Entering the wide world of sake isn’t easy when you’ve only tasted hot, label-less shots at a sushi bar. For most sake neophytes, it’s like getting into craft beer after years of Bud Light or PBR.
Entering the wide world of sake isn’t easy when you’ve only tasted hot, label-less shots at a sushi bar. For most sake neophytes, it’s like getting into craft beer after years of Bud Light or PBR. Enter Zuma, NYC's new outpost of a Japanese mega restaurant based in London. Zuma makes its own sake and employs sommelier Samuel Davies to oversee a list of about 70 more selections. Here, he shares some of his favorite bottles for a range of tastes and styles.
Junmai: Junmai sake is pure sake that is made only with water, koji mold (which converts the starch to sugar), yeast and rice that has been milled down at least 30%, leaving 70% of the grain. Typically, junmai sakes are full-bodied with bright acidity.
Bottle to try: Nanbubijin ‘Tokubetsu’ Junmai ($28) “Very soft and refreshingly light, beautiful nose of honeydew melon and a long savory finish.”
Ginjo: Ginjo is almost exactly the same as junmai, except the rice needs to be polished so that just 60% of the grain remains and some distilled alcohol is added during brewing. Ginjo sakes tend towards the lighter end with a crisp, clean floral and/or fruity flavor.
Bottle to try: Dewazakura ‘Oka’ Ginjo ($36) “Soft floral aromas, remaining delicate, minerally and supple.”
Daiginjo: One of the most prized types of sake, daiginjo sakes are made with rice that has been stripped of at least 50% of its outer layers—though many ultra-high-end daiginjos are made with rice that has had 65% polished away. These sakes are complexly flavored and refined.
Bottle to try: Kokuryu ‘Ryu’ Daiginjo ($90) “Calming and gentle nose of white peach and lily; stunning flavors of exotic fruits with a lingering finish.”
Junmai Daiginjo: This highest grade of sake, junmai daiginjo sakes are daiginjo sakes that are made without any additional alcohol. High in acidity with umami-like flavors, junmai daiginjo sakes are for super-special occasions (especially the one chosen by Davies).
Bottle to try: Dassai "Beyond" Sonosakie Junmai Daiginjo ($750) “Sonosakie is prestigious in every aspect. It’s crisp and complex with an aromatic lift of fruit blossoms and an extremely clean, long finish.”
Sparkling: Low in alcohol, spritzy and slightly sweet, sparkling sake is fairly new to the sake world but has quickly become a popular option. It undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle (much like Champagne), which results in a terrific fizz. Sparkling sakes are usually sold in small bottles.
Bottle to try: Mio Sparkling Sake ($12) “A refined persistent bubble, with a brilliant balance of sweetness and acidity and a soft, crisp finish.”
Nigori: Creamy, cloudy and sweet, nigori sakes are unfiltered, which means some unfermented rice solids are left in the mix. Typically, this style of sake is served after dinner or served as a cooling complement to super-spicy foods. While many other styles of sake can be served at a range of temperatures, nigori sakes should always be served chilled.
Bottle to try: Dassai 50 Junmai Daiginjo Nigori ($31) “Light and silky with a touch of peach and white flowers. The finish has a delicate creaminess.”
Namazake: Unpasteurized sake usually released and served in the spring, namazake sakes are known for being sharp, ultra-refreshing and lively. Because they aren’t pasteurized, namzake, like nigori, should be drunk cold and soon after opening.
Bottle to try: Masumi Arabashiri “First Run” ($40) “Masumi’s spring release combines the yeasty punch of fresh-from-the-vat sake with a rich, fruit flavor.”
Kimoto: Usually, sake gets a hit of lactic acid during the brewing process in order to protect the fermenting spirit from wild yeasts and bacteria. Kimoto sakes don’t get that lactic acid, instead brewers mash the rice, koji and water with long poles in order to oxidize the mix and encourage lactic acid to occur naturally. The result is a smoky, brightly funky sake.
Bottle to try: Yamato Shizuku Junmai Kimoto ($26) “Smooth and rich with a strong yet round acidity with a savory finish.”