Wine Series: Summer of Sake
It’s time to expand your wine horizons — to Japan. A refreshing choice for summer drinking, sake is fast becoming one of the big trends in the wine world. “It’s as complex and as fascinating as wine,” says Jonathan Charnay, Beverage Director at Masa and Bar Masa, which are part of the The Restaurant and Bar Collection at Time Warner Center. Here, he shares what you need to know about this ancient drink.
Why is sake so hot right now?
My background is in French wine, so discovering sake was like falling in love with wine all over again. And like me, people fall in love with sake once they experience the diversity, variety, and beautiful aromas of higher quality brands, which are more nuanced and delicate than the sakes most people know.
What are the key things to know about sake?
The level of rice polishing before fermentation impacts the flavor and delicacy of the product. More polishing yields more complex, aromatic sake. Varieties range from dry and refreshing (from northern Japan) to fruity and fuller bodied styles (from the south of Japan). Sake labels also have a "Sake Meter Value" that allows consumers to know the sweetness level. The larger the positive number, the drier the sake; the larger the negative number, the sweeter it will be.
What’s the best way to drink sake?
There are a lot of misconceptions about sake. One of the biggest is that you need to heat it up. For summer, I recommend drinking sake cold in a wine glass — it’s the best way to experience its delicacy.
What about food pairings?
Sake is neutral and low in acid, so it goes beautifully with many types of cuisine, in addition to sushi. Fruit-forward varieties go particularly well with spicy Mexican food. Dry sake — which has a strong umami flavor — complements Mediterranean cuisine.
What about sake cocktails?
Sake is great in cocktails. Its pristine flavor and silky texture adds refinement to your spirit of choice in a classic saketini, but you can also get more creative. At Masa, we now have the Yuzunami cocktail, which is finished with sparkling sake — it is delicate and refreshing, and it looks beautiful.
Here are three of Charnay’s favorite sakes:
- Kirin-Zan: I enjoy this Junmai Daiginjo from the Niigata prefecture. It is dry and crisp; it goes well with sashimi and ceviche.
- Amabuki Ginno Kurenai: This is an interesting Junmai sake from the Saga prefecture. It is a rosé sake with loads of fruit character.
- Watari Bune: My personal favorite is this Junmai Daiginjo from Ibaraki. It is luscious and complex, made with an ancient strain of rice that was almost extinct.