Sake sanctuary in Paris

Sakes © T. Joly
More and more chefs and sommeliers praise sake and consider it pairs as well as wine with Western cooking. Some of the best sakes produced in Japan are now available in Paris at Workshop Issé.

Don’t be mistaken; the real sake is not the free rotgut you get at the end of your meal in Chinese restaurants. Made by fermentation, not by distillation, this traditional Japanese beverage contains only 14% to 17% alcohol and develops flavours and aromas whose complexity and finesse are somewhat similar to those of wine. As a matter of fact several well-known chefs have now sakes on their menu.

Toshiro Kuroda © T.Joly
 High quality sakes
Let’s name, Eric Biffard, of the Cinq, the restaurant of the George V hotel, Christophe Pelé, of the Bigarade, Jean Christophe Rizet, of the Truffière, Inaki Aizpitarte of the Chateaubriand, all in Paris, as well as Armand Arnal who proposes a tasting menu pairing Japanese sakes with Mediterranean dishes in his restaurant in Arles. Some sommeliers too have become sake enthusiasts like Olivier Poussier world best sommelier in 2000.
To discover the real taste of sake, there is no better place in France than Toshiro Kuroda’s Workshop Isse grocery stores, sake bar and restaurants. He indeed imports and sells 70 high quality sakes priced from €35 to €350 a bottle. “ They come from about twenty producers being among the best of the 1,500 existing in Japan”, explains this former journalist and translator just opened a new grocery store in partnership with Gérard Depardieu.

Workshop Issé © T.Joly
 Sake and food pairing
Living in Paris since 40 years, Toshiro Kuroda also recently founded Becs Fins de Saké, an association of sakes enthusiasts whom vice-president is the French actor. The aim of this association is to promote sake and make it better known. For this purpose sake tasting should be organized soon every second Saturday of the month. “ Sakes can be dry or sweet, light or robust, mineral or fruity, sometimes slightly sparkling,… So it’s always possible to find one matching with starters, fishes, vegetables and white meats, but it’s more complicated with a red meat like an entrecote”, he declares. To illustrate his remarks, here are some of the dishes recently served during a sake pairing menu concocted by chef Inaki Aizpitarte and his sommelier Sébastien Chatillon. Mullet ceviche with coriander flower. Fried fennel and fennel pickle with cod liver and veal juice. Pigeon and beetroot with red fruits and XO sauce.

Kazenomori sake© T.Joly
 Old sakes
“Old sakes also pair very well with cheese and particularly with Roquefort”, adds Toshiro Kuroda. When ageing, they indeed take on an amber colour with hints of nut and honey. They are best appreciated at room temperature while young sakes have to be drunk between 8° and 12°C. However, the flavour of the sake changes a lot depending on the serving temperature and some people prefer to drink it warm. A stemmed glass is perfect to taste them and most sommeliers consider it’s better than the square wooden box in which they are traditionally served in Japan. “As they are made of pine wood, there is a slight conifer smell that interferes with sake’s aromas” tells Toshiro Kuroda.
The diversity of the sakes comes from several factors that have an influence on their typicity, their taste and their aromas : the rice, the water, the ferments and yeasts that are used, the process and the length of fermentation, the maturing that lasts from 6 months to two years and takes place in 1.8 l bottles or in stainless tanks…

Sake brewers © T.Joly
In addition, they can be pasteurized or not, filtered or not. Hence the possibility to find sakes pairing with a wide range of dishes.
Essential ingredient, the rice is different from the varieties cultivated for food. Indeed, the grain must be bigger because it is polished in order to only keep its central part, the richest in starch that by fermentation gives this alcoholic beverage. It also eliminates lipids, proteins and amino acids that are all harmful to its taste. So, it’s not surprising that sake classification is determined by the rice polishing ratio that indicates the percentage of grain weight remaining after this operation. If it is between 50% and 60%, the sake is called Ginjo. If it is 50% or lower, then the sake is classified as Daiginjo.

Sake brewer © T.Joly
 Innovative producers
Two more appellations also give precious information about the quality and the style of the sakes. Junmai, that guarantees that no alcohol was added during the fermentation, and Kimoto, that designates a process of fermentation giving robust and richly flavoured sakes.
However, some producers innovate in the fermentation, in the yeast and rice used or in the way the grains are polished and their sakes, although excellent, are sometimes not awarded these appellations because they don’t meet all of the required criteria. So, they are not easy to discover for newcomers, particularly when living outside Japan. But you can count on Toshiro Kuroda to give you advice and help you find the perfect sake to fit your taste.

November 28, 2012
Thierry Joly 

[ Practical ]

- Workshop Issé
11 rue Saint-Augustin, 75002 Paris.
Tel : 0142962674
- Restaurant - workshop Issé Bis
10 rue Saint Augustin, 75002 Paris
- Sake bar Izakaya Issé
45 rue de Richelieu, 75001 Paris
Open Monday to Saturday
Tel : 0142962660
- Restaurant Bizan
56 rue Sainte-Anne, 75002 Paris
Open Monday to Friday
Tel : 01429666776
- Information