Tsukinokatsura junmai daiginjo
Photo: Tsukinokatsura “Heiankyo” junmai daiginjo.

I was expecting a great deal from this sake, as I once had an almost religious experience tasting its sister sake, Tsukinokatsura “Yanagi” (Willow) junmai ginjo. The Willow junmai ginjo is also my evangelical sake: when someone at my dinner table claims they don’t like sake, I gently quiz them on what kinds of sake they have tried—ok, so I’m not so gentle, I berate them until they admit they only tried it once and it was that boiled stuff in some Benihana—and then I parade the Willow. Never fails. People sip and murmur: “What? This is sake?” and “I had no idea sake tasted like that.” Then I have a few good slugs myself.

The Willow’s ultra-refined sister, Heian-kyo (Ancient Kyoto) had a lot to live up to. Sakes from Kyoto are known for being soft on the palate, so I wasn’t surprised to find this sake light and silky, with a delicate tropical fruit nose. The silkiness slipped right over my tongue, but after a few moments of enjoyment, the sweet fruit is too insistent for my taste. This sake is so solidly made and has correct attributes for a daiginjo: lovely nose, good complexity, it sips well. But after a few short days with the bottle, I found myself wondering what else I could open.

So, I opened a bottle of the Willow and experienced the fulfillment of a rounder mouthfeel, a bolder but still gentle bite of alcohol, a stronger bamboo-y finish, and the piqued imagination asking for some sashimi or an okara salad. Gah.

Well, the Heian-kyo is a lovely, well made sake, but as I type this I’m drinking the Willow.

Data, for those who love data:
Underneath the almost useless English sticker that the importer has slapped on the back of the bottle, I can partially make out the Japanese below with all its tantalizing information. Why don’t they translate all the Japanese on the back? I can see the rice was Iwai, a rare sake rice that the brewery, Matsuda-Tokube Shoten, revived a few years ago. I can also see on the Japanese sticker a seimaibuai of 50%.

True sake reports: SMV+0.5, Acidity+1.6
Sakaya NYC has SMV+1, Acidity +1.4, and that they use yeast #9.