Mar 16, 2010

Niigata Report 1 -- Sake Festival 2010

Niigata Sake no Jin 2010 (Niigata Sake Festival 2010), which was held on March 13 and 14 at the Wave Market Exhibition Hall at Toki Messe Niigata Convention Center, was featured a commercial television station shortly before the event. And probably because of this, or because of the attendance of a popular singer Ami Suzuki, there were a lot of visitors. According to someone concerned, the event has gathered about 87,000 visitors during the two-day period. A lot of people from Korea and China are also said to have organized tours to attend this event.

When I attended the event in the past two years, I was hanging a tray from the neck, on which I put my sake cup, digital camera, memo pad, etc. while tasting various types of sake from different breweries. However, this year I anticipated the venue was very crowded, so I didn't bring the tray. Also, I took a note of the impression of sake in the past year's events, but I didn't do so this year because writing down my impression on the memo pad seemed somehow cumbersome in the crowded place. I decided rather freely enjoy sake tasting this year.

Now, let me remark on Niigata sake this year. On the whole, the sake was sweetish to me. If I describe the taste of the sake favorably, I can say many of the sake were mild and soft in taste. But I felt something is missing in taste, and I felt like, "Is this Niigata sake I drank before?" I think I can't drink very much of such sake.

When I told about this to a staff member of a brewery, he told me that they polished rice down to low milling rates, and the sake tasted sweetish because such sake exhibited sweetness of rice more. Also, he said sake tended to become sweetish when the economy was dull. However, I probably looked unsatisfied by his explanation, and he brought me a different bottle to taste, saying, "Then, what do you say of this sake?" And I stayed unsatisfied, and then he brought me the next bottle. Well, I understood at least that they are very sensitive to criticism from sake drinkers and are prepared to humbly accept such criticism.

Anyway, I had an impression of Niigata sake, which is different from that of clean and dry taste, which was once thought typical of Niigata sake. Is this because of new rice varieties including "Koshi-tanrei" or increased possibilities of sake brewing due to progress in brewing technology? Or, is this because of new challenges they are making so as to respond to new consumer trends?

This time, we stayed in Niigata Prefecture from Saturday to Monday, and on the last day we visited Shibata City, a next city to Niigata City, to visit Ichishima Shuzo. The sake I sampled at the brewery was typical Niigata sake in taste. The taste was clear and dry. So, I felt somehow at ease.

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