The Aromatic Harmonies Of Sake

  • By Guillermo Cruz
  • 06 Dec 2020
  • 5 MIN
  • Level 201
Made possible by
Aromatic Pairing

From doburoku, unfiltered sake consumed by the producing families themselves, to the rare koshus of ancient vintages, the range is immense. A sake menu can become a tour through the different prefectures or regions of the country.

An immense range

From doburoku, unfiltered sake consumed by the producing families themselves, to the rare koshus of ancient vintages, the range is immense. A sake menu can become a tour through the different prefectures or regions of the country. The key is rice polishing, a process that starts after drying the raw material, and involves refining the grain until it reaches its heart, then cooking it. Once this process is complete, the koji transforms the rice starch into sugar, yeasts help to ferment it, then filtering and bottling do the rest.

There is a great diversity of styles, so the possibility of a range of pleasures becomes a reality. When working with affinities and contrasts, harmony is always more straightforward with the similarities, and the risk is more significant in the differences. In the end, the best combinations are those that contain a history or a story, loaded with intangibles to seduce those living the moment, leaving an indelible mark in their thoughts.

I will propose some examples of harmonies, concocted at the Ambivium (Peñafiel, Spain) Harmony Laboratory.

From Japan to Andalusia

The worlds of sherry and sake have much in common: their uniqueness, accumulated knowledge, and fascinating histories. With these harmonies, we attempted to reproduce classic recipes from each of the regions.

On the one hand, eggplants fried with honey, a typical dish from Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and on the other hand, a smoked eel nigiri, a specifically Japanese preparation. We reversed the harmony: serving the sake with the eggplant and the sherry with the nigiri. 

We also wanted to introduce time into the equation: time is the most incredible luxury in life because if you have time, you have everything. If we manage to eat and drink time, we obtain an approach to the most indulgent luxury.

We chose a koshu-style Tedorigawa sake from the 1996 vintage, aged for many years in crystal demijohn, which, in terms of aromas, has much in common with the oxidative ageing of a sherry wine. 

For the sherry, we chose the ”Tú no me olvides” from Bodegas Alonso, a Palo Cortado with more than 100 years in solera. 

Surprisingly, the harmony was unusual and worked brilliantly. The texture of the sake blended perfectly with the eggplant and the honey, as it rounded out the bite. 

On the other hand, the sherry gave a lot of power to the smoked eel, provoking a contrast with a lot of umami in the mouthfeel. The solid and the liquid fought on the palate to see which was the best, although, finally, they ended up pairing together exceptionally. 

It was a cultural approach of two worlds at once so different, but so equal.

The following harmony is a game of textures

The intention was to combine the solid and the liquid's textures in search of an absolute affinity. We started with the caviar, as a singular entity, and put it at the same level as the inflorescences (read: flower clusters) of the vineyard. These clusters, predestined to become wine, remain in the instantaneous delight of the palate. 

On the other hand, with the intention of a cultural approach, we chose three styles of sake to represent Japan's diversity. These were: junmai Dai ginjonama zake (unpasteurized sake), and nigori (unfiltered sake).

Three bites and three sips

The first bite was crispy bread karasatu with caviar butter and a bunch of inflorescences. We combined it with a nama, in a game of textures that increased the risk. 

The second bite, marrow and caviar, was a delicious combination of sweetness combined with a junmai daiginjo. 

And finally, for the nigori, some fine slices of raw Kobe and inflorescences. Served in this order, we created a magical harmony where the liquid's creamy texture and the solid made the moment unforgettable.

In the coming years, we can expect to see sake menus as complex as great wine lists. Sake can become a means of travelling through different prefectures and, above all, interweaving sake with its history, sharing with our guests the craftsmanship behind it, the values that permeate this incredible drink with every sip. Only open-mindedness can fight against preconceptions.

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