Eikun – Koto Sen Nen – Junmai Ginjō

Eikun – Koto Sen Nen – Junmai Ginjō

Eikun –  ‘Koto Sen Nen’ –  Junmai Ginjō      Summary: Fruity and floral fragrance . Mildly sweet, green, elegant, with a dry finish. Kyoto courtesan with a sweet smile and acerbic tongue. Seimaibuai: 55%,  Acidity 1.3, SMV +3, Acohol: 15%,  Rice: Iwaimai (Kyoto rice strain). Prefecture: Kyoto Price:  Online, about $18.50 for a 300 ml bottle. Score – 9/10 grains Details: ‘Koto Sen Nen’ sake is brewed by the brewery known as Eikun, although officially named Saito Shuzō. The naming confusion is not exclusive to these guys. It is common for  a brewery to have an official company name and a brand name. Either way, Eikun is one of the finest brewers in one of the finest sake regions of Japan – the Fushimi district of Kyoto. Kyoto is next door to the birthplace of modern sake, Nara. In the late 7h century, Imperial Court established official sake brewing department and by 701 AD, the first brewing system was systematised and completed. When the court moved to Kyoto in 794, the sake brewing activity followed. Kyoto became the first epicentre of large-scale sake brewing (it remains second-biggest sake production area). Besides the legacy of the great sake history of Kyoto, Fishimi is distinguished by having access to spring water of exceptional quality. The water (and local tōji skills) produces elegant, not too sweet, soft sake, of so-called feminine style. ‘Koto Sen Nen’ sake is the epitome of Kyoto sake. What starts with a heady floral bouquet and mildly sweet upfront palate of green melon and grapes, briskly ends with acidic, spicy, dry persuasive tail. Soft sweetness, elegance, and great structure are all present. Delicious, complex, aromatic and a bit on the dry side. The lash of its tail makes me think it would benefit from a gentle warming up. It is surprisingly well-priced online, the sake of this pedigree and elegance doesn’t come at this price often in Australia. It’s sister Ichigin’ goes for more than double here. P.S. The name translates as “thousand-year old capital”      ...

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The beginner’s guide to umeshu

The beginner’s guide to umeshu

Sake -nihonshu – is not the be all end all of traditional Japanese liquor. In fact, over the last couple of decades, the lesser known beverages have overtaken sake. The biggest winner of the popularity contest is shochu, which is a Japanese traditional distilled liquor. Shochu tastes a little like sake, but has alcohol content closer to vodka. Another quiet achiever is umeshu. The chances are, it has sneaked onto the menu at your neighbourhood Japanese restaurant, without you ever noticing. Just like sake, umeshu is a drink with unique flavours and considerable charm, and is worth knowing more about. What’s in the name? “Umeshu” is made up of two words – “ume” (Japanese fruit, sometimes referred to as Japanese apricot), and “shu” , which is a suffix for liquor. Common English translation is “plum wine” but that’s not exactly right. In fact, ume is a unique species of fruit tree called Prunus Mume, although related to both apricot and plum.  The main point, umeshu means ume liquor. What does it taste like? Umeshu is sweet. It is definitely a dessert liquor. The sweetness comes from added sugar, rather than ume, which is quite tart. Umeshu is usually amber in colour, and has a full, heady aroma and very unusual flavour. Basically, it tastes like ume, which is a taste unique for most people outside Japan. I say “most” as Prunus Mume originated from China, and its varieties grow throughout East Asia.  Ume is full of natural acids, so the flavour of umeshu is a nice balance between acidity and sweetness. Importantly, the ume flavour components contain umami, that elusive fifth taste element that gives us a sensation of savoury goodness. Umami is found in foods that are universally acknowledged to have a special food charisma, like aged parmesan, truffles, caviar and dashi stock. That umami component is what draws people to umeshu – it is just so damn tasty! How is it made? Umeshu is made by combining ume that is not fully ripened, sugar (or honey) and shochu or sake. Shochu-based umeshu is more common, but plenty of umeshu is made with sake.  Some producers even use ginjō sake as a base. A few novel varieties are based on whisky or rum. The brewers slowly mature umeshu for up to a year in tanks, before transferring it into bottles. The slow maturation process is important for extracting the maximum flavour out of fruit. How to drink umeshu? Umeshu has full, somewhat syrupy body, due to the sugar content. A little dilution never goes astray, so serving umeshu on the rocks is a great idea. It can be an aperitif or a dessert wine. In fact, you can forgo the...

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Eikun – Ichigin – Junmai Daiginjō

Eikun – Ichigin – Junmai Daiginjō

Eikun –  Ichigin – Junmai Daiginjō   Summary: Quintessential Kyoto elegance and softness in this multi gold-winning bottle.  Expensive but worth it. Seimaibuai: 35%,  Acidity 1.1, SMV +3.5, Acohol: 15.3% Price: $188 online for 720 ml bottle. Score – 10/10 grains Details: Saito Shuzō brewery (known as Eikun) has been brewing premium Kyoto sake since 1905.  It is located in the Fushimi district, which is one of the most important brewing areas in Japan. Historic, scenic Fushimi area is blessed with the soft daiginjō-friendly water, and has a high concentration of esteemed breweries.  Fushimi area brews “feminine” sake, which is soft, elegant, and mildly fragrant and sweet. Ichigin sake is the pinnacle of Eikun’s craft. It has won eleven consecutive gold medals at the annual Japanese New Sake competition.  It is made with the king of sake rice, Yamada Nishiki, which is polished to the luxurious 35%. I pour Ichigin into a champaign flute, to mark the momentous occasion. It is absolutely transparent and clear. I swirl the liquid in the glass and inhale the ripe fragrance of honeydew melon. Ichigin is a mellow, soft, creamy sensation at first. But the sake I drink is young, and its quintessential Kyoto elegance overflows with brashness, too. Like a fruit picked off the tree a few days early, juicy and sweet but bursting with tartness. It is still a little bit green. I can, however, imagine the sake it is meant to become after maturation – all uninterrupted smoothness and balance, sweet fruity notes promptly resolved with a crisp dry finish.  I need another sip and then another, it is beautiful. This delicate daiginjō should be enjoyed chilled....

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