December 15, 2019
The Spanish sake guru
Pablo Alomar has spent many years devoted to showing the many ways that sake can be enjoyed at the table beyond just for Japanese cuisine. With cured meats, smoked foods, pickled and salted preparations... Even with offal. He knows Japan like the back of his hand, imports and distributes brands via his company, Salvioni-Alomar and – being the gourmet that he is – knows dozens of perfect pairings by heart.
Understanding sake is no easy thing. Until now, confusion has reigned in this field. Internet is packed with contradictory ‘facts’, and, until only a few years ago, top-quality sakes were not available in Spain nor was there any information on them due to a lack of knowledge. But all that has changed thanks to Alomar and technology, which has improved the polishing process of rice grains almost to the nucleus. Compared to the past, it is now possible to make smoother sakes. Depending on the percentage, sakes are graded by category. A sake made with rice grains polished to 50% is smoother than one to 60%. The aroma is more varied, it is silkier in the mouth, and is more elegant. However, a good sake can also be made with rice grains that have not undergone so much polishing. Conversely, other sakes attempt to return its origins and as it was made 400 years ago. Gurus like the American John Gauntner and the Japanese critic, Haruo Matsuzaki, have helped to clarify essential aspects, such as the influence the polishing has on the quality of a sake, and the role of added alcohol.
In Spain, the great expert is Pablo Alomar. A Certified Sake Professional (CSP) and an Advanced Sake Professional (ASP) from the Sake Education Council in Tokyo; he has attained a Level 3 award from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust in Sake, is a WSET Sake Instructor, and a founding member of the European Sake Institute (ESI). He is unparalleled when it comes to explaining the possibilities of this rice-based fermented alcoholic drink (about 15-16º), koji-kin spores, yeast, and water (the most important ingredient), and can offer myriad food and sake pairings. Not considered a spirit, sake is a fermented drink in the way that wine is, although the methods used are different. Sake, not as alcoholic as people think, can be enjoyed warm or cold and served in a wine glass, as premium sakes are. It pairs well with sushi, but also with Ibérico ham, and with all dishes or products that are high in umami. Unlike wine, the life of a sake is quite short. Once a bottle has been opened it will last a week if properly closed and stored cold at between -2 and 5º.
Although not common knowledge, sake – thanks to its versatility and the way it pairs well with many dishes – is beginning to be the secret weapon of a number of sommeliers. Consumption is increasing slowly but surely, and most two- and three-starred restaurants in Spain already have sake on their wine lists.