Sake vs. Wine: What’s the Difference and Which One Should You Choose?

Alcoholic beverages date back all the way to 7,000– 6600 BC when ancient tribes from Jiahu in the Yellow River Valley of China made fermented wine and stored it in earthenware jars. These days you can buy most types of wine and even Japanese alcohol in most liquor stores.

Wine is a world-renowned beverage that comes in a wide variety of flavor profiles. On the other hand, sake, traditional Japanese alcohol, has cultural significance that adds a layer of intrigue to the beverage.

You don’t have to be a wine or sake professional to understand the complexities and differences between these beverages. Once you’re done reading this, you’ll be able to discuss the nuances of sake brewing as well as the complexities of wine production methods. Wine and sake professionals and amateurs alike will find valuable insights into the characteristics of each beverage.

So, keep reading to find out more about the difference between sake and wine.

What Is Sake?

While everyone has heard of wine, sake is a bit more mysterious. Wine is a common item found in most households, but even if you don’t drink it you’ve come in contact with it at some point in your life. In contrast, sake isn’t something most Western households have in their cupboard.

Sake has become more popular over the years and can be found in various stores and restaurants, but you still might need to look a bit harder for it than you would wine. There are even courses you can take to become a sake adviser or sommelier!

But what is sake really? Sake is an alcohol made from rice that originates from Japan. In Japanese sake is also the word used for alcohol. So if you’re at a Japanese restaurant, make sure you’re asking for “nihonshu”, not just sake!

In most Western countries sake is referred to as rice wine, but it shouldn’t be mistaken for wine. In fact, sake is closer to beer than it is wine. So if someone asks you, “Is sake wine?” you can definitively say it isn’t.

There are various different types of sake. Like wine, the varieties make a difference in the flavor profile and what you would pair with it. Since it’s made from rice, fungi, and yeast, sake is gluten-free!

Sake vs Wine: The Similarities

Sake and wine have similar alcohol contents. On average sake has an alcohol content between 9-16%, whereas wine has an average of 11.6%. While the alcohol contents are similar, in general, people consume less sake at a time as the glasses aren’t as big as wine glasses.

The beverages aren’t considered strong alcoholic drinks, so they can complement and enhance various food types. Sake goes extremely well with fish but usually isn’t paired with heavy dishes.

The type of wine you drink will determine what dishes go best with it. Red wine and white wine have completely different flavor profiles. White wine is the most comparable to sake, as it also goes well with fish and lighter dishes.

Both types of beverage play a role in religion. Wine is an important part of Christianity as it symbolizes the blood of Christ. In Japan’s Shinto religion, sake is commonly used as an offering to the gods.

Sake vs Wine: The Differences

The biggest difference between sake and wine is the way it is produced.

Sake uses an approach that is similar to the production of beer. The starch in the rice converts to sugars which later ferments to turn into sake. Sake also uses fungi and yeast to help the fermentation process.

Wine is made by fermenting the sugar found in grapes. The winemaking process itself is fairly simple. There are only four steps you need to follow when making wine.

The four basic steps are:

  • Harvest the grapes
  • Ferment the grapes
  • Transfer the fermenting wine into vessels to separate the wine from other particles
  • Age the wine

Due to the way sake and wine are produced, sake has a higher sugar content than wine. This means sake has a bit more calories than wine, but not enough to make you skip your next drink.

Other than the way they are produced, the way sake and wine are consumed is the biggest difference. Wine is usually drunk out of large glasses that allow you to smell the beverage while you’re drinking it. In contrast, sake is served in small cups called ochoko.

Sake also differs from wine as it can be served hot or cold. White gluhwein is a warm wine beverage, it is not widely available and is usually only available during Christmas time.

Since sake doesn’t have the clear distinction you have between red and white wine, it is mainly considered to fall in the same category as white wine. This means it’s mainly paired with light foods. In contrast, red wine pairs well with heartier meals that sake doesn’t go with. 

Converse With Wine and Sake Professionals

Once you have the basics down you can easily strike up a conversation with various wine or sake professionals. Like most things, sake vs wine is a personal preference, and just because you enjoy one more than the other doesn’t mean you need to only drink that one type of beverage. 

Do you have friends that have asked “Is sake wine?” Now you have the knowledge to tell them all about the difference between sake and wine. If you want to upskill yourself and gain more sake knowledge, contact us today.