Held in the sophisticated, yet lively atmosphere in Flinders Lane’s Sake Restaurant, Deja Vu Sake Co’s Trade Sake Tasting event seemed to entertain and inform the many guests, restaurant owners and reviewers of the joys of sake.
If you are not familiar with sake, it is a Japanese style of wine. Depending on the way it is produced, can be enjoyed with many different styles of food and meat, can be served warm, cold or at room temperature and has different grades depending on the ingredients and how much of the rice is polished away. It’s a versatile style of wine that has around 2000 years of history and is made all throughout Japan. Five different sake producers whose products are imported via Deja Vu Sake Company were gathered to showcase each of their individual companies’ products at the event. Interestingly enough, each different company had breweries based in different prefectures. Sake from Amanoto, Dewazakura, Houraisen, Tengumai and Yoshinogawa were all lined up on the various tables for tasting.
On the far left hand side of the first table was Amanoto from Akita Prefecture, showcasing their Junmai Ginjo. It was said that they were scheduled to attend the Melbourne and Sydney events, but became unable to due to being awarded a trophy at the IWC 2016 Sake Competition and needed to attend the championship awards ceremony held in London in the first week of July. They are a boutique brewery and out of the 47 sake producers in Akita, they are the smallest. Despite their size, they run a few varieties of Junmai Shu, each having a varied flavour profile. All the rice and water that goes into their pleasant Junmai Shu is sourced from within 5km of the brewery, meaning that all their produce is sourced locally.
Just to the right of Amanoto, sat a proud looking bottle of Tengumai’s Junmai Shu. Both Amanoto and Tengumai only had one bottle of sake up for tasting, but that was all they needed to hold their own. Ishikawa Prefecture’s Tengumai was founded during the late Edo period, when the brewery was surrounded by a thick forest and it was thought that Tengu (a long-nosed goblin) existed there. This is where their name comes from. They are a brewery well known for using the traditional Yamahai sake making method, creating a Junmai with a complex flavour that goes very well with a wide range of food. While they also did not seem to have a representative present, it was still a pleasure to sample their sake.
On the far right side of the table sat Aichi based, Houraisen with two bottles of their own produce. Their display was a little more elaborate than the first two companies. A banner with their company name printed on it lay spread out over the table, a pile of pamphlets with their range of sake and fruit wines sat next to a little wooden sake cup filled with adorable sake bottle key chains painted to look like their Kuu/Sky Junmai Dai Ginjo Shu. Their current company president, Takeshi Sekiya, stood by the table ready to inform guests about his company’s products. He recommended people to try their Junmai Dai Ginjo first. It is labelled as being feminine and quite mellow, with floral aromas and stone fruits giving it a “clean delicate finish”. The water that Houraisen use for sake production contains no magnesium or calcium, creating a much softer sake than other brands. The bottle design itself, had quite a feminine and elegant look about it, matching nicely withe the softness of the sake. It was definitely the sort of sake I would recommend to women trying sake for the first time, as it was very delicate and for newcomers to sake, would go down well with a meal.
The other wine they had brought along, was their own special brand of Umeshu, or ‘plum wine’. Unlike most Japanese plum wines, which are yellow-green in colour, the contents of this bottle was orange-red in colour which is probably due to the special ingredients that they add to their plum wine. The addition of almonds, marzipan and peach flavours gave the Umeshu a fruity, sweet, flavour with a hint of nuttiness that made the flavour profile more complex compared to regular Umeshu.
Houraisen’s brewery is located in the mountains at around 500m above sea level, providing them with a cool location all year round which is ideal for rice growing and sake production. With this being said, they also grow their own rice specifically for sake production.
On the next table, Yoshinogawa’s Chief Clerk of Planning, Masayuki Yokomoto, was present, standing beside four bottles of their company’s various wines with a smile. Three of the wines up for tasting were sake and the forth was a Yuzu Shu. Yuzu is a small Japanese citrus fruit, similar to a lemon that can be made into juice, added to sauces for zest or even be made into wine. Yoshinogawa’s Yuzu Shu was sweet, but not too much so! It had a very fresh and almost vibrant flavour to it.
Yoshinogawa’s different varieties of sake were also very pleasant. Being the 5th oldest brewery in Japan, they’ve had a long time to perfect their art. They currently use both traditional and modern techniques in sake making and create a wide range of sake from each style. Niigata’s sake is known to be ‘smooth and clean’, and they happen to be the largest brewery in Niigata Prefecture. Their current head of the company is the 19th generation president, so they have a very long history in the sake industry.
Both their very popular Ginjo and their Daiginjo were very pleasant to drink and even without food, go down quite smoothly.
And finally, the fifth sake producer attending the event, with two attendees on their side of the table and a wide array of their own products, was Dewazakura from Yamagata Prefecture. Yamagata’s climate is surprisingly quite hot in the summer, usually exceeding 30 degrees Celcius and very cold in the winter. Due to this, they developed their own rice and yeast to suit the climate and their style of sake making. The yeast which they use gives their sake a very distinct fragrance, but this can also be attributed to their fermentation technique. Dewazakura was also awarded a trophy at the IWC 2016 Sake Competition, but they still had their representatives Akari Nakano and Shotaro Nakano present at the Australian events Deja Vu had scheduled. Dewazakura are one of the more famous Ginjo Shu producers in Japan.
They had brought along various styles of Junmai Shu, including a Junmai Ginjo, Junmai Daiginjo, Sparkling Junmai and a 10 Year Old, Aged Junmai. I had thought the Aged Junmai would be too strong for my taste, yet it was still quite enjoyable to drink. A bottle of this usually goes for $100 RRP, so it was really an honour to be able to try this luxurious sake. The packaging was also quite beautiful too.
One of their newer products, was the Saku Sparkling Junmai, a petite 250ml bottle with a very feminine design. They decided to make this sake to help change the image surrounding sake. For some, it can be hard to drink because it’s not sweet enough or the idea of mostly older people drinking it can put younger people off from trying it. However Saku is a little bit sweet, yet still is a dry wine that I would recommend to girls who have never tried sake before or just want a new drink to try that is fun and bubbly. I don’t tend to drink fizzy alcohols, but I found it quite refreshing and unique.
It was truly a pleasure to attend this event and not only meet and converse with some trade professionals, but some of the representatives of the sake companies present, as well as the owners of the importing company, the sweet Yukino Ochiai and Andrew Cameron, who were very informative and accommodating when it came to answering the various questions guests had regarding the various companies and their products. Deja Vu Sake Company has a vision to bring some of the finest Japanese Sake to the Australian market. One day, it would be nice to see a much wider range of sake available in local stores and hopefully we’ll be seeing much more of these breweries and their delicious sake.
It can be a bit daunting to try sake for the first time, but next time you go into a Japanese restaurant or another restaurant serving sake, ask them what sort of sake they recommend would go well with your dinner and give it a try! You might be pleasantly surprised!
Also check out the video we made here!