Just In 👉 Volcan de mi Tierra Debuts Tahona Made Blanco

Sake Reviews

5 Manotsuru Sakes: Junmai Ginjo, Sado, Maho, Miku and Hiyaoroshi Genshu (真野鶴)

 

 

Niigata prefecture stands out as one of Japan's foremost sake producing regions. It’s said that the region's mountainous terrain, graced with abundant snowfall, gifts brewers with pure, soft water ideal for sake production. The fertile soil also nurtures some of Japan's high quality rice, a crucial ingredient in sake brewing. Over 90 breweries thrive here, most of them small, local breweries that craft Ji-sake. This is a term denoting sake brewed in small quantities and typically savoured within its production locale. Ji-sake is cherished for its distinctive quality, character, and the stories it carries from its origins. For this reason, Niigata has a reputation as the Land of Ji-sake.

Obata Shuzo, nestled on Sado Island in Niigata, is one of the most renowned ji-sake producers. Established in 1892 by patriarch Yososaku Obata, this family-owned brewery has been run by the family for over 120 years.

 

Sado Island of Niigata has a humid subtropical climate, but it also has 2 high mountain ranges which provide snowmelt water to surrounding settlements.

 

Their flagship brand, Manotsuru sake is made using locally sourced rice and the renowned water of Sado. Their brewing philosophy, 四宝和醸 (shi-ho-wa-jo), translates to "making sake by harmonizing the four treasures": rice, water, people, and the local terroir, a concept reflected in the family ‘four-eyes’ crest.

 

 

At the helm today is Rumiko Obata, the fifth-generation owner and brewer, with an eventful self-discovery journey which led her to Hollywood and back to the family kura (traditional storehouse). Initially set on leaving the tiny Sado Island to see the world, she worked as a film promoter in the Tokyo film industry, and had the opportunity to travel to Los Angeles for her work.

 

 

This changed when she turned 28 and realised that her calling was to build a lasting legacy for the family – transitioning from a high-paced life in the movie industry to an introspective return to her roots. That said, her experiences in big cities and dining with Hollywood stars shaped her unique approach to expanding the reach of Manotsuru. Under her guidance, Manotsuru found its way to 15 different countries and is even offered as a sake in the first class cabin of Air France.

Manotsuru sakes are generally clean and dry with a mild karakuchi note.

The Obata family is also dedicated to community sake education, setting up a second brewery called Gakkogura. This former elementary school was transformed into a sake brewery and sake educational centre, reflecting their contribution to popularising knowledge and culture of sake brewing.

We ran into Rumiko-san herself at Sake Matsuri Singapore, and we had the opportunity to taste five different expressions of Manotsuru sake. Let’s get in.

Manotsuru Junmai Ginjo (真野鶴純米吟醸 ), 15% ABV

55% polishing ratio, Gohyaku mangoku rice.

 

Nose: Fresh and floral aromas. There's a distinct sweetness that is quite inviting, accompanied by an overall clean and pure scent. In the backdrop, there's a hint of a solvent-like quality, but it's subtle and doesn't overpower the primary fragrances.

Palate: Sweet with a smooth texture that carries through the palate. A rather straightforward and delightful sweet rice note is prominent. Alongside this, there's a hint of vanilla, adding a layer of complexity and softness to the overall flavour profile. The vanilla note is quite understated but it adds a certain depth to the tasting experience.

Finish: Clean with a slightly drying sensation. This finish isn't overly pronounced, but it provides a nice counterbalance to the earlier sweetness.

 

My thoughts:

This is clean and easy to drink, though the flavours are just really subtle. Its subtleties are enjoyable, but perhaps it lacks a certain depth or memorability that would elevate it from good to great.

My rating: 5/10

Score/Rating Scale :

  • 9-10 : Exceptional, highly memorable, 10/10 would buy if I could.
  • 7-8 : Excellent, well above most in its category, worth considering buy-zone.
  • 4-6 : Good, okay, alright; a few flaws, but acceptable; not bad, but not my personal preference; still worth trying, could be a buy if the price is right.
  • 1-3 : Not good; really did not enjoy; wouldn't even recommend trying.
  • 0 : Un-scored, might be damaged, new make, or very unusual.

Manotsuru Junmai Daiginjo – Sado (真野鶴純米大吟醸佐渡),16.5% ABV

50% polishing ratio, Yamadanishiki rice.

 

Nose: Fresh and vibrant, opening with prominent melon aromas and bright green apple which adds a crisp, slightly tart edge.

Palate: Rich, sweet and umami. Opens with subtle hints of pear and a touch of umami that gives it a cool salty-sweet interplay and contrast, along with a slight coastal feel to it.

Finish: Long, clean and sweet with dry sensation and mild banana notes, some floral undertones and a whisper of white pepper that – when combined with a zesty dryness – gives a nice karakuchi feel at the back of the throat.

 

 

My thoughts:

Compared to the previous expression, this is a huge step-up. It has a great ginjo-ka (ginjo aroma) with a balance between salty, sweet, and the dry karakuchi finish that is executed with skill. The flavours feel layered and harmoniously combined, making this a memorable experience.

