CŽpage de Sake-try this at home

6:58 PM PST, February 14, 2008

 

Why on earth would anyone talk about sake on a wine blog? Sake, as I'm sure you know, is a drink made from rice. The brewing process uses an starch-breaking enzyme in tandem with the fermenting yeast. It sounds like a beer-brewing process. In fact it is, but sake, by virtue of its alcohol content and the way it's integrated into drinking life, is a lot more like wine than beer. CŽpage? A cŽpage is a blend- a mixture of two different wines to produce a more balanced or more complex drink. Wine drinkers tend to be a bit skittish about cŽpages: you will rarely find someone pouring a bit of sour white into a jammy, flabby red. We tend to have a great deal of respect for the original formulation of wines, even if the wines in question don't deserve it.

Personally, I think this is over-delicate. Anything that makes the stuff in your glass taste better is just fine. That said, we have to admit that most amendments to a wine don't work. A splash of 7-up is probably a bad idea, so's a shot of vodka or a spoonful of concentrated fruit juice. But a raisin or a leaf of sage in a decanter? Well, sometimes.

One of the ways we might all get over our wineolatry is to start with a beverage that's worth thinking about and in which we don't have too much symbolic investment. Sake might be just the right place to start. It is already much easier to talk about the taste of sake than the taste of wine. There is a wonderfully direct
seven-point profile that you can apply to an individual sake. The dimesions are: Fragrance, Impact, Sweetness, Acidity, Presence, Earthiness and Finish (Tail).

With this in mind, it's easy to see how a sake that was, let's say, a bit lacking in Acidity but a little overbearing in the Presence department could be made more to your taste with a dash of another, less assertive and more acidic drink. Of course, there are seven different dimensions here and blending would be a matter of careful selection.

There is one instance though, in which a simple blending of two different sakes can yield a useful and immediate result. If you're a sushi lover, you've probably floundered around trying to find a good wine to take to the sushi bar. Sauvignon Blanc should work, but sometimes the bouquet has components that don't work-citrus and gooseberry for instance. Woody Chardonnays are awful and most GewŸrztraminer is too distracting. A GrŸner Veltliner is fine, but the better ones can be overpowering.
Hmmm. Maybe the folks who invented sushi have a solution: perhaps the best wine for sushi isn't wine at all, but sake? Fair enough, but which of the many on the shelves should we buy? If you've already grabbed a big, cheap bottle and tried it out, you may have found it too dry and ethereal. Even in the gentle presence of toro, the flavor disappears.
It may be time to try the fuller body and fruity presence of unfiltered sake. It's called Nigori Sake and it looks like milk-creamy and white. There's a great one made in the U.S. by
Takara. You take it home, chill it, shake it up and try it. Perhaps you find yourself saying things like 'yummy' and 'dee-lish'-both very unusual words for wine-tasting, but perfectly appropriate here. So you cart your bottle off to the sushi bar and by the second glass you are thoroughly disappointed. Everything about the sushi has accentuated both the sweetness and the texture of the Nigori Sake and it now seems like there's a lollipop competeing with the kampachi for your attention.

Now it's time for you first cŽpage. All you really need to do is reduce the impact of the Nigori with some relatively neutral sake. You might try SHO CHIKU BAI Classic from the same brewer as your Nigori. Start with about half as much of the classic as you have of Nigori. If that's still too sweet and heavy in the mouth, add a bit more classic. Be sure that your cŽpage is well-chilled and you will have, in my humble opinion, the perfect sushi bar accompaniment.

By the way, the really great news about all this is that the average price for both components will come out to be about $8 a liter! That's not a typo. Comparing that to wine, you come up with a drink that costs six bucks a bottle and is perfectly elegant. Because of sake's slightly higher alcohol content, one 750ml bottle should get two thirsty people through dinner.

As with wine, sake doesn't last long once it's been opened. Be sure to serve well-chilled and enjoy your sushi.

Lynn Hoffman, author of the delightfully unblended novel
bang BANG and the entertaining The New Short Course in Wine.

This is syndicated from shortcourseinwine, and written by Lynn Hoffman.