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K&L Staff Recommendations
92 points Whisky Advocate: "Sweet, with subtle, crisp, nutty oak, then comes fudge, ripe banana, and peach. The overall effect is like eating vanilla ice cream with toffee fudge and hazelnut sprinkles. The structure is thick and physical, the palate sweet and quite fat, with light hints of raspberry, fruit salad. A jag of acidity freshens the delivery on the finish. With water there’s more toffee, and it becomes slightly more yielding, with less oak. For me the gold standard of grain. (Fall 2015) Reviewed by: Dave Broom." K&L Notes: Grain whisky is one of the least understood components of the ... Read More »
So you've heard that Japanese whisky is quite popular these days. You're right; it is. But while the mainstream choice is always going to be Suntory, it's Nikka that is quietly bringing the goods to your local boutique retailer. Founded by Masataka Taketsuru in 1936, the Nikka whisky company is one of Japan's best kept secrets (at least with other Americans). Taketsuru studied whisky production in Scotland during the 1910s and brought that knowledge back to Nippon to make Scottish style whisky at home. Nikka's Pure Malt Taketsuru is a marriage of single... Read More »
90 points Wine Enthusiast: "Fans of smoky Islay Scotches will enjoy this smoky single malt that’s made at Suntory’s Hakashu Distillery, which is “surrounded by forest at the foot of the Southern Japan Alps.” Despite the delicate aromas of tropical fruit and light peat, the smoke note is considerably amplified on the palate, especially on the resonant finish, where it pushes those dainty fruit tones completely off the map." (2/2013) K&L Notes: The newest Japanese whisky to hit the U.S. market is Suntory's Hakushu - known as the "Forest Distillery". Built in 1973 as a sister distillery to Suntor... Read More »
Located in the town of Akashi, near the famed city of Kobe in Japan, White Oak distillery has been in operation since 1919; although very few Americans are familiar with the whisky. Owned by Eigashima, it is actually the oldest operating distillery in Japan, having received its license four years before Yamazaki produced any whisky, despite the fact that it would be another forty years before they actually used it. The non-age statement (NAS) grain whisky is light and fruity with a classic malty profile and a round, supple finish.
The Mars distillery is very well regarded in Japan despite the low price point. This whisky might produced on the traditional pot stills at Shinshu Mars and is most likely a blend of malt and corn. The fat stills produce a very weighty and complex spirit and despite the youth and lower ABV, this stuff delivers a rich texture and complex aromas. Hombo Shuzo, the owners of the distillery, are one of Japan's top wine producers and therefore have access to great number of cask types. Most whisky is aged in sherry and bourbon, but the distillery is also exper... Read More »
Ichishima is a family-owned brewery in the Niigata prefecture that has been making sake since 1790. Located on the western coast of Japan, it's nestled in between the ocean and the mountains, and can receive more than 30 feet of snow annually. The cold temperature allows for an incredibly long fermentation times (roughly five weeks), resulting in light, delicate, and elegant sake flavors that bring new meaning to the word graceful. Niigata sakes are meant to pair well with seafood and sushi; two specialties of the coastal region. The Tokubetsu Honjozo sa... Read More »
This is a surprisingly delicious considering the bargain basement price. Soft, crisp flavors of citrus with refreshing acidity, the Typhoon could easily be thrown into a white wine tasting as a dynamic substitute. For the price, it also makes a fantastic mixer into specialty cocktails. Try it instead of dry vermouth in a martini, or use it in a Corpse Reviver instead of Lillet. Again, for the money, it's a fantastic beginner's bottle that brings clean, authentic sake character for a bargain.
Kikusui has been run by the Takasawa family for five generations. They are committed to producing the highest quality sake at an affordable price. From the producer: "This is a light and comfortably dry premium Sake with the aroma of fresh cantaloupe and banana followed by a medium body bringing refreshing Mandarin orange-like overtones. With just the right amount of body and a comfortable dryness it enhances any dish you eat. This is a great white wine alternative that is perfect for Sake lovers and beginners alike."
