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Sake Sommelier


From an early age, Ms. Yoshie Nezu, the sake sommelier of Tori Shin, has appreciated the depth of sake ever since she was introduced to it at her aunt’s Izakaya (Japanese pub) in Japan. Nine years ago, when she came to New York and started working as a bartender, she decided to take her curiosity of sake to another level. After all these years, she is still mesmerized by the vast world of sake, and chuckles as she claims that just finding the rules to food paring with sake will be her personal lifelong endeavor.

What do you think is the allure of sake?
I think it’s its ability to bring out the good qualities in food while getting rid of the bad qualities. Other beverages, whether it’s wine or shochu, are good with food, but I think there is something beyond that with sake. For this reason, I feel that sake has the most depth. When you think about Japanese food, I think the reason sake became so popular throughout Japan was because we eat raw fish, which is very good, but it does have that raw smell, and sake makes that go away. I think it’s the only beverage that can do that. But it’s not just with Sushi, or with Japanese food. Sake does that for all kinds of foods.

Do you have favorites?
I don’t really have a favorite brand or anything. My choices depend on what mood I’m in and what I will be eating. But I do make a point to have the seasonal sakes every season. It’s winter now, so I like Hiyaoroshi sakes these days.

What was the most memorable sake for you so far?
I would say the most memorable sake for me is Kubota. My aunt owned an Izakaya which is where I had my first encounter with sake at an early age, and also where I had my first restaurant job. There, Kubota was the first sake I tried. I didn’t like it the first time, to be honest. But later, I tried it with sushi, and I liked it very much. I couldn’t believe how the taste changed with food.
What are some of the new trends in sake?
I think the sakes that are coming out now are easier to drink. I think just until recently, sake was a lot denser, or heavier, and a bit more difficult to drink. Now, I think that more and more sakes are clearer and lighter, like wine. I actually spoke to some brewers about this, and they told me they have changed the water filtering system to create the best quality water possible. The new technologies are also allowing brewers to make better quality sake. Not that there is anything wrong with the old kind because I personally like the heavy rice taste in those types of sakes, too. I really like the yamahai sakes where you can taste the rice. To me, when I drink these traditional sakes, I feel like I’m drinking “SAKE.” [laugh]

How are you pairing sake with foods in Tori Shin?
Here, we have yakitori (skewered chicken), which comes with either the tare (Japanese BBQ sauce) or shio (grilled with salt). You can’t possibly suggest a pairing for each of the skewers, so in general, I recommend clear sakes like jumai ginjo or daiginjo for the salt grilled yakitori, such as Hakkai-san, and Nambu Bijin. For tare, I tend to recommend yamahai. I think that these combinations bring out the flavor of the grilled chicken best, but it depends on your preference.

Do you experiment a lot with sake temperatures when you’re drinking on your own?
I don’t try to experiment a lot, but sometimes I have some fun, accidental discoveries. What I like to do these days is to warm up the sake just a tiny bit. I actually discovered this when I was trying to make hot sake, but I couldn’t wait, so I drank it slightly warm, and it turned out to be very nice.

How can sake beginners choose the right sake?
I personally think that you can tell a lot by the label of the sake. Usually, the image of the label comes pretty close to the taste it represents. That’s how I started when I didn’t know much about sake. After you try different kinds, you can start making more educated decisions based on your own preferences.

Tori Shin
1193 1st Ave. (bet. 64th & 65th Sts.)
New York, NY 10021
TEL: 212-988-8408