Sake expert Richard Auffrey recommends three fabulous sakes at the Reliable Market

It’s hard to think of a store name more humdrum that the “Reliable Market.” Yet step inside this Asian grocery store and you’ll find aisles and aisles of culinary exotica that is hardly humdrum—including an endless array of noodles and a staggering kimchee selection. What’s more, the Reliable Market has one of the best sake collections in the Boston area, according to Richard Auffrey, a food writer and certified sake professional. (Visit his web site here: The Passionate Foodie)

Perhaps you’ve noticed the “sake-tinis” and “sake-ritas” on libation menus recently? Indeed, sake is experiencing a bit of a Renaissance these days.  Although it’s not hard to find sake in local restaurants, buying a bottle of sake to enjoy at home provides a challenge to the uninitiated. So we decided to turn to Richard, the great sake sage, for advice.

“There are many analogs you can make between sake and wine,” says Richard, who is hosting a Thai dinner and sake tasting at Union Square’s Ronnarong on March 8th. “If you like a sweet wine, try a sweet saké; if you like dry wine, try a dry saké. There are so many saké flavor profiles, keep trying them until you find some you like.”

Although we thought Richard might be a sake purist, he happily concedes that sakes flavored with lemongrass and Asian pear can be quite good, especially in cocktails. When it comes to food pairing, Richard notes that sake is surprisingly versatile and doesn’t have to accompany only Asian cuisine.  To learn much more about sake, don’t miss this recent Boston Globe interview with Richard on the subject.

If you’re going to enjoy a good bottle of sake, like the ones suggested below, serve it cool. Typically it’s the cheaper sakes that you serve warm. And without further ado, here are Richard’s sake recommendations for the Reliable Market:

Hakushika Junmai Ginjo, $7.99, 300ml. This is a great everyday sake: smooth, not too complex and good for beginners. It’s also inexpensive; many other sakes in the same price range aren’t half as good. There’s a lovely story behind the name of this sake.  According to ancient Chinese legend, there was a white deer, “Hakushika”, that lived for over 1000 years and was revered as a holy animal and a symbol of longevity. This sake was named after Kakushika, with the hope that the sake would be synonymous with life energy flow, longevity and good omen. $7.99 for a good sake plus longevity—how can you go wrong?

Watari Bune, $17.99, 300ml. This is a little more of a splurge but it’s fantastic. Whereas most sakes use cross-breed rice, this sake is made with Watari Bune, a rare heirloom rice that almost disappeared because it is easily damaged by typhoons and susceptible to hungry insects.  Yet the owner of this sake brewery diligently searched for Watari Bune, finally tracking down some seedlings in 1988 at the Japanese Agricultural Research Center. He started by planting 14 grams of seedlings; it was not until 1990 that he was able to brew his first batch of Watari Bune sake.  Watari Bune is one of the only heirloom strains of sake rice used today, and only this brewery uses the Watari Bune. After a few sips, you may never want to sip a cross-breed sake again.

Mizunoshirabe, $25.99, 720 ml. “Mizunoshirabe” means the “sound of water.” Like it’s poetic name, this is a light—almost ethereal—sake that is very aromatic. It is very clean and pure and goes beautifully with sushi or a light fish or chicken dish. Considering the size of the bottle, the price is fairly reasonable. Mizunoshirabe is a ginjo sake, which means some distilled alcohol was added; this doesn’t give it a higher alcohol content but rather brings out a bigger bouquet. This is a sake with a history: the brewery dates back to 1720.

Once you’ve found a few  sakes you fancy, we suggest hosting a sake tasting. You can buy an authentic ceramic pitcher (tokkuri) and a set of small cups (ochoko) at the Reliable for about $12. Richard tells us that according to Japanese cultural tradition, it is the host’s job to fill everyone’s cups. Because cups are very small, the host must visit guests often to make sure their ochokos are full—this makes for wonderful mingling. If you want to be truly authentic, we suggest you visit Manners for a Sake Party. Kampai (cheers)!