Back to the My Navi online news site today for more on their article about choosing sake - this time value for money and recommended labels.

The whole idea of value for money is an interesting one - it came up in another article about why some sake breweries are choosing to abandon the tokutei meisho classifications (The problem with tokutei meisho part 1 - part 2) as they find them restrictive, particularly for brewing methods like kimoto and yamahai where the cost and risk are not reflected in the price that consumers are prepared to pay for each one.

The article gives a list of the prices it believes people see as "normal" for a 1.8 L bottle of each classification, so anything below that prices makes the sake good value. The prices given for each bottle are mostly taken from Amazon.

  • Junmai daiginjō: JPY 4,000
  • Daiginjō: JPY 3,500
  • Junmai ginjō: JPY 3,000
  • Ginjō: JPY 2,500
  • Junmai: JPY 2,000
  • Honjōzō: JPY 1,000

The article then goes on to list its top 42 recommended sake, complete with "value for money" scored out of 5. (Or kosupa, their highly abbreviated version of "cost performance".)

Kinoshita's Tamagawa Shizenshikomi yamahai junmai muroka nama genshu comes in at 39, scoring 3/5 on value for money. The flavour notes indicate that it's got it all - sweetness, acidity, astringency, bitterness, dryness - but all beautifully balanced. [I have a bottle of this downstairs in our storage room, so relevant to my interests. Loving their honjōzō.]

Nanbu Bijin junmai daiginjō comes in at 34, scoring 3.5/5 for value for money, and Fukuju junmai daiginjō comes in at 28 with the same points for value for money.

Number 27 is Jūyondai nakadori junmai muroka, which gets its own little note below its value rating of 1/5: it's a delicious sake, but sold at a premium price. Number 24 has a similar remark. Saba de Shu, a blend created to pair with mackerel, is given 1.5/5 for value and described as interesting but too expensive for a honjōzō at JPY 2,000 (listed on Amazon for JPY 3,100 including tax). (Something fishy: a sake just for mackerel) Even though the write-up mentions that it has won medals at the International Wine Challenge and London Sake Challenge.

Directly underneath at 23 is Born's Gold junmai daiginjō, scoring an impressive 5/5 for value as it's under JPY 3,000 before tax for 1.8 L. Dassai 39 comes in at number 19 with 4/5 for value and a note that the brewery explicitly asks that it not be sold over the recommended price. (They even took out a newspaper ad: Dassai says don't pay too much.) Takara's Sho Chiku Bai junmai daiginjō comes in at 18 with 3.5/5 for value, and Jozen's Mizunogotoshi junmai daiginjō at 17 with 2/5 for value. Kikusui's Karakuchi is at 16, but rated only 1.5/5 for value with a note that sake of the same quality can be had for less from regional breweries.

Their top five are:

  1. Hiroki Shuzō (Fukushima) tokubetsu junmai - value 1/5 (because of premium pricing, JPY 10,300 for 1.8 L)
  2. Echigozakura Shuzō (Niigata) daiginjō - value 3.5/5
  3. Miyao Shuzō (Niigata) Shimeharitsuru Jun junmai ginjō - value 2.5/5
  4. Nishida Shuzōten (Aomori) Densyu Hyakuyonjū junmai ginjō - value 3/5
  5. Kokuryū Shuzō (Fukui) Kokuryū daiginjō - value 1.5/5 (again because of premium pricing at JPY 8,100 including tax for 1.8 L)

 


 

I'm not sure what to think about this idea of "value for money". It's not clear where the list of 42 sake came from, although it's clearly not based on that rating.

Are those guideline prices per class fair? If you think about a top of the line wine, I'd expect to pay a lot more. JPY 4000 for 1.8 L of junmai daiginjō converts into about JPY 2000 for 720 ml, to compare to a 750 ml bottle of wine. That's just EUR 15.50, or USD 18.10, or GBP 13.60. I paid twice that in Paris for a wine I hoped was merely better than average and okay to bring to lunch at a friend's house. I'd be prepared to pay a lot more for something that had a good reputation, based on what I've seen my parents and friends pay.

So, an interesting take on evaluating sake, but I can't help but think the price bar has been set too low. Are Japanese consumers really that fixated on price by class? Why the big difference between junmai and non-junmai? And doesn't focusing on price push the larger breweries with economies of scale further up the rankings at the expense of smaller ones?

Links