Glassware: it’s more than just aesthetics. Choosing the right vessel to drink your sake can either enhance or leave you missing out on what the producer intended you to experience, just as with wine. When it comes to sake, the traditional ceramic cup, the o-choko, is the default choice but can be somewhat limiting for appreciating the finer intricacies that sake offers.
Riedel, the world-renowned Austrian-based wine glass maker, was established in 1756 and have glasses to enjoy over 300 types of wine and grape varieties. When designing each glass they consider the size, the shape and the opening as these can all alter where and how the fluid flows changing your perception of the aroma, flavour and texture of the drink. But what about glass options for sake? I was invited to Riedel Japan for a lecture/workshop hosted by long-term Japan resident and president and CEO of Riedel Japan, Wolfgang Angyal to experience the recently released Junmai glass and to hear the story behind it.
You may ask yourself, what do Riedel know about sake! Well, the science behind the experience of a beverage is the same and Riedel developed the glass with people in the industry; so in a sense these glasses are the voices of what the brewers wanted.
Riedel had been fascinated by Japanese culture and cuisine for a long time and after seeing the trend of Japanese food grow, they launched the highly anticipated Daiginjo glass in 2000. They make it clear that they respect Japanese culture and are not here to replace the o-choko but to offer an alternative to let the sake sing. They want to give drinkers the opportunity to appreciate the delicate fruity and floral aromatics that the majority of brewers aim for with highly polished Daiginjo or Junmai Daiginjo types. While very successful, the Daiginjo glass became incorrectly known as the sake glass and was being used for all types.
At the development stages of the Daiginjo glass, Riedel had their eye on developing a Junmai glass however experts in the field could not agree on which flavour profile to target within the Junmai range (it’s fairly wide) and the project was unfortunately abandoned. Fast forward several years and in 2010, the project was resumed and after 8 years, 42 workshops and working with 170 sake brewers, sommeliers and experts, the Junmai glass was born and launched on April 19, 2018.
Before dissecting the Junmai glass, we need to understand the flavour profile of a Junmai style sake. They can be anything from 61%-100% rice polishing remaining so tend to have a savoury tone and umami-rich character which can be unexpected and intrusive for some people. Riedel wanted to emphasise in the right way the flavour and texture of these while the Daiginjo glass enhances its fruity and floral aromas. Side note, the glass is not limited to Junmai style sakes but includes traditional starter methods Kimoto and Yamahai (not limited to but most popular with Junmai style sakes) with their expressive acidity, as well aged sakes with their complex nutty, caramel and dried fruit characteristics.
Let’s look at the design of the glass. The Junmai glass is diamond-shaped with a stem as does its Daiginjo counterpart to physically and figuratively raise sake’s profile and put it on the same level playing field as wine. The savoury aromas of a Junmai sake in a Daiginjo or wine glass are overly pronounced, intrusive and off-putting especially to new drinkers. With the Junmai glass’s wide rim diameter the Junmai aromas are subdued and welcoming.
When drinking, the sake flows slower and wider into the mouth and broader around the tongue owing to the wider rim and the slight curves on the rim (there is also no need to tilt your head back as you would with a wine glass). This spreads the umami and tames the bitterness (you will feel the bitterness of a Junmai way more on the standard wine glass I guarantee) as well mitigate any potential off-flavours that Junmai sakes are more susceptible to.
The guided comparative tasting was eye-opening with the same sake tasting very different in each glass. I got to experience a sparkling sake in a champagne flute (very little aroma picked up and the mousse is sharper), a champagne wine glass (with its egg-shaped glass, way better to enjoy the nuances of delicate aromas with a creamier mouth-feel from the mousse), the o-choko (again, small opening so very little aroma), the Daiginjo glass (puts aroma at the forefront similar to a wine glass) and finally the new Junmai glass (as described above).
And there you have it, the new Junmai glass ready to travel the world. I look forward to seeing sake culture aficionado, president and CEO of Riedel Japan Wolfgang Angyal, helping with the advancement of sake with this new glass as it will make people question which glass to use, and to capture people’s attention today, education isn’t a bad way to go.
Behind the scenes video from Riedel Japan on the journey of the Junmai glass with George Riedel.
東京＆名古屋 純米 ワークショップ with ゲオルグ・リーデル