Non-grape wine varieties have often been stigmatized by wine snobs, who consider them unworthy of serious consideration. They are the oenological equivalent of the cinematic crazy in the basement or loony in the attic, risky relatives best kept locked away. What a pity!
Drinking Japan: It’s Not Just Sake
O’Connor & O’Connor
We started off this entry with a self-citation, a practice that is sometimes criticized, but as the Irish playwright Brendan Behan wrote many years ago, “There’s no one, no one, loves you like yourself.” And we do, so why not self-cite, right? This week we make a brief foray into the world of non-grape wines. To some,this is a land frequented by people cruising for alcoholic soft drinks (deliberate oxymoron here) of the pop-wine variety. True, there are a number of off-putting libations in that realm, but there are also quite a few beverages that are very appealing.
The most famous non-grape wine in Japan is plum wine (ume shu). It is widely available in supermarkets and liquor stores in Japan, but it is also produced in home kitchens throughout the country. A typical recipe calls for the use of green plums that are steeped in a shochu-rock-candy solution for one year or more. This is a sweet, fortified wine.
The plum wine that we tasted—Umezake—was quite different from others that we have drunk in two respects. First, the plums spent their aging period in sake, not shochu. Second, owing to that, the alcohol level was much lower, 12-13%. This is a very pleasant, mellow plum wine, which is good on the rocks, of course, but equally appealing heated. When hot, it is not dissimilar to mulled wine.
Time constraints prevented us from pairing it with any dishes, but a number of suggestions for this can be found at the ever-practical wiki-How website: https://www.wikihow.com/Serve-Plum-Wine#Creating-Mixed-Drinks-with-Plum-Wine . Anything spicy should be a safe bet.
For a quick how-to-make-it tutorial, readers might want to check out Just One Cookbook’s video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSoyaXt6eR8 .
Recommendation level (out of five stars):
We have written a book. For more information on Japanese beverages, please check it out. You can get it at fine offline and online booksellers in Japan, including Amazon.
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