Wine Down Eugene June 18-24

Saké (pronounced sah-kay not sah-kee) originated in Japan and is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice.  Commonly called rice wine, saké is actually produced using a brewing process that is some what similar to brewing beer.

sake all 4

SakéOne, a saké brewing facility and importer located in the northwestern corner of the Willamette Valley, is one of only six brewing facilities in the U.S. and the only one in Oregon.  How SakéOne’s facilities ended up in Oregon has everything to do with the original owner wisely believing that the best quality water for saké was in the Northwest.  With water being one of the most important ingredients in the production of saké, the facility was built in the ideal location of Forest Grove, Oregon, situated along an eastern slope of Oregon’s Coastal Range. 

SakéOne, a name that was chosen with the goal of becoming the number one saké company in the U.S., has won more awards than any other saké company in the United States.  They not only produce high quality, incredibly delicious craft saké (some I recently sampled during an Oregon Craft Beverage event that took place inside the brewery at SakéOne), but they import some of the finest and highest quality sakés from Japan.

sake outdoor office

I was a lucky wine gal and was invited to join in on a live virtual tasting of four absolutely divine sakés from Japan that are a part of the impressive imports portfolio at SakéOne. Broadcast on and presented by creative marketing gurus Charles Communication Associates, this very special saké tasting was hosted by SakéOne President and CEO Steve Vuylsteke and Marcus V. Pakiser Regional Director of saké for Young’s Market Company, based in Portland –  two of the foremost knowledgeable people in the U.S. saké business. Both Steve and Markus enthusiastically guided us through the tasting of the distinctively delicious imported saké.

In Japan, saké hit its peak in the ’70s and has slowly been declining since.  They now make about one third the amount they produced 40 or so years ago; therefore, as craft saké consumption increases in America, imported high quality saké is on the rise.

sake in ice

Depending on where the brewing is taking place in Japan, north to south, the temperatures are very different with the north being much colder, of course, than the south.  The varying temperatures play a major role in the characteristics of the saké: the brewing process takes longer in the north at the lower temperatures while fermentation in the south is much quicker and more vigorous from the higher temperatures.

First and foremost, do not warm up saké!  Pour it over ice in a stemless wine glass, and take a good look at the Saké Tasting Wheel that SakéOne created – a priceless tool to help identify aromas, flavors and characters of saké.

sake murai

For our tasting of the four imported saké [Murai Family Tanrei Junmai saké ($20), Kasumi Tsuru Kimoto Extra Dry saké ($27), Hakutsuru Superior Junmai Ginjo saké ($16) and Yoshinogawa Junmai Ginjo Winter Warrior saké ($27)], we started with the lighter, crisper styles from the north and worked our way south to the richer, expressive and more intensely flavored sakés.

Beginning with the Murai Family Tanrei Junmai, considered a very classic style saké, I found totally subtle aromas, nearly undetectable, and the flavors were crisp, dry and clean.  This is a saké that would pair really nicely with sushi. To be a Junmai, ingredients must be just water, rice, yeast and Koji

sake ypshi pouringThe Kasumi Tsuru Kimoto Extra Dry saké, although considered dry like the Tanrei Junmai, the Kimoto aromas and flavors were considerably more intense and complex, and even a bit earthy and smoky, with a truly lovely mouthfeel.  This would be incredible with Oregon Dungeness crab. Amazingly, the Kasumi Tsuru brewery was founded in 1725 and is still owned by the same family!

The Hakutsuru Superior Junmai Ginjo saké had really beautiful and alluring floral aromas, but what I loved the most was the silky, luxurious mouthfeel.  It was so nicely balanced, smooth and easy to drink – pure enjoyment.  Is it the Miyamizu, also known as Heavenly Water, that gives it such a heavenly texture and balance?  Perhaps.  Hakutsuru is the largest saké brewing company in the world. 

sake yoshi label

The Yoshinogawa Junmai Ginjo Winter Warrior saké was a collaboration between the master brewers of Yoshinogawa in Niigata Prefecture, and the SakéOne team in Oregon, and this one was my absolute favorite.  Floral and herbaceous qualities on the nose filled the palate with lush and juicy tropical fruits, nuts and hints of tangerine and ginger.  The finish was super long and beckoned for another sip, I didn’t want to put my glass down.

One of the most interesting facts about saké?  Once it’s opened, many stay fresh and retain all of their important characteristics and quality for sometimes up to nine months! Restaurants: Serve saké by the glass, there is absolutely no reason not to, and please don’t serve it warm!  Serve it chilled, maybe in a Riedel stemless glass – I used these for the tasting and they were truly perfect.

We were also told that saké pairs better with cheese than wine – time for a saké vs wine cheese war.

Visit SakéOne’s Kura (tasting room) from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm, seven days a week, at 820 Elm Street, Forest Grove, Oregon 97116