The Riedel Daiginjo Glass
Sake World Sake e-Newsletter
September 25, 2001
IN THIS ISSUE:
-The Riedel Daiginjo Glass
-Sake Drinking at Tokyo Station
-Professional Sake Course
-eSake.com Web-based US Sales: PREORDER NOW!
-Sake to Look For
-Sake events and other miscellany
The Riedel Daiginjo Glass
The question of what vessel to use when drinking sake is an important one. Not only do the shape and size affect how the flavor and fragrance are presented and emphasized to us, but the appearance and feel of a vessel influence the overall experience.
Traditionally, sake is drunk from small cups, as we all surely know by now. This has its roots in the culture and custom of pouring for each other, with small glasses enabling refilling more often. As old customs die hard, even glasses at modern professional tastings, while transparent rather than opaque, are quite small.
The boundless world of Japanese ceramics also offers an endless range of cups to choose from. With o-chokko and (slightly larger) guinomi from one of several kilns of fine pottery, a striking visual element and a tactile facet become a part of the sake experience. The appeal of a gorgeously fired ceramic cup with an earthy feel on your lips must not be underestimated, especially when filled with your favorite sake.
But since sake shares many qualities with wine, at least in terms of how it can be appreciated, wine glasses should receive at least some consideration. The premier wine glass maker in the world, Riedel, has done more than that: Riedel has created a glass especially for daiginjo.
For those readers not familiar with them, Riedel is an Austrian company that makes glassware that is very specifically tailored for particular beverages, especially wine. Their glass design principle is The content determines the shape. For example, they have a wine glass for most of the well-known types of wine in the world.
The way that the ideal shape and size for a particular beverage are determined is by gathering the people from around the world that actually make the beverage in question, as well as those that know it very, very well. Everyone then tastes from dozens of different shapes and sizes of glasses.
More and more glasses are weeded out until there is but half a dozen or so that may look very similar at first glance, but that bring about subtle differences in the taste and smell of the beverage. The experts further concentrate on determining the best of these top candidates, with the most suitable eventually being selected. Since the determination was made by those that know the beverage best, and not just by Riedel, the final product has validity, and is generally well-received by the discerning world market.
Late in 1997, Riedel was approached by a producer in Ishikawa Prefecture, Fukumitsuya. Riedel had in fact considered a sake glass before, but had abandoned the plan since the idea of what constituted good sake was too diverse within the industry to achieve any consensus. But this time, the decision was made to focus on daiginjo, as its aromatic nature seemed to be equally appreciated everywhere.
And so they began the ambitious process of selecting one glass the industry and consumers would agree makes daiginjo taste the best. Initially, they began with about 60 shapes, reduced this fairly quickly (with the help of a panel of experienced sake tasters) to about 30, and culled a final flight of 12 fairly similar shapes. Five panels of professionals and producers from all over Japan further reduced this to six glasses, all very similar in appearance. From this six, a final group consisting of mostly daiginjo producers selected one glass.
During these various tastings, the participants were asked to put aside their preferences for design, stem height, and appearance, and focus on only taste and smell. This was no mean feat, as sake from a stemmed wine glass did not resonate with many of the stodgier participants.
Interestingly enough, the glass shape that won consistently had the highest marks by about the same margin at all tastings and at all stages of the process. Such consensus is comforting.
It doesn稚 look like much. It looks a lot like a chardonnay glass, really, and in fact its bowl size and rim diameter are only slightly different. But it was clear (I, too, participated in the tastings and selection process) that the finer qualities of a fragrant daiginjo are indeed maximized when using this glass.
Granted, you may not always want to work that hard. You may want to relax a bit and not focus every ounce of consciousness on your sake. You may prefer the stony touch of a chunky piece of pottery. That is fine, and if the truth be told, is more often my own personal preference. But should you choose to maximize the extravagance that daiginjo can offer, the Riedel Daiginjo glass will definitely help you achieve that.
The glass is fairly widely available, (at Tokyo Hands, in Japan, if nowhere else), and retails at most places for \3000 to \3500. The nice package also includes a photo of the labels of the dozen brewers that helped in the final selection.
In the US, the Riedel Daiginjo Glass if available from SakeOne, at www.sakeone.com, for $28, or look for a dealer near you on Riedel’s site at www.riedelcrystal.com.
Sake Drinking at Tokyo Station
Great sake is becoming easier and easier to find in bars and restaurants. With the proliferation of places to try decent nihonshu, there is no need to make a big deal out of searching for a “proper” sake pub.
Speckled throughout the sprawling underground shopping areas that lie below many of the major stations in Japan are little sake havens. Noodle shops and “izakaya (sake pubs) of convenience” that cater to the numerous salarymen in these areas abound. While you might not get the atmosphere you would at a proper, dedicated sake pub, what you can get is good and well-known sake at reasonable prices.
So maybe you have heard of Juyondai, Kokuryu, Koshi no Kanbai and Kubota. Yet if you ask for these at your local liquor shop you are met with an incredulous snicker (something I have actually experienced on several occasions). It is at precisely these kinds of nondescript, easily overlookable eateries where you can conveniently and inexpensively try these great sake.
