Sake Spotlight - Tamiko Ishidate Looks At Chikurin Junmai Ginjo
"Sake Spotlight" is a unique section within the Newsletter that takes a closer look at specific sakes that may be purchased at True Sake. I approach different professionals within the industry to give their perspectives and insights to the how, what and why's for very special sakes. These insiders are importers, brewers, authors, sake sommeliers, or just enthusiasts who will take your knowledge base a little further. What I like about this segment is that often my review is quite different than that of the guest professional's adding to the point that there is no right or wrong when discussing your opinion about sake.
Tamiko Ishidate is a fellow sake/food enthusiast who resides in the San Francisco Bay Area. Tamiko works in the sake industry, and conducts periodic tasting events throughout the region and beyond. She is a superstar within the sake community, because she is great at promoting sake. For any comments or inquiries, please email her at Please send your sake specific questions to tamiko @ jotosake.com.
Sake enthusiasts, such as readers of True Sake's e-newsletter, would all agree that the flavors, styles and quality of sake vary within a range much narrower than that of, say, wine. In this world of subtleness and nuances, one must admit it's a joy to find a sake that has a unique character that makes it stand out among a crowd of common beauty. It is my honor to share such sake of character today in this issue of Sake Spotlight.
The word "Karoyaka" translates as "Lightness". Lightness is not a name given to this sake merely for being: rather, it is simply a feeling. This sake in its tall frosted glass with a skin-toned label evokes a feeling similar to perhaps a fine bottle of Alsatian Riesling. Certainly, when you stick your nose into a glass filled with this well-chilled brew, the nose is reminiscent of Champagne, with a hint of sage and cherry. But the look and the nose are not where the character ends. Take a sip and experience the particular "weight" that's very unique to this sake. The "weight" is a combination of cream, oil and Mochi-like sweetness. How do you brew a sake like this? According to Mr. Marumoto, you really don't: you make the sake that way AFTER the sake was brewed. But how??
Mr. Marumoto is the 7th generation president of Marumoto Brewery in Okayama prefecture, an hour train-ride from Kyoto. His approach to making sake is a fine combination of purist and progressive- experimentalist. Above all, he is a rice fanatic. He grows his own rice and, not only that, he grows them organic, or better said, wild. "Yamadanishiki is a wild rice, that grows best when left alone," according to Mr. Marumoto. He hardly even gives fertilizer. It's a total "yasei-ji", or a wild child. A very generous spacing between rice stalks allows maximum exposure to air and sunshine - an environment ideal for growing healthy rice. Mr. Marumoto is a great model for the terroir of the sake world: he even tastes the soil to check its nutrients. He can also tell the health of rice from the hue of its color when it's ready to be harvested in the fall. "Rice makes tasty sake", has been the motto of Marumoto Brewery for 20 years now. Naturally, he only makes Junmai sakes for his Chikurin brand.
This rather purist approach to making sake is counter-balanced by his much more progressive, rather unusual practice of "blending". Indeed, "Blending Day" is one of the most important days at the Marumoto Brewery, in which Mr. Marumoto himself carefully blends koshu or aged sake into his freshly-brewed sake. Karoyaka, in particular, has a small amount of sake brewed 2 to 5 years prior, stored unpasteurized in refrigerated storage tanks. The addition of aged sake gives this lightness sake weight and character: much like chewing on sweet Mochi rice, the natural sweetness of wild Yamadanishiki rice coats your palate and puffs up again in the finish. The sake is flavorful and quite hardy in pairing.
Hardy, yes - Karoyaka is a great sake for food pairing. Bring on the sweet, bring on the fruit, oil, and acidity. It's a picnic sake, ceviche sake, Hamachi tartar sake, and aged goat cheese sake. At a brewers dinner at Yoshi's a few weeks ago, it was paired with UK Langostine Salad: fresh ogo seaweed, Balloon tomato confit, and sea urchin vinaigrette - it makes my mouth water remembering the perfect pairing of the sake with this exquisite dish. Even the tomato confit was delicious - now, that's a sake challenge!!!
Ahhhhh what a great sake! Thank you Tamiko for shedding more light on this nihonshu that I used as the "Welcoming Sake" for Sake Day 2006.
I love this nihonshu and love this brewery! Herewith is my review of said brew:
- Chikurin Karoyaka "Bamboo Forest"
From Okayama Prefecture.
SMV: +3 Acidity: 1.4
This Ginjo is actually milled to 50% Dai Ginjo levels, and has a gentle aroma profile with hints of plum, yellow bell pepper, grass, and sunflowers. Think silky when first tasting this extremely soft Ginjo that is so clean it is almost watery. There are taste treasures of apricot, watermelon, white grapes, and a hint of cherries in this semi-thick "like water" brew. The slippery semi-dry flow is perfect for those looking to find a gentle sake void of harsh booziness.
WINE: Soft reds/silky whites
BEER: Clean ales
FOODS: Sushi, sashimi, grilled white fish, creamy risotto.