When it comes to sake one of the things I’m most passionate about is getting the right information out there. Sake is a mystery to many; indecipherable labels, jargon with no English translations and of course unfamiliar flavours all contribute to the obstacles folks face when getting their head around sake.
But if you think about it, twenty or thirty years ago Australians were just as stumped by wine. The average person on the street didn’t know grape varieties nor could they name any wine regions except maybe Hunter Valley and the Barossa. Misnomers were the norm; “claret”, shiraz labelled as “red burgundy”, semillon labelled as “Hunter riesling” and of course anything with bubbles was labelled “Champagne”. These days after years of consumer education the average wine drinker is far more savvy. Even those with little more than a passing interest in wine can rattle off several grape varieties and wine regions and winery tours are the de rigueur for anyone thinking of going on a sophisticated weekend trip with their partner.
Wine writers and retailers empowered consumers with knowledge, told them there was a plethora of wine out there and encouraged them to find the wine that was right for them with the tag: “trust your own palate and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise”.
But a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.
What this produced, in many consumers, is dogged loyalty to specific grape varieties, regions and even particular labels as people sought out the wine that was right for them. Much to the frustration of retailers, sommeliers and wine makers the industry is now faced with a large consumer base that will drink nothing but Marlborough sauvignon blanc and in some cases only one or two specific brands because that’s what they like and no one can tell them otherwise. Despite that plethora of wine being out there, people found what they like and are sticking to it. After all that’s what they were told to do. There are consumers out there who will only drink cabernet sauvignon if there is no other grape variety blended with it at all, ignoring the fact that even the most seasoned tasters can’t pick exact blends or straight varietals with perfect accuracy, these consumers can’t be swayed. They were taught to trust their palate. Instead of being told to appreciate all wine for what it is and drink different wines for different occasions or foods they’ve gone out and found the wine that defines and represents them.
Sadly, I’m starting to see some of the same trends in sake promotion ie. the idea of “finding the one sake that’s right for you”. By all means there is nothing wrong with having a favourite or preferences but this early in the discovery of sake it would be detrimental to the big picture to have consumers declaring they only drink sake from Kyoto or it has to be junmai, or only sake made with gohyakumangoku rice or only namazake (unpasteurised). Like wine, there is a wide range of different sake from many different regions using different materials and methods to produce the style of sake that brewery believes in. This should be celebrated and every sake drunk and appreciated for what it is. Of course sometimes we come across something we don’t like. That’s fine, but if you try a honjozo from Shizuoka prefecture made with Yamadanishiki rice and you don’t like it, that doesn’t mean you should write off Shizuoka sake or Yamadanishiki rice or honjozo as a style. Likewise if you find a sake that really speaks to you, that rocks your world, don’t stop exploring.
So forget about finding the one sake that’s right for you, enjoy the unique differences that different styles, breweries and regions produce. Choose a sake for the mood, food or the moment. There really is so much out there and mixing it up every now and then is half the fun. Cheers!