I suppose I should call this column 'Just Rice'. After all, Japanese sake contains not even a tiny modicum of grape juice. Yet it is wine: a 2,000-year-old rice wine, originally part of a Shinto ceremony. Still the most popular spirit drink in Japan, its growing popularity as an alternative to wine made from grapes cannot be ignored. While in my early 20s, I frequented Japanese restaurants in New York where waitresses wrapped in kimonos minced around on high wooden platform thongs. I would slurp miso soup and share sukiyaki with a friend - raw fish was too exotic for our American taste buds then. But by the time I moved to Malibu, sushi and sake was a twice-weekly ritual. I even had my own traditional little wooden masu cup. Still, nobody ever ordered sake by name, nor asked for the sake list, which did not exist. Odd, as sake versions are legion - ranging from the pedestrian to the sublime, from basic to premium beauties - running the gamut of tastes and flavours from dry, fruity and silky to rich, complex, sweet, sour and aromatic. So, how to pick? Begin with 'house' and work your way up. Then let your senses be your guide. Why take another palate's opinion when experimenting is such fun? Even though a few sake salesmen advise drinking it cold to bring out all the flavours and nuances, I am still not entirely convinced. JW's California at the Marriott calls it 'The Drink of the Gods', serving a whopping two dozen kinds at their sushi bar. Prices start at $150 for a 360-millilitre carafe of the house variety and rise to $1,100 for twice the size of the best. Printed descriptions are rather vague - 'excellent, high quality', 'elegant and modern tasting', and 'clear, pure taste'. So it seems you have to form your own opinions. Six of us went for sushi and had a sake field day, finding our mini-tasting a great way to sample the wide range of differences. Tokio Joe's in Lan Kwai Fong recently expanded their sake cellar to include rare and super-premium examples, selling for $50 to $155 per glass - none served warmer than room temperature. Their educational, fascinating sake menu thoughtfully explains it all in great detail. But regardless of temperature or price, all Japanese sake has one thing in common - confusing, difficult-to-remember names - unless you are Japanese. So take pen and paper and jot down your favourites for future reference. And do not forget to say Kampai!