The Sake Tasting Guide, Part 2

In part two of our sake tasting guide, we will talk about aromas and how they relate to the taste of sake. The aromas of sake are gentle compared to many wines, but each kind has distinctive characteristics. 

To examine the aroma, pick up the glass by the stem and bring the sake up to the nose after swirling. Gently sniff the sake so that your nose is not suddenly overwhelmed. Try to identify the aromas that are present and assess the intensity and how expressive or delicate the sake aroma is.

Here are some important considerations in sake aromas: 


Ginjo falls under the premium sake category, made with rice with a polishing ratio of 60 per cent or below. However, this term can refer to the whole category of ginjo-style sake made from rice with low polishing ratios and lower-temperature and longer fermentation. 

Floral and fruity aromas such as melon, apple, pear, banana, tropical fruits, rose petal or aniseed (which are called ginjo-ka or ginjo aromas) are generally associated with this classification of sake. 

You can also find confectionary/candied fruits, such as pear drops, pineapple candies, or sweet bubblegum fragrances in Ginjo style sake. It is surprising to find such fruity fragrances in rice-made drinks, but they are mainly made using yeast esters during fermentation.

Cereal and Grains 

Aromas relating to rice or cereal are most common aromas in sake, though there are some ranges. Lighter styles of sake (Ginjo/Daiginjo or some Junmai /Honjozo) tend to have some degree of rice flour, mochi, or steamed rice notes. Richer Junmai or Honjozo categories tend to have more toasted oats, malt, rice crackers, breakfast cereals, or even some Brioche or banana cake aromas.

Lactic Acid and Dairy

As one of the dominant sources is acidity in sake is lactic acid, sake can have rich dairy notes. Most lighter sake styles have some degree of milk, fresh cheese such as Mozzarella, yoghurt, or sour cream notes. Richer Junmai styles could have butter, double cream, matured cheeses such as cheddar or parmesan. 

Nuts, Spices, and Herbs 

You can also find some nuts in sake—fresh almonds, brasilin nuts, cashew,  hazelnuts or some sesame. More toasted or caramelised nutty aromas can appear once matured in bottles. White pepper or black peppercorn, cinnamon, nutmeg or cumin can often be found in the finish of sake with some astringency, as well as some herbs such as fresh mint, sage or basil or dried oregano, fenugreek or eucalyptus.

Aged/Koshu Aromas 

Koshu typically develops pronounced oxidative and earthy notes of soy sauce, miso, dried fruits, mushroom or toffee, caramel, molasses, chocolate, coffee, cacao nibs, smokey or leafy (cigars) and pickled radish (Takuwan). The long passage of time can cause these aromas to appear in young sake as well.

The world of sake is much bigger than many people think. Just like its Western grape-based counterparts, it can be enjoyed with greater depth if you know how to examine the more subtle aspects of it, such as aroma, texture, and flavour. 

If you’re looking to improve your sake tasting experience, consider our sake sets at Sake Shoten. We bring premium sake to the UK right from the comfort of your own home.