If you just list one saké style, make it this one

At a time when restaurant lists are getting smaller, not longer and customers are hesitant about most things, it might seem strange to be talking about why you should be considering adding a sake to your list. It is, after all, not something that many UK diners are that comfortable with.

But bear with me. There’s logic here. For starters, sake is cool with the cognoscenti. It has heritage, history, tradition and an air of mystery. If you have drinks-literate early-adopters, sake is a great way for them to stretch their boundaries and look good while doing so.

Secondly, because sake isn’t made like wine (see box out below) it offers interesting food-pairing offerings, too. As a hand-sell or a pairing for myriad foods (the umami makes it incredibly across-the-board versatile) it really brings something to the table, in a non-threatening way.

In happier times, I might be suggesting creating a mini sake section for your list, complete with lots of beautiful, elegant sake-ware. Those days, sadly, are probably gone – at least for the moment.

So I’m going to suggest adding just one sake to your list. And if you’re going to do that, I think it makes sense to go for the best-seller: Sparkling Sake.

images courtesy of Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association

There are six reasons why

  1. It’s available in small bottles (e.g. 300ml).
  2. Styles vary widely, but the most popular type is low in alcohol (typically 5%).
  3. It has quite a bit of sugar, offset by a zesty sourness.
  4. It’s as easy to drink as Prosecco, but, being sake, it’s umami flavour profile means that it works with food too.
  5. It’s the style that newbies will try – and like.
  6. You can serve it in a sparkling or white wine glass – no need for dedicated sake-ware.

There are, as I said, lots of styles of sparkling sake, but here are two – at opposing ends of the spectrum – that are worth a look if you’re thinking of dipping your toe in the water.

Mio Sparkling Sake

£4.50 (150ml) from Tazaki Foods

Light, frothy, medium sweet with ricey, earthy notes and a core of yellow plum and ripe apple flavours. Very easy drinking, and guests always love it. 

Keigetsu ‘John’ Sparkling Sake

£19.90/37.5cl from Liberty Wines

This one comes in a 375ml bottle, like a half bottle of wine. A little more austere but still full of stone fruit, pineapple and citrus character. Very elegant. Full bottles are £32.04 ex VAT.

I’ll be returning to sake in more detail over the coming months, but until then, here are five take-away facts to help you make a start on the category.

5 Saké Facts

  1. Sake is made from rice, water, koji mould and yeast. Sometimes a little distilled spirit is added too, just to give a more crisp and aromatic style.
  2. The alcohol level of sake is usually around 15-16%abv.
  3. Sake should be stored upright, in a cool, dark place.
  4. Most sake is meant to be drunk within a year. The vintage is not really important.
  5. Sparkling sake should be served chilled. Most other styles of sake can be served cold, room temperature, or even warm.

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