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Sake is difficult. Not only are the labels undecipherable to most Occidental folk, but the flavors and textures of sake are far removed from what we normally encounter in wine. Scientifically speaking, sake has a narrower range of flavors (congeners) compared to wine or spirits, but within that spectrum, I often find myself exploring various shades of the same hue. Nuanced and subtle, sake is product of the millenium-old process of using koji (a mold that breaks down the starches in rice into sugar) and yeast to transform steamed rice and water into an elegant, and oftentimes ethereal beverage. And within that category, in the relatively small country of Japan, there are close to two thousand breweries, or kura in Japanese, pushing the boundaries of this time-honored drink.
We're offering a selection of our winter season sake; fuller-bodied: richer brews (which in Japan would be called Jun-shu), as well as two aged expresions (Juku-shu). We've been having a lot of fun exploring these types of sake with food, both Japanese cuisine (tempura, yakitori, yakisoba) and western food. We encourage you to give these a shot as well. Oskar Kostecki
Asamai Shuzo is located deep in Akita Prefecture, in the northern part of Honshu, Japan's largest island. Akita is known as snow country, with very cold winters due to to winds blowing off the Sea of Japan- perfect for sake brewing. Asamai Shuzo uses only Akita-grown rice, which is quite rare; many breweries will source rice from all over Japan. Each year they produce quite a small amount of sake, but it's very well regarded both locally and nationally, and we're very happy to find some here in New York. The Amanoto Tokubetsu Junmai is a blend of Ginnosei and Miyamanishiki rice polished to 55%. On the attack it is soft and rich, with notes of white flowers, peach skin and marzipan, followed by a bright spark of tropical fruit before it eases into a long and savory finish. As it warms up to room temperature it gains in complexity, exhibiting a slight saline character, and increasing in richness, with the palate becoming thicker and more unctuous. The whole experience is framed by a bright and persistent acidity, making this a very food friendly sake. We shared a bottle in the bowels of New York's Decibel Sake Bar with some okonomiyaki and edamame gyoza, but I wouldn't hesitate to pair this with a wide range of foods. Oskar Kostecki
Isojiman Shuzo is located in Szikuoka Prefecture, on the coast of Suruga Bay, with Mount Fuji rising towards the east and the foothills of the Southern Japanese Alps to the north. Relatively young for such a heralded brewery, Isojiman was established in 1830. It wasn't until the 1970's that its fame became cemented, when Isojiman led the push towards what is considered high end sake today: a drier, cleaner, and more refined style. It is one of the only breweries in Japan that uses an almost completely stainless steel facility, apart from the koji room, which is still the traditional cedar interior. This Tobubetsu Junmai, made from heirloom Omachi rice, is a pearl of the category, and we are very happy to have a few bottles to offer. Deceptively rice and fruit-forward on the initial taste, the longer one spends with this bottle, to more layers emerge, revealing a savory core with a distinct saline, almost seaweed, character. It has the richness and broadness associated with a Tokubetsu Junmai, but there is also a depth and linearity running through it, like a shaft of sunlight striking through an underwater forest of kelp. The finish is long and engaging. This is a beautiful sake to savor with a wide range of foods, but I feel it would do best in a setting with seafood. Isojiman continues to push the boundaries of sake brewing, recently bottling three sake from three separately designated rice fields, one of the first trials in "terroir." Though not available in the United States at the moment, we commend Isojiman for continuously exploring the potential of sake and hope to one day taste the fruits of their labor. Oskar Kostecki
Masumi, the premium brand from Miyasaka Shuzo in Nagano, makes one of our favorite hiya-oroshi styles. On the nose, among the more forward notes of steamed rice, melon, citrus rind, and underripe mango is a savory undercurrent of sesame paste, hazelnuts, cream and a faint whiff of pine, moss, and crushed leaves. As the sake warms up to room temperature, the savory characteristics become even more prominent, it gains in weight and mouthfeel, and a hint of caramel and honey creeps in. Enjoy with fall vegetable dishes, mushrooms, a roast chicken, or as a wonderful accompaniment to Thanksgiving dinner. Oskar Kostecki
The term "Yama-oroshi" refers to the old school method of continuously ramming large poles into vats of rice, water and koji, creating a sort of mash, which historically was believed to be necessary to allow the koji to convert starch into sugar. It wasn't until the early 20th century that it was discovered this koji process would take place regardless, saving workers countless hours of labor. A few breweries still use this time and labor-intensive method, modernly known as "kimoto", which allows ambient yeast and bacteria to interact with the moto (mixture of rice, water, and koji) before commercial yeasts are used, creating a richer, more savory and sometimes "funkier" profile. Yuho Rhythm of the Centuries goes one step further, and the brewery ages this sake in glass for around four years before release, to round out the flavor profile. This sake is very rich, with warm earthy notes of toasted sesame and an umami, slightly mushroom character. Enjoy with heartier foods. Oskar Kostecki
Ryujin Shuzo creates the Oze no Yukidoke line of sake in Gunma Prefecture, just to the north of Tokyo. This small brewery has a long history, going all the way back to 1597, and creates very crisp and mellow sake, mostly due to the very soft water coming from underground sources close to the brewery. With notes of steamed rice, anise, melon, banana, pineapple, and a super dry finish, this is a classic junmai to be enjoyed in any occasion. Oskar Kostecki