February 2007

Sake Spotlight - Satomi Furugaki Goes Big on Denshu.

Posted by admin in 2007, February, Newsletter, Sake Spotlight

sake spotlight feb 2007This month's "Spotlight" is a delight as we get to shine a little light on one of the up and coming sake influencers in the US. I first met Satomi Furugaki when I was a judge for the International Sake Sommelier Competition in LA in 2006. She was the point person for the entire event and I quickly learned that Satomi has a sake soul and a Dai Ginjo heart. Recently, I asked her to critique some Izakaya's (sake pubs) in LA - this will be featured in the March Newsletter - and asked her if she would put her sake sommelier and sake aficionado skills to test by writing a little piece on her favorite Junmai sake. Satomi is a Shugaku Kohshi (sake instructor), but more importantly she is a drinker of sake and that is my favorite quality about this wonderful voice in the sake industry.

Herewith is her review on the ultra-popular Tokubetsu Junmai called Denshu:

"In my history of my affair with sake, I must say, Ginjo was the one that captivated my soul that previously belonged to wine. And Junmai was the one that made me fall in love with sake deeply. Until I met this gorgeous Tokubetsu Junmai called Denshu from Aomori, the northernmost tip of mainland Japan, my sake of choice had long been an expressively aromatic Ginjo type. Then Denshu came along, the rich and classy Junmai delight, and has forever converted me into an ardent Junmaista.Of course, I still do reach for a Ginjo when in mood for its fragrance and irresistible dainty charm. But Junmai has been the one in my mind recently when I crave for a quintessential pure rice-like flavor of sake, rich, inviting and mellow like a time spent with good old friends, or when I want some sake that can lead the evening as a beaming protagonist of the meal.Denshu is the product of the award-winning Nishida Shuzo (brewery) by the hand of brewery master (toji) of Nanbu Guild. The brewery has been in business since 1877 in Aomori City. The name Denshu literally means the "sake of/from the rice field," reflecting the brewer's dedication to the traditional style of sake brewing, making sure they use only the ingredients right out from the rice filed, never adding any distilled alcohol.

I first tried Denshu at this charming and rustic Izakaya (Japanese version of the tapas bars) called Wakasan (affectionately called Wakasan-chi among Japanese, translated as "Mr. Waka's") in Westwood area of Los Angeles, as a treat from my best drinking buddy Kuma, a fellow Japanese expatriate who religiously frequented this hideout before his departure for Japan. According to Waka-san, every year, his place has four bottles offering of Kikuizumi, by Nishida Shuzo of Denshu fame, out of only a dozen or so available in California.

My friend Kuma is my sake partner-in-crime who taught me the bliss of strolling around and barhopping in the Shinbashi district of Tokyo. Shinbashi is the businessmen's haven with alley after alley of Izakaya joints, mostly cozy hall-in-the-wall type, flooded with men in suits, shoulder to shoulder, decompressing themselves after their busy workday. The Showa nostalgia is tangible in the air filled with smokes from good eats like dried squid, yakitori and nikomi to nibble...all sorts of full-flavored treats that would make you go just "yum!" with an old fashioned small glass full of Junmai sake.

Now back to Denshu. Aomori Prefecture, the home of Denshu, is well known in Japan as the biggest producer of apples as well as seafood like tuna, scallop and cod. There are many regional dishes slowly stewed in rich and tasty broth featuring seasonal blessings from local oceans and mountains, like Keyakimiso, a scallop in a shell cooked with bonito broth and miso, with egg poured in and topped with scallion, or Jappajiru, cod's organs with daikon radish simmered in miso.

Aomori sake compliment their regional dishes very well. Though relatively on the drier side, Aomori sake tend to be more compacted in their aroma and flavor profiles compared to the national average, and very well-structured with an exquisite balance of sweetness, dryness, bitterness, acidity, and umami. Many use Aomori-grown sake rice Hanafubuki ("a blizzard of the blossoms," such a poetic name for rice!), big-grained rice packed with an abundance of starch needed for good Junmai.

Denshu, Tokubetsu Junmai, in its shimmering light amber color, bears a faint fruity aroma with hints of citrus and mineral. The first sip welcomes you with such a rich and silky smooth touch that unwinds your senses instantly. The umami-rich sweet rice flavor is met with the tantalizing mature impression of a roasted chestnut, altogether mellowed down with the pleasant bitterness reminiscent of the ice- cold apple skin. This elegant brew with a softness of the sweet potato accented with peanut butter like saltiness and distant acidity as in a dark caramel, drinks so smooth and leaves in your month a sweet lingering comfort that invites you for more sips.

Junmai sake like Denshu stirs up the warm and fuzzy feelings in me, reminding me of all the good times shared with my friends and family, pouring sake to each other and laughing the nights away. Junmai sake speaks to me well that the sake is a catalyst of the great memories, and the medium between men and the nature, savored through the enduring passion of the brewers manifested in the divine droplets. I enjoy feeling sake enriching and nourishing my slowly evolving time with my company, linking us to the heart of the brewers and with the beautiful nature and the seasons that the land of Japan bestows us to cherish.

When I am in a state of "horoyoi" rapture in a tipsy intoxication, I thank the God of Sake for letting me be born in a country with such a heavenly drink that continues to enchant me like it has long done to our ancestors since the ancient days. But I guess the Sake God's gone pretty global, with a wonderful help of sake purveyor, sommeliers, and journalists, we the world citizens are all under his equal mercy; for I know from experience, the sake fever has proven to be, undoubtedly, highly contagious among my non-Japanese friends across the oceans. I am perfectly sober at the time of this writing, but this I know for sure. Kanpai!"

Satomi is a Los Angeles representative of Sake Service Institute (SSI) (www.sakejapan.com), the sole licensing organization of sake sommelier certification. She is also an SSI certified Kikisake-shi (sake sommelier) and Shugaku Kohshi (sake instructor). She teaches sake classes at California Sushi Academy (www.sushi-academy.com), first sushi chef training institution out of Japanese, and writes tasting comments for several sake breweries.

Thank you Satomi for a terrific journey map of an amazing sake known as Denshu. As we sell this hyper-allocated brew at true Sake, we basically use it as "The Default" prototypical Junmai brew for those looking to get a sense of "well constructed" sake. It is as balanced as they come, always top notch with very little variance between each year's offerings. Herewith is my blurb on such a drinkable brew:

Nishida Denshu "Country Squire" 
Aomori Prefecture.
SMV: +3 Acidity: 1.5
This ultra-popular Junmai comes from a brewery that only makes 50,000 cases per year, which creates a hyper-demand for such a well- structured and flavorful sake. With a nose of soft grass tones and floral elements, "Denshu" has full flavored beginning of dried fruits and a subtle vanilla under-current. It is a very clean and fresh tasting sake that has a great deal of "umami" in its make-up. It also is rich and deep, which spells out the fact that this Junmai is so well built that it is both strong and light.
WORD: Balanced
WINE: Deep Reds/Robust Whites
BEER: Strong Ales
FOODS: Grilled everything, sushi, French fries.

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