Carrying on with Takashi Mitachi's thoughts on sake in the Nikkei Business Online, he then turns to his wine-loving foreign friends who don't know much about sake.
He finds that recently, the sake that more and more of them get on with most easily is one with definite acidity balanced by umami. This type of sake mostly has restrained ginjōka fragrance plus a flavour that pairs well with oily foods or meat dishes.
So although sake could easily compete for the position of a drink to enjoy with a meal, this "fresh, chilled before-dinner drink" image is holding it back.
Carrying on with this train of thought, he points out that regardless of whether a wine is red or white, a good one has complexity. And when it comes to sake, aged koshu has the level of complexity from maturation that can stand up to them. Adding the unique Japanese custom of heating for kanzake brings it beyond the level of trying sake instead of wine once in a while, or only drinking sake with sushi, to one where even sophisticated drinkers will want to know more about it and choose it as the main bottle on their dinner table.
Mitachi then goes back to the question of why these fresh styles won't help sake. Koshu, which can be stored for long periods, can turn sake into an asset. He claims that it's well known that the moneyed classes overseas, especially in Europe, like to keep part of their wealth stored in wine. A major reason behind this is the inheritance tax advantages it brings in many countries [no countries or references mentioned] but it's crucial that wine's properties are valued by the market for this system to work.
Many famous wines can be stored for long periods, and sold at different points during their maturation. Most wines are consumed young, but some are investments like works of art and command equally high prices. Why shouldn't it be the same for sake? Although we're said to be in the midst of a sake boom, the number of breweries in Japan is falling. Sake takes just as much skill to produce as wine, but even the finest sell for just a few thousand yen for an isshōbin (1.8 L bottle). There's a lot to lose by not trying to turn sake into an asset.
Going back to the koshu category in the IWC that started off this discussion, Mitachi sees it as a group of similar sake competing to change their image from a type of super-sweet dessert wine to a complex, matured drink that can hold its own at any point during a meal.
I'm not convinced by some of the remarks about sake being seen as a before-dinner drink overseas - I can absolutely see people trying to sell it as that, especially the more delicate ginjō or daiginjō, but is that what's really happening?
The idea of koshu being treated as an asset like wine is an intriguing one. Although it doesn't seem to be treated that way in Japan nearly as much as wine is in other countries, maybe that would work in its favour and make it easier to turn into an asset in countries that already do that with wine?
- Original article (Japanese, Nikkei Business Online, 2 June 2018)