When you think of Sake, the Japanese alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice, you think of Japan in general. But did you know that Japan is divided into nine regions which are split into 47 smaller prefectures? Most, if not all of these prefectures, produce some great sake.
Among them, Niigata Prefecture, part of the Hokuriku region and located along the coast of the Sea of Japan, is famous for its high quality rice, beautiful coastal and mountain sceneries, skiing in winter and hot spring baths all year around.
Each year, Niigata ‘comes to London’ with its fair at the Japan Centre, Europe’s largest Japanese food hall in London’s West End.
This year, the Fair runs until the end of January showcasing its rice, artisan coffee, shirataki noodles and of course, its top sakes. Niigata is one of the world’s snowiest places and nurtured by the pure snowmelts and rich natural environment, the rice here is of the highest quality. That’s why it’s said that the rice and sake produced in Niigata is some of the best in Japan.
If you have not tasted Sake before, make sure you try the Niigata sake at the Japan centre.
Of the 12 on show, I particularly like the Sparkling Sake, the Junmai Daiginjo (thought by many to be the best style of sake) and the Honjozo.
The Hakuro Hanabi Sparkling Sake was a revelation. Twice fermented in bottle like Prosecco, this sake had lovely natural bubbles with good acidity and the all-important umami, with a gentle sweetness releasing the fruity aromas. It comes from one of Japan’s top sake rice, the Gohyakumangoku. Served chilled, it was an excellent aperitif, and only 8% ABV (alcohol by volume).
Koshiji No Koubai Junmai Daigingio was a revelation. This sake is hand brewed using another top sake rice, the Koshitanrei variety, cultivated in pads around the brewery itself. Its high polishing ratio gave this sake a gorgeous aroma and soft, rich flavours with a gentle palate. This sake had 16% ABV.
Kafune Tokubetsu Honjozo was a great choice. This style of sake has long been one of my favourite, and this one ticked all the boxes. ‘Tokubetsu’ means ‘special’ in Japanese, and when the word is used to describe a sake, it means something special has been done.
With a rich and deep umami and smoothness, the dry, light texture makes this sake easy to drink. It has a delightful clarity when enjoyed at room temperature and an ABV of 16%. No wonder it was awarded best prize at the Honjozo Sake section of IWC (International Wine Challenge) in several years.
To accompany this great Sake selection, a choice of delicious, savoury bites and hot, steamy ramen, typical of Niigata, were also served.
Find all these sakes at the Japan Centre, and during the Niigata Fair, you can also buy these sakes at 25% off. Japan Centre, 35b Panton St, London SW1Y 4EA japancentre.com/en