Posts Tagged ‘ginjo’

International Wine Challenge 2010 – Sake Results

It is always very interesting to see the results of the IWC’s annual sake tastings as I believe it demonstrates a guide to which sake suit the British palate the best.  The category which had by far the most medals awarded was the Junmai Ginjo and Junmai Daiginjo section; the western palate having a preference for more aromatic sake while still appreciating a depth of flavour which you get in the Junmai sake.

The results can be found on their website –  Select “sake” under the “style” category, the medal and then search.  If you want a full list of medal winners contact me at and I can forward the one I have received from the IWC.

One of the biggest achievements of the IWC is the continuous growth of entries in the sake section demonstrating the commitment of brewers to export sake overseas.


Sake and Indian Cuisine

Yesterday evening, Moti Mahal held their first Sake Tasting Dinner to launch their new Sake Tasting Menu.  From what I understand, Indian food is one of the trickiest cuisines to pair with wine.  However, the reception by the wine writers to the pairing was extremely positive, with several of them expressing surprise at how well sake worked with the dishes.

When I sat down to work out the pairing for this dinner and the subsequent Tasting Menu with the Head Chef, Anirudh Arora and Moti Mahal’s wine buyer, Maria Rodriguez, a month ago, it was a very interesting experience to discover which sake worked with the dishes and which did not.  I had expected that the big boned, creamy yamahai would work best until I tasted the food.  This style of Indian cuisine comes from North India following a path along The Great Trunk Road, and blends together aromatic herbs with a warm spiciness from the chillies rather than the piquant spices I had always associated with Indian cuisine.  There was therefore space for herbal aromatics, floral aromatics and minerality in the sake which we selected and we finished with a selection of different grades of sake.

Following on from a refreshing gin-based sake cocktail which used Tamaki, a Yamahai Junmai Ginjō we started the meal with the smooth, herbal Aki no Ta Junmai Ginjō.  This was matched with Bhalla Papdi Chaat, crisp fried pastry and chick peas with creamy yoghurt, tamarind and mint chutney.  The combination brought out a light creaminess to the sake at the same as developing a wider palate of its herbal aromatics which also served to highlight the sourness of the tamarind and mint chutney.

Our next sake was the dry, fresh Fukurokuju Junmai with its interesting minerality on the palate which  highlighted the sweetness of the seared scallop Sagar Rattan.  This was followed by the very rare Isake 19 Junmai Daiginjō which is at the pinnacle of sake brewing technology, making use of sake brewers’ rice that has been polished down to a minuscule 19% of the grain of the rice remaining.  The result is a tight palate which takes you on a journey from a soft, creamy start to a spicy, dry finish.

Then we had the wonderful Yoikigen Daiginjō which, despite using rice which has been polished down to 35%, has a rich rice flavour.  This is due to the generous use of the kōji fungus, aspergillus oryzae, in the brewing process.  This is a food friendly sake and was an excellent accompaniment to the trio of chicken tikka which has all been prepared using different herbs (mint and basil, poppy seed and kashmiri chillies, cracked pepper and dill).  My favourite combination was the poppy seed and kashmiri chillies at the sake lit up the flavours.

The next sake combination was the most surprising for me; a floral sake paired with venison stewed with chillies, cloves and garlic.  The choice was influenced by the side dish which the Head Chef had selected – fried lotus flower.  I had recently come across this sake called “Dance of the Lotus Flower” (Renge no Mai) which is a Tokubetsu Junmai Nama Genshu.  It is brewed from rice grown in a field near to where lotus flowers grown and they are used to fertilise the paddy field.  The presence of the lotus flowers is evidence in the floral aromatics which enhanced the flavour of the lotus flowers.  I also think that there are a few elements which make this work with the spicy venison after discussing it with Anthony Rose.  He explained to me how the temperature of the drink is quite significant to counteract the heat of the spices, recommending drinks which are served chilled (in this case, sake) as well as the alcohol content.  Being a Genshu, this is an undiluted sake with a slightly higher alcoholic content than many sake (and certainly higher than wine) between 17 and 18%.  The freshness it also has being an unpasteurised, Nama, sake was an additional benefit making this an excellent choice to contrast the earthy, spicy venison.

Our final sake was a Genmai Koshu from Akashi-tai.  This sake is made from brown rice and has been aged for 8 years.  Aging sake has an intriguing effect on them and they change quite considerably from the usual clear liquid to a golden brown in colour as well as developing additional aromas and flavours on the palate.  This does not disappoint with plum, toffee and chocolate fudge on the nose and plum line and woody sherry notes on the palate.  An array of intriguing flavours that intertwined with the dessert platter that had sweet flatbread with coconut and saffron, cardamom yoghurt and caramelised bananas – each flavour highlighting a different flavour in the sake.  A wonderful finish to a delightful tasting menu.

Sake – To warm or not to warm?

That is the question!  Having recently hosted a warm sake tasting a So Restaurant it is clear that the notion of drinking sake warm is still misunderstood. 

First of all, sake was traditionally warmed because warming served to round out the flavour and hide the imperfections of sake brewed at a time when technology was less advanced for polishing the rice and sake was quite a rough drink (think homebrew!).  However, nowadays, sake is one of the only alcoholic drinks which can be enjoyed over a range of different temperatures.  In fact, it is very interesting to try one sake at three different temperatures to enjoy the change in the flavour and aroma that occurs.

That said, not all sake is suitable for warming.  Any “nama” sake is unpasteurised or only partially pasteurised so that you can enjoy its fresh taste.  This sake needs to be served chilled.  Also, the aromatic ginjo and the elegant, yet delicate, daiginjo are usually not suitable to be served warm.  But if they are junmai (pure rice) ginjo or daiginjo they may be.

Unfortunately, the majority of sake served warm in restaurants in London is the house sake which does tend to mean that it is a lower grade and that warming it makes it more palatable.  Aqua Kyoto does, however, serve a lovely Yamahai Ginjo warm.

Finally, if warming sake, you should only warm it to around 4o degrees centigrade (50 maximum) to avoid the aroma evaporating.  Don’t forget that sake is brewed in the cold of winter and the brewers spend a long time brewing it to develop the best possible flavour and aroma of the sake – it would be a pity to overheat it!

Aki no Ta

Aki no Ta

Aki no Ta is an excellent choice for seafood and oysters

We were also looking for a sake to go with the seafood risotto. The creamy, sweet risotto was full of umami so we decided to try the drier Aki no Ta to contrast the sweetness. One taste and I’m hooked! The Aki no Ta undergoes a taste transformation whereby formerly undiscovered mineral notes come out and the creaminess of the risotto serves to smooth out the dryness of the Aki no Ta. For those of you who prefer medium dry sake (like me) this makes the Aki no Ta absolutely divine. We didn’t even need to try another sake with the risotto as this combination was so good!