Good Sake or Nihon Shu is wonderful, clean and delicious with no chemical added drink enjoyed by millions around the world.
Sake labels are usually always beautiful and give some indication of style, aroma and taste. Sometimes the label indicates the sake meter value, a measure of how dry or sweet a sake is. The sweeter the sake, the more negative the value. -15 would be a rather sweet sake whilst +15 is very dry sake. Most sakes are less acidic than wine nor do they have any added chemicals to stabilise or clarify it. Sake is not made to be matured and should be drunk as soon as possible after production.
Futsushu and basic Junmai are “relatively” cheaper and just as tasty. Drunk hot or cold, both are readily available and keep pretty well for a couple of weeks after opening. They tend to be pasteurised and more flavourful. Futsushu will have added alcohol and possibly other ingredients such as sugars. Junmai will be made purely from rice, water, koji and yeast with no added alcohol tasting fresh, aromatic, rich and full of Umami. These sakes are wonderful with not just Japanese food but also with stronger flavoured foods like spicy curries and grilled meats, fish and vegetables. For creamy dishes like pastas, casseroles and pies, choose a basic Junmai – the most versatile sakes to drink with or without food. Junmai is considered ‘the beginner’s sake’ and is full of aromatic melon, pineapple and tropical fruits with spices like white pepper can be found also.
Junmai is a very special type of sake with loads of umami. Hints of cereal like rice notes with a more creamy taste. This sake pairs beautifully with cheeses, creamy dishes and spicy ones too. Currently one of the most drunk sake in the world.
Honjozo, some Junmai shu, Ginjo, Junmai Ginjo, Daiginjo and Junmai Daiginjo are at a premium price point. The rice grains are milled to at least 70% of its original size. With this, a lot of vitamins, proteins and minerals are removed giving the sake a more delicate flavour.
Honjozo and Junmai shu, being the lesser premium sakes are still delicious on their own, warm or cold. These work very well with spicier, bigger and heavier dishes like hamburgers, Turkish grills and even Persian rice. Richer and oily food works well too.
The higher premium sakes of Ginjo and Daiginjos (polish rates of below 60%) tend to have what is known as asginjo-ka, a more floral, fruity style of sake. These delicate sakes are more sensitive to temperature and have to be stored in a cool place. They need to be drunk within a couple of years from purchase and once opened to be drunk within a week. They must be kept in a refrigerator at all times. Premium sakes are better drunk cold with more delicate dishes like sushi, sashimi and with clear clean broths. The most popular drinking of premium sakes would be with otsumami (a pinch), ie. little dishes of tapas like morsels served at sake bars and izakayas.
Check out Japan Centre’s wide range of sake at https://www.japancentre.com/en/categories/905-sake
Marie Cheong-Thong, Director British Sake Association
Association of Wine Educators