Entries are judged based on four criteria: balance, taste, aroma and overall impression. A well-balanced sake presents an overall harmony, with no readily discernible faults, and its aroma is perfectly integrated with its flavor.
With aroma, connoisseurs recognize such qualities as refinement, complexity, individuality and effusiveness. Aroma figures strongly in the judging of ginjo and daiginjo sakes but is less of a factor with junmai labels.
When rating the taste, judges think in terms of pairs of opposites (clean vs. cloying; rich vs. heavy, tight vs. loose, etc.) and score on a scale of one (the highest mark) to five. Taking into account a sake's balance, taste and aroma, one can now rate its overall impression as either outstanding, good, acceptable, slightly flawed or noticeably flawed.
Entries to the U.S. National Sake Appraisal are evaluated in a blind tasting over two days with ten participating judges, five from Japan and five from the U.S., using the form on this page. There are two sessions, the “isshin,” or first tasting, in which all entries are tasted, and the “nishin,” or second tasting of entries in top 50th percentile of the isshin tasting. Gold and silver awards are determined by ranking in the nishin tasting.