Saké is to rice wine as apples are to oranges. Or rather, saké is to rice wine as apples are to unicorns—because there’s no such thing as wine fermented from grain; wine is by definition a product of grapes. (Even "fruit wine" is a misnomer, if a convenient one.) Saké’s actually closer to rice beer—but close is no cigar, either, as the production method differs significantly.
So what is saké, then? Don’t ask the Japanese, because they’ll really complicate matters: according to John Gaunter in The Saké Handbook, the word "can refer to all alcoholic beverages in general." When they want to discuss the one brewed from fermented rice in particular, "the word nihonshu is used." Better just to call it yummy, yummy booze and be done with it.
Saké is, however, comparable to beer and wine when it comes to tasting, especially if you order it cold. (Though "warmed saké definitely has its appeal," writes Gauntner, most "premium saké is served slightly chilled" so you can "observe it unfolding and changing" as it approaches room temperature.) Assess it as you would any farmhouse ale or Chardonnay. What aromas and flavors do you detect: nuts, bread, flowers, fruits, herbs? Is it dry or sweet, acidic or bitter? How does it feel in your mouth—crisp, rough, viscous?
Of course, you’ve got as many opportunities to hone your palate as there are Japanese restaurants in Denver. If you can’t make The Birth of Saké screening and tasting at the Sie FilmCenter tomorrow, consider visiting a few of our favorite spots—budget and blowout—to immerse yourself in what you will never again call rice wine.Read More