We don't often think of Sake when we're thinking about wine, but it is a nice alternative when you are in a wine rut. Nothing, obviously goes better with Japanese food or sushi... Except for maybe champagne, but who can afford to drink Champagne EVERYTIME they eat sushi? Sakes, of course, can range from cheap to very, very expensive, but there are certainly some middle range sakes that are of exceptional quality. I don't know a huge amount about sake, but what I do know I learned from these guys: www.vineconnections.com. Anytime you see their name on the back of the bottle I recommend buying it. They know their sakes and import some amazing stuff from small, family- owned breweries. They also do their best to educate people about sake, offering seminars with brew masters and even internships at breweries in Japan. They're awesome.
One thing that most people in the U.S. who know about Sake will tell you is that you should always drink premium sake chilled. Heating up the sake can damage it and ruin the flavor. So imagine my surprise when I went to Japan and everywhere we went they served warm sake. I don't know which is right, but I know that I prefer mine chilled, so that's the way I go. If you like it warm go with that, but don't buy anything too expensive (keep it below $20) and be careful how you warm it. You don't want to just throw it in the microwave.
There are several quality levels, or "grades" of sake that have to do with the way in which it is made. These names can be found somewhere on the bottle, sometimes only on the back label. It's always important to find the word, "Junmai," this means that the sake has no distilled spirits added, and is of a better quality. Junmai sake is just made from rice, water and Koji mold. The grades go up from there to Junmai-Daiginjo-Shu, Junmai-Ginjo-Shu and finally Junmai-Shu. Each is made from rice that is milled finer and finer as the quality level increases. You can read all about this, the different Sake regions, as well as other terms you may see on bottles on the Vine Connections website.
When we decided to do a Wu-Tang album, I immediately thought of Sake. I know, I know, they make references to Chinese culture, not Japanese, but there is something about the album and the Wu-Tang Clan in general that easily lends itself to a nice chilled cup of premium Sake. The "Morning Glow" from the brewery Takasago Shuzo is from Hokkaido, Japan's easternmost island. It is a "Tokubetsu Junmai," the first word meaning "special." Hokkaido gets a lot of snow, and I swear the thing I love most about this sake is the fact that you can taste it. It has a strong "freshly fallen snow," taste that is pretty remarkable. Besides this it has oddly delicate yet intense aromas of salty pastry, white chocolate and lychee. The palate is beautifully silky and smooth and the finish long, with a nutty, earthy taste that lingers. It is mostly dry but with a touch of candied sweetness on the mid-palate. It runs at around $30 a bottle, a little pricey, but well worth it. A Sake that would impress a connoisseur and convert a skeptic. A fantastic bottle that will have you dancing before you even finish your first glass, and before The RZA can say, "Bring da' mutha-f@#$-in ruckus."