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Sake Spotlight November 2005

In last month's Sake Spotlight we spoke with Kazuo Matsuura owner of Matsuura Shuzo Brewery in Tokushima Prefecture. He is the maker of the Narutotai Yamahai Junmai Ginjo Genshu. Because of time constraints I had to post the October Newsletter without getting his final thoughts about his sake, and subsequently he would email me more on his favorite product that they produce. Herewith are Kazuo's final thoughts on this wonderful sake. Sorry for the double exposure, but I feel that it is amazing insight on an amazing sake.

I had to prod him with specific questions, but I must say that his answers are purely professional. It may be a bit much, but for those who want to know sake, this guy is a clearinghouse of information:

BT: Will you speak a little bit more about the Yamahai.... why do you make it a genshu?

KM: Yamahai is a kind of starter on sake making. In Japanese sake mashing, starter is called "Moto" which is one of the most important process of making. As same as wine brewing, "Moto" or starter will decide the quality of product. "Moto" gives the properties of taste of sake. If we would like to make the sake, which has full body taste, we should choose the specific type of "Moto", that is the Yamahai Moto. In general, recent Japanese sake making use the "Sokujyo Moto" that is a kind of simplified starter. There is the deference between "Sokujyo" and "Yamahai" in the number of species of microorganisms. We can identify just one kind of yeast in "Sokujyo Moto", which is Saccharomyces Cerevisie as same type as wine yeast. However, there are many types of microorganisms in "Yamahai Moto". These are Yeast, lactic bacteria and other type of bacteria. The microorganisms make a flora in "Moto", at first period, a bacteria that assimilates Nitrate will grow in Yamahai moto. They eat the Nitrate in water added to starter. Then, the Nitrate is de-oxided by the bacteria. In the condition containing de-oxided nitrate, the other microorganisms will be killed by de- oxide nitrate.

The specific aim of this period is that the wild type yeast is killed. In second step in Yamahai Moto, Lactic bacteria will grow. This type of lactic bacteria have a tolerance to the de-oxided nitrate. The lactic bacteria make lactic acid, so the taste of Yamahai moto will be sourer. Under the condition, wild type yeast never alive. Through this long period, suitable type yeast that makes good taste and flavor of sake will grow. Now this is Yamahai Moto. It takes twice periods of normal Sokujyo Moto. Since Yamahai Moto is made by many kinds of microorganisms, the produced sake has complex flavor and taste, which is smoky aroma like a specific type of honey. We would like to give Yamahai Genshu of Narutotai the complex flavor.

BT: When you taste this Ginjo what flavors do you find... what do you enjoy about it as a drinker and not a maker?

KM: As describing above, we can taste the complex smoky flavor which similar to cinnamon or roasted wood, Yamahai sake matches food or cuisine that has little strong taste, smoked salmon with olive oil, meat with tomato sauce you can fine the dish at Chanterelle in NY. Especially, Michael Wise said that Yamahai Genshu matches the cuisine with green leaves. Green leaves are containing bitter taste component, which may be called Sinaline. It is a popular component of green leaves according to Prof. Wise who is the professor of Culinary Institute of America.

BT: Why do you like the sake, and what foods do you pair with it?

KM: I like Yamahai Genshu the best, because Yamahai Genshu has original flavor we can't detect in other type sake. The property of Yamahai Genshu is the specific flavor. The flavor will musk the fish's raw flavor, match the taste of roasted soy sauce flavor. You will be able to predict easily the roasted flavor of soy sauce. There is a bridge between Yamahai flavor and roasted soy sauce flavor. It is a result of Japanese food culture by excellent yeasts and natural microorganisms.

Just a great guy, who so happens to make one hell of a great sake. I will include my review again:

Narutotai Genshu "Red Snapper" From Tokushima prefecture. 

Yamahai Junmai Ginjo Genshu.
SMV: +4 Acidity: 1.5
This genshu (undiluted sake with 17% alcohol) has a subtle aroma profile that hints of damp wood, whipping cream and a tingle of licorice. It is a deep and rich sake that drinks thin even though it feels robust. With a layered acidity, it's a perfect genshu for pairing with largely flavored Western-style cuisines. Look for the red snapper on the label as this sake was constructed to pair perfectly with this fish marinated in soy sauce.
WORD: Deep
WINE: Merlots/Soft Reds
BEER: Pale Ales
FOODS: Cooked fish, juicy game dishes, vegetable tempura, holiday turkey and ham.

And don't forget to try Kazuo's Junmai Ginjo Fall Draft "Hiyaoroshi" that is only available for a limited time. This sake was brewed in February, pasteurized once and then stored for 8 months. They release it without pasteurizing it again when they feel the flavor has achieved its peak. It is dry and really yummy, and quite frankly I love warming it (Nuru-kan). This and the other two Fall Drafts will be gone soon!

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