Bit of an odd one this but I thought I would ask as there might be someone on here that might be able to help, I noticed along side our IWC awards that there is an award for Sake, I did have some Sake when I was away on my honeymoon however I haven’t yet delved into the world of Sake. I know that, much like sherry, its very diverse with many different styles depending on how polished the rice is etc.
I noticed that Tengu Sake won the award this year as well as last year and checking out their site they do have a few useful guides as well as some flavour profiles and ‘how its made’ guides, there does seem to be a huge amount of choice as there is Sake which is pure with no added brewer alcohol added and another sort with alcohol added. It would seem that the top tier Sake can be drunk cold much like a wine whereas the lower grades are usually drunk slightly warm. It would seem that around 75% of total Sake production is in the ‘Futsushu’ or everyday Sake.
Looks like their everyday Sake sold by Tengu is £35.50 for 1800ml - works out at around £14 per 75cl bottle so its around twice the price of everyday Sherry - although its about the same strength! Imagine drinking 1.8L of Sherry!
Just wondered if anyone on here had any experience with Sake at all, might look to see if I can find a Sake tasting set and report back, if its anything like as diverse as Sherry then it might be a bit addictive!
Thanks Nick, I will also keep an eye out for that as well, I guess I just need to find the standard benchmark Sake and Soju to then work out the differences - no point going for a high end Sake to start as everything else will seem disappointing etc.
I tried learning a bit about sake once upon a time. It was interesting, but I wasn’t committed enough to keep going and I have forgotten anything I might have learned.
What really struck me (as someone keen on wine and informing others about it) was that starting out on this road was very much like the experience many people have when they start learning about wine for the first time. We forget how daunting it is.
If you have a store of knowledge of regions, grapes and styles, a new label can provide useful information, even if you are unfamiliar with it … but if every term is new, it can look like complete nonsense and you are unable to work out what is important and what is not.
If you have no frame of reference for style, for occasion, for service … everything is new.
Just take a look at a bottle of sake, and imagine staring at your first bottle of German wine.
So, while I have nothing to offer in your exploration of sake, I would encourage any of you who do this to remember the learning experience so that we can better educate all wine drinkers as well.
I always look in hope that the Society may stock some good sake since they are so good at choosing wines and have just moved into beers too. I have been a sake fan for nearly 20 years now. Luckily indulged by having family in Japan so we always pack lots of 300ml bottles into our suitcases on trips there. I have been seeking decent sake in UK for years and am happy to share tips:
Don’t buy sake from a Chinese supermarket for £12 for a 70cl and think you bought anything remotely drinkable. Cooking maybe, but not for enjoyable drinking. And it will probably be Sawanotsuru. That’s a name to avoid.
Don’t try Waitrose either since, guess what, they only stock Sawanotsuru too.
Tengu has sprung up recently but I had a look at it looks pretty pricey. Aiming at a certain section of the UK market which values beautiful marketing, great back-stories and cool labels over any sort of value for money. But if you love single plantation artisan coffee and wheat beer infused with Dorset cranberrys, don’t let me stop you giving them a whirl
Remember for 2 people, a lovely size of bottle for your sushi starter is 300ml. A full bottle is too much…but that’s not because of the alcohol which is same as a Chateauneuf at around 15%.
So my advice is order a bunch of small bottles (100-300ml) from Japan centre Japan Centre Online £4.99 delivery cost for up to 30kg is fair.
Prices start at £3.15 for a 100ml bottle, so if it is not to your taste, the loss is not too great. They cater for the Japanese expats and Japanophiles and so their selection is pretty good.
If you live in London, you can also drop in to their store near Picadilly Circus: 35b Panton Street SW1Y 4EA and pick up some fresh sushi or other delights.
Then taste them all and find out which is your favourite!
Thank you so much for your guide, I will look into some of the smaller bottles and avoiding the bigger supermarkets etc in the UK. I might be in London in the next couple of weeks so might look to drop into their store and pick up a few bottles to try out.
I figured that you might - A few months back I went to a sushi restaurant and decided to get some Sake to try, I am guessing it was probably quite basic, arrived warm (eg lower quality) but I tasted much like a dry fino with more body and mouth feel, felt less refreshing probably due to the warmth. It was ok I guess but was one of those moments where I thought ‘I will just stick to sherry’ but on the other side it probably wasn’t a very good one so I will look out for a range of others as you have suggested - the smaller bottles should help me get a good selection together.
