Words: Henry Yuen Pix: S. Yuen
I am a novice when it comes to Sake but do enjoy a vial or two of chilled ones with Japanese food. I also find warm Sake and hotpot go quite well together, especially in cold evenings. I like my Sake warmed since hot was how it was served to me back when and somehow became a habitual thing. However, according to Sake experts, warming the Sake is not the proper way to appreciate Sake, especially for premium grade!
Applying too much heat will likely destroy the delicacy of Sake, but when served slightly chilled, the flavour and charm of the wine will express fully; more so for Premium Sake whose flavour is so complex. “Certain Premium Sake is brilliant at room temperature but slightly chilled is the norm. If you must warm up your Sake, just consume regular Sake” states Ken Watai , President of Jizake Japan Canada, a well-established Premium Sake Importer in BC. “Traditionally, only lower quality Sake is served warm to mask the insipidity so it could still be desirable to some consumers.” He added. “If you insist to warm up your Sake, do so by immersing the vial of Sake in a container of warm water that is way below the boiling point. Never heat Sake up in the microwave.” Ken advised.
Like wine, pairing food with Premium Sake is an uprising trend. A recent Premium Sake pairing tasting at Kamei Royale organized by Mr. Watai and Kamei’s very own Sake Sommelier and Executive Director Shingo Masuda showcased the why and how important these advices were in order to embrace the delicate yet luscious Premium Sake. This tasting event turned extraordinary with the presence of a visiting true Sake expert - the Sake Master Kazunori Sato of Yamatogawa Sake Brewery who is behind a gold-award winning Sake that we were lucky enough to taste that evening.
Five crisp-coloured wines were poured into different sake glasses and served with modern Japanese fares.
The Junmai Ginjo Muroka Nama Sake has subtle fruit flavour with a clean and soft finish. The flaky Teriyaki Yellowtail steak with its sweetness complements this Sake very well. Next up was the Kissho Zuiyo Ginjo Sake, slightly dry on entry but gentle on the finish, this pairs perfectly with the dense yet soft scallop. Karakuchi Junmai Yauemon is bold and attention grabbing. If you like your Sake not chilled; this wine is awesome in room temperature or even lightly warmed. The enticing flavour of the smoked salmon marinade tuned in nicely with the boldness of this Karakuchi.
The four time Gold Award winner (A huge honour in Japan’s Premium Sake world) Daiginjo Yaemon, an exquisitely balanced, full flavour profile that lingers and seduces is served. With beautiful aroma and layers of flavours that keep on surfacing, this wine does exemplify what Premium Sake is all about. Black sesame tuna tataki with ponzu gelee brings out the sweetness and complexity of this Sake. Changing pace and the naturally soft, unfiltered Sake with a clear and sweet note - Nigori Northern Light is served. A shy yet engaging aroma brings out the crispy sensation the chef created the prawn okura tempura the chefs created to pair with the Northern Light.
According to Ken, the rice grains used to make Sake is the same throughout Japan; the difference is the water, the fermentation process and the skilled hands and experiences of the Sake Master. Water source makes a significant difference in the basic form and texture of the Sake; the traditional fermentation process each Sake house adopts and applies dictates the flavour and character profile of the Sake.
Compared to other alcoholic beverages, Sake is definitely more delicate, gentle and caressing. Instead of drinking Sake in a party-like and raucous environment, I prefer to sip mine with a different mood in a quieter, more relaxing temperament to fully enjoy the premium sake moment.