All About Sake


Often referred to as Rice Wine, Sake (saw-kay) actually has more in common with beer than with wine — because it’s brewed, rather than merely fermented. Join us as we talk with Jason Carter from the Wine Room about the many types of Sake, as well as the origin and customs surrounding this classic Japanese beverage. This may be Sake 101, but pay close enough attention and you’ll be saying, domo arigato for the intro.

To find out more about our guest: The Wine Room:
To find out more about Sake: Sake Expert John Gauntner:

Sponsor: The Office of Champagne, USA:

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Show #124
(51:50 min 24 MB)







17 Responses to “All About Sake”

  1. 1 Doug Smith Dec 20th, 2006 at 10:58 am

    Great show, guys. Fascinating info. I must say I’ve had a couple of premium sakes recently at restaurants and have been REALLY surprised as to the quality. I hadn’t expected at all the complexity of fruit and floral aromas and flavors. Definitely they are exceptional wines.

    The discussion about the “double fermentation” of yeast and fungi for sake making was particularly interesting, although the jokes about fungi were a bit odd, especially since yeast is itself a fungus:

    (As is botrytis, of course, which Jay noted). Manufacture of wine, beer, Belgian lambic, bread and cheese are all fungus-based processes, and all these makers preserve their own strains jealously (or rely on the fungi that inhabit their “terroir”). So sake is really no different at all. Indeed, I had wondered where all those complex flavors came from, since it is only very simple rice starch and water. They must come from the fungi and yeasts. The next question is what these other fungi are that are used in making sake.

    One thing you guys have to watch out for a bit is stepping on your guest’s answers. There were several times where he was asked a question, and in the middle of his answer someone came in to make a side point, a joke, or ask a separate question, and then the original thread got lost. For example, he was about to answer where one found the vintage date on the bottle, but never got round to finishing his thought.

    Anyhow this show was well worth it. I’m sure that in the next decade these premium sakes will be much more popular and well-known than they are now.

  2. 2 GrapeRadio Bunch Dec 20th, 2006 at 11:32 am

    Sometimes, I think we kid around too much which causes us to get sloppy. Sorry about that.

    It’s hard to imagine something so simple as a fungus could lead to such complex flavors.


  3. 3 Doug Smith Dec 20th, 2006 at 12:35 pm

    Yes, I think learning about this fermentation process (or anyway where the flavors come from) would be fascinating.

    How the heck do you get fruit and flower aromas out of these raw ingredients?

    Of course, there are similar issues with wine. How is it that you get flavors of banana in a Beaujolais Nouveau? I’ve been told they come from the process of carbonic maceration, but how?

  4. 4 Mikhail Lipyanskiyy Dec 20th, 2006 at 8:35 pm

    Thanks for a wonderfull episode. i have a few books on sake so i knew some of the things already but some were trully amazing insights… i love Nigori Sakes.. starting to think i have to pick a few up 🙂 (then again – thats obvious with my love for dessert wines and german riesling)

    thanks again.

  5. 5 Michael Rasmussen Dec 21st, 2006 at 9:57 am

    The banana is common in German/Belgian beers too. In beer it usually comes form a fruity ester. I assume the same is true for the Nouveau. Most likely the esters are a side effect of the carbonic maceration.

  6. 6 Mike K Dec 21st, 2006 at 1:13 pm

    Loved the show. I was lucky enough to be exposed to sake by a Japanese chef friend of mine. One night he poured out tastes of 25+ sakes and asked me what I though. The range of flavors and complexity was mind-blowing — just like wine. I gained a whole new appreciation on the role of yeast in imparting flavor in the brewing process.

    In San Francisco, sake is now being treated much like wine; at least one of our Michelin-starred restaurants, the Fifth Floor, does sake (as well as wine) pairings with its courses. And Beau Timken has opened up the first sake-only store in the US ( It’s a very good time to enjoy sake!

  7. 7 Carter Dec 23rd, 2006 at 7:46 am

    Hi Guys, Excellent episode. I’ve been into fine sakes since 1997 when Iwa-san at Naomi Sushi (Menlo Park on the San Francisco Peninsula) first talked me into trying the good stuff instead of hot sake. Wow. Even though I’m pretty knowledgeable about sake, there was still a lot of good info I had not run across before in the podcast. BTW, I put a link to this episode in my new media roundup:

    Keep up the good work. Here is a fun and relaxing holiday season that is full of great wine.

  8. 8 Frank Yourek Dec 27th, 2006 at 1:51 am

    Jay, Great Show! I am drinking a Junmai Daiginjo as I type. Horin. It is a peak experience, right up there with the Burgundy/Pinot Noir nights……….almost. Most certainly a nice break now and then in the month, especially with Japanese food, like the best quality raw fish………Please do more Sake shows, maybe with same speaker and this John Gauntner guy. I have read one of his books, and it is great. Concentrate on the water especially. For Wine also I believe. Biodynamic/Organic growing with the BEST water, spring hopefully, can yield the best wine/Sake. You have a great site and show. Keep up the good work! Also, with no Sulfites in Sake, it is great for those who get headaches from same. A big issue for some, like my wife. Today was a special birthday for her, and I spent the same amount of money on Sake as a great California Pinot Noir, so more people should know this. Yes, it grows on you. You have to be in the right mood, have the right food, knowledge (main point), right company………….and then Sake works. Oh, and there are really great cheap Sakes too. Cheers!

