When introducing sake to oenophiles at Sakagura, one of the most common questions I get asked is “Does the taste of sake change according to where it’s sourced?”
The answer is twofold. Unlike grapes, rice, water, yeast and koji - sake’s raw ingredients - can be sourced from foreign manufactures, but one of the most unique things about sake is that its flavour is deeply dependant on the season, climate, geography and history of the region it’s produced in.
Here are three regions and tasting notes on the sakes they produce, from Kyoto to Kochi.
Kyoto, the oldest capital of Japan with breath-taking temples, traditional gardens, artisan craftsmanship and refined Japanese cuisine, counts as the second largest sake production in Japan. Home to one of the largest Gekkeikan breweries in Fushimi region, which is renowned for soft, pure water, Kyoto sake tends to be delicate, pure and mellow which originates from its low mineral water quality. The flavours tend to have fruity characteristics such as fresh melons and green apples, pears, tropical fruits, and ripe banana.
Try this if you like: Sauvignon Blanc or Viognier.
What should you buy? Gekkeiman 'Horin' Daiginho by Gekkeikan, £45 for 720ml, Japan Centre
Saga is located on the southern Japanese island, Kyushu, where the climate is moderate and Shōchū (a stronger spirit than sake) is popular as the ingredients, barley and sweet potatoes are farmed here. Saga is one of the only regions on Kyushu growing rice, hence not typically known for its beautifully hidden sake breweries. This type of sake often has a sweeter, fuller body with more cereal or steamed rice driven notes with a pleasantly mineral and vanilla cream finish. Can be enjoyed both warm and hot.
Try this if you like: Chardonnay or Pinot Noir
What should you buy? Shichida Junmai 75, Tenzan Brewery, £19.99 for 300ml
Kochi accounts for the second biggest alcohol consumption after Tokyo, so it’s no surprise it’s known as “The Land of Sake”. The culture revolves around drinking with friends and families, with the warm climate all year around making it easy to consume cup after cup. Kochi sake is light and dry, which contrasts sharply with sake in most of the rest of western Japan. This prefecture, with its long, bow-shaped coastline, is blessed with a range of fresh fish, which are perfectly complimented by the lighter sake tones.
Try this if you like: Sparkling Wine or Prosecco
What should you buy? : JOHN SPARKLING by Tosa Brewery, available at at Japan Centre, 375ml £46.00