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AFP BB News reports on the arrival of sake nouveau in France. 

For decades, France has been sending hundreds of thousands of bottles of Beaujolais nouveau to Japan every November. The article also repeats the claim that people fill bathtubs with it and bathe in the stuff, although I’ve never seen a reference for this. (Sounds expensive, and not at all like the way the Japanese treat their baths.) But now the Japanese are trying to start their own flow of sake back across the globe to France.

Trained wine tasters tend to turn up their noses at Beaujolais nouveau with its aroma of unripe banana, but supporters of sake exports argue that those in the know are aware of the traditional significance of the newly-brewed sake being sent to France. 

France has shown great interest in Japanese sake, and dozens of famous chefs are putting it on their menus and offering it alongside their dishes – even using it to cook with. Interviewed by French news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP), Youlin Li, owner of the Paris restaurant Maison du Sake (House of Sake) commented that shinzake (new/fresh sake) has not been pasteurised and so only lasts about 6 weeks after bottling, but has far more depth of flavour and richness of aroma than regular sake. He also explains that sake is brewed in winter as the cold temperatures are needed to keep fermentation slow, which means that the earliest newly-brewed sake is available in January or February.

Chef William Ledeuil, awarded a Michelin star for his fusion cuisine, uses shinzake in a beef and foie gras dish with a lemon, yuzu and lemongrass bouillon. He also runs a restaurant in Paris, and says he adds a little shinzake to simmering liquid just as peasant cooks would have done with wine in the past.

The article returns to Li, who says that unfortunately most Japanese people don’t know much about sake, and even those who do generally don’t know about shinzake. But times have changed, and we now live in an era with many ways of making sake and a high level of interest in young brewers. Traditional sake is brewed with a flavour that won’t interfere with food, a delicate aroma if any, and little aftertaste. However, this is starting to change, with shinzake and modern sake having much stronger aroma and brewed with the intention of being drunk like a wine.

At the moment the only shinzake being exported to France is from Yamaguchi brewery Dassai, but Li says he hopes to import from at least 10 kura next year. He comments that interest in sake in France has grown enormously over the last five years, and although sales volumes are still very small (about 50,000 bottles per year) they are rising and wine shops in France are starting to stock sake.