Small little happiness from Nara
Our American Sommelier reviews Kankiko Chiisana Yorokobi Junmai Ginjo
Kankiko is the main label of Sawada Shuzo brewery in Nara Prefecture. Sawada was founded in 1830, but didn’t start full-scale sake brewing until 1889. Interestingly enough, the brewery also runs two music schools — probably the only brewery in Japan to do so!
Nara Prefecture, of course, has a long history in sake brewing and is in many ways the birthplace of modern brewing. Innovations like the bodaimoto starter method and filtering started here among the many shrines and temples that traditionally controlled sake brewing prior to the Edo period (1603 -1867). With such a long tradition of skill and innovation, the area has developed a very strong reputation for highly skilled brewing and complex, interesting sake.
This is my first time trying any sake from Sawada Shuzo, although I have had — and thoroughly enjoyed — other Nara sakes many times. This particular one is a Junmai Ginjo made with Yamada Nishiki rice and association yeast #1901. Taken all together, the elements fall into place like a beautiful puzzle-it is an aromatic, elegant junmai ginjo that balances full, palate filling sweetness with a firm undertone of savory umami.
The aroma is luxurious — notes of honey, pear, and a touch of floral aroma. In the mouth, the first sip brings vanilla, plum, and sweet rice to the mix. It has a somewhat heavy feel on the tongue, but the finish is relatively fast. A touch of pear fades with fresh acidity to gentle, mouth-watering umami. It begs to be drunk, and I couldn’t find a flaw to keep me from refilling my glass. I drank this sake at room temperature, and this being December that means around 16 degrees Celsius. The brewery recommends it chilled to around 10, but I found that closed it up a little too much for my personal tastes. I wouldn’t heat this one up, though, because I feel it would unbalance the luxurious richness too much toward the umami notes.
Taken within the overall brewing world, this sake is the archetype of a Yamadanishiki junmai ginjo. It brings big, boisterous flavors with clean finishes, and interesting, elegant aromas. I couldn’t find a flaw, and enjoyed it immensely, but at the same time I can’t really say what sets it apart from other very well made Yamadanishiki junmai ginjo sakes. It might take more exploration of Sawada Shuzo’s other labels to find the connecting note, but if this sake is any indication that would be a very pleasant task, indeed.
The label must also be mentioned here. It’s a charming picture, of a boy out catching bugs in the weeds — much like my own son does every summer. The name, Chiisana Yorokobi, means “little happiness or “small pleasures,” and the poem on the label reflects this.
It is one of
My small pleasures,
But I think
On distant days
When I shared
It with someone, and their
Was enough to bring happiness.
It’s a lovely little touch, and helps add to the sake’s rather comforting aura.
Full Disclosure: This sake was provided free of charge by the brewery in return for an honest review. I have not allowed that to sway my impressions, and strive to remain impartial in all my reviews.
If you are interested in buying Chiisana Yorokobi sake, you can order it online from Sake Lovers