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Evaluation of the Japanese sake

By Yuji Matsumoto

It’s simple to state that sake is a beverage of taste, selected and consumed according to individual preferences.

However, “delicious” share the following common characteristics:
• Sweetness
• Acidity
• Saltiness
• Bitterness
• Umami flavors

The balance between these common elements is important to produce this “delicious” flavor. What’s referred to as one’s “preference” is in addition to this balance being achieved first, with some preferring the “sweet flavor” slightly more enhanced than the other four flavors to deem the sake delicious. The phrase “secret ingredient” commonly used in cooking refers mostly to the introduction of a lacking taste (like acidity, umami flavor, etc.) to enhance the “delicious flavor.” (In Japanese sake, the “secret ingredient” refers to the blending of sake at times with another sake prepared in a different tank to adjust the flavor).

This same concept applies to Japanese sake, where the even balance of these flavors (hardly any saltiness contained) is examined to evaluate sake. Sweetness and acidity is easy to recognize since these flavors ‘attack’ the palate immediately upon consumption. However, umami flavors are embedded deep in the sake, usually detected in the aftertaste and when the sake passes the tongue. Also, depending on the temperature of the sake and the food that is consumed with the sake, the umami flavors sometimes become quite notable. Thus, caution must be exercised to evaluate various umami flavors, for some have a long-lasting aftertaste while others dissipate quickly.

For those who like enhanced dry flavor in a well-balanced sake will likely prefer an acidic taste immediately upon consumption with a short-lived aftertaste, while those who like sweet flavors will likely prefer sake with a fruity aroma that is rich and long in aftertaste.

To select Japanese sake that is truly to your liking (or to the customer’s liking if you’re a sake sommelier), please take the time to experiment by changing the sake temperature and the food accompanying the sake.








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