To Lure Wine Lovers, Sake Makers Learn It’s All About Rice
Date: July 24, 2017
Source: Bloomberg By Aya Takada and Hiromi Horie
Brewery executive Kosuke Kuji brought his best sake to a New York booze showcase 16 years ago hoping to promote high-end Japanese rice wine to a new generation of sophisticated foreign drinkers. They were a little disappointed.
It wasn’t that sake from his Nanbu-Bijin brewery failed to live up to its rating back home as Junmai-Daiginjo, the name given to premium grade vintages. But for aficionados of traditional grape-based wines, the local appellation that produces the main ingredient can be almost as important as the final product — think Napa Valley in California, Bordeaux in France, or Chianti in Italy.
Nanbu-Bijin Brewery’s Awasake Sparkling, left, at Isetan Shinjuku Store.
Back in 2001, most of the rice used in Nanbu-Bijin sake came from the prefecture of Hyogo. That’s 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) south of where the beverage was made in Iwate, on the northern tip of Japan’s main island of Honshu. So when a sommelier at the New York event learned from Kuji where the ingredients came from, the American wine expert seemed let down that the sake wasn’t a more artisanal product.
“He wanted sake made from locally grown rice, just as he likes wine out of its vineyard,” Kuji, the 45-year-old president of Nanbu-Bijin, said in an interview at his brewery in Ninohe City.