Cast your preconceptions aside, tasting sake is totally different to wine. Start with texture, which in this treat from Matsumoto Shuhari balances slippery richness with a salty grip. Then explore exotic fruit aromas like lychee and fig and a freshness that contrast savoury flavours with the salty tang that complements them.
From the cork label to the peppery fruit on the palate, I fell in love with this sake. This is a serious sake with a dense and savoury edge. Don’t be deceived by the gin-clear colour, this is something to match with beef and spice. A ripely, sweetly fruity drink that finishes bone dry, you should use it like a claret or syrah when matching with food. Long, dense and complex. Delicious.
There’s something wonderfully Japanese about this wine’s purity. Koshu has a citrus clarity that’s as intense and direct as it is simple and pure. It’s a rare style – made in the Champagne method – but perhaps better suited to a treat sushi and sashimi dinner than a party celebration. This is no ingénue to wine either. Tokugi Furiya founded this winery in the 19th century and they’re regular award winners today.
Shuhari is Matsumoto’s most famous sake, made in a Junmai style, but Keisuke Matsumoto focuses on provenance and expression rather than legal definitions of style. It starts light and almost frothy on the palate, with floral and light citrus notes. But grows and develops into a richer, deeper, more savoury drink as it lingers on the palate. Tuna, salmon and lightly grilled beef are perfect matches.
Imagine a limoncello but with a deeper, more beguiling citrus character and a texture less sticky and more velvety. You’re getting close to a Yuzushu, a Japanese liqueur made from sake and a yuzu. Yuzu is a citrus fruit with flavours somewhere between a grapefruit and mandarin orange and that comes through this delicious drink.
This flavoured sake will change your life. It’s infused with Ume plums, and balances a sweet fruit (like a bullace if you’ve ever had one) with a sour tang. I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like it. And you can make fabulous cocktails and refreshing aperitifs with it too. An Umeshu Tonic is once tasted, never forgotten.
If you like sherry or Madeira you’ll love this aged sake. Three years age gives it a warm aroma of dried fruit and nut and a gentle sweetness. It’s fascinating to match dishes with too – from things like pate and umami-rich meat courses to nuts and even some puddings. A Daruma is a doll modelled on Bodhidharma, the founder of the Zen sect of Buddhism and brings good luck.
Wine fans who have not discovered Sake yet are missing a trick. But it’s understandably intimidating with a whole new language and names. This sake is a great place to start. It’s mellow and full-bodied and will match dishes like oven-baked salmon and hearty meat dishes. Other styles may be more refined but this is richly satisfying.
I’m a bit proud of this sake, as over lunch a few years ago I convinced brewer Iwao Niizawa to sell his sake in the UK. This is one for lovers of Sauvignon Blanc and New World Chardonnay with fruitiness and aromatic lift. Don’t match with Sashimi. Think of herb-dotted salads and grilled vegetable and fish. Match the elegant texture as much as the aromas and flavours.