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Friday, Feb. 29, 2008

Sampling an aromatic sake great

Special to The Japan Times

The prizewinning Eikun: Kinsho-shu sake comes from Kyoto-based Saito Shuzo, the only brewery to bag the gold prize at the annual National New Sake Awards an astounding 10 years in succession. Ichigin won the accolade in 2007.

News photo
Eikun Ichigin sake

The moment the cap is off, pyrotechnic fragrances surge out of the bottle — great star-bursts of aniseed and pineapple trailed by more demure showers of pear and melon and lighter, less tropical fruit.

Sharper elements follow — freshly cut flowers, snappy peppermint — and another invigorating scent like the air after a spring shower. Hints of violets and rose petals feature in this olfactory fireworks display, too, but the pretty, smaller bursts are soon swallowed by the megaton explosions of licorice and pineapple. You don't want to be drinking this from thimble-size sake cups: Get out your sharpest glassware and prepare to "ooh" and "aah" at those aromatics.

In the mouth, there is not quite the same supernova of fragrance offered by the top nose, though the anise-and-pineapple combination does an encore there, sure enough. The crystalline structure of flavor is led by the regal bitter elements common to ultra-fragrant daiginjo, here happily balanced by a modest sweetness that fades at the finish, leaving that bitterness lingering on the palate. A silky touch on the tongue offers a beguiling texture to underpin those shameless aromatics.

The sample I tasted was one of the limited number bottled from the same batch that brought home the honors for Saito Shuzo and its Eikun line to complete its decade of triumph, and so you won't find one like it on a shelf any time soon. However, Eikun's Ichigin product (¥4,985 plus tax for a 720-ml bottle) is made to the same specifications, and should be easy to find for anyone with an inclination to try bottled fireworks.

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