Sake Review: Noguchi Junmai
Noguchi Naohiko is one of the most famous names in the sake industry. He is without any doubt the most famous living sake brewer of Japan. He started his career at a young age in 1949 and he still is at the top of his game.
After retiring, he luckily decided to come back to brewing in the Ishikawa Prefecture, at the Noguchi Naohiko Sake Institute 農口尚彦研究所.
The institute was created for him to brew sake and also with the intention of teaching his brewing secrets to younger generations toji and sake brewers. One of the sake that came out of Noguchi san’s teachings is this gorgeous junmai that takes its name directly from its father Noguchi. The big kanji characters on the front label pay homage to him and, right next to it, there’s the name of the brewer who actually made this sake, Watanabe san, the president of Noguchi sake brewery.
Noguchi is labelled as junmai but has the milling ratio of a ginjo of exactly 60%.
Apparently it was made non just with your regular Yamada Nishiki, which is usually a pretty good guarantee that the sake you’re about to enjoy is of good quality, but a special kind of Yamada Nishiki. This sake was made with A grade Yamada Nishiki cultivated in the city of Yokawa, in Hyogo prefecture, and Gohyakomangoku rice. It’s unpasteurized, yet it was aged for about 2 years before its release, which makes it even more interesting to me.
This sake has a very luscious light golden colour that complements perfectly the green bamboo design on the label. On the nose, the aromas are creamy and reminiscent of ripe green apple, pear, yogurt with a hint of mango in the back, but without being overly sweet.
The texture is also quite creamy, and light at the same time. On the palate it has a distinct flavour of caramelised pears that brings me back to my childhood.
I remember going to my grandparents house and my grandfather would cook pears in the oven with spices and wine, still with the peel on. This sake reminds me specifically of biting into those pears and feeling the texture of the pulp mixing up with the texture of the peel.
This is one of the things that I love the most about sake. There is a story or a memory behind each and every sip, and I think it’s beautiful.
As Noguchi was aged for 2 years it lost the brash vibes of a typical nama, or unpasteurized sake, but instead gained a beautifully round flavour.
It has a very gentle sweetness that suggests it would express its best self served with dishes made with dashi and mirin. It is amazing when served slightly chilled and also warmed up around 45°C (113°F). When warm it changes completely and it really shows its sweet side. Usually sake gets drier when warmed up but Noguchi has a mind of its own, and will take you on a delicious sensorial journey.