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Weekend Sip: A rare sake is finally available in the U.S., just in time for the Tokyo Olympics

The bottle

Minenohakubai’s King of Modern Light sake, $36 (available through Wine Access)

The back story

With the world turning its attention to Tokyo for the Olympics, we find ourselves looking for a suitable Japanese beverage to sip as we prepare to watch the games.

And that leaves us looking for — what else? — a good bottle of sake.

The alcoholic beverage, made from fermented rice, is a favorite in the country, though it has lost some of its appeal of late with younger Japanese consumers. At the same time, sake has been gaining in popularity across the world, with global sales expected to increase to $10.47 billion by 2026, according to one market survey (sales were $7.35 billion in 2018). These days, even non-Japanese restaurants, such as Thomas Keller’s famed French Laundry in California, include bottles of sake on its wine list.

With that in mind, Wine Access, a prominent online wine retailer, has a select list of sakes geared for newcomers to the sip and longtime fans alike. And it recently secured a limited supply (just 800 bottles) of a rare sake that has previously been unavailable in the U.S.

From the Minenohakubai brewery, it is called King of Modern Light and is noteworthy for several reasons, according to Wine Access sommelier and sake expert Eduardo Dingler. Chief among them: It is produced from a rare strain of rice, which has a higher degree of acidity. The Wine Access team says the resulting beverage is a “world-class sake that can be every bit as complex as the best of Burgundy.” Dingler says it took a few years of cajoling to convince the brewery to offer the sake in the U.S., but his persistence paid off.

What we think about it

We’re big fans of sake — and we indeed agree that the best bottles have a delicacy and refinement comparable to what you find in a great wine. King of Modern Light is a class act of a sake, with a beguiling, citrus-like sweetness and a slightly buttery mouth feel. It is also a good sake for beginners to the beverage — even with some of its complex flavors, there’s a drinkability factor hard to ignore.

How to enjoy it

Don’t reserve your sake just for pairing with takeout sushi, the Wine Access folks say. This bottle can be enjoyed with any number of foods, from soft cheeses to shellfish. And it’s a delightful summertime sip on its own, we might add.

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