Sake: a re-education
Author: Rob Whitehead
Sake might just be collectively the least understood part of our diverse portfolio of libations – although some of our wonderful vignerons in the Jura might disagree. At its finest, Sake can beguile, intrigue and fascinate. Inspiring, in votaries, much the same levels of intellectual and gustatory nourishment as the greatest spirits and wines we’ve had the honour of offering to our customers for centuries. Since introducing our very first examples three years ago, the stars have aligned to allow a welcome spotlight to be placed upon this oftentimes cosmetically and culturally confusing creation.
Our range of Sake covers several styles. From versatile Oka which will drink beautifully with almost anything except the heaviest red-meat dishes, through the lush richness of Osagekko which more than stands up to umami–laden field mushrooms or even beef, to the manifold delights of Fukukomachi Daiginjo – World Champion Sake in 2012 at the prestigious IWC – which is at its most exceptional paired with conviviality and inquiring minds rather than anything more physically alimentary.
Part of the confusion regarding Sake can stem from way it subverts the usual assumptions of wine lovers with regards to quality. For generations, we have explored the world of wine on the general(ly correct) basis that the finest wines are at their best paired with food as part of a glorious and ancient coupling; as solid and liquid writhe together on the palate to provide perhaps the most exquisite example of a sum being greater than its (already highly accomplished) parts. The very best Sake turns this notion on its head, defiantly shining brightest without food, and, while some of our Sakes pair beautifully with many cuisines, I would be happy to serve all of them chilled and unfettered by petty obstacles such as protein or fibre.
This little beauty from Yamagata Prefecture shows admirably how floral and enticing top-class Sake can be. Oka is renowned among my colleagues as the bottle that ‘turned’ one of our most sceptical neophytes into a fully-fledged fan.
Perhaps the most intriguing bottle within our offering, this Sake is produced in a comparatively unusual way. It is unpasteurised and not diluted before bottling so is 18.5% alcohol by volume, as opposed to the more usual 15.5%. Thus, once opened, evolves further from the soft fruits of first inspection to the rich, fully-rounded flesh after some time to breathe.
What higher accolade can I give this Sake than to reiterate its victory as World Champion Sake? This is a masterclass in why Sake exists and what a wonderful addition to our libationary repertoire it can be. Fukukomachi Daiginjo is great with all manner of cuisine, but truly other-worldly when paired with that rarest of delicacies, an open, inquiring mind.
Go to bbr.com for more on Rob’s chosen Sakes for Golden Week.
I’m very happy to know that BB&R now stocks sake, and so that British residents can at last get a taste of the real stuff, instead of the dreary factory produce that used to be the limit of what one could get. But I must disagree that sake can be drunk without food – drinking without food is a bad British habit, and most Japanese don’t do it. At the very least, one must have “tsumami” or snacks, and different sakes need different tsumami. As a lover of both sake and wine, resident in Japan for over thirty years, I may know a thing or two!
If Mr Whitehead is interested in sakes from Nagano, where we live, please get in touch! And I hope to taste Osagekko sometime – I don’t really know Akita sake.