Is Japanese Sake too cheap?
That is a question recently addressed by an article in the Nikkei Asian Review and number of people in the Japanese Sake industry believe the answer is affirmative. They would like to see the price of Sake rise, priced more on a scale like wine, the price affected by elements such as the use of local, regional rice varieties. However, please note that they are largely concerned with the price of Sake within Japan, and not the prices overseas, such as in the U.S.
It is mentioned that foreign tourists visiting Japan are frequently shocked at the low prices of Sake, including even some of the higher quality Daiginjo Sakes. You can find an excellent Junmai Ginjo Sake for about 1,500 yen (roughly US$14), priced at the same level as ordinary table wine, making for a strange dichotomy. Far more time and effort, as well as higher-end ingredients, go into the production of the Sake. Why shouldn't it be priced higher then than some mass-produced wine made from lesser grapes?
A high quality Junmai Daiginjo can sell for only 5,000-6,000 yen (US$47-$56), which is comparatively a bargain compared to a similarly priced wine. In Japan, quality French wines can easily sell for 40,000-50,000 yen (US$376-$470). The price gap is quite expansive. There are some exceptions, with a newly added "Super Premium" category in Sake competition, including Sakes priced at 10,000 yen or higher.
Once Sake is exported to the U.S., the price rises, but it still remains more affordable than numerous premium wines. In the U.S., it is very uncommon to find Sake priced over $150 at a retail store, though you will find some on high-end restaurant lists. You'll find a myriad of wines priced over $150. In general, Sake is fairly priced based on production costs. Fortunately, and unlike the wine industry, critic ratings rarely boost the price of Sake. Sake possesses excellent value and you usually get your money's worth.
If the Japanese Sake industry chooses to raise their prices, that would likely raise the priced of Sake exports as well. Thus, U.S. consumers would see higher prices at their local wine shops and restaurants. I understand and empathize with the rationale for Japanese breweries to want to see higher prices for their products within Japan. As a consumer though, I'd prefer to keep Sake prices in the U.S. at their present levels. However, I would be willing to pay a moderate increase if it would help the Japanese Sake industry.
When compared to wine, Sake is relatively inexpensive, and a price increase would simply move Sake closer to wine prices. We are discussing primarily premium Sake, the top 25% of production, and not futsu-shu, the often mass produced, lower quality Sake. Sake is a wonderfully diverse and delicious alcoholic beverage, one of complexity and quality. Production can be quite laborious and time-consuming, especially if production is more old-style in nature. The ingredients are high-quality, from the water to the rice. Consumers should be willing to pay a fair price for a bottle of quality Sake, even if the price must be raised a bit.