Additional articles BY COURTNEY COCHRAN

New Twist on Bubbly

Sparkling sake takes off stateside

Just when I thought the world of bubbly couldn’t get more interesting, sparkling sake changed my mind. Incorporating two of my favorite things – the delicious Japanese rice wine, sake, and sparkling wine production – sparkling sake is a welcome newcomer on the bubbly scene.

Although the first bottles of sparkling sake (sock-ay) trickled into the US just a few years ago, the stuff is taking off quickly stateside thanks to a growing interest in all things wine-related around these parts. And besides this abundant enthusiasm, sparkling sake’s delicate aromas and low alcohol content (many clock in at just about 5% alcohol – about the same as beer) make it a versatile drink that I like to think of as the wine cooler of the new millennium.

Sparkling sake 101
Like all sake, bubbly versions are made from polished rice grains that are then fermented into alcohol (the plant starch that catalyzes fermentation lives at the center of rice grains). Once the sake has undergone this primary – or alcoholic – fermentation, the juice is put into bottles where it undergoes a secondary fermentation, the natural by-product of which is carbon dioxide gas – or bubbles.

Sound familiar? There’s a good reason: this process is actually quite similar to that used for Champagne production and is why sparkling sake looks a lot like its French counterpart, with a few notable exceptions:

Color – Sparkling sake tends to be nearly translucent in color and in fact looks much like water (this goes for all sake, incidentally). Sparkling wines made from grapes (think Champagne), on the other hand, tend to have a hint of yellow-ish color thanks to the pigment present in grape skins, which invariably leach a bit of their color into wine.

Clarity – Besides this lightness of color, sparkling sake tends to be a bit cloudy as well due to the sediment that settles in the bottle during the secondary fermentation. And whereas this sediment is ejected from bottles of Champagne before they’re sold to folks like you and me, it’s allowed to stick around in sparkling sake. If you’d rather not drink cloudy sake, allow the bottle to stand up for a day or two before drinking and pour carefully so the sediment stays in the bottom of the bottle.

Sweetness – It’ll come as no surprise to folks familiar with sake that the stuff is a bit sweet. The same applies to sparkling versions, although bubbly sake’s lightness of body and fizz downplay our perception of sweetness. The result? Sparkling sake is a lightly sweet but ultimately refreshing drink that’s a far cry from the syrupy sweet dessert wines so many people mistakenly think of when sake comes to mind.

Try me with food
Now that you’re excited about today’s newest take on the wine cooler, you’re probably wondering what to pair it with. Reach for fresh fish dishes like – not unsurprisingly – sushi, as well as not-too-sharp cheeses including brie and foods with a touch of spice. Avoid anything too heavy and steer clear of mega spicy dishes, as both will overpower the delicate floral aromas and flavors of sparkling sake.

Sake to me
Watch for these names: Hou Hou Shu, Tsukino Katsura and Harushika Tokimeki.

Happy sampling.