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Gauntner's Japan Times Stories 2001

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Life after sake's zing has gone



Just like wine, sake has a very short life span once the bottle has been opened. In fact, like wine, sake should be consumed soon after opening to ensure that delicate fragrances and flavors remain intact. Although this varies from sake to sake, in most cases the more delicate and refined the flavor and fragrance of a sake, the sooner it goes downhill.

Of course, it will not spoil in such a way as to make you sick, nor will it turn to vinegar or become downright unpalatable. After a few days, however, sake in an opened bottle will lose its finely wrought edges and graceful curves. More solidly built sake such as junmai-shu, which has a bolstering acidity, may last a couple of weeks. But as a general rule, if a bottle cannot be drunk at one sitting, try to finish it off within a few days.

Naturally there will be occasions when this is simply not feasible. But fear not: There are a number of ways to use sake that has lost its zing.

Take sake back to its roots by adding a small amount to the water when cooking rice. Although the effect is subtle, the added sake lends a bit more flavor to the steamed rice. To give new life to leftover rice that has been frozen or refrigerated, sprinkle a little sake over it before heating in a microwave oven. Adding a bit of sake to dressings that use vinegar can round out the harsher edges imparted by the vinegar and help the flavors blend. Also, it can bring balance back to dishes-in-progress to which a bit too much salt or vinegar has been added.

Sprinkling sake over fish before salting and grilling it helps stronger fishy smells to go up in smoke. This also works very well with frozen fish and seafood after it has been defrosted. When grilling or frying meat, mixing in one tablespoon or so of sake for every 100 grams can help tenderize the meat and bring out the flavor.

Sake has uses outside of the kitchen as well. Many people swear by a sake-buro, a bath to which a bit of sake has been added. Usually about half a large bottle is used, and it is said to help the warmth of the water penetrate to the core of the body.

Alternatively, a cup of sake in a small facial wash basin can be used to help keep the skin of the face soft. Also, gently scrubbing fingernails with a sake-soaked cotton ball can remove discoloration and return a luster to the nails.

Obviously, many of these applications do not depend on the flavor of the sake remaining intact. Although it may have been more rewarding to enjoy the sake while in its prime, at least we know it doesn't have to go to waste.

* * *

Kagamiyama (Saitama)
Nihonshu-do: +4.5
Acidity: 1.3
Seimai-buai: 55 percent

Until recently, Kagamiyama ginjo was, for the most part, a light and streamlined sake. However, like many prefectures, Saitama developed a yeast for use within the prefecture, known as Saitama C. This has given their sake a fuller flavor and broader profile. Kagamiyama is mildly fragrant with excellent balance.

On March 17, there will be a sake seminar (no pottery, no Rob Yellin) at the sake pub Chihana near Tokyo Station. Seating is limited to 30 and is two-thirds full already. Anyone interested in attending should contact me by fax or e-mail. Also, there will be another sake and pottery seminar (with Rob Yellin) at Mushu on April 14.

Sign up for a free sake-related e-mail newsletter and learn anything and everything about sake at Also, to be put on a contact list for information on sake-related tours, events, and seminars, send an e-mail to, or fax your name and address to (0467) 23-6895.

The Japan Times: Mar. 8, 2001
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