Sake Sipping by Tod Stewart

This is a guest article by Tod Stewart.

Availing oneself to a comprehensive selection of top-flight sake in Canada can, at times, be tricky, and lately it’s been somewhat more so. However, as an increasing number of wine and spirit agents jump on the home delivery bandwagon (and I really hope this becomes a significant and growing side effect of the whole pandemic fallout), getting hard-to-find bottles delivered directly to you is becoming increasingly easy. Some pretty awesome examples have shown up on my doorstep as of late, including these:

Kirakucho Hiyaoroshi Tokubetsu Junmai
From Shiga prefecture, this sake was brewed by a 6th generation toji (master brewer) who will be taking over from her father soon. Mayuko Kita is a young female brewer who has the challenging task of keeping the traditional style of her region and brewery alive while bringing it to this generation. This is a seasonal release, which has been matured during the summer months. Pasteurized once to stabilize the sake but only once to maintain the freshness. Earthy, nutty, with a mildly funky/mushroom note. Creamy and viscous in the mouth, it still manages to retain a crispness, with a touch of melon and cocoa. Opens up beautifully when warmed slightly.

Tengumai Yamahai Nigori
Tengumai is famous for its two-year aged Yamahai, and no wonder. This is a phenomenal nigori, with loads of nuttiness, cocoa, soy, vanilla and and some briny notes. This cloudy, roughly filtered version is bright and juicy with signature Yamahai acidity. The natural lactic fermentation brings complexity and depth but the rice lees give texture and sweetness. Nigori sakes can often come off as cloying after a glass or two. Not this one – it’s dangerously drinkable.

Niida Shizenshu Junmai Ginjo
Niida Honke is new to the Canadian market. Brewed with local, organic rice, with as minimal intervention as possible. No lactic acid is added, and the use of ambient yeast results in spontaneous fermentation. There’s also very little filtration (no charcoal used), resulting in a very “natural,” clean style. Floral/fruity/nutty on the nose with some vanilla accents. The palate is clean, crisp, well-balanced and just slightly off-dry. The finish: long and slightly nutty.

Sohomare Kimoto Tokubetsu Junmai
The kimoto starting method is very much “old school” – no lactic acid is added, and a laborious manual mashing process is used. However, the result is a sake that typically sports an assertive personality. This example has won gold medals in the National Sake Competition every year since 2010 with their Kimoto. A blend of two vintages for added complexity and balance, this sake is juicy, with hints of banana and herbal notes. Very deep and rich, with loads of umami, it’s a very food-friendly sake that will pair well with just about anything.

Shunka Shusetsu Echizen Junmai
This is a junmai ginjo-grade sake brewed from the Gohyakumangoku rice strain. The overall profile is fairly rice-forward while remaining poised, elegant and smooth. Fragrant aromas suggesting white flower, ripe melon, and almond lead to a dry, rich, round flavour profile, with a slightly spicy/peppery finish. Best served chilled as an aperitif or lighter, more subtle foods (sashimi would be perfect).

The first four sakes can be sourced via That’s Life Gourmet wine@thatslifegourmet.com, the fifth through Dbino Inc. (647) 299-0258.

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