Sommelier Talk: Episode 18 – 25 Years SINCE “Ginjo Gannen”

A while ago at a second-hand bookstore, I purchased a book published by Yomiuri Shinbum some 25 years ago.  Reading this book, “100 Popular Selections of Japanese Sake Brewery and Toji Masters” I encountered a phrase “Ginjo Gannen”.  What exactly is “Ginjo Gannen?” I wondered. “Gannen” literally means “the first, birth year”.  In this case, Ginjo Gannen refers to the first year Ginjo Sake arrived at its popular status.  Around the time when this book was published in 1986, market demand for Sake had been continuously decreasing with each passing year, posing economic difficulties for the entire Sake industry.  Their saving grace came with the arrival of “Ginjo Gannen”.


Product improvements follow a path on its own life cycle, resuscitating after a slowdown to improve upon them.  Even in nature, after struggling through a harsh winter comes the warmth of spring and vibrancy of summer.  After harvest in autumn, comes winter once again, when we can look back to appreciate the growth and yields of the past year. With welcoming spring, all starts anew, giving birth to new, improved products.  This natural cycle teaches us that everything follows a general path.


Only about half of the Sake breweries featured in that book are still brewing Sake today and the other half are not.  The latter met their fates mainly because they could not adapt quickly enough to the changing consumer preferences.  As harsh as that was, from the consumers’ perspective, this was the best news for Sake fans.  Due to the high competitive nature of the marketplace, breweries strived even harder to better their products, uplifting the overall product quality throughout the Sake industry.


Also, Sake breweries and foodservice businesses have started communicating with their drinking consumers by issuing Sake information.  However, the information comprised mostly of breweries and the Sake making process, and little on the products themselves.  Hints on how to recommend certain Sake to guests based on flavor and other unique characteristics are still a work in progress for many breweries.  Below are simple words describing basic Sake characteristics.

<Part 1> Words to Describe Sake Texture

  • Soft
  • Round
  • Light
  • Gentle
  • Sharp
  • Rich/Full Body
  • Smooth
  • Strong
  • Heavy

And continuing on to the next episode, I’ll cover other flavor areas to describe sweet taste, bitter taste, astringent taste, acidity, and aftertaste.