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The pairing of sake and food relies heavily on flavor profiles. One can start with food or one can start with the sake, but the principals of pairing sake and food are the same as those for pairing wine and food! You want to look for similarities - threads of reassuring consistency - between the sake and the food, and/or you want to look for contrasts that bring out into the forefront aspects of both the sake and food.

We know sake has an umami quality, but what else? Sake flavor profiles are not easy to discern like wine where the grape and region can lead you to the right path. Sake rice mill and water source can help, as well as the sake prefecture knowledge and grade, but mostly it is necessary for one to taste the sake to know the flavors, which can be expensive! Why is there not an easier way? Let’s look at the history of sake and food pairing.

The matching of sake and food developed much like the matching of wine and food: the local beverage was a natural counterpart to the local cuisine. If you study the flavor profiles of sake from around Japan, you can easily see how well the local sake jibes with the original cuisine of the various regions. For example, sake from mountainous regions of Japan, like the Tohoku region in the north, is sturdier and more rice-laden in flavor, complementing well the salt-preserved and fermented flavors common in that region’s food. Sake from the coastal areas, with their more developed roads ensuring constant supplies of fresh (rather than preserved) food, are lighter and more supple, which works perfectly with the abundance of fresh fish found in these areas.

However, traditionally in Japan, people overall were not concerned with pairing sake and food. The thinking was that sake “supports” the flavors of food, rather than “marrying” with it. Sake generally has a smaller footprint than wine, a more demure and subtle presence. An important point here is this: it’s not that sake and food have not been properly paired in Japan, its more that folks did not have an overt conversation about it, or make a science or topic out of it.

This has changed in recent years, and well thought-out sake and food pairings are much more common in restaurants as well as in food and drink media.

Fantastic news, but where to start? We’ve worked with Monica Samuels, National Sake Sales Manager for Vine Connections, to prepare a helpful sake and food pairing key. Below we’ve listed general sake flavor profiles and the suggested pairing ideas. To guide you further, we’ve listed sake items from the Cream portfolio that reflect the described flavor profiles. If you know the sake we listed, then you’ll better understand the flavor profile pairing suggestion.

The sake and food pairing key below is easy breezy with room for chefs and sommeliers to play.

Sake Flavor Profile: Crisp, clean, delicate with herbal notes
Suggested Food Pairings: Bitter greens (mustard, endive, arugula), shellfish
Cream Sake: Tentaka ‘Organaka’ Organic Junmai, Rihaku ‘Wandering Poet’ Junmai Ginjo

Sake Flavor Profile: Delicate, clean, versatile
Suggested Food Pairings: Seafood apps, fried calamari, grilled fish
Cream Sake: Chiyonosono ‘Shared Promise’ Junmai, Tozai ‘Living Jewel’ Junmai

Sake Flavor Profile: Soft herbal or anise notes
Suggested Food Pairings: Fennel dishes, lavender-infused sauces or desserts
Cream Sake: Konteki ‘Pearls of Simplicity’ Junmai Daiginjo, Sato no Homare ‘Pride of the Village’ Junmai Ginjo

Sake Flavor Profile: Bright, bitter citrus, floral notes
Suggested Food Pairings: Salads, veggies, fried fish
Cream Sake: Fukucho ‘Forgotten Fortune’ Junmai

Sake Flavor Profile: Pineapple and honeydew notes
Suggested Food Pairings: Spicier foods, fruit salsas
Cream Sake: Fukucho ‘Moon on the Water’ Junmai Ginjo, Takatenjin ‘Sword of the Sun’ Tokubetsu Honjozo

Sake Flavor Profile: Fruity with melon and banana aromas
Suggested Food Pairings: Sturdy fish with fruit salsa, peach-glazed port chops
Cream Sake: Takatenjin ‘Soul of the Sensei’ Junmai Daiginjo, Nanbu Bijin ‘Southern Beauty’ Junmai Ginjo

Sake Flavor Profile: Creamy, lemon, tropical fruit and spice
Suggested Food Pairings: Citrus vinaigrette, root veggies, poultry
Cream Sake: Konteki ‘Tears of Dawn’ Daiginjo

Sake Flavor Profile: Rich, viscous textures and mild sweetness
Suggested Food Pairings: Glazed duck, stuffed pork loin, nut and dried fruit couscous
Cream Sake: Kanbara ‘Bride of the Fox’ Junmai Ginjo

Sake Flavor Profile: Sweet raisin and pear notes
Suggested Food Pairings: Roasted poultry, pork dishes, noodles and earthy grains
Cream Sake: Yuho ‘Eternal Embers’ Junmai

Sake Flavor Profile: Sturdy, earthy flavors and firm acidity
Suggested Food Pairings: Hearty grains, mushrooms, beef lamb dishes, game
birds, smoked meats Cream Sake: Tentaka Kuni ‘Hawk in the Heavens’ Junmai, Rihaku ‘Dance of Discovery’ Junmai

Sake Flavor Profile: Honeyed aromas and flavors
Suggested Food Pairings: Dishes with ginger, clove and white pepper; cured, dried, heavily-spiced foods
Cream Sake: Mantensei ‘Star-Filled Sky’ Junmai Ginjo

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