Mayuko Sasayama, la sumiller del sake

The origin of sake in Japan is somewhat uncertain.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
15 September 2023 Friday 10:31
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Mayuko Sasayama, la sumiller del sake

The origin of sake in Japan is somewhat uncertain. The first time it appears in writing is with the term kuchikami-no-sake (sake chewed in the mouth) in the book Topography of the Province of Osumi and dates back to the year 713. At that time it was not known for sure what the process by which sake was produced but, in the temples, the mika (virgin maidens) chewed the cooked rice that was donated as an offering, it was left to rest overnight in a wooden bowl, and the enzymes in the mouth caused fermentation naturally alcoholic, which generated a drink that was sometimes exquisite, sometimes undrinkable. Its consumption was considered magical because it caused intoxication that allowed communication with the deities.

In the 13th century, monks began to make sake to market it only to the country's elites: imperial family, clergy, nobility, samurai and military. It then reached the general public in the 16th century.

At first, the function of brewing sake was the responsibility of women as another household chore. Over time, sake production grew and moved to specialized establishments (kuras). The work was physically and mentally stressful and involved a lot of risk so, in the end, women were prohibited from entering.

But as everything happens, the situation is changing, and the female presence in this world is notable, as is the case of Mayuko Sasayama.

This Japanese woman in love with Spain and living in Madrid, has the official Kikisake Shi title, and is a sommelier teacher at the only center authorized to teach the courses and grant the Kikisake Shi qualifications, at the Tokyo-Ya Academy, in the facilities of Shuwa Shuwa (the first sake bar in our country) in Madrid.

She, like many other young people, thought that sake “was nothing more than a distillate intended for older people and those who wanted to get a little more serious.” But one day she went with her father to a Japanese tavern, an izakaya, and she tried “some sake that was delicious. It had nothing to do with the one I knew. You can say that from that day I tasted it, I simply fell in love with it.”

That is why he has decided to share his knowledge in a book, The World of Sake, a complete guide for beginners who want to lose their fear and enter the universe of this traditional drink. There is a lot of information about sake, but also about Japanese history and culture, and as she says: “To know sake is to know Japan.”

Sake is a fermented drink like beer, which is made with water (80%) and rice (20%), and by the action of some microorganisms provided by the koji fungus and yeast. It has an average alcohol level of 15% and should always be less than 22% by volume.

It is drunk both hot and cold, and there are different types: sparkling or fruity, dry, cloudy, more aged or sweet, etc., it is something similar to wine.

For example, in the case of sparkling wines, they are achieved with a second fermentation in the bottle with a method very similar to champenoise or by adding carbon dioxide. These are usually mild, slightly sweet sakes. Regarding Taru-Sake, the liquid is introduced into barrels at the end of the process for a very short period, which gives them slight touches of wood that provide complexity.

There are many types of sake for many types of food, and although there is still not much tradition, increasingly, due to the rapid expansion of Japanese gastronomy and more affordable prices, sake is better known.

Just as we eat with wine or beer, we can also do it with this drink. It is not filling, does not cloy and allows for good digestion, from appetizers to desserts.

Patience is one of the principles of Japanese philosophy, so in this case you have to try and wait until you find the sake that suits you, the same thing happens as with wine, not all of them are the same and we don't like all of them, We must continue testing until we find the one we like the most.

The best thing is to be accompanied by someone who can guide us and explain the differences, and if not we can take a course or an initial tasting to have some basic notions.

Step 1. Appearance, visual phase: color, transparency and viscosity (turbidity) are evaluated. A white background paper (as in wine). It depends on the production, whiter because they are lightly pressed, or darker because they are aged.

Step 2. Aromas, nasal phase: the intensity and fragrance or main range of the aromas are assessed.

Step 3. Flavors, oral phase: the texture (feel in the mouth), the body (alcohol and integration), the main flavors (umami, acidity, sweetness, etc.) and the finish or finish in the mouth (aftertaste) are examined.

Sake not only harmonizes well with Japanese food, but also with cheese, which, curiously, represents one of the best harmonies, or with Iberian ham, which is undoubtedly a perfect marriage.

In the end you just have to toast: !kampai!