September 2007

Sake Spotlight - Todd Thompson Looks at Taisetsu

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

sake spotlight sept 2007"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.

In this hot month's issue Todd Thompson looks at a very cold sake called Taisetsu from Hokkaido Prefecture. But first who is Todd? I can honestly say that he is our store's most loyal customer. His love and passion for Japan has transcended into a loyal arm around our shoulder that looks out for True Sake and more importantly tries to get the word out about nihonshu in the US. His dedication and support is second to none, and we relish the moments when Todd walks in and asks "what's new" knowing damn well that the brews are pretty much the same as they were four days earlier.

Todd represents a "one of us" sake consumers. That said he is a bit spoiled as he has spent many a day in Japan and consistently reminds us about the better prices for sake in Japan. This being said we totally value his opinion because it is straight and honest and we have used TT as a sake "Terminator" of sorts without him knowing it. We have had a brew or two that was not drinking up to our standards and we have asked Todd as the final decider. Without knowing it, he has single handedly killed several sakes from our shelves! One sake that he will never kill is Taisetsu. Take it away Todd:

Taisetsu Sake ReviewThe best sake aspires to be water. My ideal sake, anyway, is pure, crisp, and fresh like water. That's what I find in Taisetsu. Start with the bottle: a transparent ice blue. Unlike the typical brooding brown or green, this bottle tells us what the brewers are trying to achieve.The name "Taisetsu" means "heavy snow." If sake aspires to be water, even better is snow, and heavy snow at that. This sake is not brewed in one of the traditional sake centers of Japan but in Ashikawa, located in a river valley among the central mountains of Hokkaido, the northern-most island. This is Japan's Montana, where the winters are long and cold. Taisetsu's brewing water is mountain snowmelt that seeps into the rock and reemerges in the river valley. The brewer, Takasago Shuzo, collects the water and brews its sake in the middle of winter, with temperatures inside the kura below freezing. It's hard to imagine a better start for my ideal sake. We've all noticed that sake in the U.S. is too expensive. When I encounter a bottle of sake that could pay for a sushi meal for two, I go for the meal instead. So I can never evaluate a sake apart from the price. Blessedly, Taisetsu is one of the cheapest junmai ginjos in the store.

All of these things set me up to love Taisetsu, but they wouldn't matter if the sake didn't measure up. It does. The fragrance is gentle, slightly sweet, but not fruity, more like rice and vanilla. The first taste is mildly dry, crisp, clean, simple, and thin. Taisetsu is like water at the tip of your tongue, but it becomes spicy and almost peppery as it hits the back. With more sips, the spice gradually disappears, and a pleasantly conventional, solidly sake taste takes over. There are none of the off-flavors that are the bane of many less expensive sakes.

Taisetsu complements food. Its simple, clean flavor tends to stay in the background. But we drink it most often alone or with snacks, which tend to bring out its sweetness. Don't look to Taisetsu for complexity or fruit. Go to it instead for pure and simple pleasure.

Thank you Terminator!

I have always valued this brew and place it on many of my sake menus that I do for restaurants. The kura (brewery) is a very interesting one that fell on some hard times. (This story is not a nice one for the history of sake) But today they are producing some top-notch efforts that not only include Taisetsu, but another sake that we carry as well called "Ginga Shizuku." This brew is a Junmai Dai Ginjo Shizuku and I will include its review after my thoughts on Taisetsu. Bottom line it is indeed a great value sake that speaks to almost all drinkers, and if you have not taken it out for a taste-run then you should give it whirl.

Taisetsu "Gardens of the Divine"
From Hokkaido Prefecture 1899.
Junmai Ginjo.
SMV: +3
Acidity 1.3
This Ginjo has a nose of citrus and melon. The first sip reminds one of biting into a snowball with all of that mineral and snow- melt taste, and this is underscored by a nice layer of orange citrus flavorings. The calm beginning slides into solid back of salt water and dryness, which is all balanced out by a smooth acidity. This Ginjo is a great value sake for those looking to taste a sake from "up north," and the mineral and citrus play is not to be missed. Gin and vodka fans take note.
WORD: Snowball
WINE: Sauvignon Blanc
BEER: Crisp Pale Ales
FOODS: Sushi bar fare, tempura, crisp green salads.
$20/720ml $45/1.8L
Ginga Shizuku "Divine Drops"
From Hokkaido Prefecture.
Junmai Dai Ginjo Shizuku
SMV: +3
Acidity: 1.2
This dynamite sake is made not by pressing with a machine rather the brewers separate the sake from the lees by placing it in canvas bags and use gravity to drip the sake out slowly. Thus expect an amazingly silky quality to this brew with a nose full of pear and minerals. Talk about a great first sip. A clean start is filled with persimmon and plum flavors wrapped in a chewy and slightly fruity package. Yet the finish is more clean than fruity and more balanced than dry.
WORD: Plum
WINE: Pinot Noir/chewy whites
BEER: Sweet ales/hefferweisen
FOODS: Elegant flavors with a subtle saltiness or natural sweetness
$31/300ml $65/720ml

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