How do you conduct a kikishu, a Saké tasting? It is really little different from tasting a wine. You generally assess the same elements, though each element may be viewed slightly differently than you would in a wine.
1) See the Saké, examining its color, intensity and clarity. Much Saké is clear in color though as mentioned before, there are some with a slight golden color. Most Saké will be clear as well, except for certain unfiltered or partially filtered Saké, such as Nigori. A Nigori, especially if shaken a bit, will be cloudy and milky. An important key is know to the type of Saké you are examining, and how it should look.
2) Swirl the Saké to release more of its odors, just as you would a glass of wine.
3) Sniff the Saké, as you would a wine. What do you smell? Is it fragrant or not? A Saké may or may not have a fragrant nose. Whether it is fragrant or not though has little to do with quality. It is more a matter of personal preference and the particular style of the Saké.
4) Sip the Saké as you would a wine. There are a couple different terms though sometimes used to describe the flavor of Saké.
--What is the Impact of the Saké, the initial impression of it on your palate? The impact may be considered either quiet or explosive. It may be soft, smooth and gentle. Or it may explode with acidity or sweetness.
--Is the Saké sweet or dry?
--What is its Presence, also called its body, which is similar to body in wine. Generally it is considered a light bodied drink but there is full-bodied Saké too. Namazake and some Junmai are often more full bodied.
--What flavors do you taste? Fruits? Herbal? Rice? Something else? I should note that Saké flavors are generally more subtle than the flavors in many wines.
--Is it simple or complex, similar to a wine?
--What is its Tail like, which is another term for its finish? It is long or short?
Here are a few taste profiles of several different Saké types. Just note that these are averages and there certainly will be exceptions.
Junmai generally has a fuller, richer body and a higher acidity than average. The fragrance is not as prominent as other Saké types. It has a strong impact, more neutral in flavor with lots of presence but not much complexity.
Honjozo generally is lighter in body and has a stronger fragrance. It has a strong impact, more neutral in flavor with lots of presence but not much complexity.
Ginjo is more delicate, lighter but also more complex.
Daiginjo is even more delicate, light and complex than a Ginjo.