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Photograph by Erika Pino

Sake to Me: Some Like It Hot

By Davina Baum

RICE WINE, or sake, is not yet the people's choice, but it has traveled far in terms of Western acceptance. While Japanese restaurants still offer the heated version, they are also likely to offer an extensive menu of premium sakes served cold or at room temperature. A sake cocktail is a frequent visitor to bar menus--Japanese or not.

Proof of public acceptance can be found on the shelves of your local supermarket. There, amid the glass and plastic monoliths to alcohol consumption--reminders of million-dollar advertising campaigns and drunken high school evenings--sits sake, unobtrusive in its tall glass bottles. A specialty wine store may have even more interesting types, often locally made. The Hakusan sake factory in Napa and Takara in Berkeley both offer tastings.

  • Ozeki Dry ($2.99, Safeway) comes in those little frosted bottles; Ozeki was the first major sake brewer in the United States and is likely the house brand that a Japanese restaurant will serve, usually hot. Ozeki offers higher-end versions; this one is bland and uninteresting. Move on.

  • Sho Chiku Bai ($5.99, Whole Foods) is sharp and has overtones of alcohol (distilled alcohol is often added as the last step in production), but it does display signs of the sweet earthiness that fine sakes can provide in spades.

  • The pleasing pastel green and yellow label of Napa Valley's Hakusan ($6.99, Sebastopol Fine Wines) lures marketing-susceptible types into thinking they're buying a fine sake--but it isn't all that. It's smooth, crisp and fruity, but it's no Momokawa.

  • Momokawa Diamond ($10.99, Safeway or Whole Foods) comes in a soothing blue-glass bottle. It's the garden of earthly delights. It's fairly straightforward and clean with a delicate, smooth taste and hints of velvety, apricotish flavor.

    Sake usually hovers at 16 percent alcohol content, making it an unlikely visitor at a keg party but still a fairly potent drink.

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  • From the May 2-8, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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