Warming Dai Ginjo's? - You Must Be Mad!
No, we're not mad! We are just freezing! I was going to write this segment for the January or February Newsletter, but this mass of freezing air over San Francisco has made for a change of tact.
For the past 6 months Miwa (the store manager), Lynette (the assistant store manager) and I have been heating Dai Ginjo sakes. Wait a second! Isn't that illegal? Isn't that breaking the unwritten sake laws? Shouldn't you three go to sake prison for brew abuse? Won't you rot in hell? I cannot speak for the other two but I'm not going South for my personal eternity, especially for warming sakes that "quote un- quote" shouldn't be warmed.
We all know that Dai Ginjo category sakes are the premier efforts in the sake-brewing world. They represent the most polished/milled and refined brews available, and quite frankly are the most pampered and "sweated over" in a brewery's stable of sakes. More often than not they are the sakes that are presented to judges for national competitions and generally hold a very high status in the sake vernacular. Oh, and they also happen to be the most expensive! So why in God's name did we cook these bad boys? Because we felt it had to be done, and it is important to remind all that there are no rules for sake. You do what tastes good to you and the rest be damned!
When I was in Japan over a month ago I was given a great Dai Ginjo from Nishinoseki. It was the first time that I tried it, and I turned to my host and said that it would taste really good warmed up. He had never "performed" this. (Which amazed me because he is a sake god!) Lo and behold the sake in a Nuru-kan (luke warm) state was fabulous. I know that the Nishinoseki Junmai is one of the best in the biz for warming and the fact that the Dai Ginjo excelled as well speaks volumes for the brewery. 15 minutes after warming this brew I was privileged to share this sake with the owner of the Nishinoseki brewery.
When you visit a brewery most owners will tell you that they have all tried warming their high-end offerings. Some really like the results and others sort of scoff! I think the guys who have good sakes for warming are the ones who enjoy the idea of heating Dai Ginjos, and those who do not are the ones who shake their heads in disapproval.
What follows is a list of Dai Ginjos that range from expensive to quite affordable, and in all honesty I got most of these wrong. The Dai Ginjos that I thought would be good were not and the ones that I believed would fall short actually produced a far more enjoyable drinking experience. Lastly, I was going to only lightly warm the sakes, but decided to really take the heat to them as well. Basically we used the temperature zones called Nuru-kan (75-86 degrees F) and Kan (87-130 degrees F).
Gekkeikan "Horin" Junmai Dai Ginjo $12/300ml
(Overall Warming Grade: ( A-/B)
This warmed sake stays very light, semi-soft, and has a nice quick finish. The fruit gets far more earthy! Flavor stays forward and there is not a lot of down your throat sizzle. It remains plump and coats the palate.
The flavor gets lost as the fluid stays soft. Far more brisk elements with more snap and tingle, but the overall flavors are very muted.
Harushika Junmai Dai Ginjo $58/720ml
(Overall Warming Grade: A-/A)
Stays quite smooth and velvety - the fruit is noticeable and there is a hint of mint. The sake goes a bit dryer and there is a gentle acidity in finish. Soft round and gentle this brew takes gentle heat well.
Stays soft and is not choppy. Big ripe fruits emerge. It remains plump and thick and quite smooth. The flavor coats the mouth very well for a heated sake. I preferred Harushika at Kan!
Hitorimusume Shizuku Junmai Dai Ginjo $80/720ml
(Overall Warming Grade: B+/A-)
In a word this heated brew gets way too fruity. It opens up with crisp elements, almost snappy in nature then a flood of fruit gets carried on a plump boozy flow. Crisp and expansive but the feeling is lost on the in-your-face fruitiness.
The flavor stays far more compact. More heat does this sake good as it restricts the overall fruitiness and makes it a far more focused experience. It is not as snappy as the Nuru-kan and the fruit stays far more tight in Kan.
Kamoizumi Junmai Dai Ginjo $27/500ml
(Overall Warming Grade: B-/C)
This warmed Dai Ginjo gets far more rough in texture and flavor. Earthy rich tones peak with a back-door sweetness, but the overall booziness detracts from the flavor and the feeling. It is sharp and chippy.
Gets even more crispy and rough. The flavor becomes even more pronounced and the feel is jagged. Big booziness.
Tsukasabotan Shizuku Junmai Dai Ginjo $63/720ml
(Overall Warming Grade: B+/A-)
Big and fruity with lots of snap and an acidic finish. Stays fruit forward and the semi-thick fluid breathes hot acidity. The fact that it is a Genshu is evident in the abundance of fierce booziness that hollers.
More heat mellows out the fruit and acidity. Very large in nature but the extra heat compacts the flavor and controls the booziness. Lots of ripe grape fruit tones, but the overall fruitiness is muted by the concentrated acidity.
Umenishiki Junmai Dai Ginjo $65/720ml
(Overall Warming Grade: A+/A+)
Dried and crisp fruit tones stay incredibly soft and behold a fabulous finish for a heated sake. Ripe fruit flavor but not "fruity" as the sweetness is mellowed, but the finish is flat soft water. The elegance of this sake emerges with warmth as layers of flavor melt into a smooth flow
Soft fruity and clean, this baby is good under elevated heat. The viscosity makes it a winner as round strawberry and peach tones feel great in the mouth. The hotter the cleaner? Huh? It's true as the fruit tones go dry as ripe flavors turn to dryer elements.
Yaegaki "Mu" Junmai Dai Ginjo $26/720ml
(Overall Warming Grade: A/A-)
A deep rich sweetness rides on a flavor forward push that focuses on the tip of the tongue. The thin and watery nature of this sake is amplified with heat. Remarkably it remains clean, clean, clean with hints annisse and mild strawberries. It is quite gentle when warmed.
The sake stays very clean and watery, with a large hint of strawberry as the annisse remains. The overall drinking experience is still very gentle and easy. There is a flare-up of acidity on the swallow, but the cleanliness is still so remarkable.
Is it recommended to heat up a $50 sake? Who knows! But the point of this exercise is to explore the fact that you may not always drink an entire bottle of sake. You may even leave the bottle in your fridge for 10 days. The bottom line is that most of the Dai Ginjos we tasted did very well with a heating. Thus, do not "tug" at your chilled DG 15 days after opening, rather put some heat to it and enjoy an incredibly pampered sake in an entirely different state. You will find a home in warmed sake, and more to the point you will find salvation in "destroying" your most expensive sakes. And keep in mind, you cannot do this with wine or beer and that is why sake is "water from heaven.