• Kyodo

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Japanese sake scored high at the 2007 International Wine Challenge on Tuesday, with well over half of the entries winning honors.

In the world’s largest blind wine tasting, featuring 9,358 wines from 35 different countries judged by 400 international judges, 130 of the 228 Japanese sakes entered were awarded medals, including 10 golds, and a further 45 were commended.

Recognizing the exponential increase in the number of Japanese sake entries, three expert judges were flown in from Japan to lead specific tasting panels and were said to have been “astounded” by the quality of the submissions.

“It’s a very exciting time for sake — these awards have just been great,” said International Wine Challenge Cochair Sam Harrop.

“People are hungry for something new and we’ve been amazed at how many people have been asking about sake, but we’re more than happy to celebrate what’s great about the drink and educate people on it too.”

Harrop — who was awarded the title “Sake Samurai” in Kyoto last year and acts as an “ambassador” for the tipple — believes a lot of the negativity around sake stems from a lack of knowledge, with many people wrongly likening it to vodka.

“Like wine, it’s still very complex to traders and consumers alike, so our aim is to demystify the process of wine tasting with the medals and information, including suggestions of food pairings, allowing buyers to be more confident and adventurous,” he said.

During the overall judging of the wines, both the sake and wine judges were housed in the same room to encourage “synergy” and to help turn sake into a more mainstream drink.

Harrop is largely responsible for increasing the number of sake entries in the competition from just two in 2006 to the staggering 228 this year and he is proud of his efforts to advance communications and promote the “amazing quality and intensity” of sake.

“We need to be realistic: We’re not going to change the world in one competition, but with the focus that we’ve created already we’re sure that sake will grow in sales, which is one of the aims of the Sake Association, of course,” the Sake Samurai said.

Harrop said he believes that with the West’s rapid and growing affection for sushi and other Japanese food, it is a matter of time before sake is commonplace in Britain and elsewhere.

“There are 600 million Japanese meals consumed outside of Japan every year. How about having a glass of real sake of good quality with it instead of a beer or wine?” Harrop asked.

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