Take, for example, the easily accessible and oft-passed through Tokyo Station immediate environs. One recommendable shop is Keyaki, which is inside the wickets, downstairs near the Yaesu Central Underground exit, close to the Gin-no-suzu waiting areas.
Keyaki has a nice, slightly elegant atmosphere, and serves nice fresh seafood-centered set meals at mealtimes, and has a range of nice izakaya food available as well. The draft beer comes in glasses with finger indents for proper gripping, which somehow makes the beer taste significantly better.
But the several selections of sake are what makes it worth stopping in on your way to – or home from – anywhere. Most notable are Goshun, Kubota, Denshu, Kokuryu and (get this) six types of Juyondai, ranging from 650 to 2500 a glass (the 850 “Funadare” will do you just fine, and their “Honmaru” honjozo is great for 650). Keyaki (03-3214-6161) has shops all over the Tokyo station area, but this is the one you want. And you never have to exit the station wicket.
Once outside the wicket, however, your best bet is Jiman Honten, in the Yaesu underground shopping area, reviewed in this column a few years back. (03-3275-2689) Great fish and perhaps 50 great sake.
If you exit Tokyo Station at the aforementioned Yaesu Central Underground exit and take a right into the first aisle, signs will tell you that you will be heading for Yaesu South and Yurakucho. This aisle will dead end into a shop call Kassen Ichiba. A small restaurant with lots of fresh fish and great lunch sets, they also handle about 15 sake, including all the usual supsects from mighty Niigata including four Kubota and what are known as the “three plums” of Niigata: Koshi no Kanbai, Mine no Hakubai and Setchubai. (Unfortunately, they had no business card, no address or phone number on the chopstick wrapper, and seemed to think I was from the CIA when I asked for their phone number.)
Twenty meters before Kassen Ichiba on the right is the Keyaki Minami-guchi shop. While not as nice as the Keyaki inside the wicket, this one also has sterling Gikyo and another permutation of the Niigata contingent available.
Finally, inside the station building but outside the wicket, down near the Nihonbashi exit of the station, sits a noodle shop/izakaya called Sugi no Ie (03-3284-1768). Small but friendly, here you can try Kuroushi, a wonderful and very reasonably priced sake, as well as sturdily build Tengumai Yamahai. Oh, they also have the (yawn) Niigata trio of Shimahari-tsuru, Kubota and Hakkaisan.
This is only a spattering of what is out there. Such places are more and more common not only in Tokyo, but near all big train stations in Japan. What they may lack in traditional atmosphere, they more than make up for in accessibility, lineup, and price.
As almost all roads to and from Narita airport (or anywhere else in Japan, for that matter) lead to and from Tokyo station, it makes it very convenient for those visiting to stop for a final (or initial) drink.
Professional Sake Course
In early 2002, I will be holding the first professional sake courses here in Japan. The course will be five days long, and held in either January and possibly February in the Osaka area. It will combine several days of classroom activity interspersed with plenty of tasting, and include visits to several sake breweries. Every possible aspect of the sake world will be covered in detail, from raw materials to production, and including rice, water, yeast, brewing styles, sake grades and types, history and culture, and sake pairing with food.
Evenings will be filled with meals and more sake. The point would be to introduce as many types, styles and brands as possible while avoiding sensory overload and fatigue.
Considering all that is involved, it will be by far the most comprehensive, intense, and thorough sake training program in English ever held. Although the focus would be wine professionals looking to master sake, the course would, of course, be open to anyone.
Firm dates and costs will be determined soon. Those interested in the program should please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
eSake.com to Begin Internet-based Sales in the US
Finally. As of October 20, 2001, eSake.com will begin selling 11 brands of premium sake in many states over the internet. One sake from each of eSake.com痴 11 kura will be available. Although not all states will be covered at the time of opening, it is only a matter of weeks until all those states that allow shipment of alcoholic beverages in one form or another will be part of the network of deliverability.
The initial list of 11 products is expected to expand soon, but there will still be quite a nice range of products and styles to keep sake aficionados happy for a good while.
And: you can preorder! That痴 right, just go to: http://www.esake.com/new/Store/PreOrder/preorder.html
and put in a preorder for any sake in which you might be interested. No need to pay now, in fact you will need to place a formal order again later, but this preorder will reserve for you the sake of your choice. No obligation, no hassle.
Sake to Look For
The Sake of Kochi Prefecture
Kochi Prefecture has long been known for its drinkers. It is hard to find any literature about Kochi without coming across this point; they池e mighty proud of it. Historically known as the Tosa region, Kochi sake has a recognizable style that has survived intact the homogenization that modern day distribution and market demand have created.
Kochi Prefecture sake is actually the driest in the country; drier even than Niigata sake. But rather than being dry and very light and super-refined, sake from Kochi is much more approachable. Usually the fragrance is comparatively subdued, and flavors start out soft, but open up and widen quite nicely as you sip. A fine umami, that satisfying presence that is hard to describe, fills the palate afterward. Naturally, there is a range of flavors and fragrances among Kochi sake, but if one had to generalize, the above would be it.
