When you think of the Basque Country in northern Spain, sake is unlikely to spring to mind.
According to government statistics, exports of Japanese sake to Spain amounted to 154,159 liters in 2017 — a mere drop in the bucket compared to 5.8 million liters to the U.S., sake's largest overseas market. However, that hasn't stopped sommelier Guillermo Cruz from embarking on an ambitious plan to create "the world's best sake list" at Mugaritz, a progressive two-Michelin-starred restaurant located in a tiny mountain village 10 kilometers south of San Sebastian.
The team has been experimenting with sake since 2010, but last year, Cruz worked with sake educator and consultant Natsuki Kikuya to select 60 varieties that pair with chef Andoni Luis Aduriz's relentlessly innovative and provocative cuisine. Mugaritz now stocks 90 kinds of sake — an impressive number, even by Tokyo standards — and Cruz will expand the list next year. The challenge, says Kikuya, is to find brews that serve as "an inspirational key" that can highlight the more abstract aspects of beverage pairing.