BEGINNERS’ GUIDE TO SAKE

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Japanese rice wine, or sake, is an alcoholic beverage brewed from fermented rice. In addition to rice, its base ingredients are koji and water, where koji is a mould grown on the rice that kick-starts the fermentation process. The rice grain is polished and left to ferment. The flavour of the sake is established by the rice and water used, and most importantly, the amount of rice grain that is polished away.

HISTORY OF SAKE

Sake has been around for over 2,000 years and was traditionally used for religious ceremonies and court festivals. In the beginning, sake production was controlled by the government, but in the 10th century production was taken over by temples and shrines.

The Meiji Restoration saw a sake boom. Many breweries were set up by landowners who would brew sake from leftover rice crops, rather than let rice grain go to waste.

Today, sake is brewed not only in Japan, but also in Asia, America, and even in Australia. The Go-Shu Australian sake brewery operated by Sun Masamune is located in Penrith.

DRINKING CULTURE

October 1st is official World Sake Day: Nihonshu no Hi, and is traditionally the start date of Japanese sake production.

Like wine, sake should be sipped and savoured, not drunk in shots. When drinking sake in a group, you will often hear the expression, “kampai!” — the equivalent of “bottoms up!” — but after making the toast, you should sip and enjoy the rest of your glass at your own pace. There is no need to down sake in one shot.

WHERE TO TASTE SAKE

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In Australia there are plenty of places to enjoy sake with Japanese food. Head to your local izakaya and order away! Some izakaya have push carts on which sake is brought to your table. The restaurant staff may offer you a taste before you order. Take the opportunity to chat with the staff about your preferred flavour profile and ask for suggestions. If you would like to buy some sake in Sydney, Tokyo Mart, located in Northbridge Plaza, is a 15-minute drive from the city. Tokyo Mart has an extensive range of sake and other Japanese beverages.

TYPES OF SAKE

The labels on sake bottles carry a lot of legally required information that will assist you in knowing what to expect of your drink. For example, the label will tell you the type of sake, its alcohol content, its ingredients (in particular, if it contains distilled alcohol), the production date, the amount in the bottle, the name and address of the brewer, and the sake’s characteristics.

Sake is split into different categories depending on the rice polishing ratio, or how much grain remains after polishing. Sake is brewed from the starch inside the rice grain. Less polished rice with more grain remaining results in a full-bodied and richer sake. The more polished the rice, the cleaner and crisper the taste.

Occasionally, brewers may add distilled alcohol into a sake brew to adjust the taste. Sake made with pure rice and not containing distilled alcohol is differentiated by the prefix, junmai, meaning pure rice.

There are three main types of aroma and flavour.

Ginjo has a rice polishing ratio of 60 per cent. Ginjo sake is pure, refreshing and rich, yet light bodied. It includes dai-ginjo, in which the rice is most polished to less than 50 per cent remaining grain. Dai-ginjo is the most expensive sake as it takes approximately 40 hours to polish rice to less than 50 per cent of its volume.

Ginjo sake that does not contain distilled alcohol is known as junmai ginjo-shu, or junmai dai-ginjo-shu, depending on the rice polishing ratio. Ginjo is best served cold.

Honjozo has a rice polishing ratio of 70 per cent. It takes some ten hours for rice to be polished to this level. Tokubetsu honjozo is in the same flavour profile, but has a rice polishing ratio of 60 per cent. Both types of honjozo have small amounts of distilled alcohol added, resulting in a cleaner, more fragrant and drier sake. Honjozo may be served hot or cold.

Junmai has an unspecified rice polishing ratio and no distilled alcohol added. Junmai is rich, savoury, and full bodied, with a subtle aroma. It is not as polished as ginjo sake, and generally has a rice-like flavour. Junmai is best served at room temperature, or warm, to bring out the most flavour.

SAKE METER VALUE (SMV)

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SMV is used to indicate the sweetness or dryness of sake. It is a measure of the density of sake relative to water. A negative SMV indicates a sweeter sake, while a positive value defines a dry sake, and is affected by the sugar content, or level of acidity. SMV is indicative of sake flavour and an average SMV is +3.

HOW SAKE IS PREPARED AND SERVED

Sake is served neat at either room temperature, chilled, or warmed. Temperature is dependent on the type of sake being drunk. The label on the bottle may include a suggested serving temperature. Sake should be warmed in a bath of hot water and not over an open flame. The best approach is to use a thermometer to monitor the temperature.

Some sake contains sediment. Sake with sediment should not be shaken. Move the bottle gently from side to side to mix the liquid before serving.

Most restaurants will serve sake in a small, bowl-shaped cup called a choko, poured from a flask called a tokkuri. A tokkuri is good for serving warm sake, as the narrow neck prevents heat from escaping, but a tokkuri can also be used to serve sake cold. A slightly larger cup is known as a guinomi and is used to serve both warm and cold sake.

Cold sake is sometimes served in a tall shot glass placed in a wooden box called a masu. The sake overflowing from the shot glass into the masu represents wealth and abundance. Start by drinking the sake from the shot glass, then either pour the remaining sake from the masu into the shot glass, or drink from a corner of the masu itself. If the shot glass comes in contact with a surface outside the masu, do not return the glass into the sake-filled masu, to avoid contamination.

POPULAR BRANDS

There are quite a few sake breweries in the market. The more popular ones are Hakkaisan and Dassai. Each is brewed in different parts of Japan and are available in Australia at various izakaya Japanese pubs.

LIKE WINE, SAKE SHOULD BE SIPPED AND SAVOURED, NOT DRUNK IN SHOTS.