  9. 9 Charles Brown Dec 30th, 2006 at 3:00 pm

    I appreciated the show very much.

    My job allows me to travel to Japan (and other points in Asia) several times a year and I’ve enjoyed sake many, many times. I really like drinking it it in the context of a Japanese dinner, although not so much as an aperitif. Despite this, your podcast was the first opportunity I’ve ever had to learn anything about the history and production of sake. I’ts amazing that very few of the Japanese that I socialize with know anything about the drink.

    Regarding availability, I’m starting to see it more and more especially at the larger liquor and wine stores (BevMo) but have never purchased any, simply due to ignorance. After listening to your show I may give it a shot.

    Thanks for the education.


  10. 10 J Dec 30th, 2006 at 4:34 pm

    Disappointing show. The topic had real potential to expanding a lot of listener’s knowledge about sake, and the guest was fantastic. But too many jokes, and a seeming lack of desire to learn on the part of all 3 of you. Comparing nigori to “swamp water” shows real disrespect for a drink steeped in history and tradition.

    I’ve noticed that the level of knowledge, interest and enthusiasm that you three possess can be mapped as a series of concentric circles. At the center is California. When you guys venture out to, say, France or Germany, the level of knowledge and experience takes a nosedive. And when we move on to other beverages — like sake — it goes to zero and, in my opinion, negative territory.

    I think this show was a prime opportunity to let the guest do most of the talking, so that we listeners (and the three of you) could have come away better-informed about an interesting topic. Instead, you guys showed a general (albeit subtle) disdain for all things non-California.

    Sorry for the criticism, I enjoy your show. But compare the giddiness you expressed in the Sine Qua Non show vs. the sarcasm in this one and I think most of what I say is generally valid.

  11. 11 GrapeRadio Bunch Dec 30th, 2006 at 5:13 pm

    J, that was not my mindset, but if that is the way I came off, I am truly sorry. If listen to our show to get an education from us personally, then we will no doubt fail you. I bring in guests to share their knowledge, not ours. To translate our lack of knowledge as lack of interest and enthusiasm is unfair.

    Lastly, my cellar is now about 30% California so FWIW, your impression of disdain for all things non-California is not correct. However, If that is the way we are perceived, than the fault lies with us. Again, I apologize.


  12. 12 Paula Day Jan 5th, 2007 at 12:19 pm

    Wow J,

    I could not disagree more. I thought more great info came out of this show than most others. I liked the interaction between the GrapeRadio guys and the guest a lot. I saw no lack of respect and thought they kept the guest on track well. Also I think they are great with the guest from other areas. Of course they more about Calif wines thn other areas – who does’nt.

    What does everybody else think? Comments? 

    Keep up the grape work =-).


    PS. I have always hated Sake in the past but now based on the show I will give it another shot.

  13. 13 Domenico Bettinelli Mar 6th, 2007 at 5:45 pm

    I’m just now getting a chance to plow through some old episodes of podcasts that have been piling up in iTunes. I’m a longtime listener going back to your early days and I have to say I really enjoyed this one. I think that it was a chance to learn about something I’d heard about but knew very little. I’ve had sake before, but it was so mysterious I didn’t put much effort into trying it more.

    A more general suggestion: I do enjoy all your shows, but I’m sometimes disappointed when I get enthused about finding some of the wines you mention here in the Boston area and then find out they aren’t available. Not all of us are lucky enough to live in California (or an enlightened state that allows wine shipments) so I would appreciate learning about wines (and other related beverages–like sake!) that are available widely.

    Thanks for the good listening and the wine education, guys.

  14. 14 GrapeRadio Bunch Mar 7th, 2007 at 4:46 pm

    Domenico, I would have thought most of the wines we mention could be purchased via the Internet. Is that not the case?


  15. 15 Domenico Bettinelli Mar 8th, 2007 at 8:15 pm

    Only the big ones with national distributors. Massachusetts still doesn’t allow direct wine shipments, even with the Supreme Court decision. There was an attempt at a rewrite of the law, which was worse than the previous situation, if you believe it, and so we’re still in the same boat. It’s almost enough to make me move to a place where I can get the wines. Almost.

  16. 16 Shankar Desai Aug 26th, 2008 at 6:40 am

    I just wanted to respond to a few of the posting that expressed a disappointment with this show because of a perceived sense of frivolity with the subject.

    The show itself was 51 minutes and 50 seconds long and I listened to the entire piece in one sitting. I think in large part it was because of the playfulness of the commentators. I found it to be a good mix of educational material and fun, which in the end makes the hard facts and information palatable and memorable. Did I get every question answered about sake that I’ve ever wanted to know? Absolutely not but expecting that I think is unfair.

    I thought the show was entertaining, informative and well intentioned.

    I’ll end with a question that I didn’t think was answered but I did want the answer to: When one walks into a sake store or the sake part of a wine store, how does one decipher between the Ginjos and the Daiginjos? I understand the junmai distinction in that when alcohol is added (a non-junmai) the bouquet is a bit more rich but beyond that what’s the difference between a $10 bottle and a $20 bottle?


  17. 17 Unknown Jul 8th, 2009 at 1:04 am

    I’ve noticed that the level of knowledge, interest and enthusiasm that you three possess can be mapped as a series of concentric circles. At the center is California. When you guys venture out to, say, France or Germany, the level of knowledge and experience takes a nosedive. And when we move on to other beverages — like sake — it goes to zero and, in my opinion, negative territory.

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