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We are very impressed with Hirata's "Red Heron" label. We reviewed their Shiboritate a few days ago, and the regular Tokubetsu Junmai is of the same calibre! Multi-layered, well-rounded, deep, and of rich character, it boasts a fruity nose of apples and pears with alcoholic overtones. Quite tangy in its approach, it turns to a lovely tender sweetness mid-palate, only to transition to a sour finish with marked notes of stimulating bitterness. This is a very complex and refined sake!

Hirata Hiro Tokubetsu Junmai
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A jewel of a sake! This particular bottle was brewed in 2020 and was no. 31 out of 96 produced that year. It boasts a tender nose of turpentine and has a smooth and silky taste with a strong alcoholic touch and a perfect balance of dry crispiness and sweet fragrance. Clean and elegant finish.

The brewery entered the Tobindori in the Annual Japan Sake Awards (全国新酒鑑評会) competition but did not win.

Hanahato Tobindori Yamadanishiki Daiginjō Fukurotsuri (華鳩斗瓶取り山田錦大吟醸袋吊り) Hanahato Tobindori Yamadanishiki Daiginjō Fukurotsuri (華鳩斗瓶取り山田錦大吟醸袋吊り)
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A delightfully fruity nose of strawberries, apricots, and melon. Very clean, well-rounded taste with a pleasant mouthfeel that slowly develops acidity, mineral flavours, and a slight bitterness followed by a fruity sweetness and a peppery finish. Deep, complex, and mature, yet a pleasure to degust. Although it is a junmai ginjo, it can be enjoyed cold or lukewarm. It is a beautiful sake with a full-bodied flavour and soft acidity. Five stars from us!

Yukinobosha Hiden Yamahai Junmai Ginjo
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Pale Yellow
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Sadly, the Coronavirus pandemic severely impacted sake breweries: many restaurants and izakaya were closed or restricted their work hours, and guests stayed away. Some breweries resorted to crowdfunding projects to sell their existing sake stocks or continue limited production. We found Akana Brewery's campaign on Campfire, stating they intended to support Shimane farmers producing the Koshihikari rice used for their junmai sake. We had never heard of a junmai daiginjo namagenshu and got curious. Last weekend, the 300ml bottle arrived in a cool box, and we did not waste any time degusting it.

Kinunomine Junmai Daiginjō Muroka Namagenshu

This is unfiltered, unpasteurised sake, so it should always be stored in a refrigerator and served chilled. It has a straw-coloured appearance and an elegant nose with floral and lactic notes. Contrary to my expectations, there were no traces of effervescence. Floral on the palate with notes of fungi, it is well-rounded, boasting a pleasant underlying sweetness and a mild and clean finish. This is an exquisite brew.

Kinunomine Junmai Daiginjō Muroka Namagenshu

We paired it with maguro don, but it should be perfect with any savoury dish. Strange enough, the Akana website does not reveal how to procure other Kinunomine products. We'll keep our eyes peeled for more sake delights from the snowy hills of Shimane.
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Pouring the "Water of Desire" unleashes whirling impressions of a fruit basket: strawberries, blueberries, bananas, and grapefruit peel are just some of the hints we could gather. And some green and minerals, too. The flavour is as overwhelming as the aroma: berries, apples, honey, caramel, and all more reminiscent of white wine than sake. What stands out is its superb balance of elegant sweetness, ripe umami of fruits, and refreshing acidity. It's elegant but not pretentious. It's one of those bottles you simply cannot put back into the refrigerator. Without a doubt, one of our top three this year!

Kuheiji Eau du Désir 2021 Junmai Daiginjō
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I cannot commend Sagaminada enough for this year's Shiboritate! Shiboritate is the fresh sake of the year, squeezed until the end of November and usually on sale by the beginning of December. Sagaminada's Shiboritate has a sweet fruity nose of strawberries with almost white Chablis-like qualities. It is well-balanced and has a refreshing acidity and dryness with a spicy tingle. Just beneath its marvellous flavour of strawberries, also present is Sagaminada's characteristic herb taste and a slight effervescence. To us on par with their Yamadanishiki Junmai Ginjo--splendid!

Sagaminada Shiboritate
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Pale Yellow
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While most people feel revulsion when spotting a centipede, I have always been attracted by these fascinating creatures. Except for the two instances when we had them in our futon at night. Anyhow, the image of a mukade on a sake bottle leaves a powerful impression. The brewery describes them as poisonous yet caring critters and uses the Chinese characters 無風 (mukaze, "no wind") in a wordplay on mukade, Japanese for "centipede".

Junmai Mukaze Betsukoshirae is made of Hidahonmare rice grown in Gifu Prefecture. Registered in 1982, this variety has large grains and low protein content. The Mukaze has a sweet nose of banana and pineapple. The first sip reveals an intense flavour of banana and strawberry, followed by a sweet alcoholic aroma and a herbal, earthy-tangy aftertaste with a spicy tingle. It is moderately dry and turns even sweeter as the temperature rises, with more fruits and umami emerging. It is exceptionally smooth and pleasing and deserves its stars.

The Mukaze brand features three other sake, all of them on our shortlist.

