There are five kinds of premium Japanese sake, which come from all over the island chain, but the one we're going to focus on for our first Sake 101 post are the most common: Junmai, which literally means pure rice. These are not the sakes you drink hot in cheap sushi bars to drown out the taste, but subtle beverages made from fermented rice with the complexity of some of the world's best white wines.
There are four levels of Junmai sake: Junmai, Tokubetsu Junmai, Junmai Ginjo and Junmai Daiginjo. The differences between them are many, including the type of sake rice used and how much of the exterior protein and fat on the rice grain is milled away before fermentation. In basic Junmai sakes the grain is polished to at least 70%, which means 30% of the grain is milled away. Junmai Ginjo is polished to at least 60% and the incredibly small production of Junmai Daiginos are made from rice polished to at least 50%.
And what does all of this translate to for you, the sake drinker? Junmai sakes are generally more textural than than Junmai Ginjo or Daiginjo sakes, fuller bodied with higher acidity. As more of the protein and fat in the rice are stripped away, the lighter-bodied the sake and also the more complex and fragrance. What all three styles have in common is that, like higher acid wines, they pair really well with food, sometimes even unexpected ones.
Try the “Living Jewel”, a light sake with complex aromas of muscat grapes and anise, with a traditional white Spanish gazpacho, or the “Pearls of Simplicity”, a beautifully balanced full sake with a long finish, with a spicy red Thai curry. The virtual fruit basket of aromas in the “Pride of the Villiage” would be fantastic with a fresh fruit dessert. Sliced peaches with a drizzle of honey and a chiffonade of mint? Or a wedge of plum tart with a dollop of sweetened whipped crème fraiche. Enjoy the sake in traditional choko, or in a set of our Riedel "O" Sake glasses and truly experience the nuanced flavors an ounce at a time. And remember, sake can last for weeks if refrigerated after opening, but why would you have it that long?
If you're in Redwood City tonight, July 23rd, come to our sake tasting, from 5-6:30 and explore some of these unique sakes for yourself. In Los Angeles, swing by the Hollywood store on Thursday, August 5th from 5:30-7:30pm.