Fresh, fruity, clean, and delicious! There's a bit of sweetness on the back end and the stone fruit elements are pronounced all the way through. An absolute joy to drink and easily at the top of my list for recommending to both sake experts and newcomers alike.
This traditional oak aged spirit from Japan is distilled from Koji fermented polish rice. Ultra delicate and easy going with a subtle sweetness and light body.
Possibly the sexiest Nigori we have ever tasted. You don't usually see Nigori at a Ginjo level! This is sleek and delightfully light. There is a touch of carbonation which helps lift the sweetness of the rice. Great fruity notes and a very clean style for a creamy sake. (Keith Mabry, K&L Hollywood)
Gohyakumangoku rice milled to 59%, this unfiltered sake still has the lees in it, which gives it a cloudy appearance and a bit sweeter taste than a more modern filtered sake. Made by Rihaku Shuzo in the Shimane Prefecture, it is rich, creamy and quite long at the end.
The mineral aspects of this wonderfully crisp sake are the main focus, but there's a bit of fruit as well to round out the back end. It's just a polished, strikingly elegant sake that should pair with just about anything.
94 points Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar: "Very pale yellow. Complex nose offers saline, herbal and spicy notes, with a minty coolness. Wonderfully subtle, complex and precise, with a distinctly ethereal quality, high-pitched minerality and superb lift. Finishes very dry and persistent, with lovely lift. This is made inside an igloo in Hokkaido, in Japan's extreme north, where below-freezing temperature prevents unwanted bacteria from surviving, thus ensuring a very pure sake. The clear sake is separated from the fermenting rice lees by putting it into canvas bags and allowing the sake to drip ou ...Read More »
Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar: "Very pale, green-tinged color. Fruity, vibrant aromas of lime, fennel and minerals, with a hint of white pepper; this one is also rather Chablis-like. Rich and soft in the mouth, conveying lovely fullness without weight. Just a bit aggressive and warm on the finish. This needs to be served with food. The water in the Hiroshima prefecture is known for being very soft. Made by one of the very small number of female brewers in Japan. (2007)" Wine Spectator: "*Very Good* Shows flavors of peppered greens, with apple and clove notes. Subtle." (5/2013) K&L Notes: Yamada Nishiki and Hatta Nis... Read More »
Taiheikai, which means "Pacific Ocean", is made by the same brewery as Watari Bune. It is their original brand, which they have made since 1854. They named their first sake after the Pacific Ocean because the region, Ibaraki, is on the Pacific Ocean and they hoped to ship their sake to America some day. More than 150 years after creating this brand, they finally shipped it to the U.S.and we are able to enjoy this lively and delicious sake here. Taiheikai is not made with Watari Bune rice, but rather Gohyakumankoku, but it still shares in a certain house ... Read More »
Inventory: Redwood City
With 16 generations of history, Tomita Brewery brews using old-school and traditional methods. They use locally grown indigenous Tamazakae rice polished to 60%, and are blessed with natural spring water from the nearby Ibuki mountains, which is perfect for brewing. Every step of the process is done by hand by 1 toji and 3 kurabito, or brewery workers. This namazake, or unpasteurized sake, is a seasonal sake only available in the winter immediately after fermentation completes. The sake is layered with abundant flavors and aromas. Fresh, bright and dry, i... Read More »
Polished to 50 percent, this Junmai Ginjo is made by Kaetsu Shuzo, who uses rice grown on the high plains and pure mountain water of the Niigata Prefecture to brew superior sake, both rich in aroma and clean in taste. Intense aromas of grilled nuts, pistachio, and a hint of warm liquid cocoa. In the mouth, the flavors follow through with nuts and melon as it heads for a crisp finish, and then just a hint of lingering sweetness. It is at once savory and sweet, and has enough power to make it a great match with a wide variety of food pairings. A truly dist... Read More »
94 points Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar: "Very pale color. Complex, subtly saline aromas of lemon, lime zest, white rose and mint; also in a high-pitched, rather “northern” style. Very suave on entry, then rich and fine-grained, with terrific aromatic lift in the middle palate. Broader than the Divine Droplets: this really spreads out and melts into the tongue. Finishes very long, with noteworthy finesse. The alcohol here is actually a rather high 17.9%. This brewery is built around the well that supplies its water." (1/2007) K&L Notes: Yamada Nishiki Milled to 35%, made by Nanbu Bijin Shuzo in the I... Read More »
Inventory: San Francisco
Importer notes: "You notice immediately the darker color due to the Black Koji Kin they use to make Kojimai. Musky and Rich flavor. Very Yeasty with a good amount of floral aroma signifying a Daiginjo. Strong attack, Strong body and a solid finish. Strong presence of tart green apples and pears. A very unique sake."
