An evening of sake from Niigata Prefecture, Japan

This week saw the beginning of the Niigata Fair 2023, and Yokucha, the retro ramen bar at the Japan Centre in London hosted a tasting of 12 different sakes from the prefecture. These are all for sale at the Japan Centre and online for the next few weeks, and were directly imported from the Niigata Prefecture.

Niigata is to the north of Nagano, another mountainous prefecture on the west of Honshu island, and is known for its snowy winters and many onsens (hot springs). It’s also famous for rice production, and is the third largest producer of sake.

These are the sakes I tried, with my notes and scores.

Katafune Tokubetsu Honjozo Takeda Shuzo
16% alcohol. Honjozo sake means a little alcohol has been added (as opposed to Junmai sake). Polishing ratio of 60% (this means that 40% of the rice grain was polished away, leaving 60%). This is rich with lots of rice flavour, and notes of pear and spice. There’s some warmth here. Very textured, rich and bold with some depth. 90/100 (£17.24)

Midorikawa Junmai
15.5% alcohol, 55% polishing ratio. Lots of flavour here: this has power and weight with notes of ginger and cinnamon and some spice. There’s some savoury character here, with a hint of biscuit. Fresh and light-bodied. 89/100 (£18.75)

Yamashiroya First Class Kimoto Junmai Daiginjo Koshimeijo
15% alcohol, 40% polishing ratio. Kimoto is a traditional brewing method using ambient yeast. This is very fruity with lovely pear and green apple notes. Delicate and pure with lovely texture. Such a refined style. 92/100 (£21)

Hakurohanabi Hakuro Syuzo
8% alcohol. Sparkling Junmai sake. Creamy on the nose. Fruity and vivid with nice brightness and some sweetness. Notes of lychee, rice and cereal. Lots of fun here. 90/100 (300ml for £11.24)

Kamosu Mori Yamadanishiki 40 Junmai Daiginjo Naeba Shuzo
14% alcohol. 40% polishing ratio. This is made with Myori yeast and is a Namazake, which means it is a fresh sake that hasn’t been pasteurized the same way normal sake is. This is cloudy and powerful, and very fruity, with notes of pear and apricot, a touch of creaminess and some spice. It’s quite pure, sweet and impactful. 93/100 (£21.40 for 300 ml)

Medaka No Yado Junmai Ginjo Nama Niigata Meijo
8% alcohol, 55% polishing ratio. This lower alcohol style is light in body with fresh fruity notes and is supple with some rice character in the background. Understated. 89/100 (£7.11 for 300 ml)

Kakurei Junmai Ginjo Aoki Shuzo
15% alcohol, 55% polishing ratio. Brewed with snowmelt water from Uonuma mountain in Niigata. Slightly spirity, but with lovely texture and purity, showing refined pear, apple and melon notes. Supple with nice texture and refinement. 93/100 (£21)

Koshi no Happo Junmai Daiginjo Echigo Shuzo
15% alcohol. 50% polishing ratio. Brewed with 100% Niigata Rice. Fruit-driven with bright pear and citrus fruit with a touch of cherry. Linear and fresh with a bright personality, and notes of fennel and fine herbs in the background. So expressive. 94/100 (£33.74)

Koshiji No Koubai Junmai Daiginjo Kubiki Shuzo
16% alcohol, polishing ratio 40%. This Junmai Daiginjo sake brewed using Koshitanrei sake rice. Textural and refined it has lovely weight with some melon, spice, white pepper and a mellow mouthfeel. Rich and broad but so refined, with a long finely spiced finish. 94/100 (£47.24)

Kimi Noi Yamahai Junmaiginjo Kimi Noi Shuzo 
15.5% alcohol. This is a Yamahai sake, which means that the starter is wild yeast. It’s a less labour-intensive version of kimoto. This is fresh and lively with a slight tangy edge. Nice rice character with some creaminess and some cereal, as well as a touch of cherry. 92/100 (£20.24)

Kashi Taru Umeshu Kanemasu Shuzo
15% alcohol. A plum wine, made with Fujigoro Plums ripened in Niigata. The plums are soaked into aged Rice Shochu then sealed in an oak barrel. Marzipan and almond on the nose. Powerful and lively with lots of plum character, and not overly sweet. Has good acidity and some pleasant bitter hints. 91/100 (£16.50 for 500 ml)

Yukyu No Mori Long-Aged Jukusei Koshu 2011 Yoshinokawa
17% alcohol. 60% polishing ratio. Nutty, spicy and savoury with herbs and some mealy notes. Really vivid and mealy with such complexity. 93/100 (£41.25)

These are all available at