Aged Amontillado I also agree with - best of both for sherry, freshness of a fino but nutty complexity of an Oloroso
Yes they do tend to warm the lower quality sake. But top sake can be served hot or cold, but usually cold to better appreciate it. Yes it is the mouthfeel is a big attraction. The Japanese have tried to make it more understandable by classing sake according to dry to sweet. But I don’t find that useful.
Then there are the grades by degree of milling of the rice. The more the rice is milled down, the higher quality the sake, since you are getting to the kernel, the best bit of the rice. The percentages are percent of rice remaining, so lower percentage means higher quality. But of course, like wine-making, a lot of magic can happen at the brewery, so a lower-grade sake might actually taste better than a higher grade.
And most sake is made from rice that is not milled; futsushu sake…like table wine…makes up 75% of all sake sold.
Our favourite is Daissai 39 Junmai Daigingo, where only 39% of the rice remains after milling. It only costs £12 for 300ml in Japan, but in UK that price magically triples to £35 at Harvey Nichols.
Am I correct to say that Junmai Daigingo is without the additional alcohol added as it is with Daigingo?
Its interesting to make a comparison with wine vs Sake to see the equivalents - should I keep away from some of the futsushu sake or should I try and good one to then get a benchmark when trying others higher up the quality scale?
Junmai means no added alcohol, which used to be the norm in the process but now regarded as not so cool.
Yes do try fusushu. The ones we get in UK physical shops are Ozeki, Sawatonasuru (Waitrose and Aldi), Choya and Doragon (Tesco). And all probably from Amazon too. Basically around £10 for 70cl but as long as you treat it as calibration, it won’t put you off sake for life!
Health warning: I do know many people who would never drink sake again after trying some of this supermarket stuff.
Your health warning is noted - will look to get a bottle of the basic stuff for calibration purposes, we have an Aldi fairly close so I might pop in to see if they have any - will also make a tasting note for it. Tempted to wait until I have a few other bottles so I can try a side by side comparison between the 2 which I found helpful when working out the various nuances between sherry types.
I have been trying to find it in Aldi for months, but I just emailed them and it was a ‘specialbuy’ that came out in July and then sold out immediately. Now many organisations would take that as a sign…but not Aldi apparently who are not planning to restock it.
So if you want futsushu sake from a walk in shop, you can get those brands I mentioned earlier from Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and some Chinese/Korean Supermarkets. But almost no walk-in shops (apart from Japan Centre and a few upmarket retailers like Harvey Nichols) sell any premium sake.
Forgot to say that Junmai mean 2 things: it means no alcohol is added in the process (which BTW can be a good way to get more flavour out of the rice and it is diluted away again anyway) but also there is Junmai-shu (usually just called Junmai) which is the first grade on the premium sake ladder.
So premium sake is Junmai, Honjozu, Ginjo (and the Junmai Gingo variant), DaiGingo (and the Junmai Daigingo variant).
Basic sake is still Futsushu; this never appears on the label, it just lacks any of the premium sake designations. Which is unlike wine which at least has to say Vin de France or equivalent!
You can also get Futsushu in Japan Centre, so the best comparison is getting a handful of theirs mini-bottles when you’re next in Piccadilly Circus.
Let me know how the tasting goes!
hi Mitch and everyone
I went to the British Sake Association’s annual ‘Grand Tasting’ event on Tuesday in London and tasted 23 sakes there. In my view the best (scoring out of 10) were:
• Akitora Yamadanishiki Tiger Junmai, £29 from Samsake (9)
• Tatenokawa 50 Stream Daigingo,£30 from Tengusake (8)
And those I have enjoyed before are:
• Nanbu Bijin Gingo £25.40 from Japan Gourmet
• Dassai 39 from Amazon, 31 Dover, Hedonism Wine and Japan Centre
• Urakasumi Zen from Hedonism Wine and Japan Centre
Hope that helps people wanting to dip a toe into sake!
I agree with another poster… you MUST go to a Japanese importer for anything decent, and expect to pay £30+ ish for 70cl. Anything less and the quality drops off a cliff. Sadly nothing from a UK supermarket is worth drinking (Doragon Sake, made in the USA is for cooking with and nothing more)
This is one (see below) is GOOD - note the little green & gold circle - many of the quality Sake sport this, it’s some kind of quality association & signifies the real deal.
Thanks for pointing out the green/gold circle I usually try and find out the indicators of quality in the various wines I purchase - eg DOCG for Italian, VDP for German wines etc - will now keep an eye out for the green and gold sticker for Sake.