Last week in the SCV Beacon I shared all that I was expected to learn at my Level 1 Sake class awarded by Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET). This week I want to share some of what I learned that I thought readers might enjoy:
A small wine glass is “ideal for serving premium sake…tulip shaped to enhance aromas.” Well, that just about made my day right there. Those cute little cedar boxes called “Masu” are not ideal as the wood could impart flavor to the sake.
The word sake, Nihon-Shu in Japanese, just means an alcoholic beverage. Our teacher Toshio Ueno explained that if you travel to Japan and are asked out for sake, be prepared as it could mean anything!
Any kind of clean water can be used to make sake, however, harder water (like we have in LA) will produce a crisper, drier, richer sake while softer water produces a softer sake.
Just like baking bread, there is a fermentation starter of rice, koji (mold), water and yeast that goes into the main fermentation where the balance of the mixture is added.
The alcohol level of most sake is between 15% and 17% but may have started out at about 20%; water is added before bottling to lower the alcohol percentage.
There are two basic styles of sake that produce different aromas and flavors. Sake with more acidity, umami (savory), cereal and lactic – the brewer has polished away only some of the middle layers of the rice. Sake with flavors that are more floral and fruity, with less umami and acid – the brewer has polished away a higher ratio of the rice.
Sake rice and table rice are not the same. Table rice has more starch, and sake rice has a starch core, also known as a “white heart.
If the term “Junmai” is on the label, or even just part of the terms on the label, no alcohol has been added. Other popular sake – daiginjo, ginjo and honjozo – have alcohol.
If you take this class you will learn some of the Japanese labeling terms found on the bottle.
Like wine sake should be kept cool, may remain fresh for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator, can oxidize if open for too long and bright light should be avoided. Unlike wine sake should be stored standing upright (the screw cap can rust!), be drunk young and kept refrigerated.
If you are warming sake use a warm water bath (thermometer should read 176 Fahrenheit) instead of your microwave to control the heat. Sake labeled Futsu-shu, junmai and honjozo can be served both cold and warm.
Tokkuri is the name of the sake carafe and the traditional cups are called o-choko.
Why are the cups so small? Because refilling them frequently is a “tradition of Japanese hospitality.”
Pairing sake and food doesn’t just begin and end with Japanese fare like sushi or sashimi. Just like with wine pairing, go with foods that have a similar taste profile, i.e. sweet with sweet and savory with savory.
Eve Bushman has a Level Two Intermediate Certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, a “certification in first globally-recognized course” as an American Wine Specialist ® from the North American Sommelier Association (NASA), was the subject of a 60-minute Wine Immersion video, authored “Wine Etiquette for Everyone” and has served as a judge for the Long Beach Grand Cru. You can email Eve@EveWine101.com to ask a question about wine or spirits. You can also seek her marketing advice via Eve@EveBushmanConsulting.com