We here at Foodbeast love Japanese food as proven here, here and here. And what spirit pairs better with Japanese food than sake?!? With World Sake Day just passing recently (Oct. 1), we spoke with the Grape Experience Wine & Spirit School's Marina Giordano DWS, one of the very few Wine & Spirit Education Trust Certified Sake Educators in the country about the way sake enhances the "umami" aka savory taste in food as well as the do's and don'ts for sake newcomers. Kanpai!
How did you get into sake?
I was studying wine, and a friend introduced me to sake – I fell in love and had to know how it was made, why it tasted the way it did, and everything I could find out about it!
What's the biggest misconception about the spirit?
That is just it – that sake is a “spirit.” It’s not distilled, it is brewed, similar to how beer is brewed. It’s alcohol strength is close to wine strength – 14 to 20% ABV. It should be consumed like a wine with food or alone.
What's the difference between hot sake and cold sake? What's your preference?
Hot sake is hot, cold sake is cold! [laughs] Seriously, most premium sake is served chilled, but depending on the style they may taste better warmed. Honjozo, Junmai, Yamahai, Kimoto and sometimes Koshu styles taste better warmed. These types of sake typically have more umami (savoriness), more cereal and lactic flavors, and just taste better warm or at room temperature. Ginjo, Junmai Ginjo, Daiginjo, and Junmai Daiginjo are typically more fruity, floral, and delicate and are better chilled. My preference depends on what I’m eating, what kind of mood I’m in, what the weather is like…
What are your thoughts on sake cocktails?
Some people believe this is the way to get non-sake drinkers to drink sake. I think it continues the misconception that sake is a spirit. I prefer my sake straight!
What about sake bombs?
No! They do have their place, but please don’t use the good stuff!
What are your top three do's for new sake drinkers?
Do try lots of kinds! Taste all styles and grades. Just because you didn’t like a sake, doesn’t mean there isn’t one out there for you.
Do drink it out of a wine glass. The aromas and flavors will be more pronounced if you are drinking it from the right kind of glassware.
Do try sake at different temperatures. Start with it chilled, let it warm up, find the “sweet” spot that makes it tastes amazing.
What are your top three don'ts for new sake drinkers?
Don’t shoot your sake – it’s not a spirit, sip it like a wine.
Don’t get caught up in only drinking Daiginjo or Junmai Daiginjo. Yes, these grades have the highest milling rates and typically cost more, but it doesn’t mean they are better. There are some truly amazing Junmai and Honjozo sake out there! And these styles will often pair better with food.
Don’t be afraid to pair sake with non-Japanese foods. Sake pairs well with most foods – try it with anything, including pizza, pasta, steak, cheese, eggs, mushroom, potato, the list goes on.
What sake are you currently in love with and why?
It all depends on what I’m eating and what my mood is. Recently I opened Dewazakura Oka Ginjo “Cherry Bouquet." Wow, what a beautiful sake! It is floral with pear, peach, and cherry aroma and flavors. I just love the aroma, flavors, and complexity of a great sake!