Founded in 1939, the Fuji brewery is managed by the 3rd generation Imaoka family in the town of Izumo. The town is famous for its shrine, Izumo Taisha, built in the 8th century. This shrine is regarded as the oldest and most important shrine in all of Japan. Shinto deities from around the country come every October, "The Month of the Gods" to answer the prayers of people. A sacred ritual. In its name, Izumo Fuji sake pays admirable tribute to both this shrine and to Mt. Fuji, the most loved and revered symbol of Japan. The Imaoka family brews using old s... Read More »
A pleasant every day drinking sake with notes of pear and nutmeg on the palate. Very nice balancing acidity and a clean finish.
We often tell people to drink that bottle of sake up quickly like a white wine. Such a delicate liquid must go bad quickly after exposure to that monster of a molecule, O2, right? Turns out, we've all been making a terrible mistake...at least some of the time. While it's true that many sake will go flat sitting in the fridge after a week, a select few will continue to open and blossom for weeks or even months. We know that sake can age in the bottle, but the Yuho is something completely different. This stuff is made like no other sake in Japan. This exci... Read More »
Milled to 55%, this Junmai sake from Tochigi Prefecture is made from Gohyakumangoku rice and is brewed with water from an underground mountain spring. This is round in style, with a floral note at the finish: "Dry and crisp, the flavors are dominated by mixed nuts, fresh cut green grass and other earthier flavors. Very pleasing for those who want fresh sake flavor, but more complexity beyond the fermented fruit flavors." (producer's note)
This foreboding, pitch black ale unleashes a torrential downpour of hop character within a maelstrom of roasted malt flavor. A pleasing roundness and satisfying balance offer but the illusion of safe shelter. This granddaddy of Stouts is brewed with eight different malts, Japanese dark sugar and five varieties of hops. If you are a fan of hearty dark ales, Dark Sky Imperial Stout is for you! This monster stout is not for the faint of heart.
Inventory: San Francisco
The incredible Dewazakura brewery is one of Yamagata prefecture's finest and most inventive brewers. This is their top of the line offering featuring 35% polish and +3 on the Sake Meter. Acidity registers at 1.2. After a long slow fermentation this special Sake is aged for 5 years before bottling. The result is an ultra rich, dense body, yet without oxidized flavors or funkiness at all. Exotic floral and fruit notes explode from the glass along with the wonderful deep texture. The power and complexity means that this wonderful sake can be enjoyed with so... Read More »
This junmai daiginjo is light and soft with notes of peaches and strawberries. It is best served chilled and complements sushi and sashimi, as well as grilled meat or fish. Junmai ginjos tend to be light and fruity. They are made with rice that has been refined to 60% or less of its original size. This junmai ginjo is made with rice that has been refined to 50%.
Inventory: Redwood City
Ichishima is a family-owned brewery in the Niigata prefecture that has been making sake since 1790. Located on the western coast of Japan, it's nestled in between the ocean and the mountains, and can receive more than 30 feet of snow annually. The cold temperature allows for an incredibly long fermentation times (roughly five weeks), resulting in light, delicate, and elegant sake flavors that bring new meaning to the word graceful. Niigata sakes are meant to pair well with seafood and sushi; two specialties of the coastal region. The Ginjo Koshu sake is ... Read More »
Made with Home-grown Yamada Nishiki rice, the Chikurin "Karoyaka" is a lighter sake with gentle flavors. It shows floral and herbal aromatics, followed by hints of champagne and cherries on the palate. It complements oysters, sushi, sashimi, salads and other light foods. Brewed by the Marumoto Brewery founded in 1867 at the base of the Chikurin-ji Mountains, in Okayama-ken, one of Japan’s most prized agricultural regions. The Brewery was originally called Shimizu-ya, literally meaning "spring water store" because it was built in the site of a great water... Read More »
Dewazakura was the first to introduce the ginjo style of sake designed to be drunk cold, almost 30 years ago. The rice varietal here is Yamadanishiki polished to 40%. The acidity level is 1.2 and rates a +6.0 on the Sake Meter. We recommend keeping it refrigerated for freshness. Ultra clean, yet building aromatic layers with subtle stone fruit and hints of yellow flowers. This has great complexity, with a long and lovely finish, a medium to rich mid-palate and very fine finish.