Wine – DISCOVER WINE MADE IN JAPAN –

DISCOVER WINE MADE IN JAPAN

Words: Yuko Frost

When it comes to drinking, Japan is not just about sake, beer, or premium single malt whisky that you might have seen in the movie Lost in Translation. Japan also produces wine and, although production is small in scale, the quality can be excellent.

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WHERE? YAMANASHI — THE HUB OF JAPANESE WINE PRODUCTION

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The Katsunuma region in Yamanashi prefecture is historically the most important winemaking region in Japan, and it is still the hub of Japanese wine production. This beautiful high country, located north of the magnificent Mount Fuji, can be done as a long day trip from Tokyo and would also make a pleasant overnight getaway.

Of course, you don’t have to go all the way to Yamanashi to get a taste of what Japanese wine is about. Track down a bottle of wine made from the Koshu grape and you will be instantly transported to the very essence of Japanese wine.

WHAT? KOSHU — JAPAN’S OWN UNIQUE VARIETY

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Koshu is a wine grape unique to Japan, and it is delicious. It has a beautiful pink-tinged thick skin and was originally grown as a table grape. It was only more recently discovered that Koshu has the same DNA as Vitis Vinifera wine grape varieties of European origin like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Koshu produces pale in colour, beautifully crisp and delicate white wine. It displays clean and gentle aromas of yuzu, a tart Japanese citrus, with a slight bitterness similar to grapefruit. You will also find flavours of white peach, a soft minerality on the palate and relatively modest alcohol level. It is usually a still, dry white wine, while some producers make sweet styles and even sparkling. In its dry style it is reminiscent of Hunter Semillon or French Muscadet. Sometimes its soft texture even reminds me of premium quality sake, Junmai Daiginjo, which I personally find quite interesting.

Unsurprisingly Koshu makes a perfect match with a wide range of Japanese cuisine, including sushi, sashimi, tempura or kaiseki, a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner. It also makes a great accompaniment to non-Japanese food such as fresh oysters, Mediterranean seafood dishes or even slow cooked pork.

WHO? GRACE WINE — THE RISING STAR OF JAPANESE WINE

If you have never tried Koshu, I highly recommend you start with Grace Wine. Grace is a multi-award winning winery, most recently picking up Best White Asia from the recent Decanter World Wine Awards 2016.

Grace Koshu has a clean and attractive blossom aroma and is refreshingly crisp on the palate with slightly bitter citrus flavours such as sudachi, lime and grapefruit, making it a wonderful accompaniment to white fish sashimi, prawn tempura or even with very good quality pickles.

Just like many quality wines, Grace Koshu also has a story behind its label. It is a drop born from the strong commitment of a young passionate winemaker. Ayana Misawa, the chief winemaker of Grace Wine has taken Koshu to a whole new level. Born as the 5th generation of a winemaking family, Ayana strongly believed in Koshu’s potential as a fine wine grape from early on. After studying viticulture and winemaking in Bordeaux then in Stellenbosch in South Africa, Ayana worked extensively all over the world and brought back many international winemaking techniques which she pioneered in her home region.

I highly recommend putting Japanese wine on your to do list for Japan. Chances are you will find yourself a new favourite drink to enjoy whether at home or in Japan.

Wine – TASTE JAPANESE FOOD WITH WINE –

TASTE JAPANESE FOOD WITH WINE

Words: Yuko Frost

Although wine culture is still relatively new to Japan, just like any other cuisine almost any Japanese dish can go well with a nice glass of wine. Here are some suggestions I want you to try with your next Japanese dinner, whether it is at home or at a fine dining restaurant.

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RAW WHITE FISH – DRY SPARKLING, RIESLING, SEMILLON OR KOSHU

For a delicate white fish sashimi and sushi like kingfish or snapper, you want something crisp and delicate with good acidity. These tart white wines can also go well with wasabi. Another delicious way to match sashimi and white wine is replacing soy sauce and wasabi with lime and rock salt.

RAW RED FISH – DRY ROSE, PINOT NOIR OR SANGIOVESE

Who said a red wine won’t go well with fish? I like matching fatty fish like salmon and tuna with dry rose or light red wine with soft tannin such as Pinot Noir or Sangiovese. These red wines also have relatively higher acidity which also helps freshen up your palate.

TEMPURA – LIGHTLY OAKED CHARDONNAY, VIOGNIER OR FIANO

I like matching prawn or vegetable tempura with round, textural white wines such as Chardonnay or Viognier. The white wine’s acidity works just like lemon over food to cleanse the oiliness of the dish. Avoid heavily oaked styles that could overwhelm food flavours.

YAKITORI (CHARCOAL GRILLED CHICKEN SKEWERS) – PINOT NOIR

This is my favourite combination. Yakitori and Pinot Noir. Try it with earthy style Pinot with density from Bourgogne, Mornington Peninsula or Central Otago.

UNAGI (EEL) – GAMAY, GRENACHE, PINOTAGE OR MUSCAT BAILY

A Spicy, sweet-savoury BBQ unagi goes well with these spicy, earthy red wines. Muscat Baily A is a hybrid black grape that is extensively grown in Japan which also has a similar flavour profile. If you have a chance, try it, it works!

GYOZA – DRY ROSE, PINOT GRIS OR CHENIN BLANC

From a Japanese point of view, gyoza is more of a Chinese food rather than Japanese, but it is still a very popular dish in Japan too. I like matching it with dry rose or dry or off-dry Chenin Blanc or Pinot Gris.

I hope you enjoy your next Japanese dinner with some good drops and, of course, with very good company. Cheers!