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Continuing with this article that looks at the rise in volume and value of sake headed for France and changes in French cuisine – including healthy Japanese influences – posing challenges for wine, the next topic is ingredients and flavours that wine just doesn’t go well with.

Even if the techniques stayed the same, the change in ingredients as French cooking became lighter and healthier posed a challenge for the sommeliers in charge of finding something to drink with it.

The article identifies seven things that wine struggles with:

  • Umami (旨味)
  • Bitterness (苦味, nigami)
  • Eggs
  • Smoking (燻製, kunsei)
  • Acidity (酸味, sanmi)
  • Spice/salt (辛味, karami)
  • Iodine (ヨード香, yōdoka)

Wine, made from grapes, lacks umami – but sake, made from grain, has plenty. Bitterness was a negative element in traditional French cuisine, but is increasingly present with the addition of new ingredients such as root vegetables, matcha, hakusai cabbage, carrot and parsnip. Another famous example is France’s beloved asparagus, which is a real challenge for pairing as its flavour element aspartic acid conflicts with wine. The same applies to any hint of sulphur, creamy mayonnaise, caviar or smoked fish, spice/salt and notes of iodine – instead of lifting such foods up, wine brings out their worst qualities.

Sake, however, pairs beautifully with the bitterness found in vegetables, and with dishes loaded with herbs. It’s a classic companion for fish eggs and dried fish. Ginger, wasabi, hot pepper and spices like cumin are all turning up in new French food, and sake goes well with them all. And as any Japanese person can tell you, it doesn’t clash with iodine notes such as those found in seaweed. Sake has its own distinct characteristics, just like wine, and in this case they let it cover many of wine’s blind spots.