And deserves a permanent spot in your liquor cabinet.
What do you think would happen if one of the world’s top Champagne makers flew to Japan and founded a sake company? My first reaction was that it could only mean a dose of cultural appropriation. But what I found instead was a story of passion, friendship, mutual respect and a delicious beverage I’ve never really explored before. In the same way that the French have welcomed me out of mutual love and respect for French wine, so too have the Japanese welcomed Régis Camus into the ranks of sake maker.
I met Régis on a rainy, dreadful New York City night at a popular vegan sushi restaurant, Planta Queen. Having only known his name because of the incredible work he’s done at RARE Champagne, I expected an imposing figure, and one who may not have been easy to talk to. But like my original thinking around the idea of Franco-Japanese sake, I was perfectly wrong. Régis is as warm, passionate, and multi-dimensional as the sakes he’s created, and he and I share something great in common: our love for foreign cultures. In the same way that I as an American fell in love with France, so too did Régis as a Frenchman fall in love with Japan.
It’s true – there was no malicious intent in the founding of HEAVENSAKE. Rather, the brand tells the story of a man with curiosity and dedication who looked to further the craft of assemblage (blending) in an entirely new way. In doing so, those in Japan, masters of sake but lovers of Champagne, welcomed him to the fold. After much discussion and education on the making of sake – and profound respect for the people who make it – Régis applied his Champagne approach to sake. And while I am far from a sake expert, what I can say is that the result is a lineup of beautiful sakes that are reminiscent of wine – and should be enjoyed like them. From a floral standout that reminded me of Alsatian Gewurztraminer to a steely blend that had me thinking about Chablis, these sakes are certainly worth a spot on your shelf. Check out my full reviews below.
JUNMAI GINJO – $39.99 (HEAVENSAKE)
Described by Régis as the “Provence rosé of sakes” this selection reminded me of some of my favorite French wines. I loved its bright, citrus aromas and crisp minerality. In another world, I might compare it slightly to a Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc – doesn’t take itself too seriously but can also pair fantastically with a variety of foods. This is a sake I’ll definitely reach for on a weeknight – and especially in the summer with crudo, sushi, or even oysters.
JUNMAI DAIGINJO – $84.99 (HEAVENSAKE)
This bottle redefined my preconceptions about the sake category. With its complex, layered aromatic profile, it feels like Alsace Grand Cru Gewurztraminer’s younger cousin (and tasted blind – I’m not sure I could detect the difference immediately). If there is one word I could use to describe this delicious bottle, it would be layered. The nose immediately reveals a bouquet of fresh florals, like rose and white flowers, but on the palate, this is quickly eclipsed with crisp apple and even green table grapes. Its bounding acidity lends itself to a long and structured finish, which makes it perfect to pair with a variety of foods. Sounds like I’m describing a wine, right?! I was really surprised at the layers I tasted here and think this is a sake every wine love should try at least once.
Needless to say, this bicultural sake has my interest piqued. And while it paired beautifully with vegan sushi, I’m definitely saving some to try with a variety of other snacks and dishes, too. If you can get your hands on some of this stuff, I hope you love it as much as I did. At the very least, you’ll know you’re drinking a beverage with the precision of Champagne, the craft traditions of Japan, and mutual appreciation for both East and West alcohol cultures. Kanpai !