A little background
By the time I’ve made my way through a bottle of just about any nihonshu, I’m generally willing and able to sing its praises. Unsurprisingly though, those that right from the first sip just make me sit back and think “Wow, this is incredible!” are the ones that earn a truly special place in my nihonshu memory bank.
Back in November, I wrote about one such sake for Sugidama blog, Kuncho Shuzo’s nigori nama genshu, with its delicious creamy, sweetness and indulgent boozy qualities. There is, of course, no need to push me for a second example. Maruishi Jozo’s ‘White Rabbit Label’ Nito junmai springs instantly to mind.
During the brief window of time in Summer 2020 for which Manchester wasn’t under the tightest of COVID-19 restrictions, I was kindly offered samples from Maruishi’s Nito range, in the backyard gazebo of the Sparrows restaurant. It consisted of the junmai, along with Omachi rice junmai ginjo and junmai daiginjo offerings.
Based on the tasters, I can confirm that both the higher classification sake were well-crafted and delicious. It was (perhaps consistent with my tastes) the 65% polished Yamadanishiki junmai that really struck me as truly special. And I instantly purchased a bottle for takeaway.
Admittedly, me giving Nito sake the thumbs up is certainly no great statement. The range has proven particularly popular in the Western world. Likely in no small part due to the Instagramability of the simplistically stylish bottle artwork depicting mirrored, silhouette rabbits. The likes of which people more commonly associate with trendy European wine than traditional Japanese sake.
Yet, Maruishi is certainly no newcomer to sake production. Founded in 1690 in Okazaki city (previously a centre of miso production) in the Aichi prefecture, it prides itself on its intricate brewing methods and distinct ‘sweetness, aroma and acidity’ in the resultant sake.
Apparently, the famous mirroring rabbits logo of the Nito sake brand refers to an old saying “If you run after two hares, you will catch neither.” Not sure if the saying is originally Japanese. It also exists in the European culture going back to an ancient Roman writer, Publilius Syrus. Do you remember the Muddy Waters song Rollin’ Stone, from which The Rolling Stones took their name? Publilius’ “A rolling stone gathers no moss” inspired it.
So, how does it taste?
Having got my Nito junmai home, I was of course already captivated by these wonderful characteristics. Yet, being able to take the time to open my own fresh bottle with some (vegan) white chocolate on a Friday night, I was able to further appreciate its nuances, further cementing my initial impressions of just how unusual and special it was. What follows are my tasting notes at chilled to room temperature.
White Rabbit Label pours as a typical, colourless nihonshu, finely filtered and charcoal treated. Wonderfully, without the need to nose the bottle directly, the melding of characteristic lactic notes and the medium intensity, and somewhat unexpected, citrus aroma drift invitingly out of the glass, without any need to swirl.
The taste follows suit, again rather curiously for a junmai. There is an equalising pleasant tartness to match the sweeter notes. It’s not quite a liquid lemon curd tart in terms of intensity. And there’s still a hint of that familiar rice character). But it’s certainly a similar essence, making my almost accidental decision to pair it with a light dessert. The perfect combination!
On swallowing there’s no cloying saccharinity or acid-reflex sourness, just a short, crisp and dry finish, and an impulse to take another sip in order to experience the play-off of distinctly different (but never competing for prominence) flavours again. This is clearly no accident. Maruishi have purposely crafted an unforgettably unique palate wrapped in that aromatic, sweet-meets-tangy mantra I highlighted above.
Perfect for all!
White Rabbit stands as one of the most interesting and delicious junmai sake I’ve ever had the pleasure to taste. All the more impressive if one notes my general gravitation towards junmai, honjozo and futsushu. It’s the perfect choice for both junmai enthusiasts, looking for a twist on the well-established flavour and aroma characteristics of their favourite premium class, as well as those dedicated to the more typically fruity (junmai) ginjo grade, looking to ease themselves into exploring less polished nihonshu.
That’s not to say that Nito junmai is only for ‘experienced’ sake drinkers. The clear and distinct flavour profile means that it easily avoids the ‘it doesn’t really taste of anything’ criticisms levelled at some sake by those who haven’t yet tuned their palates into the subtleties on offer. One could easily take this sake along to a dinner party (in better times of course!) and likely receive a very favourable response. Best of all, it’s one of the easiest quality sakes to get one’s hands on outside of Japan.
Truly one of my top recommendations!