Sake Spotlight - Susanne Rost Focuses Her Eyes on Masumi Nanago
Many many issues ago I wrote about my trip to Berlin where I visited a small sake shop and met a very special sake soul - Susanne Rost. Well S-san has graciously documented a very special brew that is near and dear to my heart. She also adds a great update on her expanding empire in Germany. Please visit her website at Sak Kontor.
Sake Spotlight July 2009 by Susanne
I have been a sake-specialist in Berlin for five years. Why? Because of a glass of Daiginjo that a friend once served in Japan. Intrigued by its purity and subtlety, I could not believe that it was made of rice and water...
With my company Sake Kontor I import more than 40 premium-sakes from Japan. The whole thing only works because we found great brewery- partners in Japan. Many thanks to them!
We sell to restaurants and consumers all over Germany and Europe. But Sake Kontor also sells sake on 6 square meters in a store in Berlin's Southwest. (Yes, Beau, we doubled the space from 3 to 6 square meters since you last passed by!)
But it is not just about selling the bottles. You have to convey a whole culture. I mainly do sake education and this is the job I love most, describing sakes, publishing, holding tastings and training seminars. The main task now is training multipliers like sommeliers and staff of restaurants. And founding a network, also on a European level. I enjoy that very much, and more and more sake aficionados have sprung up! This will give a strong push to the development of a European sake-culture.
Masumi Nanago "Celebrating #7"
Name "Number 7", sake-type "Yamahai Junmai Daiginjo"- enough to make me extremely curious.
"Number 7" refers to sake-yeast #7. It was discovered by the Miyasaka Brewery in Nagano one day in 1946, when especially beautiful aromas were rising from one of their fermentation-tanks. Nowadays, yeast #7 is used by sake-breweries all over Japan. Naming this sake "Masumi Nanago", the Miyasaka Brewery dedicates it to their famous yeast.
"Yamahai" in combination with "Junmai Daiginjo" sounds cool and crazy to me. "Junmai Daiginjo" suggests very sophisticated, clean sake made from highly polished rice. "Yamahai" suggests complexity and a wild, uncontrolled, funky touch. What an exciting combination!
Yamahai is an old yeast-starter method in which wild yeasts and bacteria from the air are allowed to play in the vat until they perish by the lactic acid they produce themselves. Only then the "good" brewing yeast - here glorious #7 - is added. Yamahai takes twice as long and is more risky than the common modern method (in which you add lactic acid from the beginning). And the wild play leaves interesting traces in the sake. What a challenge to use this technique for a portrait of your sake-yeast.
(By the way, my first bottle sold five years ago was a Yamahai. Why start the easy way if complexity is much more fun...)
Given those parameters, prepare for an adventure and open the bottle!
The first fragrance emerging is aromatic with a note of cheese on the horizon. Free Nanago into the glass, and this smell spreads beautifully, joined by a sweet element and a salty hint of smoked ham.
Nanago has to be stored nice and chilled. Just out of the fridge, it has little more than 8 degrees, and first contact with the palate is a bit reserved, like covered with an opaque layer. Warming in the mouth, the layer vanishes and the picture becomes clear. First, a subtle saltiness and a touch of smoked ham. Then a sweet kernel opens, like honey, melting in your mouth.
Gently, flowery aromas breeze in. Meadow flowers, wild herbs, a hint of lavender and hay. You feel transferred to an alpine meadow, not like in spring time in the Japanese Alps (to give you a wonderful experience of this there is another Masumi-sake named "Sanka", "Mountain Flower"). Instead, Nanago leads us to an alpine meadow in late summer, Bavarian Pre-Alps Allgaeu in Germany, for example. It is full of life and rich in aroma. But at the same time, elegant, drawn with a light stroke, like an impressionistic painting, built of many single colour spots. Ripe green and gold, sprinkled with groups of wild flowers, red, lavender, white. You stroll through the grass, honey bees humming, here and there a group of cows grazing (we need them for the cheese- and lactic note, don't forget).
After enjoying yourself a while in the sun, you come across a clear, cold mountain spring. A freshness that you feel at the border of the palate, lively, like spring water surrounding this Nanago-world. Actually, this is the beautiful acidity of Nanago, the border and the foundation of this sake. It keeps your palate awake, and the picture alive and moving. And in perfect balance!
This acidity is an effect of the Yamahai yeast-starter. I am not sure to which more credit goes, to the wild elements that were invited or to #7. But the more I search my soul, the more I feel it is #7, dancing over the meadow, playing with the elements, ruling them all, flowers, ham, bees, cows.
I leave you here on that meadow. If the bottle is empty, rush to True Sake and get a new one. If you lose your way back from the Alps - ask for Berlin, you will find a fellow sake-soul there and a fresh bottle of Nanago, too.
How great was that? Thank you Susanne - this is an instant classic for the Sake Spotlight. You rock! Ironically the bottle and label for this brew just changed from a twist off to a 1.8L stopper top! The label is now silver and herewith is my somewhat dated review:
- Masumi Nanago "Seventh Heaven"
From Nagano Prefecture.
Yamahai Dai Ginjo.
SMV: -1 Acidity: 2.0
This unique sake has a brilliant nose filled with citrus, blossoms, minerals, and hot wood. Nanago is fascinatingly delicious on so many levels. Firstly it is a Dai Ginjo made using the Yamahai technique, which should make it deep and rich, but it is quite the opposite. Bright and crisp elements push this sake to the pinnacle of flavor and the higher acidity level balances out like a dream. How do they do this? Nanago is a must for those wine lovers who think that they have had it all, and serious must for all sake aficionados.
WINE: Tannin reds/crisp whites
BEER: Crisp Ales
FOODS: Dances with citrus based dishes, salty grilled meats/fish, and great with salads.