Sake, Japan's iconic rice wine, offers a unique and refined experience that captures the essence of the country's rich cultural heritage. Properly storing, serving, and tasting sake can elevate this experience, transforming it from a simple beverage consumption to a journey of sensory discovery. This comprehensive guide aims to provide you with the knowledge and insights you need to fully appreciate and enjoy sake.
Proper Sake Storage
Just as the crafting of sake requires meticulous care, so does its storage. Keep your sake in a cool, dark place to preserve its colour and flavour. The ideal conditions shield your sake from light and temperature fluctuations that can degrade its character over time.
Unlike wine, sake bottles should be stored upright. This is because sake doesn't have a cork; hence, humidity doesn't affect its quality. However, remember that different types of sake may need slightly different storage conditions. For example, ginjo and daiginjo sake, celebrated for their fruity aroma, are sensitive to high temperatures, which can cause them to lose their unique scent. On the other hand, namazake (unpasteurised sake) retains its fresh nature best when kept at temperatures below 5℃.
After opening, sake begins to oxidise slowly. To retain its freshness, cap the bottle airtight and refrigerate it. But, remember, unlike wine, the flavour of sake doesn't change quickly, and you can still enjoy its evolving flavours for several weeks after opening.
1 - Temperature Matters: Sake should be stored in a cool environment, ideally between 5-15°C. Excessive heat or cold can adversely affect the taste and quality of the sake.
2 - Avoid Sunlight: Sake is sensitive to light, particularly direct sunlight, which can lead to a process called photo-oxidation, resulting in off-flavours and aromas. Store your sake in a dark place to protect it from light damage.
3 - Orientation: Store your sake bottles upright. While the convention with some wines is to store them on their side, sake doesn't need this treatment. The reason is that sake corks won't dry out and allow air in, as can happen with wine.
4 - Consume Promptly: Once opened, a bottle of sake should ideally be consumed within 2-3 weeks. After this time, the sake may begin to lose its freshness and vibrancy.
Serving Sake: The Art and the Science
Serving sake is an art steeped in tradition. The vessels and cups used to serve sake are often specific and diverse in materials, adding an aesthetic element to the experience. But serving sake is also a science, with temperature playing a crucial role.
There are three main serving temperature categories: chilled, room temperature, and warmed. Chilled sake (8-15℃) is light and crisp with a fruity aroma and slightly viscous texture. To serve sake at room temperature (15-25℃), simply keep the bottle out of the fridge, revealing a subtle and smooth flavour with a modest aroma. Warmed sake (40-50℃) can be heated in hot water or a microwave, enhancing a fuller flavour, a cereal fragrance, and a less viscous texture.
1 - Temperature Control: The serving temperature of sake varies greatly depending on its type and your personal preference. Some sakes, like ginjo and daiginjo, are often served chilled to bring out their delicate, fruity flavours. In contrast, others like junmai or honjozo can be enjoyed warm, enhancing their rich, savoury notes.
2 - Sake Vessels: The Japanese tradition includes a variety of vessels for serving sake. The flask used to serve sake is called a tokkuri, while the cups are called ochoko or guinomi. However, modern sake enthusiasts may also use wine glasses, especially for aromatic types like ginjo and daiginjo.
3 - Pouring Protocol: In Japan, it's considered polite to serve others before serving yourself. This practice, known as o-shaku, enhances the communal aspect of sake drinking.
Tasting Sake: An Olfactory Journey
Much like wine tasting, sake tasting is an immersive sensory experience. Before you pour, inspect the bottle for any discoloration or floating particles, which might indicate that your sake has spoiled. The exception is nigori sake, which is unfiltered and has a naturally cloudy appearance.
Upon pouring, swirl the sake gently in your glass. This action releases the unique aromatics of the sake, allowing you to appreciate its range of scents—from fruity and floral to earthy and savoury. As you sip, inhale gently, letting the sake reach all your taste buds. Exhale as you swallow, fully immersing yourself in the multi-faceted experience that is sake tasting.
Embarking on your sake journey involves more than just drinking. It's about appreciating its cultural significance, understanding its storage and serving intricacies, and savouring its complex flavours and aromas. With this guide, you're well on your way to becoming a sake connoisseur, ready to experience this traditional Japanese beverage in all its glory.
1 - Observation: Start by observing the colour of the sake in your cup or glass. Sake can range from clear to a light golden hue.
2 - Aroma: Bring the cup to your nose and take a gentle sniff to identify the different aromas. Some sakes may have a fruity aroma, while others may have more earthy notes.
3 - Tasting: Take a small sip and let the sake coat your palate. Try to identify the different flavours. Is it sweet or dry? Does it have a fruity or savoury note?
4 - Finish: After swallowing, notice the aftertaste, also known as the finish. A sake's finish can be short or long
If you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact us via email or live chat. At Sorakami, we always want to help you understand sake better and help you find the right bottle!
The Sorakami Team