Steve here: Cooler weather is upon us. What do you suggest for September, John?
John Gauntner Nanbu Bijin is a junmai ginjo sake that hails from Iwate prefecture, up north in Tohoku, a region where sake is usually light and crisp and much more fine grained than its big-boned counterparts from western Japan.
For decades Nanbu Bijin was brewed by one of the most famous toji (master brewers) in the industry. His retiring a decade ago might have been some cause for concern had he not diligently trained his underlings so as to not miss a beat when he left. (Not all toji do that!) That, and the technical prowess and sheer enthusiasm of the son of the owner make this one of the best values on the market.
The explosive nose of this medium-bodied sake exhibits slight wood spice and floral aromas that quickly move towards apple compote and lively citrus notes akin to lime rind. From green fruit flavors upfront to a creamy mid-palate with some super ripe cantaloupe and honeydew, the mild acidity allows the minerality to exert itself on the finish.
Steve: How has this and other Tohoku breweries been doing since the tsunami?
John: The name Iwate is surely familiar as a locale that suffered massive loss in the earthquake and tsunami that occurred last March 11. Nanbu Bijin was spared the brunt of the damage due to their specific location. However, soon after that, the aforementioned son of the owner (he will inherit the brewery in time) used his social media skills to tell the entire country to help the Tohoku region by eating and drinking Tohoku food and sake. “If you continue to show self-restraint, you will hurt us more than honor us, as we need the economic stimulus badly here in Tohoku.”
Most of the hard-hit breweries were in Iwate and its neighbor to the south, Miyagi. A few were totally destroyed by one of the natural calamities or the other, dozens and dozens suffered damage to some extent.
However, we can take great inspiration from the fact that every brewery has vowed to start again and rise from the ashes. Let us support them by drinking not just Tohoku sake, but all sake!
Steve: Thanks John, for another great suggestion.
Remember, the sake that John reviews are available in the U.S.
John Gauntner is one of the world's most celebrated sake experts. He is an author, newspaper columnist and international lecturer. See John's website at http://www.sake-world.com.
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