Sommelier Talk – Episode 16 – Reviewing Sake Like a Pro Pt. II
In this episode, I’d like to focus on how to analyze and evaluate Sake characteristics by “Sight”, “Smell” and “Taste”. By consciously practicing the following three areas of evaluation, anyone can develop sound Sake tasting skill.
1.) By Sight:
Examine the transparency, color and viscosity of Sake. It’s easy to see (a) the cloudiness from remaining undissolved rice, (b) the color from the difference of filtration method and oxidation, and (c) the viscosity of sake with high alcohol content. The freshness of the sake can be determined by checking for discoloration due to oxidation or for cloudiness through contamination. For cloudy sake, it’s important to ascertain whether the cloudiness is due to undissolved rice particles (nigori sake) or impurities from contamination. Depending on the amount of the undissolved rice, Nigori sake can have a light, hazy hue to a milky white color. There’s a limit in determining whether the cloudiness is due to impurities from contaminants, but the tell-tale sign would be when the cloudy particles settle in a linear motion.
As for color, sake which deliberately skips the carbon filtration step will have a light yellow (straw color). Similarly, oxidation will also cause sake to change color ranging from a light yellow, to darker yellow, to almost brown. Viscosity is judged by “tears” or the streaks that appear when the glass is tilted. The higher the sugar and alcohol content, the higher the viscosity, therefore more “tears”.
2.) By Smell:
Understand the type of aroma, its strengths and weakness, persistence, and complexity. Sake carries various notes such as flower, fruit and wood, but Sake that has deteriorated typically has an unpleasant, sour smell, almost resembling sweat.
To measure the strength of the aroma, sit down, pour sake at room temperature into a glass, and place the glass on a table. If the scent can be easily detected, it has a strong scent. If the scent can be identified when the glass is closer, in front of the nose, it has medium strength. And if the scent can only be detected by sniffing right into the glass, then it has weak scent. Aromatic complexity comes from the layers and the mixing of the various scents, of flowers, fruits and fermented grains. If it has a single note, it will have simple scent. The persistence of strong, medium and weak scents is 15, 10 seconds and within 5 seconds respectively.
3.) By Taste:
Note the subtle variations in the flavor: impact, sweetness, acidity, bitterness, volume, umami, smoothness, rigidity, and balance by using every part of the mouth – tongue, teeth, throat and nasal passage. Savor the impact of the flavor, how it tastes on the tongue. Feel the potency of the alcohol through the burning (minty) sensation in the throat and savor the umami seeping from the corner of the jaw. Notice the aroma that clings to the nose after swallowing the sake, and discover the overall balance of flavors and how it changes as time passes.
Let’s practice these exercises to improve our own understanding and appreciation of Sake.