Beginner sake guide with Japan Centre sake sommelier Naoyuki Torisawa

We’re just under two weeks away from opening the doors to our new flagship store on Panton Street. Our official opening date will be Wednesday 13 September, with our ceramic store reopening the same day. Visit our special Panton Street website and sign up to our newsletter to receive two exclusive 10% discount vouchers for our Panton Street depachika and Shaftesbury Avenue Ceramic store.

As mentioned in our ‘all you need to know about Japan Centre Panton Street’ blog post, our new depachika will have three speciality rooms; exclusively for miso, tea and sake. We will also be holding a series of tastings to help you get to know more about these three food specialities.

To help you get to know more about sake and enjoy our upcoming tastings, we’ve created three sake guides for beginner, intermediate and advanced level sake drinkers. Our guides aim to help you explore the multidimensional world of sake no matter your level. With the help of our resident sake sommelier Naoyuki Torisawa, we’ve created a list of all the best beginner friendly sakes and which foods to best enjoy them with.

Japan Centre sake sommelier Naoyuki Torisawa
Japan Centre sake sommelier Naoyuki Torisawa

The different sake tastes

It is important to note that sake may be associated with a variety of tastes, categories or textures but the following four are the main ones to look out for: savoury, fruity, bubbly and umeshu sweet. We know what you’re thinking, “but umeshu is a type of plum wine.” That is correct, most umeshu are made with an ume that is not fully ripened, sugar or honey and shochu. However, plenty of umeshu are also made with sake, some even use ginjo sake as a base. The second character for the word umeshu 梅酒 actually means sake in Japanese. While a few of the umeshu included in our guides are made with shochu, we thought it important to include them to provide contrast and as a prompt to help you differentiate the different tastes and flavours sake may have. If you can recognise umeshu with shochu, you will be more likely to recognise and appreciate umeshu made with sake even more.

The different types of sake and tastes
Japan Centre sake dictionary

How to best enjoy sake

The best way to bring out the taste of your sake is to have it with food. Sparkling sake is mainly drunk at the beginning of a meal and is often used to toast kanpai or cheers. Fruity sake are drunk with starters and are best served cold, some popular types include ginjo or daiginjo. Have them with side dishes like salad or carpaccio, vegetable tempura and fish as their taste is very similar to champagne or prosecco.

Savoury sake are drunk with main courses and are best enjoyed warm, some popular types include junmai, honjozo and futsu-shu. They have more depth and thus it’ll be easier for you to appreciate them more. Have them with teriyaki style dishes. The combination of the soy sauce, mirin and sugar will balance well with the savoury and umami taste of the sake. Sake has a specific umami taste because it contains amino acids which give it its savoury taste.

Lastly, we have umeshu which is usually drunk as a dessert liqueur and ties a meal together perfectly, it is also best enjoyed chilled and served with sweet or tangy desserts. Unlike wines, which get better as they age, rice cultivation and polishing are more important when determining the quality of sake. The year of the sake is not as important, even though some years may have bad or good yields.

How to enjoy warm sake
How to best enjoy warm sake

Beginner sake recommendations

Want to get into the world of sake but don’t know where to start? Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t worry, we’ll break down all the different types of sake you need to start with first to help you become more familiar with this prestigious Japanese drink.

Sparkling Sake

Sparkling sakes are fun to try. It will be very difficult for you to find a sparkling sake that you won’t like. They are bubbly, fruity and are always served chilled. For our sake novices, we recommend the Mio Shochikubai Sparkling sake. This is one of the most popular sakes at Japan Centre, across all categories of liquor. It provides an easy entry into the world of sake and is much easier to handle than a savoury sake. It is elegantly packaged in its recognisable dark blue bottle and has a uniquely sweet aroma and refreshingly fruity flavour. It is available online and in-store.

Japanese sparkling sake

Fruity Sake

Moving onto the fruity sake our sommelier Torisawa recommends for novices – the Born Junsui Junmai Daiginjo. This is another easy to drink sake as it has a silky smooth taste. It is light and fluid, which ameliorates its refreshing nature. It’s perfect to pair with starters and is served chilled. This junmai daiginjo sake is made with special ‘A’ district yamadanishiki rice, this is the highest quality rice available for sake, and at under £15 – it’s a steal. It is available in-store. Torisawa says that if you find it challenging to drink or enjoy this specific sake, then it may be difficult for you to develop an appreciation for sake or enjoy any other sakes in future. This is mainly because it is one of the easiest to drink and highest quality sakes available.

Born junmai daiginjo sake

Savoury Sake

Gekkeikan sakes tend to be more affordable, this is why we recommend the Gekkeikan Nouvelle Tokubetsu Honjozo sake for our beginner friendly savoury sake. Not only is it a good price, but taste wise, it is easy to pair it with a wider range of food. Its retro style bottle is one of the main points that fans of this Gekkeikan sake always appreciate. Because it is easy to drink due to its smooth and dry nature, it can be enjoyed chilled or warm. It is available online and in-store.

Gekkeikan tokubetsu honjozo sake

Umeshu

Our last recommendation for those looking to get into sake is the Nakatashokuhin Kishu Umeshu plum wine. Nakata are producers of ume specific products as well as other pickled items like umeboshi. They are located in the heart of Wakayama in Southern Honshu. This area was once referred to as the Kishu region and is famous for being Japan’s best ume growing area. This is why their umeshu comes second to none. This umeshu is fragrant, fruity and has a sweet/tangy flavour. It is best enjoyed chilled straight from the fridge. This umeshu is available online and in-store.

Nakata kishu umeshu

We hope you’ve found our beginner sake guide helpful, we look forward to welcoming you to our in-store sake tastings at Panton Street. Keep an eye out for our upcoming intermediate and advanced level sake guides and recommendations. Let us know in the comments below which sake you’ll be trying first.