Meet the Junmai glass by Riedel. It is indeed beautiful and elegant with sleek lines and curves… and holds a generous pour.
I must admit however that it has made me mindful of how I swirl my glass. Notice how vigorously us “wine folk” swirl our glasses? Yeah… not a good idea with this one! I’ve wondered why. There must be a reason the smart people at Riedel created it specifically for Junmai . What aspects of the glass contribute to the attributes of this style of sake ?
What is a Junmai after all? “Junmai” meaning “pure rice” is a sake with no added distilled j?z? alcohol. It can be a sake with any degree of rice polishing. So how does j?z? affect sake? While commercial outfits may add it to increase yields, quality-minded producers of premium sakes add it to enhance the aromatic expression of the sake. “How so…”, you ask? To explain it in the most simplified way, aroma compounds are more soluble in alcohol than water. Some are not readily soluble in water at all! Therefore adding alcohol makes these aromatics more accessible (add a vanilla pod to a vial of vodka and you’ll have vanilla extract) Hence, adding j?z? alcohol makes a sake’s beautiful aromatics more expressive! Anyone who’s appreciated this sensory experience in tasting sake will know what I’m talking about.
So given that perspective, a Junmai that does not have this alcohol advantage may need a glass that allows the sake to be swirled a little more vigorously to release those almost divine aromas, one might imagine. (???) Therefore I was a touch flummoxed…
However, I know that Riedel is a master at creating glasses to deliver the optimum sensory experience of what they hold. They did not take the creation of the Junmai glass lightly. In fact, they had some of the most prolific sake producers and professionals pool their input to creating this glass. Sometimes, experience does trump logic and so I decided to give this glass another “swirl”…one with sake in mind, not wine. That worked.
The sake from this glass does in fact offer better expressions of umami than other glasses holding the same sake. Of course, you might struggle for umami with a Junmai Ginjo or Junmai Daiginjo due to higher polished rice being used…but oddly some of them still pulse the odd umami hit sometimes. (Hmmm… I sense another session of the ‘Sake Geek Society’ brewing!)
Another feature that was notably delightful was the sensation of ‘mouthfeel’. Sake from this beautiful glass felt more luscious on the palate with more viscosity. How? Why? I’m still dwelling on that, but despite my enquiring reservations, I must admit it does taste generously delightful.
With this insight, I revisited the glass and wondered what it would do to a Kimoto or Yamahai sake with its marked higher levels of acidity and umami. Remarkable! Undiscovered layers of complexity in umami are revealed. One can’t help but spend more time in that moment. I would highly recommend this glass for such sakes. This experience has also got me wondering about how this glass might help the often… “challenging”, shall we say, aromas of a Koshu. That’s my next experiment, but I’m not venturing into the world of Koshu alone. If anyone is interested in this experiment, you know how to reach me. Given how I struggled with Koshu when I first began my journey in sake, I have paid particular attention to it and have been experimenting with decanting Koshu. Decanting? Yes, and depending on the shape of the decanter, I have been seduced by a few that I have shied from before. I would highly urge the bright minds of Riedel to create a decanter for Koshu. I shall make room for it in my glass cupboard!
So whether you like this Junmai glass or not I hope this review has tweaked your interest enough to get yourself at least one of these sexy glasses, sip from them, ponder over your impressions, invite enquiring minds (and palates) like yours to gather their own opinions… and then share your thoughts.
See… sake does bring people together in so many ways! …and Riedel keeps us sipping!