The Tōyō Keizai Online site has an extensive article on the popularity of sake in France, including the new Kura Master competition set up by the French, for the French, to see what sake goes best with French food.
And if you look at the photos of people standing around a table at Kura Master 2018 at the top of the first page (link to original article at the end) I'm the one in the blue on the left, facing away from the camera. ^__^;
2018 was only the second year of Kura Master, which awarded 23 prizes to the best sake - according to the French - on 4 June.
So why is sake so popular in France? There are several reasons, according to the article, including its longer survival after the bottle is opened and its ability to be served in familiar wine glasses. And surprisingly to the writer, Parisian restaurants have been offering sake by the glass to pair with select dishes for years - particularly junmai, ginjō and nigori. A dinner last autumn was accompanied by junmai to bring out certain dishes, and nigori with dessert - three types of sake with one meal.
And this popularity isn't just a fleeting impression from a visit to France, it's also supported by hard figures. Trade statistics from the Japanese Ministry of Finance show that exports of sake to France have increased by 250% in volume over the last five years, and more than tripled in value. Remarkably, the dramatic increase in consumption has been accompanied by an equally rapid rise in the unit price.
As often mentioned, sake is hitching a ride on the increased worldwide popularity of Japanese food. For example, the USA is the largest consumer of Japanese food and also imports 5,300 kilolitres of sake - over a quarter of total exports. However, this is thought to be down to the rising number of Japanese restaurants and increased popularity of Japanese food in the USA over the last few years.
What about Europe, which has far fewer Japanese restaurants? The situation varies by country. Italy has seen a notable increase in consumption of sake, but no great change in unit value. The UK, France and Spain however have seen higher unit prices. The reason for the increase is a switch from honjōzō to more expensive categories such as junmai or ginjō, but France has seen both - an increase in volume and in unit price - because high-class French restaurants are actively stocking and promoting sake.
Once top Parisian restaurants started to pair sake with their meals, restaurants in other cities in France followed suit. And sake wasn't restricted to a subset of people interested in Japanese culture or to Japanese restaurants, instead being served in French restaurants, allowing both consumption and price to increase. There's even a sake brewery in France aiming to cater to the French market, and two in Spain. Sake is about to arrive in the France-centred European gastronomic sphere, and expand into that market.
Although the French market has seen such rapid growth, it's currently in 10th place for exports, just after the UK. The USA tops the sake export charts, followed by Hong Kong, China, Korea and Taiwan - so the overall market in Europe is still small. But the way things are going, it might not be so long before the fine dining establishments of the world have a sake list beside their wine list.
There's a lot more in this article, so I'll continue with it tomorrow!