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.
I was invited to Riedel Japan to experience their newest sake glass and to hear the story behind it.
The Austrian-based wine glass maker, established in 1756 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 the drinker’s perception of the aroma, flavour and texture of the drink.
You may be asking yourself, what do Riedel know about sake. The science behind the experience of a beverage is pretty much the same whether it’s wine or sake. Riedel insist that they are not here to replace the traditional Japanese cups but to offer an alternative way of enjoying the national beverage.
Riedel launched their first sake glass – the highly anticipated Daiginjo glass in 2000. The wine glass-like shape was selected to allow the drinker an opportunity to appreciate the delicate fruity and floral notes that are often found with highly polished Daiginjo or Junmai Daiginjo aromatic styles. 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 another glass, the Junmai glass, however experts in the field couldn’t agree on which flavour profile to target within the Junmai range (it’s fairly wide) and the project was put on-hold. The project was later resumed and after 8 years, 42 workshops, working with 170 sake brewers, sommeliers and experts, the Junmai glass was launched.
While the shape for the Daiginjo glass was selected to enhance the fruity and floral aromas, Riedel wanted to subdue the savoury aromas for their Junmai sake glass as they can be intrusive for some people. The wide rim and diameter of the glass does exactly this – the aromas are welcoming. Also with the Junmai sake glass, the sake flows slower and wider into the mouth and broader around the tongue which spreads the umami and tames the bitterness. It also cleverly mitigates any potential off-flavours that Junmai sakes are more susceptible to.
The guided comparative tasting was eye-opening. I got to experience a sparkling sake in a champagne flute – very little aroma picked up, similar to the traditional sake cup. Next was a champagne wine glass with its egg-shaped glass – way better to enjoy the nuances of delicate aromas in addition to a creamier mouth-feel from the mousse.
The Daiginjo glass puts aroma at the forefront similar to a wine glass and the fruity/floral type sake shined here but it was an unpleasant experience with a savoury style sake which the new Junmai sake glass could better handle.
And there you have it! An alternative way to enjoy sake, whether it’s for aromatic fruity, floral styles or the savoury or aged styles, there is a now a glass for both.
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