Q1: Should sake be served hot or cold?
A1: Many people seem to believe that the finest sakes should be always served cold, but this belief is unfounded. The higher the quality of the sake is, the better it tastes regardless of temperature. To bring out the sharp flavors of lower grade sakes, however, it is often necessary for them to be served very cold. That being said, it is nevertheless true that some types of sake do taste better when cold while some others fare better when hot. Generally speaking, smooth ginjo-shu (premium sakes) with flowery or fruity aromas tend to be more enjoyable and better defined when chilled. On the other hand, junmai-shu (pure sakes) and honjozo-shu (brewage sakes) have acidic aromas and dry flavors. And with these types of sake, you can sense the maturity of the rice and the flavors are richer and fuller when these sakes are served hot.
Q2: How does one pick a good sake?
A2: It is hard to point out a single criterion for good sake. The type of sake people like depends greatly on the type of food they prefer. Some people like heavy and hearty dishes, while others like light and bland food. Those who like full-bodied red wine will probably prefer the junmai-kimoto or honjozo types of sake. The kimoto variety is a sake brewed in the traditional way using no artificial additives. Those who prefer simple yet fruity chardonnay wines, on the other hand, tend to enjoy the daiginjo (super premium sakes) type of sake. Try one from Niigata prefecture. The correct coupling of sake with the meal is critical for full enjoyment of the sake as well as the meal. Even if you think you do not like a particular kind of sake by itself, you may discover it has hidden charms when you combine it with a certain dish. Mix and match different types of sake with various kinds of food until you find a perfect pairing. I personally like sakes with a subtle aroma and well-balanced flavor reflecting acidity, sweetness and quality flavors.
Q3: What is the best way to do sake tasting?
A3: Just like with wine tasting, you sip the sake with some air when tasting it for the first time. Use the same glass you would use for white wine. Pour a little sake into the glass, and rotate it to expose the sake to air before you taste it. If it feels chilly, you may want to hold the glass with both hands to warm up the sake a little bit before you sip, because it is hard to detect the subtle aromas when the temperature is too low.
Q4: Are there specific kinds of glasses for serving sake?
A4: Sake, as well as wine or beer, does seem to taste different depending on the kind of glass used. In order to enjoy the full aroma of your sake, you will want to use a smaller white wine glass. When drinking hot sake, a ceramic cup for keeping it warm and a wider opening for letting out the steams is ideal. Using the wooden square type of sake cup is not recommended for serving Ginjo-shu.
That is because the scent of Japanese cypress clashes with the aroma of the Ginjo-shu. If you are drinking full-bodied junmai types of sake, however, serving it in the wooden square cup works really well. The robust sake flavors and the wood aromas enhance each other to create synergistic effects. When using wooden cups, it is recommended that the sake be served either chilled or at room temperature, not hot.