Mukaze
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Daishinshū's Betsugakoi Junmai Ginjō Bangaihin Nama is absolutely divine. We had no second thoughts when awarding it five stars. Bangaihin is a blend of Junmai Daiginjo and Junmai Ginjo, which explains why there are no detailed specifications on the back label.
It has a phenomenal nose of blueberries and white grapes: smooth texture, almost creamy, well-rounded, sweet mid-palate with slight acidity and subtle notes of alcohol; it boasts a wide range of flavours. Elegant and slightly peppery finish. Utterly impressed!

We bought it directly at the brewery. The staff was very accommodating and patiently presented their entire product line. In hindsight, we should have bought a second bottle.

Daishinshū Betsugakoi Junmai Ginjō Bangaihin Nam
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A dream of apples come true
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The Hiro Shiboritate is limited to three-hundred bottles a year. We were lucky to visit the brewery store while it was still in stock. It has a lush fruity nose of strawberry, apple and pear compote. Rich, medium-bodied, slightly dry with intense notes of apple and pear, a nice fruity sweetness mid-palate and a sour and refreshing finish. A veritable elixir.

Hirata Tokubetsu Junmai Hiro Shiboritate (飛鷺紅 無濾過しぼりたて生原酒)
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Daishinshu's Kantsubaki is a jewel. It's only available at the brewery store in Matsumoto and is part of Daishinshu's "Flower Series" (花シリーズ). Kantsubaki has a nose of apples and strawberries. Dry, with a lovely spiciness and a delicate balance of fruity sweetness and acidity. Its slight effervescence creates a tingling sensation mid-palate. It is quite strong. The brewery does not disclose any specs, but we can disclose it's heavenly! :)

Daishinshu Kantsubaki Namazake
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Takayama Junmai Daiginjo is one of Hirata's top sake. The name "Takayama" refers to the old castle mountain, nowadays known as "Shiroyama". It has an elegant, fruity nose with floral accents. Refreshing and solid sweetness, paired with moderate acidity, renders this well-balanced junmai daiginjo an unforgettable delight.

Hirata Junmai Daiginjo Takayama
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Gold
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This is an aged sake with a golden, almost amber-like hue crafted according to the kimoto method. This traditional technique was developed around 1700 and was the most orthodox way to brew sake. Cultivating yeast in a small tank before fermentation in a larger tank is called moto or shubo. The kimoto process takes three times longer than usual, resulting in excellent yeast. Rikishi Junmai Ginjo is made of a rice variety grown in Saitama, Sake Musashi. It is matured for up to two years. It has an intensive nose of dried fruits and herbs, a thick, creamy texture with bitter notes, and a flavour reminiscent of dried fruits and molasses. Indeed not everyone's (sake) taste, but the contrast of spiciness and mellowness is exceptional.

Rikishi Junmai Ginjo Kimotojikomi
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Sometimes, it's only fair to revisit the odd sake and set things straight. While we uphold our first review of Endo's Betsuatsura, we were pleasantly surprised when we tried it this time: while definitely mild and light-bodied, we did not find it as thin as the first time. It has a subtle but elegant taste and makes for a fabulous food sake.

endo-keiryu-junmai-daiginjo-betsuatsura.jpg
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Fruity nose, floral and fruity flavour with a good balance of sweetness, spiciness and acidity. Well-rounded, with a spicy and alcoholic finish. We are growing fond of Hidahomare. :)

Yancha Hidahomare Junmai Ginjo
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Clear, with a straw-coloured appearance and a slightly high viscosity. Fruity nose (melon, pear, banana) with herbal notes. Herbal flavours with hints of mint, nutmeg, and spices. Mild on the palate with moderate sweetness spreading; medium body. Very elegant and well-balanced, with a soft finish.

Hatsumidori Junmai Ginjō Muroka Namagenshu
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Intense nose of dried fruits and turpentine. A classic Niigata tanrei, mild and gentle with a good balance of sweetness and bitterness. Long finish with a sour tingle.

Ishimoto Koshi no Kanbai Junmai Ginjo Amane
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Fruity nose of figs with hints of dried fruits and caramel. Rich, earthy, highly viscous, moderate sweetness mid-palate with a refreshing finish of lingering citric acidity.

Chikumanishiki Daiginjo Genshu
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Kirin Homare has a nose of dried fruits (figs and apricots). The first impression is a little thin, but it boasts a pleasant aroma of nuts, dried fruits and hints of narazuke. Tangy with slight acidity, medium dry. Clean finish with a peppery tingle.

Kaetsu Homare Kirin Tokubetsu Junmai (麒麟 ほまれ麒麟 特別純米) Kaetsu Homare Kirin Tokubetsu Junmai (麒麟 ほまれ麒麟 特別純米)
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Fruity nose of apples with spicy, turpentine-like hints; clean and relatively dry with a fair share of acidity and a spicy finish. Very refreshing and clean finish with peppery notes.

Asahiyama Junmai Ginjō (朝日山 純米吟醸)


PS: this was our second attempt at Asahiyama's Junmai Ginjo. Amazingly, our second review is almost identical to the first one. :)
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Koikawa uses Gohyakumangoku rice for the Beppin, characterised by a light and refreshing taste and great versatility as far as drinking temperatures are concerned. The Beppin has a fruity nose of green apples and pears with hints of koji. Boasting a light body with a strong presence of umami, it is well-rounded, mild, and pleasantly dry. Much smoother at room temperature.
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