Raise your glass to new types of sake
CHAT with Noriyoshi Nagai, the youthful sixth-generation owner of Nagai Sake, and it is obvious that he is deeply passionate about developing new forms of sake.
He is also focused on matching sake and food.
Nagai Sake is located in Gunma prefecture's Kawaba village, about 170km north-west of Tokyo.
It produces three premium brands - Tanigawadake, Mizubasho and Nagai Style - with the last one a super-premium Mizubasho that is aged.
Sake may be called rice wine but unlike wine, it is brewed, which means sake is drunk fresh or within a year.
But inspired by French wine, Mr Nagai has created sparkling, vintage and dessert sakes. It all started when as a 16-year-old in 1988, he sipped a glass of Puligny-Montrachet.
He recalled: "I had no previous experience of wine but it tasted perfect."
At the time, he was learning about sake-making so he wondered if he could combine both.
So from 1995, over a decade of experimentation with wine maturation techniques, he duly arrived at the importance of temperature.
"The same sake stored at a different temperature has a different taste," said Mr Nagai, adding that minus two degrees is ideal when cellaring for 10 years. "For 20 years, it has to be minus five."
He also realised that for the best results, vintage sake has to be kept for at least 10 years, with 12 being the average. Dessert sake, on the other hand, is aged for five years.
His sparkling sake is called Mizubasho Pure and it is processed the traditional way like champagne, with a secondary fermentation in the bottle.
The only difference is that there is no disgorgement because no dosage is added.
The first Pure was released in 2008 - after five years and 700 tests (that is, 700 broken bottles) to recreate the same pressure in the bottle as champagne.
So what is the motivation behind this new Mizubasho type of sake?
"All sakes smell of rice, which is the old style. But Nagai Style is light, just like wine."
THE BUSINESS TIMES