Sake To Me! Niigata Sake Debuts at Tei An

Takako Shigeno, general manager of Kinshihai Shuzo sake brewery founded in 1825

Yesterday afternoon, a contingent of Japan’s most notable sake makers from the Niigata province converged in Tei An in One Arts Plaza for a sake tasting and rice-wine education. Turns out there’s a lot more to sake than the hot bottle that appears in front of you at the neighborhood sushi bar. (In fact, of the seven sake makers I spoke with yesterday, the consensus was that sake should only be warmed by resting the bottle in warm water. According to the experts, warming it above 112 degrees ruins the delicate flavors.)

jump for the faves…

So how should we drink it? Believe it or not, chilled or over crushed ice, with room temperature coming in as a third option.

And which should we drink? That part is a bit more of a challenge as I don’t claim to have a refined sake palate. But after tasting 13 varieties and finding myself the holder of a substantial afternoon buzz, I was able to identify some clear favorites:

Musashino Shino's Daku Nigori Junmai unfiltered sake (right) and Heaven and Earth Junmai Daigingo

Manotsuro Four Diamonds

Kaku-Rei Ume-Shu Plum sake

Kirin-Zan Junmai Daiginjo

Musashino Shuzo “Heaven and Earth”

That is not to say that every single sake was not head-and-shoulders above the house sake I’ve been served alongside my sashimi. In fact, any bottle from the day’s tasting would make an excellent holiday hostess gift. And since all of these fine sakes are available at Monticello Liquor, it’s easy enough to go in and ask to be pointed toward the Niigata Sake selections. Or better yet, order by name the next time you’re lunching at Tei An. Your waitress might just slip you a little something extra for being smart enough to know better.