Sip, Savor, Sake: A Beginner’s Guide on How to Drink Sake Wine

how to drink sake wine

Sake, often called “rice wine,” is Japan’s traditional alcoholic beverage that has gained international fame for its unique flavors and rich cultural history. If you’re new to sake, you might be wondering how to drink sake wine properly. Don’t worry, this guide will help you navigate the fascinating world of sake with ease, and maybe even a chuckle or two.

What is Sake Anyway?

Before we dive into the “how,” let’s clarify the “what.” Sake is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice. Unlike grape wine, which is fermented from fruit, sake involves a brewing process similar to beer, where starch is converted into sugars which then ferment into alcohol.

Types of Sake

Sake comes in a variety of types, each with its own flavor profile and ideal serving conditions. Here are the main categories:

  • Junmai: Pure rice sake with no added alcohol. It has a rich, full-bodied taste.
  • Honjozo: A small amount of distilled alcohol is added to bring out flavors and aromas.
  • Ginjo: Premium sake with a light, fruity flavor due to highly polished rice.
  • Daiginjo: Ultra-premium sake, even more polished than Ginjo, offering delicate and complex flavors.
  • Nigori: Cloudy sake with rice particles, often sweeter and creamier.

How to Drink Sake Wine: The Basics

Choosing Your Sake

Selecting the right sake can be a daunting task given the variety available. Here’s a quick tip: start with a Ginjo or Daiginjo if you prefer lighter, fruitier flavors, and go for Junmai or Honjozo if you enjoy richer, earthier tastes.

Sake Temperature: Hot or Cold?

Sake can be enjoyed at different temperatures, which can drastically change its flavor profile. Here’s a temperature guide:

  • Chilled (Reishu): Enhances the fruity and floral notes, ideal for Ginjo and Daiginjo.
  • Room Temperature (Jouon): Best for most sake types, allowing the true flavors to emerge.
  • Warm (Nurukan): Smooths out harsher flavors, great for Honjozo and some Junmai.
  • Hot (Atsukan): Traditional for winter, but can overpower delicate sakes. Best for lower-grade sake.

Pouring Sake: The Etiquette

Drinking sake isn’t just about the taste; it’s also about the ritual. Here’s how to pour sake with style:

  1. Use the Right Vessel: Sake is traditionally served in a small ceramic cup called a sakazuki or a ochoko. For an authentic experience, try using these.
  2. Pour for Others: In a social setting, it’s polite to pour for others rather than yourself. Hold the tokkuri (sake bottle) with both hands and pour gently.
  3. Receive with Both Hands: When someone is pouring for you, hold your cup with both hands as a sign of respect.

Drinking Sake: Sip, Don’t Shoot

Sake is meant to be savored, not chugged. Here’s how to enjoy it:

  • Smell: Take a moment to smell the sake. This helps you appreciate the aroma, which is an integral part of the tasting experience.
  • Sip: Take small sips and let the sake roll over your tongue. Notice the flavors and how they evolve.
  • Savor: Reflect on the aftertaste and overall experience. Good sake should have a pleasant, lingering finish.

Pairing Sake with Food – How To Drink Sake Wine?

Much like wine, sake pairs wonderfully with food. The general rule is to match the weight and flavor of the sake with the food. Here are some popular pairings:

Type of Sake Food Pairing
Junmai Grilled meats, savory dishes
Honjozo Sushi, sashimi, lightly seasoned foods
Ginjo Light appetizers, seafood
Daiginjo Delicate dishes, fine seafood
Nigori Spicy food, dessert

Pro Tip: Try Sake with Cheese

Yes, you read that right. Sake, especially Ginjo and Daiginjo, pairs wonderfully with cheese. The umami in sake complements the creamy texture and rich flavors of cheese. Give it a try at your next dinner party and watch your guests be pleasantly surprised.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Even seasoned sake enthusiasts can make mistakes. Here are a few to watch out for:

  1. Overheating: Too much heat can ruin the delicate flavors of premium sake. Warm it gently.
  2. Using the Wrong Glass: While you can use wine glasses for sake, traditional sake cups enhance the experience.
  3. Ignoring the Label: Sake labels provide valuable information about the type, polish rate, and recommended serving temperature. Pay attention to them.

Read more: Why Are Sweet Potatoes Good For You? Discover the Spud-tacular Benefits!

Exploring Sake Cocktails

While purists may prefer their sake straight, there’s no harm in experimenting with sake cocktails. Here are a few recipes to get you started:

Sake Martini

  • 2 oz Gin
  • 1 oz Dry Sake
  • Lemon twist for garnish

Mix gin and sake with ice, strain into a martini glass, and garnish with a lemon twist.


  • 2 oz Vodka
  • 1 oz Sake
  • 1/2 oz Dry Vermouth
  • Cucumber slice for garnish

Shake vodka, sake, and vermouth with ice, strain into a chilled martini glass, and garnish with a cucumber slice.

Storing Sake

Proper storage is crucial to maintain the quality of sake. Here’s how to do it:

  • Keep it Cool: Store sake in a cool, dark place. For opened bottles, refrigeration is a must.
  • Consume Quickly: Once opened, sake is best consumed within a week. After that, it starts to lose its flavor.
  • Avoid Direct Sunlight: Sunlight can degrade sake’s quality. Keep it in its original bottle or a dark container.

Sake Tasting Events: The Ultimate Experience

For those truly interested in mastering how to drink sake wine, attending a sake tasting event is a must. These events allow you to sample a variety of sakes and learn from experts. Plus, they’re a lot of fun!

What to Expect

  • Variety: Taste different types of sake from various regions.
  • Education: Learn about the brewing process, history, and cultural significance of sake.
  • Pairings: Experience how different sakes complement various foods.
  • Socializing: Meet fellow sake enthusiasts and make new friends.

Final Thoughts: Embrace the Journey

Learning how to drink sake wine is more than just understanding the basics; it’s about embracing a rich cultural tradition. Whether you’re enjoying a quiet evening at home or hosting a lively dinner party, sake offers a unique and delightful drinking experience. So, next time you pour a glass, remember to sip, savor, and enjoy the journey.


Sake is a versatile and intriguing beverage that deserves a spot in your drinking repertoire. By understanding how to drink sake wine—choosing the right type, serving at the correct temperature, and appreciating the etiquette—you can fully enjoy what this ancient drink has to offer. So go ahead, pour yourself a cup, and toast to your new-found sake knowledge. Kanpai!

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