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The traditional harbingers of spring have finally arrived—asparagus at the farmers’ markets, cherry blossoms bursting all over the city—but one that might not be on your radar, and should be, is spring sake, or nama. Roughly the sake equivalent of Beaujolais Nouveau, spring sake is made from the previous fall’s rice harvest and is bottled without going through pasteurization or the traditional aging process.
“The beauty of spring sake is its freshness and liveliness,” says Yoshi Sako, of the small but fantastic Corkage Sake & Wine Shop in San Francisco, which carries more than 200 different sakes. “It’s a good introduction to sake, because even though the alcohol can be high, there is a richness and fruitiness to it.” (Other shops that carry selections of nama sakes include New York's Sakaya and Wally's in LA.)
Yoshi, who passed Japan’s sake-sommelier exam last year, pairs these sakes with lighter foods like summer rolls, soba salads and seafood. Two namas he recommends seeking out are Otokoyama Yukishibare ($30), on the drier side with pear and grape aromas, and Harushika Shiboribana ($30), which has a fruity nose and long finish. Just drink them sooner rather than later—the freshness fades the longer the sake is in the bottle. —Kelly Snowden