"Last year, the Brewers Association of Japan held a drinks tasting at the Japanese embassy in London. I went with our Bar Manager and we came across this," says Ayako Watanabe, Managing Director of Saki Bar and Food Emporium in Smithfield, London, recalling her first encounter with Hô Hô Shu, a sweet sparkling Junmai saké from the Marumoto Brewery. "We fell in love with it," she adds.
Hô Hô Shu is a recent addition to the Marumoto repertoire, sparkling saké having become fashionable during the past several years in Japan. Carbonation is achieved by bottling this cloudy saké before full fermentation has taken place so that it ferments further in the bottle, but only to about seven or eight per cent, and remains sweet. As such, it is particularly suited to being drunk as an aperitif.
"It's proved really popular in Japan and is doing so here, too, especially with female customers,"
says Watanabe. Saki Bar and Food Emporium is the first to sell it in the UK charging £15 per 180ml bottle in the restaurant and £10.80 in the shop.
Perhaps the most famous sparkling saké (at least in Japan) is Okunomatsu FN Junmai Daiginjo. The ‘FN' stands for Formula Nippon, a Japanese motor-racing series, and this saké was created especially for race meetings so that the drivers could douse each other with magnums of sparkling saké instead of Champagne. Now Zuma in London's Knightsbridge has become the first UK restaurant to stock this exclusive sparkler.
"Because the Fukui prefecture in Japan where it's made is humid, it's made from October to February so that less bacteria will grow and it's therefore a seasonal product," explains Sayaka Watanabe (no relation), Sake Sommelier at Zuma, where they've had it since January – a time when saké brewed by this traditional, seasonal method is anticipated like Beaujolais Nouveau.
Okunomatsu FN is quite cloudy but, unlike Hô Hô Shu, it's a crisp, dry saké at 15.5 per cent ABV.
Sayaka Watanabe says, "It's very unusual and our customers love it. It's a crisp, clean and elegant saké with very delicate fruitiness and goes very well as an aperitif or with sorbet or fresh fruit." At Zuma, it's served in Champagne glasses at £18.50 per glass or £92 per bottle.
With the increasing popularity of saké and the English love for sparkling wines, here are options for differing palates and budgets that can add an exotic and alluring sparkle to any wine list.
Saki Bar & Food Emporium, 4 West Smithfield, London EC1, 020 7489 7033 saki-food.com Zuma, 5 Raphael Street, London SW7, 020 7584 1010 zumarestaurant.com