I have previously blogged on Sake tastings as I love them. I popped to Japan Matsuri Festival 2010 at Spitalfields on Sunday. It was rammed and so tasting wasn’t much fun. I also thought that the food on the stalls was really poor quality but my sons enjoyed the Kendo demonstration. I did like the Suwano Ryujin (pictured with a pretty succulent in an old West German lava planter which seemed to go well with it) so bought a bottle. It is a Junmai-shu type (pure rice sake made with rice and water alone). It is a modern and very versatile style of Sake.
Other types of sake include Ginjo-shu, a premium sake brewed with highly polished rice. Its aromatic, fruity and delicate flavour can be damaged if warmed, so it is best served slightly chilled. Honzojo-shu is made with rice polished to 70% or less of original size and a small amount of brewer’s alcohol is added to draw extra flavours out of the mash (it is best served warm). Futsu-shu is “regular sake” and does not qualify for any special designation. It is normally made with a mixture of brewer’s rice and standard rice. Gen-shu is often strong because water has not been added after pressing. Namazake is unpasteurised sake and Namachozo-shu is sake that has been kept unpasteurised at a very low temperature but gets pasteurised as it is bottled.
On Monday I was kindly invited by Mr Yuki, Mr Hirawasa and Mr Masuda (pictured left) of sake importers Jalux to attend a tutored tasting at Sumosan a Japanese restaurant in Mayfair. It was led by Jean-Louis Naveilhan (pictured below to my right), Head sommelier at Sumosan and previously sommelier at restaurants in France, Le Gavroche and Selfridges before he fell in love with all things sake. He is a likeable and engaging character with a remarkable knowledge of wine and sake. His website here is worth a visit.
There were 7 sakes to taste including Betsukak oi (2009) a wonderful Junmai Daiginjo with a rice polishing ratio of 50% (half the rice is polished away in big washing machine type contraptions to get to the better quality part of the grain). It had some lovely aniseed notes and I am particulalry drawn to this in sake (maybe a remnant of happy holidays when younger drinking pastis, ouzo and raki). Taruzake, a Futshu-shu with a rice polishing ratio of 65% had lovely floral notes and a pepperiness reminiscent of Gruner Veltliner. These are complex and enjoyable in ways directly analogous to wine (as Dr Johnson defined it). Sake is getting more and more popular and deserves to be tried in all its guises rather than just the generic mass produced styles.
The stand-out Sake on the night was Pink Nigori Sake (Mo Mo Nigori) (pictured) which looks like peach milkshake. It is fermented using yeast from prized Okayama peaches and another red yeast. It is 12.5% alcohol, so not overly strong. I had a similar ‘cloudy’ sake in Megu in New York many years ago that was one of the most memorable things I have ever tasted. These cloudy sakes are not hugely popular in Japan but have a growing fan base around the world. Try to taste one, they are incredible. At Sumosan, Jean-Louis matches this with a white chocolate dish or beef with miso. It is a bit like a good dessert wine with balanced sweetness and acidity.
I was in a bit of a rush and did not try the food on offer but other tasters seemed to enjoy it. I will try to visit Sumosan (website here) in future as there is nothing worse than bad sushi and it is worth saving up to go to somewhere that makes it well. I also want to explore the wine list with Jean-Louis and maybe sneak in the odd Riesling between Sakes.