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French falling for Japanese sake

Japanese rice wine is winning over fans – including Michelin star chef

OVER the past seven years Toshiro Kuroda estimates he has introduced up to 50,000 people in France to the delights of sake, the fermented rice drink with fans that include actor Gérard Depardieu.

"When I started seven or eight years ago, nobody was doing tastings of the famous sakes. [Now] there is a growing interest and it's partly thanks to me!" he said at a fair in Paris dedicated to the Japanese beverage.

Mr Kuroda, who has lived in France for more than 40 years, is credited with championing the drink in the capital where his shop stocks some 60 brands. One of his tastings was held at Depardieu's home.

Once dismissed as the exclusive preserve of Japanese restaurants, devotees say sake is enjoying a growth in popularity with the opening of sake bars and its being stocked by a growing number of wine merchants.

Last week, while the sake fair was held in Paris with more than 185 different brands, a Japanese non-governmental organisation, Jetro, promoted sake at Vinexpo in Bordeaux, one of the world's largest wine and spirit trade shows.

"The aim of the sake tasting fair is that people get a clearer idea of sake," said one of the organisers, Youlin Ly, who also runs the Sake Bar in Paris.

Sylvain Huet, the only French person to hold the title "sake samurai" from the Brewers' Association of Japanese Sake, advises anyone new to sake to forget “preconceived ideas” and anything they have ever heard about it. He said people needed to be educated about the rice wine.

Sake's quality depends on various factors including the quality of the water used which must be very soft, and the rice of which each of the many varieties gives a different flavour. The alcohol content varies from around 14-16% and it is served either chilled or at room temperature.

Some are already well-informed and Mr Kuroda has formed an association for fans - Les Becs Fins du Sake - along with Eric Briffard, the chef of the two Michelin star restaurant Le Cinq at Paris's George V hotel, and award-winning wine waiter Olivier Poussier.

"It's a product of quality and refinement, said Briffard and if sake is the perfect complement to Japanese food, he says it also works well with French dishes: "A lot of combinations are possible. A dry sake could replace a white (wine) with shellfish. Sake and goat's cheese is a good combination ... (and) it goes very well with uncomplicated food."
© AFP/Connexion

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