April 2006

Sake Spotlight -- Daren Epstein takes a look at Dewazakura (Dewasansan & Oka)

Posted by Beau Timken in 2006, April, Newsletter, Sake Spotlight

The best part of my job is meeting fellow sake souls. Those people who have run head first into a passion and feel compelled to learn everything about this tremendous subject. One such sake warrior came to me via my friend John Gauntner, who hosted this fellow on one of his Professional Sake Tasting Courses. Daren Epstein is one of "those" kind of folks -- positive, funny, interesting as hell and a person who you want to spend more time with. He is an Expat living in Japan, and will soon marry his Japanese fiancee. He also is a tremendously talented photographer who has a really enjoyable website/blog called www.gaijinphoto.com (To pay his sake bills Daren happens to be a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army presently assigned to Headquarters, United States Forces, Japan as their Military Strategist.)

But these qualifications, albeit nice, do not do justice to Daren's newfound appreciation for sake. He has been bitten by the bug and has since relentlessly pursued his further education of all things Seishu. In this light, after a virtual discussion with Daren I deduced that he greatly enjoyed one of my favorite breweries from Yamagata, and gave him the opportunity to pen his love for Dewazakura. What follows are Daren's thoughts about two products that are made by Dewazakura -- A Junmai Ginjo called Dewasansan and a Ginjo called Oka. Both are available at True Sake and if you would like to directly communicate with Daren please go through his website. And here is Daren Epstein:

As I travel around Tokyo to sake pubs and sake stores and try to decipher menus and labels (which I am getting better at due to painful study of Japanese), I always have with me a list of confirmed favorites that I am familiar with that I refer to as guideposts, sakes that I have come to trust as being consistently good and can fall back on should I be overwhelmed in my search for new sake experiences. That may not satisfy my exploratory urges, but I know if I have my list, I will at least end up with something reliable, and if I have friends along, I can be sure that they will be satisfied with what I choose for them.One such guidepost for me is Dewazakura Dewa 33 junmai ginjo shu. Dewazakura is a brewery in Yamagata prefecture and Dewa 33 (pronounced Dewa sansan) refers to products produced by Yamagata brewers that have agreed to produce some junmai ginjo shus using Yamagata yeast (kobo KA) and Yamagata Komei rice (sakamai). Dewazakura Dewa 33 is classified as dry (karakuchi) but it is not overtly so. I find this brew to be light and fruity with a gentle sweetness. One may detect a hint of pineapple and berries, but I could also sense melon in the background. It is a well-balanced offering that travels evenly across the palate with a nice acidity. Technically, Dewazakura Dewa 33 has a nihonshudo of +4, acidity of 1.4, with an alcohol content of 15.8%. All of the pertinent information can be found online at the Dewazakura website. Unfortunately the site is in Japanese, but it still can be enjoyed and it is possible to decipher quite a lot given some patience.


Dewazakura also has some other great brews on offer, one of which I consider another guidepost: Dewasakura Oka (Cherry Bouquet), an un- pasteurized (nama) ginjo shu composed of Ogawa yeast and Miyama- Nishiki rice which produces a floral bouquet that offers as much to the nose as it does to the palate. Its nose reminds me of a plum blossom grove during a Japanese spring and the flavor is rich and full with the presence of sweet strawberries. This is a very drinkable sake that is often recommended to welcome newcomers into the fold. Oka is available in Japan mainly in the springtime and for good reason, the name is synonymous with perhaps that most passionate pastime of the Japanese, cherry blossom viewing (hanami). Oka has a nihonshudo of +5, and acidity of 1.2 with an alcohol content of 15.5%. More information can be found here.

Dewazakura Dewa 33 and Oka are available at True Sake (ID number JG07 and JG 10 respectively). Just place a call to 415.355.9555 and if your state allows shipment, you too can welcome these guideposts sake into your home.

Stay tuned for future articles describing some of the guideposts I come across in the future and in the meantime give Dewazakura Dewa 33 and Oka a try and kanpai!

Thank you Daren. I will add my reviews to these sakes below, but first I would like to agree with Daren about how these are perceived to be dry sakes. They are indeed dry in note but they both have a lot of fruit tones to them. Great examples of sakes that have higher SMV's that drink as if they were "sweeter" -- a word I do not like using when describing sake. Thus, think dry feeling and fruity flavor.

Also as they come from Yamagata prefecture (the current gold medal champion prefecture) I think that both of these sakes are good examples of the depth in flavor found in this region. I sometimes contend that Niigata sakes are made to feel more than taste, and sometimes lack that deep flavor experience. But Yamagata sakes have both that great feeling and that superior extensive flavor build. (I am generalizing here!) Lastly, Daren spoke of an un-pasteurized form of Oka, and we do not get this version in the US. We get a Nama-cho Oka, which means that the sake has been pasteurized once rather than the typical two times. Both Oka and Dewasansan are Nama-cho in the US.

Dewazakura "Dewasansan" -- "Green Ridge"
Yamagata Prefecture.
Junmai Ginjo.
SMV: +4
Acidity: 1.4
This Junmai Ginjo is really milled to a Dai Ginjo rate, and has a very floral nose filled with hints of cherry blossoms and pear. It has a light and smooth beginning that greets a fruity middle mouth made up of persimmon and peach flavors and slips into round and fresh finish with no aftertaste. Dry fruit tones mixed with a tender acidity makes for an elegant and refreshing sake that feels good in the mouth.
WORD: Peach
WINE: Merlots/Sauvignon Blanc
BEER: Ambers/Honey Ales
FOODS: Steamed white fish, fried scampi, daikon stew, grilled chicken.
$29/720ml & $63/1.8L
Dewazakura "Oka" -- "Cherry Bouquet" 
Yamagata Prefecture.
SMV: +5
Acidity: 1.2
Rice: Miyamanishiki, Yuki Kessho milled to 50%
Yeast: Association #10
This Ginjo is the sister to Dewasansan and is also milled to Dai Ginjo levels. The nose is a beautiful blend of flower blossoms, peach, radish, and spring water. It has dry start that is accompanied by a soft and creamy middle mouth filled with dried fruit overtones and a subtle melon finish. The viscosity thickens as the fluid warms in the mouth, and there is an overall floral perception from start to ending. It is a very nice example of a sake that shimmers in one's mouth as the roundness is quite prominent and appealing.
WORD: Pear
WINE: White Burgundy/Sauvignon Blanc
BEER: Ambers/Smooth Stouts
FOODS: Goes well with sushi, grilled fish, clean pastas, and fruit plates.
$29/720ml & $59/1.8L

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