Sake sommeliers and tastings growing in popularity

Every month, at one of the most luxurious department stores in the world, a group of gourmands and Japan enthusiasts assemble to taste test some of the best sake brands in the world.

It’s a growing trend among the kind of consumers who are always on the lookout for the next big thing in luxury experiences, says Xavier Chapelou of the Sake Sommelier Association -- experiences that go beyond traditional wine tastings.

“Wine tastings used to be popular in the UK but now it’s déjà-vu,” Chapelou said in an interview with Relaxnews. “It’s old news.”

What started out as a quarterly tasting at Harrods Tasting Room in London two years ago has become a monthly event with interest rising among increasingly worldly and knowledge-thirsty gourmands.

For two hours, tasters decode the nuances and complexities of a drink that’s little known among Western consumers. After exploring the four distinct sake styles, attendees also receive a certificate.

It’s not just consumers who are expressing an interest in the national drink of Japan. Wine sommeliers are also enrolling in a two-day Certified Sake Sommelier course to add the fermented rice wine to their repertoire.

'Pairing sake with duck confit'

According to Chapelou, the high alcohol content of sake, for instance, is good for cutting the richness of foods like foie gras and duck confit, while the natural monosodium glutamate levels found in the fermented rice wine also go nicely with foods like Parmesan and ripe tomatoes – flavor profiles that are traditionally difficult to pair with wines.

Since the course was first offered in 2006, 90 people have acquired certificates, says Chapelou, while the educational courses have also been franchised out to Italy, the United Arab Emirates, Austria, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Next year, the group is also planning to host its first Advanced Sake Professional course, which will take a handful of people on a sake-based trip to Japan, where they will visit five breweries across the country and see firsthand how the beverage is made.

Participants are responsible for making their own way to Tokyo, which will be the trip's starting point. The estimated cost right now is pegged at $1,600 USD and the tour will be conducted in both English and Japanese.

Harrods sake tastings are £70 (about €88). More info for all events can be found at