Centuries-old clear Japanese wine comes of age
Guardian Lifestyles Editor
Published: Aug 10, 2013
Sake is reportedly enjoying a stealthy success in the United States these days, — so stealthy in fact, that even the people who sell sake don’t quite believe it — case-in-point, Enrico Garzaroli, owner of Graycliff restaurant and one of the largest wine cellars in hemisphere with an inventory of more than 175,000 bottles.
His collection includes one of the world’s oldest bottles of wine, a 1727 Rudesheimer Apostelwein worth $200,000. Garzaroli said he was taken aback during a visit to New York a few months back when he noticed the fancy restaurants and magazines placing a lot of emphasis on sake, describing sake as sexy and hot.
He wondered what was going on. But he was not going to be left behind. Garzaroli now serves approximately 30 bottles of ultra-premium sakes from Vine Connecation at Graycliff, his five-star restaurant that serves contemporary French and Italian cuisine. He even hosted a sake dinner recently to introduce people to the mysteries and the art of drinking sake with fine dining. And he did it in style, with Morgan Hartman, the southeast regional sales manager at Vine Connections who spoke to people about all things sake, one of the oldest types of alcohol produced in the world.
It’s a product Hartman said should not be pigeonholed as it is versatile. She said most people think about drinking sake with sushi, but she said sake has tremendous applications with a tremendous range of food.
“It’s great with beef, it’s great with fried foods,” she said. “Don’t pigeonhole sake into just raw fish … sake is also good paired with cheese [because] they don’t clash,” she said. “And if you have issues with gluten or sulphites, sake is usually pasteurized twice and it kills the sulphites and it’s gluten free so it’s kind of a good, new beverage for the new age. And unless you drink a lot, you don’t get a headache.”
During the Graycliff dinner, six different sakes were poured. The Bride of the Fox was served with the seafood sample platter (tuna carpaccio, swordfish carpaccio, white anchovies and baby octopus). Divine Droplets was served with the appetizer (a 10-hour braised cinnamon and spice pork belly with apple compote). The Southern Beauty and Moon on the Water were poured with the entrée (lionfish, Caribbean and Asian style, with Asian slaw and fried green plantains). Well of Wisdom was poured with the second entrée (grilled hoisin Kobe flank with turnip puree). And the Dassai 23 was poured with dessert (crème brulee Catalana with fresh berries).
Sake has taken off in other countries outside of Japan and given a second life. But it’s a product Hartman says people should consume properly. When drinking sake she said it should be consumed like white wine — slightly chilled, but that it should be the good stuff. (She says the crappy stuff is usually heated).
“Good sake should be consumed like a chilled white wine. When you add extreme temperatures like heat or ice cold, you’re dumbing down the flavors. Good sakes that are handcrafted, the brewer wants you to taste everything that he does and that he put into that, so gently chilled or room temperature if it’s good is best to drink sake,” said the sake master who has been in the wine business for 13 years.
And she said with wine, the heavier, the bolder, the bigger, the richer and more tannins, the more expensive it will get. With sake, she said it’s the opposite. The more pure, the more delicate, the more restrained usually is the most expensive.
HOW TO ENJOY SAKE
Aroma: Fragrance descriptors include floral, herbal, earthy and tropical citrus.
Taste: Consider texture and mouth feel —velvety, smooth, watery, silky, clean, bright. What flavor is dominant with the texture — sweet, floral sweet, fruity sweet, minerally sweet, earthy sweet, dry, nutty dry, earthy dry, crisp dry, clean, crisp, crisp and pure, citrus clean, delicate clean.
Finish: Long, lingering velvety finish, or crisp, clean fresh bright finish. Is the sake balanced: Do the flavors and textures work together.
COMMON SAKE TERMS
Sake: Term for any beverage with alcohol in Japan. In other countries, the word is used to describe a beverage made with water, rice, koji and yeast.
Nihonshu: Literally “sake of Japan” — Nihon/Nipon = Japan
Futsushu: “Ordinary sake” or table sake (75 percent of sake made is usually mass produced and ordinary
Junmai: Literally means pure. The only ingredients allowed are water, rice koji and yeast.
Tokubetsu: 30 percent of the grain is milled away, and in considered a special sake, not quite Ginjo.
Honjozo: Sake that has a small or limited amount of distilled alcohol added. This is different from mass-produced sake, because at least 30 percent of the rice must be milled away to qualify for the classification Tokubetsu grade.
Ginjo: At least 40 percent of the grain is milled away.
Daiginjo: At least 50 percent of the grain is milled away, the highest destination possible.
Nigori: Cloudy sake, a very popular style of sake which has a cloudy appearance and thicker texture.
Namazake: Unpasteurized sake which is often hard to find outside of Japan because it must be refrigerated to prevent bacterial spoilage; It is available in the US once per year in late spring.
Jizake: Local sake, similar to microbrews.
Koji: A special mold used like an enzyme to convert the starch in the rice to simple sugar.
Kurabuta: Brewery workers.
Masu: The small square box that holds the sake cups in a more formal setting, also used to measure rice.
Moromi: The fermenting mixture of rice, koji, yeast and water.
Shinpaku: The inner concentrated starch in the center of sake-grade rice.
Semaibuai: The degree to which rice has been polished. If 40 percent is polished away, semaibuai is 60.
Tozai: East meets West.
Kanpai: Japanese word for cheers.