The first was Tenryo Hidyahomare Junmai Ginjo - Gifu prefecture (central Japan, between Tokyo and Kyoto) Brewer: Tenryo Shuzo Co Ltd
This sake is pleasantly light, with slightly sweet notes of honeysuckle and Hami melon. It opens up in the mouth with a clean medium not watery feel. Leaving a little bit of warmth after each sip. I had it with Sashimi (and rolls made by my 10 year old J ) and it was perfectly paired.
Other reviews have noted that it can be heated (most Junmai Ginjos will burn in the mouth, taste too alchoholic if heated) and I tried this, and it is in fact very nice warm. Smooth, with a nice warm finish. Heating though covers up the subtle melon/honeysuckle nose and top note.
The brewer has been making sake for over 350 years, and the traditional packaging matches the traditional heritage, noting “Imperial Possessions Pride of Hida” in block letters on the bottom the label.
My palate gravitates to the Niigata/Nagano style with its clean clear cold water finish. The Tenzan was the antithesis of this, and matched its heavy serious packaging. No blue or pink translucent glass here, this is serious sake!
Brewed on Kyushu (which is the southernmost island in Japan, and is far warmer than Niigata/Nagano), this sake is as a warmer weather Bordeaux is to the lighter Burgundy Tenryo. The opening notes are heavier, hazelnuts, vanilla and a slight taste of cedar. The alcohol is up front, but not overtly strong, and very smooth, but noticeable. Even served chilled (as it should be), the Tenzan would warm you up on a cold autumn night. In the middle notes, it is chewier, fully bodied, slightly sweet, yet smooth. The finish is clean, with a touch of sweet rice. While we sipped the Tenzan with sushi and sashimi, and it was very good, it would have been better paired with tempura or chicken karaage, or my favorite winter dish, Okinawan braised pork belly (rafute), as it slightly overpowered all but the tuna. I’ll ask for a bottle next time I make Rafute!
This said, the Tenzan went wonderful with the molten chocolate cake we had for dessert, proving that any good sake pairs with its perfect food.