When the first bottles of IWA 5 sake first landed in people’s hands (and on their lips) in 2020, it was a groundbreaking moment.
Closely followed by the wine and sake worlds, the fate of the IWA 5 Assemblage 1 captured people’s minds as it was the first time folks got to taste a creation by Richard Geoffroy that wasn’t a wine.
A name legendary in the champagne world, Geoffroy spent 28 years being the lauded chef de cave (or chief winemaker) at Dom Pérignon before setting off to do something completely different – create his own sake.
The curiosity and interest in IWA 5 by everyone was understandable. After all, it isn’t everyday when a renowned winemaker leaves the world of vino to pursue something so seemingly related yet so esoteric as sake.
The making of IWA 5
IWA has since most recently released their Assemblage 3 in Singapore in July 2022 (Assemblage 2 was released in 2021), the latest evolution of the sake being put together by Geoffroy.
Through each iteration being released on an annual basis so far, he hopes to continually develop his assemblages, or blends, in pursuit of never-ending experimentation and craftsmanship as he does so.
Though nothing new, this art of blending brews made using different rice and yeast strains isn’t ostensibly a common practice among today’s sake brewers. Yet it is the embrace of this unspoken practice that makes IWA 5 stand out.
Geoffroy’s experience in champagne, where blending is not only commonplace but celebrated, adds to the intrigue as to how his sakes will perform. Blending is foremost the work of a master palate, and winemakers indubitably have some of the most developed and well-trained palates out there.
Rather than the three grape varietals that goes into champagnes, Geoffroy plays around with three rice strains for his IWA sakes – yamadanishiki from Hyogo and Toyama, omachi from Okayama, and gohyakumangoku also from Toyama.
All rice grains are polished down to 35%, and with no brewer’s alcohol used in its make, all IWA 5 sakes are junmai daiginjo by definition. As for the yeasts, five strains, including experimental ones, are used, though it isn’t revealed what they are.
The sakes are then brewed by renowned toji Masato Yabuta and his team, and are made using the highly laborious and traditional kimoto method. The brewery itself, purpose-built in Toyama, is named Shiraiwa after where it’s located in the town of Tateyama, and is designed by prolific architect Kengo Kuma.
It’s interesting to note that besides the blending of sakes made using different rice strains and yeasts, reserve sakes are used as well, which Geoffroy finds adds balance, richness, and complexity to his assemblages.
This brings up the topic of ageing. In another non-conventional move of his, Geoffroy believes that his sake blends benefit from time spent in-bottle. His sakes are thus all bottled-aged for a year before release, and he even recommends letting them age for longer.
In an industry where most brewers would suggest consuming their brews within a year of production, allowing and preferring his sakes aged goes against the grain. Still, if anywhere, it is within craft sake circles that a certain level of appreciation of aged sakes do surface.
The tasting of IWA 5
During a recent launch tasting of the Assemblage 3 held at Michelin-starred restaurant Candlenut in Singapore, we got to try all three IWA 5 creations released thus far and compared them side-by-side.
Assemblage 1 came across as the most distinct and complex of the trio. Aromatic, layered, and lush, we most enjoyed the harmonious marriage of fruit sweetness at the start, leading to a rich umami mid-palate, and finishing with a dry bitterness almost reminiscent of wine.
It is perhaps a function of age as well. Being the oldest bottling now, Assemblage 1 has had time to grow in character and depth. This is something Geoffroy himself recognises during the tasting, and remarks that sake can definitely be more complex than champagne.
Assemblage 2 offered that same velvety mouthfeel and radiance (perhaps more), but differed a lot in terms of nose and taste. Fuller, sweeter, and more fragrant, this rendition drinks smooth but with greater variance from start to end.
What piqued our curiosity (and senses) most was when Geoffroy had some Assemblage 2 served warm. At around 35°C, the sake becomes brighter and more sensational, and paired surprisingly well with the chendol dessert we were having.
The star of the evening, the newly launched Assemblage 3, was actually served first. Nosing and sipping on it, our first thoughts were that this is a very purposefully-made sake. Every element involving flavour and texture were in agreement with each other, with no singular characteristic jutting out.
After having the other two sakes then returning to Assemblage 3, the sense of development became clearer. Even greater is this blend’s impression of balance. We think many will enjoy its drinkability and approachability, and we anticipate the still-young Assemblage 3 to gain greater nuance as it ages further.
After tasting and knowing in greater detail what IWA 5 is all about, they’ve already got us looking forward to what Assemblage 4, slated for a 2023 release, will be like.
Will Geoffroy build on the foundation of any of his current blends? Or will he go in a whole other direction and continue on his wild streak? Only time will tell.
IWA 5 is available directly on their website for S$208 per bottle. It is also being served at fine restaurants like Esora, Jaan, and Waku Ghin.
[Read more: A beginner’s guide to sake]
About the Author
Dannon Har is the Managing Editor of Spill. Discovering his innate gift for drinking only at a ripe age, he spares no time trying to find more delicious drops to imbibe during his time on Earth. When he’s not minding every detail at Spill, he spends his time concocting luscious libations and sharing them with folks that visit his home bar.