About The Author:

"Roger, The Wine Guy" is Roger Yazell, CWS. He is a member of the International Wine Guild and has had a long time admiration of wine. After careers in broadcasting, advertising and marketing account management, he explored his love of wine in hospitality, wholesale and retail sales. The intent of Roger's Grapevine is to share stories, history and information that will add to the reader's love, enjoyment and appreciation of wine and sake'.

Questions, requests for topics and comments are always welcome via email: rogerthewineguy@gmail.com.

(Note: The Wine Guy is currently undergoing chemotherapy and this blog will be on hiatus for the duration and into a recovery period. The Wine Guy is planning to celebrate his recovery with a trip to the two wine producing regions in Argentina and that should provide for some interesting new blogs. Meanwhile please enjoy the archives and feel free to email in the interim.)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Brief Look At Sake

Sake’ (pronounced sah-kay) is not a wine and, in fact, has more in common with beer than wine. Number one, it’s grain based. It also comes from a double fermentation process. The first fermentation converts the starch in the rice paste into sugar; the second converts the sugar into alcohol. These processes do NOT, however, produce the carbonation found in beer, so Sake’ isn’t a beer either. Most American’s first experience with Sake’ comes from the warmed or heated styles commonly found in Japanese restaurants. These more common, everyday types of sake usually contain significant additions of distilled grain alcohol. They constitute about 80% of the produced sake’ in the world. The best sake’ is tokutei meishoshu constituting the premium categories and accounts for about 20% of world production. Ginjo, sake is made with a good portion of the rice hull ground away and constitutes less than 10% of world production. Ginjo, particularly junmai gingo, (with no added alcohol) offers the best opportunity for exploration by the typical wine drinker.

Sake’ is a unique beverage with nuance, complexity and versatility that’s suitable for food pairing and as an enjoyable aperitif. For the sake (no pun intended) of enjoyment, however, treat it as though it were a wine. You’ll find it to be lighter than most white wines, more delicate in flavor and subtler in fragrance and aroma. It is always best served lightly chilled and occasionally at room temperature. As always, The Wine Guy suggests you let your own palate be your guide. Flavor profiles range from dry to sweet, from fresh to full-bodied and from light and soft to fruity.

For those with sensitivity to sulfites and gluten, sake’ is a blessing and most are kosher, as well.

Here are a few tips and suggestions if you decide to explore Sake’:

1. Look for sake-meter (or nihonshu-do) numbers on the back label or on fact sheets when choosing a sake’. These numbers will relate the relative dryness or sweetness. Zero is generally considered a neutral number or midpoint. Positive numbers indicate relative dryness: the higher the number, the dryer the sake’. Negative number indicate relative sweetness, the greater the negative number, the sweeter the sake’. Do bear in mind that acidity and alcohol content may also affect the perception of sweetness on your palate
2. Try a Nigori. Nigori or unfiltered sake’ has leftover rice residue that softens the feel on the palate, intensifies some of the aroma, and adds a little sweetness. Nigori also pairs well with spicier food. (The Wine Guy almost always chooses a Nigori to have with his favorite Thai dishes.)
3. Taste, taste and taste some more! Just as with wine, enjoy as many tasting opportunities as you can to educate yourself and explore your own palate preferences.
4. Talk to knowledgeable retailers. They are a wealth of information and have a vested interest in helping you to choose the types of sake’ that you will most enjoy.

John Gauntner, an American expert who spends most of his time in Japan, does a wonderful job of providing educational material on sake’. Visit his website: www.sake-world.com.

Here are a few quick recommendations from The Wine Guy as good introductions to your sake’ exploration:

Hatkutsuru Sayuri:
A delightfully aromatic, sweet (-11) Nigori with a smooth finish.
Rihaku Dreamy Clouds:
A nearly neutral (+3) Nigori that is leaner and brighter than most of its class with a light, fruity nuttiness.

Nama: (A Nama or draft sake’ is one that skips one or both of the pasteurization steps that occur in the processing and of sake’. For some, this results in enhanced flavorings)
Sho Chiku Bai Organic Nama:
A lightly dry (+5) Nama with smooth softness on the palate, subtle aromas and light flavor nuances.

Junmai Ginjo:
Rihaku Wandering Poet:
A well balanced sake’ (+3) with light fruit aromas and a clean, crisp light acidity and lightly lingering finish. It has the ability to be a great palate cleanser and refresher.

Go ahead…explore and enjoy some sake’.

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