Sparkling Sake: Move Over, Prosecco

I don't remember the first time I drank sake. That seems odd, in retrospect, considering how virulently I hated the stuff up until a year ago. You think you'd remember the first time you ingested something you truly despised.

Perhaps my mind has blocked the occasion from my memory, for the sake of my delicate psychological balance. We'll never know. What I do know is that trying sake again at Kubo's last year completely changed my mind.

Since then, I've been entirely open-minded about the stuff. Whereas I originally thought it dry and musty, yet somehow oily too, I've found sakes to have a breadth and depth of flavor on par with complex wines.

I haven't been able to explore it as much as I'd like and look forward to the day when sake dinners and classes are as widely available as its wine or even beer counterparts.

Two weeks ago, I tried my first sparkling sake and I was hooked. A trip to Spec's followed shortly thereafter, so I could explore the different sparkling sake options without having to pay marked-up restaurant prices with each adventure.

By some accounts, sparkling sake has been poised to take over the champangne and/or prosecco market for at least the last four years. Since this hasn't happened yet, the only thing I can think of that's holding it back is a lack of exposure. You don't see sparkling sake outside a handful of sushi restaurants or the aisles of Spec's. It has to be this; the sake itself is so good as to make an instant convert out of anyone who tastes it.

The interesting thing about sparkling sake -- for me, at least -- is how comfortably it fits into a neat little gap between sake and champagne or prosecco. Don't like the taste of sake? You'll probably enjoy the light, fruity, somewhat dry taste of sparkling sake. Want a greater variety of flavors than what prosecco or champagne offer? Sparkling sake comes in variants like ginger-mango, green tea, yuzu-citrus or simpler flavors like the Hana Awaka I tried this weekend.

The bottle of Hana Awaka I picked up at Spec's was only $5, perfect for two people to split as an after-dinner drink with dessert. Unlike dessert wines, Hana Awaka is extremely mild and dry -- no syrupy sweetness here. It's an interesting combination of floral (think hibiscus) and fruity (think berries), but never overpoweringly so. And like most sparkling sakes, it's only 7 percent ABV, so you're not going to catch a buzz off this stuff unless you're 12 years old and sneaking a bottle away from your folks.

Better than all this, though, was seeing just how many varieties of sparkling sakes the Spec's on Smith Street stocks. I've got a lot of -- ahem -- research to do, it seems.

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