I'm something of a novice to sake, but with a growing family interest in Japan generally, I decided it was time to find out what all the fuss was about.
Sake is brewed (but not like a beer), has the alcohol content of a fortified wine (but is not fortified), is gently sipped (but is not a spirit) and has delicate wine-like flavours of fruits, flowers and herbs (but is not a wine).
Sake is made from grains of rice that have been polished to remove the bran and is served often, but not always, warmed in a tokkuri then poured into a small cup called sakazuki.
Once you start to learn about Japanese heritage and culture, you very quickly find out that elegance and ceremony play a large part in the overall Japanese aesthetic.
A guide to serving sake:
If the sake is to be served warm and you do not have a tokkuri, simply place the bottle in a bowl of water from the kettle until it reaches around 40 degrees centigrade (2 - 4 minutes for a tokkuri, longer for a full bottle).
Ginjo, daiginjo, junmai, and namazake sakes should all be served cold, so these should be served straight from the fridge.
If you don't have a sakazuki, small mugs, especially espresso cups, are a close substitute.
Traditionally, the server should fill the cups of the guests and should allow their own cup to be filled by one of the guests.
It is considered rude - or at least very informal - either to fill your own cup or to hold a conversation whilst your cup is being filled. Once everyone has been served, say "kanpai" ("cheers") and it is now fine to drink your sake.
It then remains the host's responsibility to keep guests' cups filled up during the evening.
Sake is not a drink for aging; it should be kept for no more than a year and, once opened, consumed either the same day or within a few days if stored in the fridge.
Akashi-Tai is a 4th generation premium brewery in Hyogo prefecture.
Akashi Tai Honjozo (Tokubetsu) Sake - 15%, £20 - £23 for 72cl, rice milled to 60%; Master of Malt / The Whisky Exchange
A versatile sake to serve warm with grilled fish, grilled meats and seafood or mature yellow cheeses; flavours of sweet red grapes, oatmeal and sharp green apples with beeswax and sea salt.
This is a good sake for either an introduction or an everyday sipper.
Akashi Tai Junmai Daiginjo Genshu Sake - 16%, £37 - £40 for 72cl, rice milled to 38%; Master of Malt / The Whisky Exchange
The "grand cru" of the range with an extra-long brewing process to be served chilled; delicately aromatic with floral and herbaceous aromas; flavours of lemon, melon, bitter orange and sage with a full-bodied saline-minerality.
Match with tuna tartare with chilli, ginger and sesame, grilled sea bream, calamari or pork medallions.
For more details on serving sake, see this guide: How to Serve and Drink Sake (with Pictures) - wikiHow