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Japan's national beverage is delicious with Western fare, too.

Sake To Me

Sake is a fermented beverage made from rice and water. By definition, sake is not a wine, not a beer. (However, in Japan it is often referred to as nihon shu, or "Japanese wine".) Sake is made in the United States as well as in Japan.

What are the types of sake?
There are four basic kinds of sake. Their taste, fragrance and body are determined by the extent to which the rice grains are polished. Generally speaking, the more the grains are polished, the smoother, more refined (and more expensive) the sake. The basic kinds of sake are: (Note: spellings may vary from brand to brand.)

Junmai Dai Ginjyo — This is the highest grade of sake. At least 50 percent of the original rice grains are polished off to make Dai Ginjyo. It is usually smooth and elegant in aroma and flavor.

Ginjyo-shu — (also called Junmai Ginjyo). 40 percent of the rice grain must be polished away to be a Ginjyo sake. It is the second highest grade of sake.

Honjozo-shu — Like Ginjyo, Honjozo-shu sake has 40 percent of its grain polished away. It has a very small amount of distilled ethyl alcohol added to it, making it different than Ginjyo. Some sake lovers enjoy this type served warm.

Junmai-shu — 30 percent of the rice grain must be polished away to be a Junmai sake. It is usually a bit heavier and fuller in flavor than the other three types of sake.

How is sake served?
Most premium sakes are served chilled, since warming it may destroy some flavor and aroma nuances. Warm sake is enjoyed in winter in Japan, and is a fine way to served medium-grade sakes. The Japanese suggest serving it between 98 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit, or, "the same temperature as your lover's skin."

What kind of cups are used?
Sake is traditionally served in small, conical-shaped cups made of porcelain. If you don't have sake cups, serve sake in sherry glasses or other small wine-shaped glasses.

What is it served with?
Sake is delicious with most grilled, broiled or sautéed fish or shellfish as well as tempura, sushi and sashimi and stir-fry dishes. It is also good with spicy Indian, Chinese, Thai or Korean fare.

How is sake stored? How long will it last?
Sake should be consumed young; some say it should be consumed within six months to one year of release. Once opened, seal the bottle tightly, store it in the refrigerator and enjoy it as soon as possible; ideally within a few days. (Some sakes will retain their flavor and aroma for up to three weeks.)

What are some sakes to try?
Gekkeikan Junmai Daiginjo Horin
, $25. A top-of-the-line sake from one of the largest sake makers in the world. This sake is elegant and refined with layers of fruit and floral aromas. Serve it chilled.

Sho Chiku Bai Premium Ginjo, $7.99 per 300ml bottle. Light and clean with yeasty-fruity flavors. The small bottle is just right for a sushi takeout dinner for two. Serve it chilled.

Hakutsuru Sake, $8.99. This is the richest, meatiest of the three sakes mentioned here. Try it warm, with hearty foods or a bowl of soba noodles.

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