Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Yuho sake and the beauty of Noto Toji style brews

    I recently sat down with good friend Tamiko Ishidate of Joto Sake to taste the newest addition to their already well constructed, well thought out sake portfolio.  Yuho sake is made by Omio Shuzo in Niigata, Japan.  Located in the heart of tanrei karakuchi (light, dry, refined) country, these brews are melting with umami.  Revived by a young Ms. Miho Fujita, Omio Brewery went from almost shutting down to winning a gold medal at the most prestigious Noto Toji Sake Competition in April 2007 their first year of production.  Remember, the Noto Toji Guild is one of the most renowned sake guilds in Japan.  Many brewers and connosieurs alike regard this competition just as important as the National Sake Competition.  
    At the helm was Yokomichi-san as toji and under the watchful eye of Kyoto izakaya owner Takada-san, they realized that their sake will have umami, it is kind of it's destiny.  The brewing water as Yokomichi-san says is  "soft, but a bit salty on the palate."  After careful consideration, they all agreed that this water would be great for sake that can mature well.  I'm a girl who likes a little girth on her sakes, so aspects like nigami (bitterness) and shibumi (astingency), and of course umami, are qualities that I enjoy in a sake...considering that it is a well balanced brew and neither of these two dimensions over power the sake itself.  These are perfected in the Yuho brews.  
Yuho Junmai Ginjo
              It's kaori was sublte, yet full of herbs and flowers.  My first sip was silky, Yuho enveloped my palate with a softness, but also an underlining depth.  Finishing with a perfect touch of nigami to balance out the rich umami factor, some tantilizing acidity and it was over.  Umai, indeed!  (But of course I am not supposed to say this as I am a lady!)  
        Yuho Junmai
Ripe aromas of raisin and plum give way to, again, beautiful, velvety lines of umami that linger on the palate as it makes you go back for the second sip.  What satisfaction!  

In America, especially San Francisco and other big cities, we are inundated with hundreds of dining options.  In one day, you could eat your way across the globe, all the while your taste buds screaming for more.  To flip this around a little, Takada-san says, "Japanese palate is becoming more and more westernized, and, therefore, the sake needs to have umami and acidity." 
 The sake industry has seen its share of trends.  The reign of light, dry style brews which therefore perfected the tanrei karakuchi style in the 80's and 90's gave sake freaks like me the chance to drink what we have today.  Sake with plump, juiciness and umami is all the rage right now.  Muroka Nama Genshu is very popular currently, as well as Yamahai and kimoto style brews.  I am really looking forward to how sake styles change and evolve over the years.  

Sakes pictured from left to right: Yuho Junmai Ginjo; Yuho Junmai; Wataribune Shiboritate Nama Genshu; Kasumi Tsuru Shiboritate Nama Genshu; Taiheikai Shiboritate Nigori Nama Genshu.  All selections from Joto Sake portfolio.  And yes, I tasted them all.  And yes, they are all really, really amazing :-)

Quotes are taken from an article in Dancyu magazine, April 2007, translated by Ms. Ishidate