Top note(s), orthonasal aroma(s)

When tasting sake, before actually taking any liquid into the mouth, lightly swirling the kiki-choko tasting cup and bringing it up to the nose makes it possible to detect the characteristic sake aromas rising from the surface of the liquid. These aromas are collectively known as uwadachi-ka, top notes, written in Japanese with characters meaning “rising up” aromas. When describing them, attention is paid to three types of aroma.

  1. “Fermentation aromas” (hakko- (long “o”) ka, 発酵香). Fruit- or flowerlike smells, produced by the yeast during fermentation.
  2. “Raw material aromas” (genryo- (long “o”)ka, 原料香). Aromas related to the raw materials, white rice, koji and so on.
  3. “Maturation aromas” (jukusei-ka, 熟成香). Ageing-related aromas arising during the storage of sake, and after it is bottled (and shipped).

If sake is at a low temperature, it is harder to sense the aromas, so it is easier to detect them with the sake at around room temperature. Also, when small samples of sake are to be taken from the storage tank for sensory evaluation purposes, one can smell the top notes rising from the sake at the moment it is released by moving the face close to the nomi-kuchi aperture. It is thus possible to assess the degree of maturation and the presence or otherwise of quality problems.