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There’s a new sake in town, and it’s got bubbles. Here are 5 to get you started.

Fukucho Seaside Sparkling Junmai is citrusy and fresh and stands up beautifully with both Eastern- and Western-style seafood dishes.
Fukucho Seaside Sparkling Junmai is citrusy and fresh and stands up beautifully with both Eastern- and Western-style seafood dishes.(Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune; Shannon Kinsella/food styling)

Sparkling sake is becoming a beverage to get excited about. While definitely not traditional — the category was first created to encourage women in Japan to drink more sake — when sake’s inherent subtlety gets amped up with bubbles, the result is something to celebrate.

The original, sugary versions of these sparklers, such as the hugely popular brand Mio, are made using forced carbonation, like soda, and are low in alcohol.

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“They taste like alcoholic cream soda or sweet beer,” says Monica Samuels, director of sake and spirits for Vine Connections, a Sausalito, California-based importer and distributor.

Spurred by the growing U.S. consumer interest in both sparkling beverages and sake, producers have dipped their toes into creating sparkling sakes for more sophisticated tastes using secondary fermentation. In this process, the CO2 is trapped in tanks, or, better still, right in the bottle, by adding lees (spent yeast cells) like the French (and other winemakers) do in the traditional methode champenoise.

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“When you leave the yeast in, the sake gets a creamy interesting texture and is less sweet than forced carbonation,” says Samuels.

Technically, sake is brewed more like beer than wine, but often appeals to wine drinkers because of its elegant aromas and texture. Stay away from the cheap, soda-pop stuff (but don’t be scared of a screw- or pop-top) and explore the more elegant versions now coming our way.

We tried an array of sparkling sakes to help make suggestions on which one to drink when:

For the Champagne lover: Nanbu Bijin Awa Sake Sparkling. A clean Asian pear taste, mineral nose and umami finish, plus a richer texture and 14% alcohol take this one to the top of the pack. The label says “Dosage Zero” meaning there’s no sugar added.

Before the meal: Dassai 50 Sparkling Nigori. This cloudy moscato-like sparkler, with its pretty, floral and honeydew flavors and fizz, drinks very elegantly. Try it as an aperitif.

With dinner: Fukucho Seaside Sparkling Junmai. Citrusy and fresh, this bright, creamy sake stands up beautifully with both Eastern- and Western-style seafood dishes.

With sushi: Hakkaisan Clear Sparkling Awa Bottled in a Western sparkling wine-style bottle complete with foil, cork and cage, this sake’s lively bubbles (the word “awa” means bubbles in Japanese), and tropical, papaya flavor paired perfectly with nigiri, soy, wasabi and pickled ginger.

On the sweeter side: Dewazakura Tobiroku “Festival of Stars.” Chef B.K. Park of Michelin-starred Mako in Chicago’s West Loop, pairs this one with sweeter ingredients like anago (eel) with sweet soy or tamago, the Japanese omelet. He recommends trying any sparkling sake cold, then letting it sit at room temperature for 10 minutes to warm up and tasting again to explore its complexities. Says Park, “You may find it changes quite a bit.”

Find it: Look for sparkling sake at larger liquor stores, such as Binny’s, as well as some smaller independent wine shops (Perman Wine Sellections carries the Fukucho but on a limited basis, so call first: 312-255-8990) and some Asian groceries.

Lisa Futterman is a freelance writer.

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