Elements of Tasting
Sake can be enjoyed by itself or with food, and we’d like to provide some general guidelines to assist you in evaluating the quality of sake. Sake at slightly chilled or room temperature is best to evaluate sake, as the aromas are better dispersed, and we recommend using a white wine glass.
The first step after your pour is to evaluate the appearance of the sake, noting any color or sedimentation in the sake. Sake has a slight pale yellow or green appearance, but an excessive amount of color indicates a Malliard reaction or some spoilage due to exposure to excessive heat or light. Of course koshu obtains its color over time, but the color is a result of the Maillard reaction under controlled conditions. Generally, a sake in good condition is described as water white or crystal clear to slightly pale.
After evaluation of the appearance, pay attention to the nose, or the aromas. Swirl the sake around in the glass to allow the aromas to expand. Ginjo-style sake will be evident with fruity aromas prevalent. More subdued aromas are common for junmai and honjozo styles. Tasters use a wide variety of adjectives to describe the aromas: banana, green apple, pineapple, melon, lychee, lilac, green grass, cedar, mushroom, cloves, white pepper, nuts, steamed rice, porridge, yogurt, butter, cheese, caramel, honey, molasses, cotton candy.
The descriptors can be as wide as the taster’s imagination can feel. Some faulty notes to know which may indicate problems with the sake are descriptors like mold, vinegar, sulphur, sour milk, stale, stuffy smell.
Once you have considered the appearance and the aromas, take your first small sip, and let the sake roll over your tongue, while swishing so that the sake aerates well and allows the senses to take in the first impression on the palate. The sweetness/dryness, acidity and alcohol level of the sake will have the most influence on your palate, but an amazing breadth of sensations are present in sake.
The first impression will provide feedback about the strength or weakness of the sake. You will learn to appreciate the sake from the tip (sweetness) of your tongue to the center and then to the back as each area of the tongue tastes the different elements of sake.
Acidity, sweetness and umami levels will affect your thoughts about the taste, the texture and the balance achieved with the sake. The lasting impression or finish is your final thought about the quality of the sake.