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Sake Sommelier

Making It Easy For Sake Beginners

When Alan Green first arrived as a Spirits Manager in Mister Wright Wine and Spirits, a wine shop known for their huge selection of wines on the upper east side that’s been in business for over 35 years, the store carried only a few bottles of sake from California, and no shochu. That’s all changed in the last five years since Alan’s taken over the sake department where the sake selection has now grown to over 60 varieties. Trained as a wine sommelier and having a Japanese parent that exposed him to sake at an early age, it was a no-brainer for Alan to go to the world of sake and shochu. He strives everyday to make sake more accessible to sake beginners. We asked him about his take on sake.

What is special about sake?
Sake for the most part is delicate and balanced. It is very versatile and can go with a wide variety of foods. For me, it brings back good memories of good friends and great food.

How do you choose the sakes you carry?
I try to bring in easy drinking sake for beginners to enjoy. Nothing too dry or too heavy. We try to keep it simple with a wide range of selections, and we try to keep it below a certain price range, which is about $20 -$30. We do have more expensive ones, but the bulk of our sake is in that range. Since we are more of a wine store, sake is growing, but it’s hard to get wine drinkers to go that direction. For that reason, we try to keep it at a range where it’s accessible to people who are new to sake. I think that selection is key, too. When people know that you have a nice selection of stuff, they want to come.

What are some of the sakes you like?
Wakatake Daiginjo has always been my favorite. I love the way it’s clean, and has good fruit. It’s just very easy to drink. Masumi Sanka is also another one I think is very clean, and that I like very much.

What is the trend you are seeing at your store these days?
The thing is most of our Japanese customers are buying shochu, and most of our sake buyers are non-Japanese. But compared to before where people always wanted hot sake, people are now appreciating cold sakes, and I also think that people are coming in with a lot more knowledge of sake than ever before because so many places carry sake now. Japanese food is very popular, and it’s not just sushi anymore. There are many Ramen places, and all types of Japanese food, and because of that, more people are willing to try sake, I think. And people are more curious in general.

What are some of the challenges with sake?
Sometimes I would have a customer come in that’s looking for a certain kind of wine, and I would suggest a sake instead, and food pairings, like pasta, or chicken, or seafood, but it rarely works because our customers are predominantly wine customers. When they come in for sake, it’s a little bit easier.  But people rarely ask for any sort of pairing advice with western dishes and sake. I think people still have the notion of drinking sake just with Japanese food, at least here it is. To them, pairing sake with anything other than Japanese food is still sort of a weird territory, so I sort of stopped doing that. Sake is definitely growing, but there’s a ways to go.

Do you like experimenting with sake and food pairings on your own?
Yes, I do quite a bit. Once I tried it with leftover Mexican food, and it was great. Quite unexpectedly. [laugh]

What tips would you have for a sake beginner?
I’d say they should start from a sake that is light and fruity, like wine. Maybe Ginjo, or Junmai Ginjo, which is in the $20 range because if you go to the Daiginjo level, the prices go much higher. Plus almost every day of the week we have a sort of informal tasting event. It’s not always sake, but going to tasting events is a good way of trying and discovering new things.

Mister Wright Fine Wines & Spirits
1593 3rd Ave. (bet. 89th & 90th Sts.), New York, NY 10128
TEL: 212-722-4564