The Tasting Panel magazine

April 2011

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Page 36 of 124

JAPAN Pedigreed Rice HENRY SIDEL’S JOTO SAKÉS ARE CHOSEN FROM TOP JAPANESE BREWERIES TO BEST FIT THE U.S. MARKET ow much the world has changed. How much Japan has changed and will change. What incredible destruction and tragedy. There it was: Earthquake Hits Japan. Sendai is the first place I remember seeing. I also saw Iwate, where Nanbu Bijin brewery is located—“Southern Beauty,” as many people know the saké here. One cannot think of this saké without thinking of Kuji-san, its gregarious and nutty owner. I thought of him, sadly. As soon as I saw Fukushima, I thought of Hiro, my homestay family’s son. I still had a small yellow envelope from him, ripped open and empty on our entryway table. His parents and brother, Mako, had been in New York a month ago and shared photos and our address with Hiro. His two young girls had written a card with American flags in crayon and warm wishes to our two boys. I had never known Hiro well when I lived with the Tomodas in 1987, but now he was deep in my thoughts, as was the image of this empty, yellow envelope from him and his family, in Fukushima. This is where Daiichi and Daini nuclear reactors are located. —Henry Sidel, founder, Joto Saké Henry Sidel understands Japan’s major saké produc- ing regions. The founder of Joto Saké LLC strives for the highest level when it comes to the artisanal “rice wine” selected for his importing company. It’s no coincidence that Joto means as “highest level” in Japanese. His portfolio is diverse, with sakés coming from major saké-producing regions in Japan, all crafting their finest brews in small batches, primarily using locally-raised rice. Over the past six years, Sidel has selected only eight breweries, and turned down as many as 20. Joto’s eight breweries represent 61 generations and more than 1,550 years of family ownership and saké history. Every saké label from Joto has been translated into English, providing brand information to help educate and inform a purchasing decision. In my recent sit-down tasting, I also relied on expertise from Los Angeles saké expert Anthony Fagundes, who guided me with some back stories along with way, which we can share at a later time. Here are our combined tasting notes on some of our top picks from the Joto saké portfolio. —Meridith May 36 / the tasting panel / april 201 1 Chikurin “Karoyaka” Junmai Gingo (SRP $50, 720 ml.) This is the first 100% Japanese, USDA-certified organic saké and the only 100% “estate bottled” – or home-grown—brand in Japan, from Marumoto Brewery in the Okayama region. The rice, grown by the brewery itself, is the most prestigious variety used for saké, known as Yamada Nishiki. The name “Karoyaka” means lightness, and the subtle nature of this mineral-inspired junmai gingo (referring to rice polished to 60% or less of the original size of the grain) offers a balanced fruit-to- acidity profile. Spring flowers, melon, cucumber, green banana and Asian pear are just some of the notes from this feminine saké. Watari Bune Junmai Daiginjo (SRP $109, 720 ml.) Watari Bune is named for the rice variety used to make this saké, which became a cult brand in Japan, winning rave reviews in the press and from the brewing community. It is from the Ibaraki-ken region, bordering Tokyo. Watari Bune (“Ferry Boat”) is one of the only pure strains of saké rice in use today, the father strain to the most celebrated saké rice, Yamada Nishiki. Honeydew and apricot blossom go deep and layered on a graceful texture. HouHouShu Sparkling Saké ($14.99, 300 ml.) This is a fun, lighthearted saké, produced in a fashion similar to méthode champenoise sparkling wines. It’s made at Marumoto Brewery, at the base of the Chikurine-ji Mountains in Okayama-ken, one of Japan’s most prized agricultural regions. A national landmark, the brewery is managed by the sixth-generation son, Niichiro Marumoto. Soft and “fluffy” on the palate, HouHouShu is light and fruity in flavor. Add a squeeze of lemon juice to give it a bright fresh kick. Sixth-generation son Niichiro Marumoto harvesting rice. H

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