Sake lovers congregate at international event

by Melinda Joe

Special To The Japan Times

A healthy buzz characterized the atmosphere at the International Wine Challenge’s Sake Discovery Tasting on April 19.

“This one is light and clean on the palate, with a bright finish,” remarked one woman, examining a bottle of Ginrei Gassan Junmai-shu from Yamagata Prefecture.

The tasting, which was open to the public, showcased 468 entries in the sake division of the prestigious annual wine contest. Still outnumbered by the 15,000 wine entries from around the world, the number of brews in the sake category has grown exponentially since the beverage made its debut on the IWC tasting floor in 2006. At that time, there were only two sake entries, with Otokoyama Kuniyoshi from Hokkaido winning a gold medal.

Prizes are awarded in five categories: honjōzō, ginjō and daiginjō, junmai-shu, junmai-ginjō and junmai-daiginjō, and koshu (aged sake). The brews are evaluated by roughly 30 judges, in panels led by six sake experts from Japan, the United States and Europe.

“The average sake entry this year was superb,” declared panel chairman Beau Timkin, of the U.S. retail shop True Sake, looking a little weary from tasting flights of 100 sakes since the morning. “If I could be embalmed in three of the winners, I’d die happy.”

Most of the participants at the public event were in the wine or hospitality businesses. Sake master Kenichi Ohashi, who owns Yamajin, Co. Ltd., a distribution company in Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture, delivered a lecture on sake basics and conducted a tasting of 2010′s medalists.

IWC managing director Andrew Reed, head of William Reed Events & Exhibitions, says that the group plans to take an International Wine Challenge tasting event to Tokyo in 2012, featuring a lineup of medal-winning sakes and wines.

“You can go to any tasting and you can try all sorts of different wines, but if you come to an IWC tasting, you know they will all be good,” he says.

The winners of this year’s competition will be announced on May 17 at www.internationalwinechallenge.com.