John Gauntner Sake Dinner
Photo: John Gauntner at his June 14 sake dinner.

Ted and Etsuko
Photo: Ted and Etsuko from the Tokyo Sake Meetup Group.

See those people above? Those three have been my sake sensei over these past two-and-a-half years. I’ve attended ten of his John Gauntner’s sake dinners and his annual week-long sake course last January. I gathered all my notes together; I’ve tasted about 160 sakes (minus a few repeats) with him.

Ted and Etsuko are the leaders of the Tokyo Sake Meetup Group, a monthly gathering of sake otaku. I’ve attended five of the meetups (including a trip to a sake brewery and the Niigata Sake no Jin). I’ve sampled at least 50 sakes (including 25 in a crazy day at the Niigata Sake no Jin) with them.

Of course, I can’t even count the sakes my husband and I tasted on our trips around Japan, in restaurants, and at home savoring a bottle. If you live near Yokosuka and want excellent sake, check out Kakeda Shoten near the Oppama station on the Keikyu line. It would help if you spoke Japanese, but if you know some sake terms and what you are looking for, they will find you something fabulous to drink.

When I leave Japan I will miss reasonably priced and easily obtained premium sake. I know I can find some of these sakes in the States—thanks to pioneers like True Sake in San Francisco and Sakaya in New York City—but at more than twice the price in Japan. Boo freakin’ hoo.

My two favorites (out of six) from John’s June 14, 2008 sake dinner:

Kokken Junmai
Photo: Kokken Junmai-shu from Fukushima Prefecture. Big fruit and melon nose, hint of dates and ginger on the palate, nice coating on the tongue, perhaps even a “squeeze of lime” (thanks Jarred).

Hiroki Ginjo
Photo: Hiroki Ginjo-shu from Fukushima Prefecture. Papaya nose, toasted sugar taste with a blast of alcohol, delicious.

If you are in the Tokyo area (I make the trek from Yokosuka) and want to learn more about premium sake, find these people and drink! John’s dinners are structured with a lecture and six sakes to taste during a multi-course dinner (always at the Takara Sake Pub in Yurakucho). Sign up for his monthly newsletter for more information. Unless he does a dinner in July, I’ve attended my last one. The Tokyo Sake Meetup Group schedules more relaxed evenings in various sake pubs, usually with dinner, but no lecture. We learn by sharing and comparing our opinions. The tastings are sometimes thematic (such as the last Shimane sake tasting) and sometimes BYOB to taste what others love to drink. I’m hoping they squeeze in one more meetup before I leave Japan.

I’ve made close friends at these dinners (in both human and bottle forms). My favorite sake? I really couldn’t say. I’m convinced that, like wine, the most delicious sake depends on the food, the company, the season, the weather, the city or the country, and my mood. I can say I love good sake made well by true craftsmen (mostly men, but more and more women). It’s been a real joy to share these tastes with my husband and my fellow sake geeks here in Japan.

In any case: So long, and thanks for all the fish sake.