The Japanese are very partial to France’s Beaujolais Nouveau wine, and bon vivants in Paris are now returning the compliment by developing a taste for “Sake Nouveau”.
For decades, the Japanese rice wine suffered from a tainted image in France as the fiery drink offered by Chinese restaurants at the end of a meal, often served in tiny cups with a picture of a woman on the bottom.
But the growing Gallic appreciation of Japanese cuisine has changed perceptions and French gourmets are now learning to value sake and pair it with their own gastronomic specialities.
Youlin Ly, the owner of the Maison du Sake restaurant in Paris, said: “Japanese producers make ‘sake nouveau’ at the end of January, when they bottle their sake. It differs from other types of sake in that it is unpasteurised, meaning that it has not been heated to a high temperature and then cooled in order to preserve it better.”
Like Beaujolais Nouveau, which is a young wine best drunk in the months following production, “Sake Nouveau” cannot be stored for long. Mr Ly said it should be consumed within six weeks of bottling, describing it as "more full-bodied than a conventional sake, with a fruity flavour that makes it ideal with food."
Two Michelin-starred chefs, William Ledeuil of the highly rated KGB fusion restaurant in Paris and Alexandre Gauthier of La Grenouillère in the northern village of La Madelaine-sous-Montreuil, have teamed up with Mr Ly to promote Sake Nouveau.
Mr Ledeuil recommends using sake as a flavour-enhancing ingredient in the same way as wine. “With beef or a lacquered foie gras, I pour into the bowl a bouillon infused with shavings of citron, yuzu [Asian citrus fruits], lemongrass accompanied with a few mushrooms, and I add a little sake.”
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Mr Gauthier bans non-French wines from his restaurant but makes an exception for sake. He describes Sake Nouveau, as “very fresh and fruity, with a slightly bitter note” and recommends it with crab blinis and a marmalade of truffled celery accompanied by a choux pastry.