On Aug. 31, the Wine Advocate, a publication started by the influential U.S.-based wine critic Robert Parker, released its first "official" ratings guide to sake with reviews written by Chinese critic Liwen Hao. Parker, who gained fame for creating the 100-point scoring system widely used to rate wines, applied the same evaluation standards to sake. Although Parker did not review the sake himself, the popularity of the Wine Advocate led many in the industry to predict that the list would help boost sake's global appeal.
The report caused an immediate stir. Within 24 hours of its release, demand for the 78 brews on the list of top scorers — those which received scores of 90 points or higher — skyrocketed. According to an article in the Financial Times, sake suppliers were inundated with orders from wealthy collectors, high-end hotels and restaurants. Limited availability of bottles such as Kameno-o Sannen Jukusei from Niigata Prefecture has driven prices up, and the gap between supply and demand has thrown some brewers into a quandary as to whether or not to increase production.
While all of this sounds like good news for the sake business, the guide generated controversy after wine writer W. Blake Gray reported that, shortly after the release of the Wine Advocate's scores, a newly established sake exporter based in Tokyo called The Taste of Sake began selling the guide's brews online.