A Sake vs Wine Guide: 5 Similarities & 4 Differences

In this quick sake vs wine guide, you’ll learn…

  1. All About Japanese Sake
  2. 5 Similarities between Sake & Wine
  3. 4 Differences between Sake & Wine
  4. Types of Japanese Sake

So first, here’s a quick introduction to sake.

sake vs wine

1. Introduction to Japanese Sake

What’s sake? Sake is a Japanese alcohol made from rice and is an iconic beverage of Japan. The earliest records of sake drinking can be traced all the way to the 700s. In the Japanese language, sake is also the word for alcohol. If you want to make sure you’re drinking Japanese sake, make sure to say “nihonshu”, as opposed to “sake”. In the west, sake is commonly called rice wine but it shouldn’t be confused with wine. In fact, the process of making it is closer to beer than wine. 

Like wine, there are a large number of varieties of sake. There are even certified experts or sommeliers in the field of sake. The temperatures, ways of drinking, and food pairing can vary depending on the specific type. Next time you have a chance to drink some sake, try comparing and tasting different ones!

Japanese Sake Summarized

  • Alcohol made from rice.
  • Dates back to the 700s.
  • Called “rice wine” but it’s closer to beer in terms of production.
  • Made from rice, fungi and yeast.
  • Like wine, there are many types of sake.
  • Between 9-16% alcohol content.
  • Sake is gluten free.
  • Goes well with fish. Isn’t paired with heavy dishes.
  • Tastes like very dry white wine.

Now, let’s talk about sake vs wine.

2. Similarities Between Sake vs. Wine

  1. Alcohol Content: Both wine and sake are an alcoholic beverage that contain similar amounts of alcohol.
  • Wine has an average ABV of around 11.6%.
  • Sake has an ABV between 9-16%.

2. Food Pairing: Because both wine and sake are not strong alcoholic drinks, they can complement and enhance food when paired together.

3. Nutritional similarities: Both sake and wine are friendly for those who follow a gluten-free diet. Although there may be trace amounts of gluten during its production, the main ingredients of grapes and rice are both gluten-free.

4. Religion: The two alcoholic drinks also play an important part within religion. Wine symbolizes the blood of Christ in Christianity. In Japan’s Shinto religion, sake can be an offering made to the gods and plays a part during Shinto ceremonies. For example, couples will sip sake during a traditional Japanese wedding ceremony.

5. Large Variety: In both sake and wine, there are similarities in the wide variety of types. Wine can be categorized regionally with differences in the types of grapes that are used. Sake also has different regional varieties depending on the type of rice.

6. Taste: What does sake taste like? Some would say it’s like very dry white wine. However, as you’ll learn in part 3, that there are several kinds of sake so it may vary.

3. The Differences Between Sake vs Wine

1. Production: The main difference between sake and wine is the process and ingredients that are used to make it. Wine is made by fermenting the sugar that is already inside the grapes. However, sake takes an approach that is more similar to beer. The starch in the rice is converted into sugars which ferment into sake. Sake also uses a special type of fungus called koji and yeast to help with the fermentation process.

2. Nutritional differences: Because of the differences in the production, sake usually has more sugar than wine. So, if you want to know the sake vs wine calories, then you should know that sake can have slightly more calories. 

3. Consumption: The way that sake and wine are consumed is also a key difference. With wine, it is recommended to drink out of large glasses where you can enjoy the smells as you sip it. Sake is usually served in small cups called ochoko (check out the ochoko sake cups below.) Sake can also be enjoyed either hot or cold but this is not as common in wine.

4. Food Pairing: When it comes to food pairings, most people pair red wines with stronger tasting foods and white wines with lighter foods. Because sake doesn’t have these two distinct types, it falls closer in category to white wine. Sake does go well with foods such as fish which is an important part of Japanese cuisine. However, most people do not drink sake with with strong heavy dishes.

4. The 7 Types of Sake

1. Junmai-shu

Junmai-shu is a type of sake that doesn’t have extra additives like extra alcohol, starch, or sugar. It means that it is made with pure ingredients and it is most suited for drinking as hot sake. Other types of sake can also be Junmai-shu if there are no extra additives.

2. Ginjo-shu

Ginjo-shu is most suited for drinking cold to enjoy its fragrance. It is made with special yeast and the temperature for fermenting is lower than other types of sake. 

3. Honjozo-shu

This type of sake is unique because it has added alcohol during the brewing process. Although counter intuitive, the end result is that it has a lower alcohol content. It is light, smooth, and best when warm.

4. Nigori zake

The word nigori means cloudy and this type of sake doesn’t strain the rice particles as fully as with clear sake. It is the sweetest sake and it can be ideal to drink after a meal. It was originally popular in farming communities because of the ease of making it.

5. Futsuu-shu

Futsuu means normal, and this is the most basic type of sake. It can be similar to table wine, in that it is the lowest grade available. However, it can be an affordable option during a meal or if you need to use sake for cooking.

6. Ume shu

Although it is sometimes also called plum wine, ume shu uses sake as the base ingredient. This is a drink where plums are soaked into sake with sugar. It creates a sweet plum flavored drink that’s great to enjoy on its own or with ice. Because it is so easy to make, it is a popular drink that is made at home.

7. Sparkling sake

In recent times, you might also encounter sparkling sake. This is easy to drink and has a lower alcohol content. The sake is sometimes carbonated artificially, but it can also be done during the fermentation process. If you’re new to sake this one is highly recommended.


Now you know quite a bit about sake vs wine — the differences, the similiarities, and everything in between.

Now, what about you? Which do you prefer? Sake or wine?

Leave a comment.

– Team IJ (ItsJapanese)

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

You cannot copy content of this page