Sommelier Talk: Episode 4 – Seasonal Jizake

I was recently in Miami. Other than being a bit more humid, my impression of Florida was that it was much like Southern California. And though I was aware of the unique food cultures there, the area’s preference for alcoholic beverages was beyond what I’d imagined.

Miami is our nation’s third largest market for Japanese restaurants. It’s remarkable to actually see how far Japanese food culture there has advanced over the years.  It has now almost reached the level of Los Angeles and New York. Just seeing Miamians use chopsticks with such skill is amazing! Due to the close proximity to Cuba, South, and Central America, it’s commonplace to hear Spanish while people enjoy nigiri sushi topped with jalapeno and sushi rolls covered with spicy sauce.

A local wine professional said that white wines are favored over reds in hot and humid regions like Miami, but moreover what was interesting was that most of their top selling Jizake had pronounced citrus characters. Just then I recalled one of my own basic food pairing philosophies: match the taste/umami component of a dish with the acidity and sugar levels of the sake. In essence, the Jizake that best suit the climate and cuisine of Miami are those which have characteristics most similar to Mojito, the famous Cuban cocktail that’s especially ubiquitous in hot regions. Just imagine a Miami original Jizake: Reishu (cold sake) with substantial acidity and relatively high nihonshudo (SMV = sake meter value), topped with mint leaves (or shiso leaves), and even spiked with a few drops of yuzu juice.

In Japan, there’s a growing popularity in seasonal jizake. Breweries are offering “natsu gin” or Ginjo sake that’s still young and fresh to enjoy during the muggy summer months, and then the more mature “hiya oroshi” becomes available in the cooler fall season. These summertime Ginjo sake are light and refreshing, and are served chilled or on the rocks. To complete the summer evening drinking experience, I recommend serving natsu gin in wine glasses or even upgrade to Kiriko glasses, the beautifully crafted Japanese cut crystal that originated in the 1800’s.