‘Step away from the Pinot Grigio’ and ‘put down the house red’ are phrases I’ve often used to encourage people to move out of their wine comfort zone but I rarely find myself with the shoe on the other foot. That was until recently when I was asked about rice wine. Well its wine, isn’t it? Hmmmm, I guess so.
Now for the technical bit. Although they call sake a rice wine, having done the research it seems to me to be a bit of a hybrid. You see they put the rice through ‘multiple parallel fermentation’ which reflects the starch converting process of beer and the sugar and yeast fermentation process of wine. Chemistry lesson over, et voila you have sake.
Up until now my sake experience has been limited to the odd sushi bar where the only choices I’ve considered is ‘hot sake’ or ‘cold sake’ so I went along to Japanese restaurant So in London’s west end to learn more from the experts. Just like wine as we know it sake has a rainbow of styles; sweet, dry, fruity and even sparkling… I tried the tasting set of 4 premium sake for £13.50 and as one with an encyclopaedia of tasting notes I was amazed at how difficult it was to put the aromas and flavours into words. The Kikusui Mukantei, Ginjo from the Niiagata province was dry, and earthy with barely a fruit aroma to be found. The Miwatari Daiginjo Silver had a lot more going on; an abundance of pear drop aromas on the nose and a kind of wild blossom flavour and velvety texture on the tongue.
I dipped my toe into the fountain of sake and stepped well out of my wine comfort zone and although there is still a lot I need to learn to appreciate its merits sake is now firmly on my radar and I’ll be looking out for it when I’m wandering around the wine isle. As for whether it will become a regular on the Miss Bouquet wine rack? For now I doubt it “its wine Jim, but not as we know it”
Miss Bouquet’s top tip:
For sake connoisseurs that want to step out of their sake comfort zone then Shocho is the drink for you. Shocho is Japan’s other indigenous drink, but instead of being brewed like sake it’s distilled to an abv of 25%. It’s already a huge hit with the in-crowd in Japan, and it’s expected to make its way to our shores soon. Look out for it in It-bars around London or head to So restaurant* on Warwick Street to be one step ahead of the rest.
This article has been published in the October 2010 issue of The Notebook, Kensington & Chelsea