Casual Pairing of Sake

By Yuji Matsumoto

In this issue, I’d like to report on a secret to enhance pairing of Japanese cuisine with sake.

First, please have three brands of Japanese sake with very different properties. The differences in properties are hard to detect unless you try them, but at first, please select the sake depending on the information on the labels.

For example, select Junmai Daiginjo, Tokubetsu Junmai, and Junmai Kimoto from different regions like Akita, Niigata, and Hyogo prefectures, etc. Japanese sake produced in the U.S. is reasonably priced, so it’s fun to incorporate them into the mix.

Once we have our Japanese sake selections, the next thing on the list is wine glasses (white wine glasses are recommended).

Wine glasses used for the three sake brands must have the same shape. Chill the sake in the refrigerator at approximately 55 degrees F for three hours prior to serving.

As for the cuisine, they can be prepared in advance if time allows. If not, if you want to try several different dishes to compare, then take out is recommend. For example, trying Chinese and Italian cuisine (avoid foods strong in flavor or garlic) is fun.

For the actual pairing, the sense of smell can get confused with the smell of the food. Therefore, please pour small amounts of sake into glasses to first smell the aroma of each, then sample before opening the foods. Take note of and write down any aroma, color, and flavors you notice. I recommend writing down any perceptions gained from individual samplings.

Prepare each cuisine and review their compatibility with Japanese sake. For the order of sampling, be sure to start with sake made from rice with the highest milling: from Daiginjo – Tokubetsu Junmai – Junmai. The most important aspect of sampling sake is to sip the sake, sample the cuisine, then drink the same brand of sake again. This is to detect any differences in flavors by comparing the sake flavor by itself vs. changes in the sake flavor tasted after food is consumed.

The flavors to be savored vary from the sake flavor becoming undetectable to increased bitterness, an explosion of umami flavors, and neutral flavors, etc.
If umami or a wide range of rich flavors are detected, then the pairing is considered a success. Also, if the appetite increases, this is also a good outcome.
Japanese sake goes surprising well with unexpected dishes (like cheese or steak), so please try pairing without biases for interesting discoveries.