kamenoumi Daiginjo Yamadanishiki(Daiginjo)
Polishing ratio: 39%, Alcohol: 17.80%
IWC2011 Nagano Ginjo – Daiginjo Trophy
Watery with a green hue. Rose water, lime and anis. Silky texture, very soft on the palate. Delicate. Floury aftermath, long finish. (17.1)

Producer: Tsuchiya Brewery, Region: Nagano
Kamenoumi Junmai Ginjo(Junmai ginjo)
Polishing ratio: 49%, Alcohol: 15%
Light lemon, watery rim. Medium intensity, milky, flour and peach. Very lovely texture, velvety, sfot and with a medium finish with lots of almond.  (16.2)

Producer: Tsuchiya Brewery, Region: Nagano
Akanesasu Tokubetsu Junmai(Tokubetsu junmai)
Polishing ratio: 59%, Alcohol: 16.70%
Light lemon, pink hue. Floral nose: rose and peach. Quite a bit of flour with almond and a hint of lemon zest. Sticky, silky and moderately long finish. (15.6)

Producer: Ichishima Sake Brewery, Region: Niigata
Hidematsu Aka(Honjozo)
Polishing ratio: , Alcohol: 16%
IWC2011 Honjozo Trophy
Watery lemon. Medium intense nose. Very soft and silky, floury, lemon zest and almonds. Lots of concentration on mid-palate. Finesse, and length. (16.8)

Producer: Ichishima Sake Brewery, Region: Niigata
Hidematsu Ai(Daiginjo)
Polishing ratio: , Alcohol: 17%
Watery with green hue. Minty, rose petals and almonds. Dry, silky, flour, peach petals, floury tones and very good length. (16.6)

Producer: Ichishima Sake Brewery, Region: Niigata
Hidematsu Yamabuki(Junmai daiginjo)
Polishing ratio: , Alcohol: 16%
Watery lemon. Zesty, apple flour and almond paste. Medium concentration, quite powerful. Medium finish with moderate finesse. (16.5)

Producer: Dewazakura Sake Brewery, Region: Yamagata
Dewazakura Junmai Ginjo Omachi(Junmai ginjo)
Polishing ratio: 50%, Alcohol: 17%
IWC2011 Junmai Ginjo – Junmai Daiginjo Trophy
Water lemon. Lovely intense nose, pig skin, rose petals, almond. Smooth, silky and milky mouthfeel. Tons of anis. Intense and concentrated long finish. (17.3)

Producer: Dewazakura Sake Brewery, Region: Yamagata
Dewazakura Junmai Daiginjo Ichiro(Junmai daiginjo)
Polishing ratio: 45%, Alcohol: 15.50%
Very light lemon with green hue. Minty anis, flour and silky texture. Lots of pig skin, long salty finish. (16.5)

Producer: Dewazakura Sake Brewery, Region: Yamagata
Dewazakura Junmai Ginjo Dewasansan(Junmai ginjo)
Polishing ratio: 50%, Alcohol: 15.50%
Light lemon, green hue. Floral nose of peach, fresh almonds, silky and simple, but a straightforward one. Minty. (16.2)

Producer: Kikuisami Ltd, Region: Yamagata
Kikuisami Daiginjo Hiden(Daiginjo)
Polishing ratio: 35%, Alcohol: 17.50%
IWC2011 Yamgato Ginjo – Daiginjo Trophy
Lemon, pink hue. Pig skin, rose water nose. Very expressive, rose and peach petals. Pig skin and bitter almond on the finish. Overpowering almost. (16.6)

Producer: Kikuisami Ltd, Region: Yamagata
Yamadanishiki 40% Sanjurokuninshu(Junmai daiginjo)
Polishing ratio: 40%, Alcohol: 15.50%
Watery lemon. Mint and anis nose, medium intense only. Dry, strong body, very silky though. Pig skins. Intense rather than concentratd. (16.2)

Producer: Kikuisami Ltd, Region: Yamagata
Dewanosato Senjurokuninshu(Junmai)
Polishing ratio: 70%, Alcohol: 15.50%
Light lemon. Watery rim. Lively nose with rose petals, varnish and anis followed by turnip. Silky, floury, minty. Powerful. (15.6)

Producer: Saura Ltd, Region: Miyagi
Kuranohana Junmai Daiginjo Urakasumi(Junmai daiginjo)
Polishing ratio: 40%, Alcohol: 16.50%
IWC2011 Junmai Ginjo – Junmai Daiginjo Gold Medal
Light lemon, pink hue. Floral: peach and cherry petals a bit of a pig skin, quite marked alcohol. Medium finish.  (16.1)

Producer: Saura Ltd, Region: Miyagi
Yamadanishiki Junmai Daiginjo Urakasumi(Junmai daiginjo)
Polishing ratio: 45%, Alcohol: 16.30%
Light lemon, pink hue, watery rim. Medium intense peach and floral nose with a bit of anis seed. Smooth, silky, spicy mid-palate: white-pepper and nutmeg. (16.4)

Producer: Saura Ltd, Region: Miyagi
Junmai Ginjo Urakasumizen(Junmai ginjo)
Polishing ratio: 50%, Alcohol: 15.20%
Very light lemon with watery rim. Lively, floral nose of rose and apricot petals. Lychee with floury touch. Extremely smooth, velvety and floral. Good medium finish. (16.7)

Producer: Tsukinowa Ltd, Region: Iwate
Ginjo Yoinotsuki
Light lemon. Expressive fresh almonds nose with a bit of peach, tones of pig skin. Extremely smooth and silky. Floral finish with apricot petals. (16.4)

Producer: Niizawa brewery, Region: Miyagi
Atagonoastsu Honjozo
Light lemon, pink hue. Medium intense nose with rose petals, pig skin and almonds. Tight body, lovely aromatics, long, floury finish. (16.8)

Producer: Daisnichi Sake Brewery, Region: Fukushima
Minowamon
Watery lemon. Medium intense, floral and floury, followed by almonds. Very powdery, flour, followed by salt and seaweed. Alcohol quite marked, but rounds off nicely. Very delicate. (16.6)

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