Thoughts of soapy water, of biting alcohol and of paraffin should be laid to one side. For here, in this lightly frosted bottle, is a liquid at once delicate but also full of subtle, tantalising flavours. Sake occupies a complicated niche in the ranks of alcoholic drinks and not one I profess to know much about. There are the various types rice (here it is Gohyakumangoku) and differing levels of milling. Then each Saki is graded from Futsushu through to ultra-premium Junmai. The more the rice is milled, the cleaner and lighter with a corresponding delicacy of flavour the final drink is likely to be. Isake Premium has been milled to 65% which means that 35% of each rice grain has been milled away. Brewed like beer but served like wine.
Sipping a small chilled glassful a comparison with wine is hard to ignore. The flavour is initially delicate with hints of lemon and lychee, but unlike a corresponding white wine, the acidity is much lower. After a swirl over the gums the flavour explodes in a mix of fresh fruits, nuts and cooked rice all with a herbal edge. The finish, with sweet and sour notes, is quite long – tailored to the Western palate perhaps as the Japanese preference is for a short run of flavour. Alcohol 14.5%. Sake should be consumed within a year of purchase and within a few days of opening to retain the freshness and the subtly of flavour.
Yamatogawa Isake Premium from Fukushima Prefecture is available from Isake Store. This 180ml bottle is £9.99.