As part of the Wine Country Women Book participants tour, I had the pleasure of hosting a Sake educational tasting on Nov. 13.
The location, the Napa Valley Distillery, a Napa staple established by Arthur and Lusine Hartunian in 2009 tucked away at the end of Stockton street near downtown Napa.
Recently, I spent time with Arthur touring and tasting through their thoughtfully distilled creations ranging from their Hollywood-inspired ‘Ginn’ to their Ancho-infused spirits, and I immediately became a fan.
For the sake event, we were greeted by our elegant and welcoming host Lusine, who rearranged the detailed upstairs bar to accommodate the group.
The attendees aside from Lusine included founder and president of Wine Country Women LLC, Michelle Mandro, whose experience includes roots in the wine and television industries.
Violet Grgich, aside from her musical skills, is the president of Grgich Hills Winery, alongside Highway 29 in Saint Helena established in 1977 by renowned winemaker Miljenko ‘Mike’ Grgich and entrepreneur August Hills.
Completing the panel was Shannon Staglin, president of Staglin Vineyards, a winery established in 1985 in the West Oakville AVA and planted as a cult producer delivering memorable Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
For the tasting portion, I choose 4 sakes that ranged in style and region and delivered a cross-section of the current landscape in the United States. Another factor I considered when picking the bottles is knowing the group’s level of sake knowledge based on experience.
Now to the tasting exercise. The goal was for the panel to enjoy the diverse selections and capture their thoughts and impressions. Basic technical notes alongside some historical data was provided to better understand each one of these characters.
The first of the Sakes poured was the Tamura ‘Ginginga’ Junmai Ginjo ($45, 720ml) from Fussa City in the Tokyo Prefecture, there are a few reasons why I love this Sake and why I pour it first. It has a sharp profile with floral qualities akin to a Northern Italian white wine. Shannon found it fun and mentioned the pleasing bitter and cleansing aspect that makes this one so special. To better understand why this Sake is so different, we have to dig into its production. The water used is from the Tama River (which is where the brewery gets its name) soft and velvety. The rice, ‘Ginginga’ is a small production strain, which, to me, brings acidity and pizzazz.
Another key element is how Tamura uses four yeast strains, all fermented separately and then blended, which adds the floral element that jumps out of the glass.
The second glass was drastically different by design and was worth mentioning favored by Violet and Lusine, who were attracted to this baby’s caramelized notes. The sake, Ippongi Junmai from Fukui ($38, 720ml). Complex, artisan and earthy may best describe this gentle giant from the mineral-rich water sources of this Prefecture complemented by its rustic production methods.
Some other aromas and flavors that arose were forest floor, mushroom stew or marshmallow.
The third Sake captivated the group, first based on its looks. The Kotsuzumi Rojo Hana Ari Junmai Daiginjo from Hyogo ($135, 720ml) is as memorable as they come. A drop-shaped blue bottle with metallic accents contains this seductive and enticing geisha full of stone fruit, citrus and limestone layers. “Quite unique and mouthwatering,” Michelle said.
The last of the four, a modern take on packaging, the Bushido Junmai Ginjo Genshu from Kyoto ($7, 180ml) comes in a can — yes, an aluminum can. This packaging is the future, easy to carry as it fits in the pockets and fast chilling makes it ideal for poolside barbecues, concerts and picnics. The group certainly did a double-take when they saw the presentation.
Once in the glass, the first comments from the group were how satisfying it was to sip. A cornucopia of fruit and candy exploded on the nose with a generous full and round mouthfeel due to the Genshu or undiluted nature of this warrior.
At the end of the tasting, the group was thrilled to have seen the many faces of this historical brew. I truly enjoyed the opportunity to share my experience with a group of women whom I admire.
The Wine Country Women book features personalities, their story and passions, making it an excellent coffee table edition. Shannon, Lusine and Violet are just some of the several faces that are part of the book orchestrated by Michelle. Cheers!