One of the tricky things about taking all these classes and doing all this “official” sake study is that people expect me to know how to recommend and pair sake to food.
That’s kind of hard at this point, mainly because I have no idea what works without trying it. There are certain points on a flavor scale that are kind of predictable from the label, but in general it’s hard to know what a sake is going to taste like without tasting it. However! I am starting to get the hang of certain general truths.
One is that Ginjo/Daiginjo sakes tend to be better on their own, or paired with light, sweet flavors like fruits or very mild cheeses. Another is that Junmai sakes tend to be good all-around meal hitters. I put this to the test last weekend, and hit it out of the park.
A friend of my wife’s invited us to a lunch pot-luck on Saturday. We knew the group would include people from Japan, Russia, the Czech Republic and the USA, but not what food people would bring. I decided to take two bottles–a junmai daiginjo from Sumikawa (makers of Toyobijin) and a bottle of lesser-known Otokoyama tokubetsu junmai from Nagayama Honka in Ube, makers of Taka.
The meal, when we arrived, proved to be very meat and umami-heavy. The dishes were all based around flavors like miso, salt, cheese, and root vegetables. There were no heavily spiced dishes, and lots of drinking-oriented finger foods. The daiginjo went into the fridge, and the tokubetsu junmai came out to play.
I found the whole meal very exciting. When paired with the miso-tofu meat dish, the Otokoyama was rich and creamy, with a mellow sweetness that balanced but did not kill the Japanese flavors. When drunk with a bit of Tatsuta-age fried chicken, it was a refreshing thirst quencher. And with a chunk of gouda on a piece of baguette, it stood up to the cheese with a strong melon note and interesting sourness.
I was not only happy that the sake worked well, I was happy that it worked the way I thought it would. I might just get the hang of these more esoteric parts of kikisake-shi study!
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