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WBW #59: some sake for you!

July 8, 2009

I sat drinking and did not notice the dusk,
Till falling petals filled the folds of my dress.
Drunken I rose and walked to the moonlit stream;
The birds were gone, and men also few.
–Li Po, “the wandering poet”

sushi & sake

This blog post for Wine Blogging Wednesday has taken a long and windy road. It includes some tasting stories from my nephew Kyle who just returned from three months living in Japan where he developed a taste for sake,  some notes on two sakes that I’ve tried before and tried again, “Wandering Poet” and an organic one, plus two that I tasted last night with sushi and fish and chips with ketchup!

This, the 59th edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday, and hosted by The Passionate Foodie, is an homage to Kushi no Kami, the ancient name for the god of Saké. Host Richard says that “Saké was once referred to as “kushi” which translates as “something mysterious or strange. To many people, Saké still is mysterious and strange but I hope to unveil some of that mystRalph's 89 birthdaySMery and reveal its wonders.”

Well, wonders about these rice wines have been revealed! On Tuesday, July 7, for my father in law’s 89th birthday, we went to the Ojai Fish Market for fish and chips, one of his favorites. They also serve

sushi and have three sakes on their wine list. I ordered the two “cold” ones: Sho Chiku Bai Nigori unfiltered sake, our waiters recommendation, and Sho Chiku Bai filtered sake, both made by Takara Sake.

I studiously compared the two with my dinner: miso soup, salmon nigiri, a rainbow roll, and a salmon roll which featured smoked salmon.

Honestly, I couldn’t tell if one2 sakes or the other was much better with any of the dishes I had; I even tried them with fish and chips with ketchup. Both sakes had crisp light flavors of pear, with not much of  a finish. Chilled, the 15% alcohol wasn’t too overpowering. However, the unfiltered Nigori, which is cloudy in the bottle and in the glass–if you remember to shake it– was much sweeter, and possibly paired better with the ketchup. Honestly, I wasn’t too impressed with either one; dinner was not too impressive either.

My nephew Kyle says he’s ridden his bike by the Takara facility where these two sakes were produced many times on his way to his job at the Cal sailing club in the Berkeley Marina, but he admitted he’d never stopped to taste or check out the facility, but his housemate, Alfred, an MBA candidate, went regularly tot he free tastings there. So it seems like these two are domestic USA products.

This same nephew returned a month ago from an extended stay in Japan where sake was a regular part of his day. His girlfriend Ashlyn is in a masters program in Osaka University where she’s studying linguistics. They’d often go out to dinner for sushi which they’d enjoy with plenty of hot sake, but he doesn’t know what kind they served because Ashlyn was the expert and she’d pick the sake.

Since he has more expertise at this point than I do, I invited him over to try what was left of the two from the sushi dinner isea fresh market Ojai sakesmn Ojai plus Rihaku “Wandering Poet” by Shuzo, imported from Japan and which I found a while ago at Cost Plus for under $15 and an organic Ginjo Jumai from Mumokawa which my friend Helen had recommended after she tasted it at the Mutineer’s Launch Party last month. This last one, like the first two, are a domestic product, made in Forest Grove, and which is certified organic by Oregon tilth.

Kyle and I lined up the bottles and a collection of sake glasses and went through the sakes a few times, taking notes and comparing them, with the Momokawa first, Wandering Poet second, the Takara ginjo third, and the Takara Nigori unfiltered last.

The organic ginjo’s label, according to Kyle, is a sillouette of a Tori gate which you would walk through to get to a shrine or another important place. The gates are massive, some of them as large as a two story house.  Ashlyn’s professor, who studies the foundations of Japanese society, said that these structures are a cornerstone of Japanese society and that’s where executions took place. They’re painted red now, but back in the day, they were smeared red with blood. Most people don’t know this history, according to the professor; the gates indicate society, community, law and order. You could say they had a zero tolerance policy. Kyle says they’re all over the palce and they’re very cool–simple and beautifOrganic Sake Momokawaul.

Regardless of the art on the label, we found the organic ginjo to be very artful indeed; it was our favorite of the four–full of character, complexity, body, flavors of fuji apple, pungent, upfront, not subtle, and with a lingering finish. Would stand up to food well–salmon, salads.

Helen says of Momokawa organic ginjo (junmai) Sake, “Ohhhh. This takes Sake to a new level. We all know the usual floral, sweet
taste of sake that us gringos drink in restaurants, heated by the galleon. This, yes this is different. Smokey earthly with a WAYYY longer finish. Junmai means “pure rice” thus the sake is made with only rice, water, koji, and yeast. Drink it cold pinche pagano.”

The Wandering Poet was our second favorite: flavors of banana, sweeter than the organic ginjo, vague tropical fruits, pineapple. Mild, some body, enough to pair with light food or even a teriyaki chicken or salmon.

Overall? At $15 for a full sized bottle, I’d seek out the organic Momokawa to have in my cellar or when out for sushi, Japanese, Chinese or Thai food.  I’d even select the Wandering Poet in that environment or if I was at home with a stirfry or teriyaki, but for the same price for half the size bottle, I wasn’t twice as impressed. Maybe as my palate progresses, the more subtle Wandering Poet will speak to me.

And speaking of the Wandering Poet, Li Po, I leave you with some of his words from two more of his poems:

Waking from Drunkenness on a Spring Day by Li Po

“Life in the World is but a big dream;
I will not spoil it by any labour or care.”
So saying, I was drunk all day,
Lying helpless by the door.
When I woke up, I blinked at the garden-lawn;
A lonely bird was singing amid the flowers.
I asked myself, had the day been wet or fine?
The spring wind was telling the mango-bird.
Moved by its song I soon began to sigh,
And as wine was there I filled my own cup.
Wildly singing I wated for the moon to rise;
When my song was over, all my senses has gone.

In the Mountains on a Summer Day by Li Po

Gently I stir a white feather fan,
With open shirt sitting in a green wood.
I take off my cap and hang it on a jutting stone;
A wind from the pine-trees trickles on my bare head.

Clearing at Dawn by Li Po

The fields are chill; the sparse rain has stopped;
The colours of Spring teem on every side.
With leaping fish the blue pond is full;
With singing thrushes the green boughs droop.
The flowers of the field have dabbled their powdered cheeks;
The mountain grasses are bent level at the waist.
By the bamboo stream the last fragment of cloud
Blown by the wind slowly scatters away.

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