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Six sakes with a French influence

 IWA 5 Sake

At the beginning of 2019, Richard Geoffroy left his position as chef de cave for Dom Pérignon Champagne after 28 years with the producer. In a move that surprised many, Champagne maker turned his hand to sake production in Japan.

Nestled in Tateyama in the Toyama Prefecture, his brewery is named after the site’s location – Shiraiwa. Putting forward his roots in Champagne, he has created IWA by blending, instead of using a single brew.

IWA 5 refers to the five elements involved in the orchestration of blending. There are three varieties of rice: Yamada Nishiki, Omachi, and Gohyakumangoku. As for the yeast, five strains are used in the production process. The other three elements are namely the origin of the rice, yeast propagation method (moto) and the regimes of fermentation.

According to the brewery, IWA 5 does not have a stable recipe, but is an experimental process reconsidered every year. It also states that the sake will evolve subtly from year to year.

Geoffroy enlisted renowned architect Kengo Kuma to design his brewery, while celebrated designer Marc Newson crafted the bottle packaging.

The brewery will open in January 2021. It sits on a line between mountain foothills and arable flat land, with access to pure local water, with some of the heaviest snowfall in the world. The sake is available to the Japanese market on a limited allocation.


Régis Camus, acclaimed cellar master for Piper-Heidsieck, has also taken a step in creating his own sake project. He has produced three expressions defined by their balance, purity and refinement by collaborating with different renowned sake breweries in Japan, namely Dassai (for Heavensake Junmai Daiginjo), Urakasumi (for Heavensake Junmai Ginjo) and Konishi (for Heavensake Junmai 12).

Camus brings the art of blending to the making of the traditional brew, together with the traditions of sake brewing. The Franco-Japanese sake was launched in 2019,

The Junmai sakes are designed for the western palate and for pairing with food. Created with no distilled alcohol, added sugar, sulphites, gluten, and other additives, the sakes are said to be three times less acidic than wine. Prices range from €35 to €110.

 Tanaka 1789 x Chartier

Canadian French sommelier François Chartier, also known as the founder of the science of ‘molecular harmonies’, is partnering with Tanaka 1789, a 230-year-old brewery in Miyagi, Japan, to co-create a blended sake.

Taking the position of Tanaka’s new master blender in 2018, Chartier started to work alongside the master brewer for this new creation. With a winemaking background in Bordeaux, Chartier asked the master brewer to develop six new base sakes for blending. They used yamahai and kimoto, two natural ancestral starter methods to develop a well-structured, more complex sake.

They added Kura no Hana and the prized local rice, Yamada Nishik, to give more aroma and acidity, along with miyagi B3 and kyokai No 7 yeasts. Chartier also suggested that the rice be less polished to develop a more aromatic, complex and umami-rich sake.

The Tanaka 1789 x Chartier project, Blend 001 – 2018, is the first vintage of the project, which was originally meant to launch in the spring of 2020. However, due to Covid-19, the unveiling has been postponed to August. Spain, the Canary Islands, Portugal, Luxembourg, Canada, Taiwan and Macau are among the first countries where the sake will be available.

 Wakaze Sake

Based in the city of Tsuruoka in the Yamagata Prefectur in north-eastern Japan, the Wakaze brewery started producing sake in France last year. Takuma Inagawa, head of Wakaze, not only set up a sake brewery in a suburb of Paris, but also produced a range of sakes using French ingredients.

The 100% French Sake is brewed from 95% polished Camargue Brio Rice, organic French wine yeast and Ile-de-France hard water. The Parisian water is over four times ‘harder’ than that used in Japan. Although this complicates the process by making the control of fermentation much more difficult, the minerality gives the sakes a richness and complexity.

On top of the traditional sake, Inagawa has also created two different styles: a botanical sake infused with Menton lemon and verbena from Provence, as well as a sake aged in Burgundy barrels.

Prices start from €18,90, and the Wakaze sakes are now sold in France and other European countries.

 Les larmes du levant

Hailed as the first french-established traditional sake brewery, Grégoire Bœuf, who used to study in Japan, established the brewery in Pélussin in the Loire in 2017 with help from a Japanese cellar master and brewer.

The major ingredients used, namely rice (Yamadanishiki and Tamasakae rice), kôji, yeasts, come from Japan, and the brewery only produce Junmai sakes, which means sakes containing rice, yeasts and pure water from Mont Pilat only.

Bœuf has created four sakes, including L’aube, La vague, Le tonnerre and Le vent. The flavour profile varies from dry to mellow and powerful, giving the range the ability to pair with different dishes on the French dining table. Prices range from €28 to €38.

 Le Guishu

Bordeaux winemaker Olivier Chevlet, coming from a winemaking family based in Saint-Emilion for almost 200 years, invented a new form of liquor, literally a “rice wine”, by combining rice with grapes in a brew after being inspired by Chinese yellow wine.

He uses Gajron rice from Camargue in southern France and Colombard grapes from Gér. Each is fermented separately, and the blend comprises 80% rice and 20% grapes. The result, Le Guishu Assemblage, boasts a dry profile with aromas of rose, lychee and grapefruit, making it well-suited for umami-flavoured ingredients, such as seafood, mushroom and meat.

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