Some like it hot, others at room temperature or on the rocks. All agree that sake, the Japanese rice wine that’s often paired with sushi and sashimi, goes great with just about every cuisine. It’s also rich in ritual and lore, with as many subtleties as the priciest premier cru champagne or single-malt whisky. Sake is usually served chilled, but can also be mulled warm to 40 C. Higher temperatures cause it to thicken and lose its alcohol content through evaporation. Purists drink sake at room temperature to appreciate the nuances of the hundreds of brands brewed. Our local liquor outlet only sells a few. How you drink the stuff is as important as the sake itself. Equal parts communion and community, sake etiquette requires that you always pour the wine from the lacquered ceramic tokkuri pitcher into the sakazuki cup (like the sets pictured here) of your companion, who then returns the favour. Although a few other premium labels are available at Vintages, here’s NOW’s authoritative survey of the sakes available at the LCBO.
$67.95 at Sanko , includes two cups.
$29.95 at Tap Phong Trading (360 Spadina, at Baldwin, 416-977-6364), includes four cups.
$29.95 at Tap Phong, includes four cups.
$19.95 at Tap Phong, includes four cups.
$38.50 at Sanko.
Wooden marriage-toasting masu, $12.95 each at Sanko (730 Queen West, at Claremont, 416-703-4550).
Gekkeikan (USA, $14.95/1.5 litre)
Alcohol: 14.6 per cent
Label claim: Since 1637, the number-one-selling sake in Japan; caution: remove bottle cap before heating.
NOW: Sugary nose, mild chocolaty finish, the vin ordinaire of sake.
Hakutsuru (Japan, $8.15/720 ml)
Alcohol: 16.5 per cent
Label claim: Since 1743; water from Kobe’s Nada district; carefully selected large-grain rice.
NOW: Faint mossy aroma, deeply flavoured, suggestion of cinnamon.
Quality Ozeki Sake (USA, $7.35/ 750 ml)
Alcohol: 16 per cent
Label claim: “Finest sake produced today.”
NOW: Floral smell, very light vermouth taste, with a tart finish.
Hakutsuru Draft Sake (Japan, $6.40/300 ml)
Alcohol: 14.5 per cent
Label claim: Carefully aged after brewing for one month in its fresh state.
NOW: Trendy bottle, juniper bouquet, sweetly astringent, quick finish.