My Rating: 7/10

Score/Rating Scale :

  • 9-10 : Exceptional, highly memorable, 10/10 would buy if I could.
  • 7-8 : Excellent, well above most in its category, worth considering buy-zone.
  • 4-6 : Good, okay, alright; a few flaws, but acceptable; not bad, but not my personal preference; still worth trying, could be a buy if the price is right.
  • 1-3 : Not good; really did not enjoy; wouldn't even recommend trying.
  • 0 : Un-scored, might be damaged, new make, or very unusual.

Manotsuru Daiginjo – Maho (‘Older Sister’) (真野鶴磨三割五分大吟醸万穂 ), 16.5% ABV

35% polishing ratio, Yamadanishiki rice.

 

 

Nose: Fairly complex, clean and sweet. Opens with the sweetness of japonica rice, intertwined with a subtle earthiness. Layered within is this hint of lychee and fresh-cut grass that add a fruity brightness.

Palate: Still fresh and clean but with a touch of lemon, florals and light nutty depth. Opens with a zesty, lemony note complemented by soft undertones of cherry blossom and a delicate almond-like nuttiness.

Finish: The finish continues the journey, with predominant zest and rice notes and a light earthy feel to it.

 

 

My thoughts:

Very enjoyable and complex. The sake strikes a balance between traditional and unexpected flavours, and shows the complexity of Yamadanishiki rice. The interplay of sweet rice, earthiness, and zest creates some harmonious contrasts that make for a memorable tasting experience.

My Rating: 7/10

Score/Rating Scale :

  • 9-10 : Exceptional, highly memorable, 10/10 would buy if I could.
  • 7-8 : Excellent, well above most in its category, worth considering buy-zone.
  • 4-6 : Good, okay, alright; a few flaws, but acceptable; not bad, but not my personal preference; still worth trying, could be a buy if the price is right.
  • 1-3 : Not good; really did not enjoy; wouldn't even recommend trying.
  • 0 : Un-scored, might be damaged, new make, or very unusual.

Manotsuru Junmai Daiginjo – Miku (‘Younger Sister’) (真野鶴純米大吟醸実来 ), 16% ABV

35% polishing ratio, Koshitanrei rice.

 

Nose: Immediately rich and sweet, evoking the aromas of brown sugar and vanilla.

Palate: The palate reveals a very precise flavour profile. A sweetness of Japonica rice and caramel, and a light tanginess that cuts through the sweetness, providing a refreshing contrast.

Finish: The finish reveals a bit of grapefruit bitterness, which is smoothly accompanied by an earthy mushroom note.

 

 

My Thoughts:

Once again, this has complexity and richness that is quite impressive. But above all, it stands out for its very precise and well-defined flavour profile, earning a solid 8/10 stars.

My Rating: 8/10

Score/Rating Scale :

  • 9-10 : Exceptional, highly memorable, 10/10 would buy if I could.
  • 7-8 : Excellent, well above most in its category, worth considering buy-zone.
  • 4-6 : Good, okay, alright; a few flaws, but acceptable; not bad, but not my personal preference; still worth trying, could be a buy if the price is right.
  • 1-3 : Not good; really did not enjoy; wouldn't even recommend trying.
  • 0 : Un-scored, might be damaged, new make, or very unusual.

Manotsuru Junmai Hiyaoroshi Genshu, Cho Karakuchi (真野鶴超辛口純米ひやおろし原酒), 18.5% ABV

60% polishing ratio, Gohyaku mangoku rice.

 

Nose: Clean and pleasant, with a distinct presence of soft banana notes. This is complemented by an interesting light prickliness I could only describe as spiciness – which might have something to do with the higher ABV of this drink.

Palate: The obvious thing about this is that it’s moderately sweet – it is distinctly sweet for sure but less sweet than the previous expressions. It also has a pronounced dryness with prominent grain notes, carried by a substantial slightly more viscous mouthfeel. The flavours develop and reveal a combination of spice and a zestiness that gradually builds.

Finish: Gradually culminates in a peak of red dates.

 

 

My Thoughts:

This sake presents a rather interesting array of flavours that delightfully surprise me. The influence of the Gohyaku Mangoku rice is evident - unlike many other sakes, the sweetness here is more restrained. The distinct flavours are more nuanced but still allowed to shine through.

It’s a memorable sake that earns a solid 7/10 stars for its distinctive taste and refinement – it’ll definitely speak to those who don’t like their sakes too sweet!

My Rating: 7/10

Score/Rating Scale :

  • 9-10 : Exceptional, highly memorable, 10/10 would buy if I could.
  • 7-8 : Excellent, well above most in its category, worth considering buy-zone.
  • 4-6 : Good, okay, alright; a few flaws, but acceptable; not bad, but not my personal preference; still worth trying, could be a buy if the price is right.
  • 1-3 : Not good; really did not enjoy; wouldn't even recommend trying.
  • 0 : Un-scored, might be damaged, new make, or very unusual.

 

Kanpai!

@CharsiuCharlie