A Quick Look at Japan's National
By Nancy Huang
just recently, Americans had only heard of sake at their
favorite sushi restaurants, where the piping hot beverage
was served from some mysterious bottle labeled with cryptic
Japanese symbols. Forget the Screaming Eagles and Château
Mouton Rothschilds of the wine world—sake was nameless,
just an exotic drink that accompanied your favorite sashimi.
the past few years, however, sake has broken off its marriage
to Japanese cuisine and started to appear on wine lists
of some of the country’s top restaurants. Here, sommeliers
place it alongside their favorite whites and reds, proffering
it to diners looking for something intriguing to complement
their raw oysters or salmon salad.
sake remains somewhat of a mystery to diners in the U.S.
The beverage, although commonly referred to as “rice
wine,” is actually not a wine at all. In fact, its
production is much more similar to beer brewing than of
wine fermentation, as its base is made from grain, not grapes.
Sake first starts from rice kernels, usually polished (or
milled) to a fine grain that is free of impurities like
oils and proteins. The quality of sake is usually based
on how much of the rice has been polished; daiginjo-shu,
considered the highest quality sake, uses rice that has
been 50 to 70 percent polished.
the rice is steamed, a mold called koji is added
along with water and the fermenting process begins. Sake
makers vary on methods, including adding alcohol to the
rice mash, but Japanese law states that sake must be made
from rice, rice koji and water.
quality sake is almost as complex as wine, but with more
subtle flavors. Experts often describe the beverage as fragrant,
light, elegant, and fruity or dry—perfect for light
dishes like seafood or salads. Although each brand has its
own unique flavor, sake has the privileged quality of being
delicate enough to adapt to many dishes; unlike wine, there
are no “perfect pairings." Like wine tasting,
however, the final judgment is always up to the drinker.
Photo courtesy of www.sake-world.com