Here are three fine Kochi sake to look for. All are easily available, and being imported into the US as well.
A large and stable brewery that can always be depended on for consistency. A mild fragrance that slightly tickles with a creamy, rice-laced touch leads into a very even flavor, mild but balanced, and a longish finish. Best at room temperature or thereabouts.
Tsukasa Botan makes a wide range of recommendable products, and perhaps this one is the most recognizable due to its fluorescent orange label. Very, very bone dry but with flavor and presence to back it up. Nice with slightly oily foods with milder flavors.
Suigei means 電runken whale,・and this lovely and all-too-easy to drink sake has a mild but defining ginjo fragrance that is more prominent than most of its Kochi peers. Clean and balanced, with the standard regional dryness supplanted with mild fruitiness. Wonderful overall.
All three of the above have several grades that are recommendable above and beyond the grade reviewed here. These are three names you can count on in any of their manifestations.
Sake events and other miscellany…
UPCOMING SAKE EVENTS
October 24: Ginjo-shu Kyoukai Fall Tasting
The Ginjo-shu Kyokai will hold their semiannual sake tasting on Wednesday October 24, from 5:30 to 7:30 at the Akasaka Prince Hotel. Here, you can taste upwards of 400 wonderful sake for but 4000 yen, and you get a bottle as a gift to take home. The fall event features more well-rounded, matured sake and less nama-zake than the spring event. You can just show up on that day, but you can also call (03) 3378-1231 (in Japanese) for more information. Not to be missed. The Osaka Ginjo-shu Kyoukai event is on Friday, October 5.
November 17, 2001 (English)
On the evening of Saturday, November 17, Japan Times Ceramics Scene columnist, and Japanese yakimono (ceramics) expert Robert Yellin and I will be hosting another sake and Japanese pottery seminar, at the sake pub Mushu near Shin Ochanomizu and Awajicho Stations, from 6pm to 9pm. If you are interested in more details and/or attending, please email me. Participation is limited to 50. The cost for half a dozen sakes for sampling, ample food, and a hopefully enlightening lecture with printed handouts is 7000 yen. No deposit is required.
FEEDBACKIf any readers at any time have any opinions on this newsletter, its format or its content, please do not hesitate to contact me at email@example.com. If there is anything you would like to see more of (or less of), I am always open to suggestions.
The Sake Companion, published by Running Press
A hardbound, well designed book, The Sake Companion approaches the sake world from a bit more of a romantic, cultural side, and less of a technical touch. Unlike my first book, The Sake Handbook, this new volume covers material like sake history and the differences in sake styles and flavor profiles from the major sake-producing regions of Japan. Sake production is also explained, although not in as much detail as in The Sake Handbook. Almost 140 sake are introduced with numerical rankings and an indication of the region from which each hails. Large, full-color photographs of the labels makes them easier to remember.
Also included is a listing of where to buy and drink sake in the US. As this book is geared mostly to a market other than Japan, where to buy and drink sake in Japan is not covered, as it is in The Sake Handbook.
The Sake Companion is available at bookstores such as Borders for $24.95, as well as at Amazon for a bit less. If you are in Japan, Amazon.co.jp is highly recommended, as the price in Japanese bookstores is quite high (4490 yen).
Also worth searching for:
-The Sake Handbook (John Gauntner): A bit more technical but with a listing of 50 sake pubs in Tokyo.
-Sake: Pure and Simple (John Gauntner, Griffith Frost): A light, pure and simple guide to sake.
-Sake, An Insider’s Guide (Phillip Harper): A pocket sized, well-written book by an insider; Harper brews sake at a kura in Japan.
-Sake: A Drinker’s Guide (Hiroshi Kondo): The original book on sake in English, nice historic notes and good peripheral information.
If you have even a passing interest in brewing sake at home, you must check out The Sake Digest, a mailing list on sake home brewing maintained by Jim Liddil at firstname.lastname@example.org. On this list, issues both stylistic and technical, detailed and general, are discussed by enthusiastic and knowledgeable home brewers. Fred Eckhardt, easily the most experienced sake home-brewer in North America, regularly generously imparts his experience and wisdom to readers. A message is generated perhaps twice a week, so one in not inundated with information and countless emails. It is quite interesting to follow along with the apparently successful efforts of these brewers from a cyber-distance.
Most recently, several brewers are experimenting with koji obtained from SakeOne Corporation in Oregon, with apparently significantly improved results. This koji can be purchased from F.H. Steinbarts for about $8.00 for a 2.5 lb. Batch. For more information call Steinbarts, at 503-232-8793.
Also, koji spores (as opposed to completed koji) are also available from Vision Brewing in Australia. According to proprietor Brendan Tibbs, the product is available online for anyone, and is particularly suitable to the home brewer. Contact him at Vision Brewing: , and see their site at http://www.kagi.com/vision/sake.
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