Ray Isle (@islewine on Twitter) is Food & Wine's executive wine editor. We trust his every cork pop and decant – and the man can sniff out a bargain to boot. Take it away, Ray.
There’s something odd going on with Japan when it comes to wine. A couple of weeks ago a company there launched a wine for cats, and last week I received news that there’s now going to be a Hello Kitty Champagne.
And, you know, it’s not that I’m anti–Hello Kitty or anything - my daughter, when she was seven, had a big fondness for putting Hello Kitty stickers all over everything, including my wine fridge. But look, she was seven. That’s a great age to be into Hello Kitty stuff. It’s just not a great age to be drinking Champagne.
So, my feeling is, if you want to support the Japanese beverage industry (or if you just want something excellent to accompany your sushi), drink sake.
How do you make a 1,200-year-old drink, hip? One way is by calling it the “new wine” and making it an essential ingredient in killer cocktails. That’s what’s happened to sake, the rice-based liquor that is associated with all that is traditional about Japan. Yet from its origins in Shinto ceremonies in the 8th century and its place modern-day weddings, it is currently undergoing a revival.
It may be a laggard compared to sushi in its global appeal but it is increasingly popular among connoisseurs of Japanese cuisine, says Kelvin Zeia, the sake sommelier of Japanese restaurant Zuma in Hong Kong.
“The palate goes from sweet to dry, but there are subtleties between different types of sake,” he says. The alcohol content of around 15% also means it can be a discreet mixer in cocktails.