For the first time in auction history, renowned New York auction house, Acker, Merrall & Condit offers four craft Japanese Sakes to the international wine collectors’ market at its Hong Kong sale on Saturday, 10 June.
Each of the four lots were highly scored by Chinese critic, Liwen Hao – in the first sake rating - for Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (WA) in 2016, each scoring between 91-98 points, which led to a global rush of demand for premium sake and boosted the category’s appeal to serious wine collectors. Within 24 hours of WA’s release, the distributors of the top scorers – rated 90 points or above – were inundated with requests from collectors and luxury hotels and restaurants from around the world.
The complexity in the production and taste of premium sake has sparked comparisons to the greatest wines of Burgundy where only the most esteemed types of rice are used with the best sources of pure, terroir-driven water and made only by family-owned producers who have hundreds of years of skilled sake brewing behind them.
What makes the production of sake unique is the rice-polishing ratio, which is the percentage of the rice that remains after the husk (outer portion) of the rice is polished off.
If the number of the rice polishing ratio is lower, the rice had to be polished more which usually takes 2 to 3 days, resulting in a more refined and premium standard of Sake, and commands a higher price.
For example, the sake in Lot 847, NV Iwanoi Yamahai Junmai Daiginjo, was founded in 1723 in Hyogo Prefecture, inspired by the high mineral content of the local spring water a few kilometres from the Pacific Ocean. 11 generations later and the production of this sake, made with the highly prized rice type, Yamada Nishiki, is still limited with the greatest care taken over the polishing ratio of the rice that is at 40%.
Furthermore, the two highest scoring sakes offered at Acker, Merall & Condit’s auction – lots 847 and 848 - have never before been exported, are unavailable to purchase even in Japan, and only a hundred - or fewer - cases are made every year.
In his tasting notes, Liwen Hao described the following four lots as:
Lot 845: Kinteki Junmai Ginjo Sake NV (rated 91 points by WA)
“For rice lovers, this sake’s fragrance of steamed rice is charming. At the same time, the NV Kinteki Junmai Ginjo offers lovely fruitiness of peach, strawberry and red cherry. On the palate, it offers mineral, citrus and rice-sweet notes. A zesty and tasty sake, this reveals the freshness and typicity of slow fermentation in Hokkaido’s long and cold winter. This sake would be a good partner with fresh and light-styled seafood from this region.”
6 x 1800mls per lot, estimated US$240-320 (HK$2,000-2,400)
Lot 846: Manazuru Junmai Daiginjo Sake - NV (rated 90 points by WA)
“The Manazuru Mana 175 Premium Junmai Daiginjo is a light, unfiltered, undiluted sake, with elegant steamed rice, shiitake mushroom, peach and almond notes on the nose. It tastes fresh, spicy and mineral.”
12 x 720mls per lot, estimated US$480-650 per lot HK$4,000-5,200
Lot 847: Iwanoi Yamahai Junmai Daiginjo Sake - NV (rated 95 points by WA).
“The NV Iwanoi Yamahai Junmai Daiginjo has a pure expression of steamed rice and will warm the hearts of the rice-lovers. Refined, elegant and complex, this sake is aromatic with plenty of fruitiness. Smooth, round and pleasant, it is an extraordinarily beautiful sake with distinguished personality.”
12 x 720mls per lot, estimated US$1,000-1,400 (HK$8,000-11,200)
Lot 848: Kameno-O 3nen Jukusei Daiginjo Sake - NV (rated 98 points by WA)
“I just want to sing or cry when tasting this sake. It brings me to a snow world I can feel the fragrance of steamed rice from the distance and finally I reach a warm mineral spring, with a vase of flowers and lots of seductive peach, melon and apricots on the table. The Kame-No-O Sannen Jukusei Junmai Daiginjo is dry, super pure and elegant, with a very long, mineral finish. It is made with the legendary Kame-No-O rice.”
12 x 720mls per lot, estimated US$2,400-3,200 per lot HK$20,000-26,000)
Commenting on the debut of the four sakes, John Kapon: Acker, Merall & Condit’s President says: “We are very proud and honoured to offer the elite of the craft of Japanese sake for the first time on the global wine auction market. The category of premium sake has taken the world by storm recently and it is an extremely rare opportunity to bid on such sought-after lots which rarely make it into the public eye.”
Acker, Merrall & Condit’s auction takes place on Saturday, 10 June (10.00), at Grissini in the Grand Hyatt Hotel. Bids are also accepted online at www.ackerwines.com.