The Tasting Panel magazine

September 2017

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36  /  the tasting panel  /  september 2017 In Defense of… Saké by Tim Sullivan I remember sitting speechless the first time I had a sip of premium saké at a New York sushi restaurant back in 2005. My reaction was a mixture of, "Why didn't anyone tell me about this?!" and "Saké, where have you been all my life?!" The magic wasn't made in isolation, though: It would be more accurate to say I fell in love not just with saké, but with a saké-and-food pairing as I tasted the Japanese rice wine with the selection of delicious sushi that night. I've spent the better part of a decade trying to figure out exactly how saké and food become more delicious in tandem than on their own, and I've come to discover what I now describe as saké's "superpower." If we look at the makeup of saké versus wine, the numbers let us in on a few delicious secrets. First, let's examine acidity: Saké has a range of 0.1–0.2 g/100ml of titratable acidity, whereas wine has a range of 0.5–0.9 g/100ml. This gives saké a much lower and gentle acidity compared to wine; saké, though, does have a higher alcohol content than wine, which helps create a desirable balance against sweetness. That brings us to our next measurement—the amino acid profile. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and act as the basis of umami flavors in food and drink. Umami is described as the fifth taste, taking us beyond sweet, sour, salty and bit- ter. Think of umami as a meaty, savory deliciousness. Saké has a profile of 100–250 mg/L of glutamic acid, whereas wine has only 10–90 mg/L. This striking difference means saké can pair beautifully with a range of umami-rich foods that don't work as well with wine—and umami-rich foods abound in all cuisines, not just Japanese food. The list of examples is long and mouth-watering: Parmesan cheese, beef, mushrooms, tomatoes, truffles, oysters and aspara- gus are all abundant with umami flavor. If you want an eye-opening saké-and-food pair- ing, try premium saké with raw oysters on the half shell or with any mushroom or beef dish. You'll be surprised with the ease at which saké and umami can be paired to perfection, and before you know it, you too may ask yourself, "Saké, where have you been all my life?!" Want to contribute In Defense Of an industry trend? Email for your chance to contribute a letter. Tim Sullivan is the founder of and a SSI International Sake Sommelier. PHOTO COURTESY OF TIM SULLIVAN

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