The well-known Wakatake brewery is located in Shimada, between Tokyo and Kyoto, and has been brewing sake since 1832. The soft mouth-feel and slightly sweet allure of Onikoroshi wraps the palate like a silk kimono after a geisha rubdown. It's complex and rich, with gorgeous fruit tones. (Yes, there are fruit flavors - lots of them - in sake.) The finish is longer than a samurai epic and makes this one perfect for sipping all by itself.


Savvy San Francisco-based importer Vine Connections has taken a brilliant step in sake marketing. They've started translating the names of the sakes in the merchant's portfolio, making them much more accessible to language-impaired non-Japanese speakers. Fukucho, which translates as Moon on the Water, is a Junmai Ginjo grade sake, in which at least 40 percent of the rice hull has been polished away. The more that's polished away, the higher the quality of the sake.

The water in Hiroshima prefecture, where the Imada Shuzo brewery is located, is very soft compared to that in most sake-brewery areas, giving Fukucho its name and its amazing depth on the palate. This producer dates back to 1868 and is one of the few sake breweries in which a woman plays a major role: Miho Imada plans to take over the business from her father. Fukucho has a lovely winelike complexity that reminds me of a Marsanne, with pineapple and minerals predominating.


Sudo Honke is the oldest active brewery in Japan, founded in the year 1150. The current president is the 55th generation of his family to brew sake. The company is small and highly committed to both the environment and the local community. These people talk about soil and rice just the way winemakers talk about terroir and grapes. In fact, Sudo Honke recently revived a strain of rice that grew in the area 2,000 years ago; it was discovered in ancient ruins near the brewery.