Wakamusume is the prime label for a local small kura, Shintani Shuzo, that is making some waves with their own “revival narrative.” Shintani is a venerable local kura that was on the verge of closing after its Toji retired, but the label founder’s grandson Yoshinao Shintani decided to make a go of it alone, and a few years later his wife became his sole helper. Now, the couple make a wide range of premium sake under the name Wakamusume, and they are pretty much all fantastic.
I had the good fortune to talk with Yoshinao and try a few of his sakes at the Achikochi Marche event a few months ago, and he struck me as a sincere lover of sake brewing, dedicated to making the best sake he could (note that there’s no pictures from fashion shoots or DJ parties on their webpage, just two folks working hard…)
This limited production brew (I have bottle 156 out of 350, as you can see on the lovely washi paper label) is named Kakitsubata, meaning “rabbit-eared iris,”and it is special in all sorts of ways. First, it’s a Junmai ginjo (not a rarity) but it’s also Fune-shibori, meaning it was pressure-pressed in a traditional wooden tub press. Unusual point one. It’s also unfiltered genshu, unusual point two. Unusual point three is that it’s a nama-chozo, meaning it was stored unpasteurized, and pasteurized in the bottle, making it an almost nama but still suitable for shelf storage. And finally, for usual point four, it’s made with 100% Saito no Shizuku, Yamaguchi’s own original sake rice.
Saito no Shizuku is quite different from Yamada Nishiki, the king of sake rice. Where Yamada often makes for bright, clean tasting sakes for easy drinking, Saito no Shizuku is a richer rice, best for full bodied meal or dessert sakes. And indeed, despite the fact that this is a ginjo, it leans much more toward umami than apple-sweetness.
Wakamusume Kakitsubata has a strong banana aroma on first sniff, which balances with a clean rice smell that announces the flavor well.
On first sip, Kakitsubata fills the mouth with rich, deep banana sweetness that bottoms out into heavy rice-like umami. The aftertaste has a lingering sourness that stays on the tongue for a while. This is a big, meaty sake, that is not at all your typical ginjo, and one that is full of unique character. It pairs well with strong cheeses, heavily seasoned meals, and a deep, contemplative evening at home.
In my opinion, I’d take a bottle of something special and assertive like this over a dozen sweet, tangy daiginjos any day.