For our third installment of Sake Stories, we take a closer look at the prestigious, Zenkoku Shinshu Kampyoukai, which roughly translates to 'National New Sake Appraisal'.
Beginning in 1911, it is the longest running competition of its kind in the world but remains largely unknown to the general public.
Roughly 800 to 900 of Japan's 1200 sakaguras, or sake breweries, submit an entry into the competition every year. Each brewery is allowed to submit one sake for their facility, with larger breweries with multiple facilities being allowed to submit more than one bottle. Over the course of three days, a panel of judges evaluate sake through blind taste tests in the first round. Around half of the brews ascend to the second round. Several weeks later, a panel of 24 judges taste and rate the remaining sake over the course of two days, eliminating half of those in this second tasting. The rest are selected for medals and awards.
This prestigious competition has a brilliantly simple grading system: rating sake on a worst to best scale of one to five. While blind testing doesn't allow for any indication of the sake's geographic origin or maker, the sakes are divided into similar aromatic potency so a sake judge is never overpowered by a particularly aromatic or fruity sake in a given selection.
While sake comes in any number of styles, the essential ingredients are simple: rice, water, yeast and koji, a fermenting rice mold also used for making miso and soy sauce. From these basic ingredients, the variables are many.
Freshly harvested rice is brown—but brown rice is rarely used to produce sake. Instead, the husk and outer part of the grain is milled away to expose the starches. The percentage of the grain that is retained after milling, or polishing, will determine its style. The more milling that takes place, the more premium the sake.
Daiginjo sake is the most premium sake with 50% of the rice being milled away, and it often represents the height of a sake toji's, or brewmaster's ability. The sake that is submitted to the Zenkoku Shinshu Kampyoukai are mostly daiginjo, but daiginjo sake on steroids. The sake submitted by each brewery is typically brewed specifically for the competition, and not meant for the ordinary market. Factors like the hardness or softness of the water, the yeast that's used, the location of the brewery, the length and method of fermentation, the infusion of additional alcohol, citrus or other fragrance, and it's method of pasteurization—any combination of these affects the sake's final taste, texture, and aroma. The possibilities and differences are vast and what results is a competition showcasing the largest representation of top shelf sake in Japan, and the best that the craft sake world has to offer. Within that pool, less than 25% are considered medal worthy in the end.
This past May in Hiroshima, the Zenkoku Shinshu Kampyoukai awarded a gold medal rating to Rokkasen's Temahima Daiginjo Yamadanishiki—the newest addition to our sake selection. Temahima Daiginjo is characterized by its crisp, off-dry taste and gorgeous aroma of pear, apple and mint. Lightly sweet melon and citric acidity balance with a subtle umami, the expression "temahima" in Japanese means 'to devote great amounts of time and care', alluding to the lengthy and complex methods used to craft this special and specific bottle.
We welcome you to come and grab this gold medalist, Temahima Daiginjo Yamadanishi, as a weekend treat and test your sake tasting skills with a top shelf contender. This bottle and others are only available in-store, and as always quantities are limited.
Temahima Daiginjo Yamadanishi ($64, 720ml): Muscat and citrus characteristics on the nose with pronounced flavors on the finish. Round and ripe, smooth and lush. Medium body. Modern beauty of Daiginjo style.
MILLING: 40% (60% is milled away)