How to Shop for Sake
There’s no way around it: sake can be a little bit intimidating. We do our best at the restaurant to demystify sake and take the fear factor out of it, but what if you want to buy a bottle to drink at home? How can you pick out a bottle, when most of the labels are in Japanese (and you’ve never heard of any of them anyway)? It’s not a perfect science, but we’ve got a few tips that could help.
THE BASIC VOCABULARY Think about the style of sake you’d like to drink. Do you want something sweet, something fruity, something dry, something earthy? There are a few words you’ll find on the label to guide you.
YAMAHAI/KIMOTO: old-fashioned brewing methods that tend to produce a more earthy, savory, funky, robust style.
NAMA: unpasteurized sake, which tends to be more vibrant, electric, fresh, and alive. A great choice if you like bright, fresh styles of white wine.
GINJO: made from rice that has been polished to a minimum of 60%, sakes labeled “ginjo” are often fruity, aromatic, floral and soft.
NIGORI: aka “unfiltered” sake, nigori sakes are cloudy with bits of rice solids remaining in the liquid. they tend to be on the sweeter side and have a creamy texture, making them a great pairing for spicy foods.
SMV: the “Sake Meter Value” is another tool you may find on the bottle. it’s a complex measure but in general the higher the number, the drier the sake. A sake with a measure of -5 will be on the sweeter side, while a +10 will drink very dry.
CHECK THE BACK OF THE BOTTLE Sounds silly, perhaps, but some importers are making a great effort to give lots of detailed information on flavor profile, serving temperature, etc. on the back label (in English!) And just as with wine, there are some sake importers who are focused on quality above all, and treat the sake with care as they transport it from Japan. A few importers we love and work with often are:
FIND A SHOP YOU TRUST Do you already have a great wine shop in your area with knowledgeable employees? See if they have some sake on the shelves, and ask the staff about them. A personalized recommendation will give you more information than words on a bottle ever will.