To Heat or Not to Heat?
The question of weather or not to warm sake is not an easy one to answer. The technology used to produce ginjo and daiginjo is relatively modern, and as the most delicate sakes, they tend to be served chilled.
But going back generations in Japan, many sakes were served at room temperature or slightly warmed. Slightly sweet styles do benefit from warming, as do some of the fuller styles. The urban myth that poor sake should be heated to hide its faults is just that, since the warmth can actually emphasize flaws.
And while the most premium sakes are generally best chilled, it comes down to personal preference. A warmed, rich sake might be nice with a steaming bowl of shabu-shabu. And several producers now add flavor profiles to their labels, noting how sweet, full, aromatic or delicate the sake is.
Use this information to educate customers and as food pairing guidelines the same way you would to match wine with food—sweet with sweet, full with full, and dry with dry.
While sake has been catching on in recent years, most Americans don’t know much about it. That means demand is low and value high, so you get what you pay for. And it’s an opportunity for you to introduce your customers to, and educate them on, a unique and delicious beverage.
John Fischer is a professor at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, and a former wine director at several New York restaurants.