Japan, Japanese Sake

15 Japanese Sake Terms You Need to Know to Look Like an Expert

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Following on my previous post, here are fifteen Japanese Sake terms to make you look like an expert the next time you order Sake. Kanpai!

1. Ginjo

Ginjo is a highly polished style of sake.

2. Daijingo

Daijingo is even more polished than Ginjo.

If you see this on the label, you can expect a clean and delicate style, with fruit and floral aromas is perfect with seafood. They can be served cool.

3. & 4. Kimoto, Yamahai

Yamahai (or you may see Kimoto, its predecessor) is the traditional process of making Sake where a starter culture naturally develops over a few weeks (much like sourdough bread). The Sakes are fuller-bodied, with higher sweetness and acidity, with a rich and deep flavour. Sometimes showing a gamey flavour, they are particularly good with meat dishes.

5. Tokbetsu

Translated as ‘special’ in Japanese and can mean a few things when written on the label – whether it is a special type of brewing or a higher rice polishing level than usual.

6. Junmai

Junmai is a word you will often hear in Sake circles. Translated as ‘pure rice’ where nothing else is added other than rice, water, and koji. It is a heavier Sake style that works very well with food – although it should not be considered better than other Sake as a different style.

7. Honjozo

A style where a tiny amount of alcohol is added to the Sake. Alcohol stabilizes the Sake but also carries the flavour, and some would argue, makes it more drinkable. This is a good choice for warming.

8. & 9. Muroka, Nigori

Muroka and Nigori are terms that describe filtering the Sake. Muroko is clear but is not charcoal filtered; Nigori is where the Sake is not filtered but milky or cloudy – you may see some remaining rice solids (much like an unfiltered wine).

10. Genshu

Genshu is an undiluted Sake (without added water) and is a strong style that suits rich dishes.

11. Yamada Nishiki

Considered the best rice for making Sake.

12. Namazake

Namazake is an unpasteurized Sake. Sake producers normally pasteurize rather than add preservatives, as winemakers do. Unpasteurized Sake is a fresh and lively style that needs to be kept in the refrigerator. It is not a complex Sake, but a chilled Namazake is perfect with super fresh sushi.

13. Koshu

Koshu is aged Sake. Unlike wine, there are no aging regulations, but it is generally agreed that it is over three years old. Aged Koshu is a niche style as most Sake is produced to be drunk young.

14. Umeshu

Umeshu is a plum liqueur made from plums preserved in Sake. It is usually sweet and tangy. Drink straight, mixed with Champagne or soda, or simply over ice.

15. Futsushu

This can be translated as ‘ordinary Sake,’ and most Sakes served hot in restaurants in Futsushu. Much like the classification for table wine (such as Vin de France), this can either be low quality or allow the Sake producer to break the rules.

If you want to know more about Japanese Sake terms, check out the previous post, How to Read a Sake Label