From Decanter: "The wine, made from the indigenous Koshu grape, is produced in partnership with Katsunuma Winery president Yuji Aruga. A champion of Koshu, Aruga makes a range of white wine styles with grapes grown in the Kofu basin, the historic centre of Japanese wine production. Production of Magrez-Aruga will vary by vintage, with about 2,400 bottles available from 2007. Early reports suggest the wine has flavours of peach and grapefruit, and is being touted as a good match for a range of Japanese dishes." (04/2008) Featured in Esquire UK: "Like thei... Read More »
Ichishima is a family-owned brewery in the Niigata prefecture that has been making sake since 1790. Located on the western coast of Japan, it's nestled in between the ocean and the mountains, and can receive more than 30 feet of snow annually. The cold temperature allows for an incredibly long fermentation times (roughly five weeks), resulting in light, delicate, and elegant sake flavors that bring new meaning to the word graceful. Niigata sakes are meant to pair well with seafood and sushi; two specialties of the coastal region. The Ginnoyorokobi Daigin... Read More »
With 50% of the rice polished away, the creamier elements of the grain are allowed to shine in the "Southern Beauty". Rounder on the palate, with hints of white pepper of the finish, this is like a fuller-bodied Chardonnay.
Inventory: San Francisco
From the importer: "From one of Japan's smallest breweries, this Daiginjo is made with Japan's highest quality rice and local Fushimi mizu, the soft, pure water from Japan's Eastern Mountains. Highly-respected rice farmer Masayasu Tanaka carefully works the naturally fertilized soils of his farm in eastern Tottori prefecture to grow some of Japan's best quality Yamada Nishiki, considered the pinnacle of premium sake rice...The aromas of anise, banana, and a hint of sweet rice are quite complex. These same flavors come rushing through the full-bodied pala... Read More »
Seikyo Namazake is brewed with Omachi rice polished to 55% and is characterized by a deeply rich and soft taste as well as a crisp finish. Omachi rice was discovered more than 15 years ago and is the oldest existing sake rice. It is also the only on-crossbreed sake rice that exists in Japan today, with more than 70% of all varieties of sake rice belonging to the Omachi family. Bright and lively, this sake shows notes of ripe watermelon, mango and citrus in the finish. It is well balanced with a rounded flavor and clean acidity.
Inventory: San Francisco
K&L will be the first outlet offering a public tasting of the sakes being brought in by new sake importers Sake Tengoku! Headed up by the unbeatable team of Stuart Morris (classically trained chef turned sake authority) and Chef Ken Tominaga (sushi master at destination sushi restaurant Hana, and chef of Michael Mina's new Japanese ventures in SF). Five of their super small production, beautifully, artisanally crafted sakes will be available to taste in limited quantities, and available to purchase in even more limited quantities. Tickets are limited and... Read More »
Inventory: Special Order
This is an undiluted (genshu) Junmai Daiginjo brewed with top class Yamada Nishiki rice from the Hyogo Prefecture, its home ground. Yamada Nishiki rice does not break even if polished to a high degree. After steaming, the rice has a high water content and is very elastic, so that it can produce outstanding koji. Especially when the koji-making process takes longer than 50 hours and is carried out for a long time at high temperatures, Yamada Nishiki shows its strength. Brewed with the apple yeast discovered by the fourth director of the Nakao Sake Brewery... Read More »
Inventory: Redwood City