August 2010

Sake Spotlight - Melinda Joe Does Jozen!

Posted by Beau Timken in 2010, August, Newsletter, Sake Spotlight
Jozen sakes "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.

This month we are pretty lucky to have one of the top bloggers on sake - Melinda Joe - join us for her take on one of the most brand recognized brews in Japan and the world over. I asked Melinda to introduce herself and her blog here:

I'm Melinda Joe, an American journalist in Tokyo specializing in food, drinks, and travel. As the bar editor for the award-winning restaurant and bar guide and the sake correspondent for the Japan Times, I have a lot of chances to eat, drink, and drink some more. Everyone has a gift, and I've been cultivating that particular talent since high school. I'm a WSET wine certificate holder and graduate of John Gauntner's SPC I and SPC II sake professional courses. Join me on my adventures in sake, wine, and food at my blog, Tokyo through the Drinking Glass:

"What are we having for dinner tonight?" my husband JP asked.

"I'm not exactly sure yet," I replied, frantically dropping potatoes into a pot of boiling water and laying a row of steaming- hot okra onto the cutting board.

I was in one of my experimental moods. I'd looked into our refrigerator and decided I'd try to make up a meal using the random ingredients we had -- a fillet of frozen tuna, a handful of forgotten potatoes, a net of frankly pathetic okra and a half an avocado. I had no idea of how the dishes would turn out, but I was fairly confident in my choice of sake, a crisp bottle of Jozen Mizunogotoshi Junmai Ginjo.

This understated brew lacks the aromatic pyrotechnics and bold impact of a lot of popular brands, but it's an absolutely brilliant pairing partner. I've turned to this sake on many of these "mystery dinner" nights, and so far it's never let me down. Jozen Mizunogotoshi Junami Ginjo is like the friend you know you can call up any time and always have fun with.

Although I've been asked several times to explain why I love sake, I've never really been able to come up with a sufficiently exciting answer. I could try to be clever and craft a cryptic, koan-like response ("Sake is the moon we embrace.") or wax lyrical on the various virtues of the drink ("A sip recalls the clear sparkling water from pure springs fed by the majestic mountains of X."), but both of these answers would be somewhat disingenuous. The truth is much more mundane: I like to eat when I drink.

A lot of people might sip sake as a cocktail, but I almost always have my nihonshu with meals. Sake like Jozen Mizunogotoshi brings harmony to the table; a generous umami center and clean acidity give it tremendous pairing potential, and that means a lot to an avid home cook like me. It has a forgiving nature, and this latitude translates into greater freedom in the kitchen, more room to experiment with different ingredients and flavor combinations.

Its impact is feather-light and deceptively prim. While the Jozen has the same crystalline quality of many Niigata brews, it relaxes into a luxuriously soft texture in the midpalate before disappearing completely. Hints of savory, herbaceous flavors like bamboo and organic ricey notes come through as the sake warms in your mouth but float away before you have the chance to write them down. In the end, it doesn't really matter much, though -- this sake is at its best with food.

My dinner the other night was a case in point. I'd taken those odd ends and bits and produced mounds of spicy wasabi mashed potatoes and red, rare slices of seared tuna, topped with okra and scallions, drizzled with piquant yuzu-kosho dressing. I was even able to rustle up a side of avocado and shirasu Ceasar-style salad. The Jozen Mizunogotoshi handled it all beautifully, showing sweetness to balance out the spice and acidity, richness to underscore it all.

I had the pleasure of visiting the producers of Jozen Mizunogotoshi at Shirataki Shuzo in Yuzawa last March (when the snow was still about four feet high). The extremely affable Hosaka-san led us through a tasting, and I was delighted to discover a thread of continuity throughout the line. Anyone who has a chance to go up there for a tour definitely should. Yuzawa is a charming little town, great for skiing, with lovely onsens, delicious food, and, of course, fabulous sake.

Ha! Great Point Melinda - sake and food - sometimes we forget and this is a great reminder to us all to continue throwing all foods and flavors at sake - because more often than not it will work! And your choice of sakes was a solid one. I've been selling this sake in various incarnations for 8 wonderful years - three different packaging changes later it still is as solid and as you put it "dependable" as ever. I too have had the honor to speak to the owner of the brewery over dinner here in SF last month. I had one major question - why? Why did they change their "formula" for this sake that has tons of brand appeal in Japan? Why play with success? His answer was simple, "We felt people would like this version even more." And from what I have seen this past year that the new Jozen 2.0 has been released people do enjoy it more.

Basically in a word they changed their "laying down" time period from 6 months to a year for Jozen. I will include two reviews herewith - the former version and the new version. And I too have thoughts about food pairings with Jozen. On account of the new "body" and the same upper-acidity level this brew has a lot of staying power in the pallet - meaning that it holds and works well with flavors in the mouth. Good body - good feeling - good stuff!

Lastly, as a retailer I have always tipped my hat to the Shirataki brewery as they do a great job with packaging. And the new version of packaging is no slouch. Beveled bottles with attitude and style - in three colors for Junmai (white) Ginjo (pink) and Daiginjo (blue). The Daiginjo will soon be available - tasted it at a tasting last month and really fell for the pop and push of flavor on a clean flow. The Junmai will not be available soon!

If you haven't had Jozen for a while I think Melinda just gave you plenty of ammo to get back into the Niigata swing of things.

Former Version 1.0:

Shirataki Jozen Mizunogotoshi "Pure Flavor"
From Niigata Prefecture.
Junmai Ginjo.
SMV: +3 Acidity: 1.4

This Ginjo has a nose of soft metal or minerals mixed with persimmons and pomegranates. It has a very nice white chocolate clean beginning with vanilla middle and dried apple finish, all the while twisting in a flavor of snow melt and pears. This Ginjo falls into the very clean and pristine category of Niigata sakes, and does not disappoint. The smoothness and thin viscosity melt in the warmth of your mouth and the fresh balance of acidity and crispness makes this Ginjo disappear with a lingering pear-like departure.
WORD: Snow
WINE: Pinot Griggio/White Burgundy
BEER: Pilsner
FOODS: White fish with ponzu, scallops in wine, cold steamed chicken.

Version 2.0:

Shirataki Jukusei Jozen Mizunogotoshi "Pure Flavor"
From Niigata Prefecture.
Junmai Ginjo.
SMV: +3 Acidity: 1.7

The "Upgrade" on one of the most drinkable sakes in Japan resulted in a more full-bodied version of its former self. With a nose of plums, strawberries, cherries, white raisins, straw and steamed rice this brew, which used to be matured for 6 months now gets aged for a full year to bring out more smoothness and body. Behold a wider, fatter, and more dry sake than its previous incarnation. Round and smooth dried fruit flavors are well balanced with an elevated acidity level creating another great version of a Niigata dry and clean sake that has both body and flavor in a pristine package.
WORD: Smooth
WINE: Pinot Noir/White Burgundy
BEER: Ales
FOODS: Shellfish, sushi, sashimi, grilled fish and chicken.

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