All about Sake

Sake is hot! Not to mention the different temperatures at which you can drink Sake. Japan’s national drink has conquered the Western world and warms the Dutch hearts. In our capital Amsterdam, there are a lot of places where you can order Sake, whether or not as a pairing with food. The more serious wine importers have also included Sake in their assortment, even Gall & Gall sells several varieties. The fact that Sake is completely hip and happening, is something we as wine lovers like very much. The only problem we encounter when we want to order a glass, bowl or cup of Sake, is that we don’t know a fuck about it.
Luckily I did the hard work for you and I dug into this exotic rice juice.
Last March at Prowein I participated in a real Sake masterclass. The focus was on the wine and food combinations that you can make with Sake with, mind you, Western ingredients. – So you don’t just have to combine Sake with Japanese food? – No. Sake goes really well with Parmesan cheese and Parma ham, to name but one example. I understand the confusion.
Let’s start at the beginning.
Sake is an alcoholic drink made from (fermented) rice with an alcohol percentage between 13 and 17 percent. The yeast type that gives Sake its typical taste is called koji. The brewing process is very complicated and includes steaming and polishing the rice. In the past this was always done by hand, nowadays machines are used for the cheaper versions.
Premium Sake is made from special Sake rice, also called sakamai.
Sake is divided into the following categories: bulk sake and quality sake. Besides the four flavors, sweet, salty, sour and bitter, Sake has the taste umami.

The different styles of Sake in a row:

  • Ginjo, this type is very complex and refined, it has a fruity smell and is mild in taste with low acids.
  • Junmai, there is no alcohol added to this type of Sake. This makes the color darker and the taste more intense, the acids are also more present.
  • Honjozo, this Sake variant has a small amount of added alcohol which makes the taste lighter and easier to drink. This variant is very suitable for heating.
  • Daiginjo, the most labour-intensive sake to make, this type has a full elegant taste and a short aftertaste.
    Sake is traditionally served from a Sake carafe called tokkuri and you drink it from a ceramic bowl called a choko. Another way to drink Sake is in a simple wine glass. For standard Sakes a Bordeaux wine glass is sufficient and for the more mature styles a Burgundy glass can be used.

Sake combined with food

As with wine, with Sake you have the possibility to complement or contrast a dish. Think of a greasy dish, drink a nice full Sake or just a fresh Sake with high acids to break down the fat.
Sake is between 10 and 20 times more umami than wine, this means that if you drink a Sake with a dish with lots of umami, like for example cheese, it will complement each other very well and there really is a umami explosion!
That is what makes Sake such a nice product to experiment with. What is your favourite Sake food pairing?

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