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In the classic classification, two main groups of sakes are considered:
- 1st group: premium sakes, type "Tokutei Meisho shu", corresponding to less than 30% of all sakes,
- 2nd group: most common sakes called "Futsu shu", representing the remaining 70%.
Sakes of the first group are classified into four broad categories:
- Honjozo: addition of distilled alcohol after fermentation is allowed,
- Junmai: addition of alcohol is not allowed,
- Ginjo: rice used in its composition has been milled over 60%
- Dïginjo: rice has been milled to more than 50%.
The combinations between the term Junmai, and the terms Ginjo and Daiginjo are possible. For example, when it's about a "Junmai-Daiginjo", it means that this sake was not adjusted by distilled alcohol after fermentation, and the rice used is milled to over 50%.
Sake is always presented by its name (the product name), name of the producer, and name of the region of origin. In addition to these indications, one, two, or three adjectives are added to provide information on the technique used for production.
Therefore, apart from the rice milling level (discussed with the terms Ginjo, and Daïginjo) those little adjectives gives precious information to indicate whether sake is pasteurized, aged, filtered or not, etc...
NAMA = Unpasteurized sake. Sakes with fresh and lively touches. This type of product has to be drunk quickly and stored in fresh conditions in order to not have yeasts restarting the fermentation process.
NAMACHOZO = A sake that has been pasteurized just before bottling. It was therefore kept for a few months without pasteurization. This provides a lively and fresh taste.
NIGORI = Sake unfiltered or filtered through a coarse mesh. The nigori has a milky appearance because it contains rice particles. Nigori can be considered as an ancient form of sake in the way that filtration was invented by monks during the seventh century.
HAPPO = Sparkling sake. Quite rare and even some received addition of gas, most of them keep fermentating directly in the bottle. Bubbles are bright and pleasantly tingle the palate, but watch out when opening, go gently and slowly release the gas.
GENSHU = Sake without water added at the end of fermentation. The addition of spring water allows the producers to control the alcohol degree and the flavor expression of the final product. In the case of Genshu, adding water is not allowed.
KIMOTO YAMAHAÏ = We are talking about a technique that does not involve the addition of lactic acid during fermentation. The objective is to allow yeasts to grow naturally. More time is needed to produce a Kimoto, but it results in sakes with powerful flavors, sometimes a bit rustic.
(brewers add lactic acid during the fermentation process to help developement of yeasts that need this essential element. This habit was introduced in the early 1900's).
KOSHU = Aged sake. In barrel or tank, at least three years. Koshu sake has a very special color of amber, red, and sometimes hints of Porto wine or rancio.