15 May 2013

SakéOne Tasting

My first good experience with saké came thanks to the folks at SakéOne during an online tasting last year. The company was started in 1992 as an importer of quality Japanese bottles, but they began building their own kura and making their own brews. Today, Oregon has the highest per capita consumption of saké in the United States.

A few interesting facts from the tasting:
  • Rice quality is important, but saké is not really terroir-driven. The percentage of polish is more important, meaning how much of the outer layers are ground away.
  • Color is important in Japan (it should be clear), but in the US can be a little yellowed. The beverage is pasteurized, and thus is stabilized and can keep up to two months in the fridge after being opened. If unopened, good saké can be enjoyed within 12-18 months if stored like wine.
  • The Japanese sakés are in 720mL format bottles, while the Oregonian one comes in 750mL. The TTB requires certain sizes for wine, but saké is classified as beer thanks to our nation's bizarre tangle of alcohol regulations. 720mL is a traditional size denoting four 180mL servings.
  • Saké is fined and clarified with gelatin, but the industry is experimenting with a seaweed-based agent to make vegan saké.
Murai Family Tokubetsu Honjozo
Special Honjozo
$25, 15.5% abv.

The modern incarnation of this brewery dates back to 1889. Deeper barley-style aroma with a drier flavor. Earthy elements that appear as it warms. This family helped get the kura established in Oregon and provided a lot of early guidance. The label features the Nebuta warrior from Aomori Prefecture. Honjozo means that a little extra alcohol was added to round out the flavors, though not as strong as a fortified wine.

Premium Junmai Saké
$11, 14.7% abv.

Gentle, mild, lightly toasted rice aroma with a hint of sweetness. Easy drinking, approachable packaging with an easy-to-read label. The idea was to market something that would be easy to ask for and remember without an extensive knowledge of Japanese.

Yoshinogawa Winter Warrior
Junmai Ginjo
$27, 14% abv.

This brewery has been around since 1548. Hint of spice with mellow pear nectar, apple blossom, and herbal elements. Named after the kurabito, the workers who make the saké in the snow.

I had the opportunity to try something special with this particular bottle. Japan is not the only country that knows how to safely enjoy raw fish. In this preparation, I made yellowtail tuna crudo but with a more Latin twist. Slices of avocado, pickled red onion, and topped with a brunoise of habanero peppers and some delicate lime zest. A little sea salt and pepper on top provided the perfect crunch with each savory bite.

SakeOne G Fifty
Junmai Ginjo Genshu
Forest Grove, Oregon
$25, 18% abv.

American rice from California produced the superior saké. Bold pineapple and floral aromas, with rich fruit and a delicate finish. Very round and mild. A pleasant experience, and highly recommended.
But what to eat with it?
Snow crab legs turned out to be an exceptionally tasty combination. You end up hitting all of the flavor receptors with salt and sweet and savory and umami and the tart elements from the saké and lemon wedges.

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I will admit that when I first tried through all four of these bottles, I had difficult telling them apart. My nose was thinking white wine, and everything was far too subtle. It's also possible that I had the bottles too cold, or that the combination of wild weather swings and massive amounts of pollen had dulled my senses. But as I went back through them the next day, I kept teasing out many different aromas and flavors, and found myself eager to enjoy a small glass with dinner or even while sitting at the computer in the evening.
You've got to recalibrate your nose and tongue a bit, but the effort is well worth it, and I highly recommend studying saké if you want to broaden your beverage literacy.

Note: These bottles were provided as samples.

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