Last week, we talked about what wines pair best with mac and cheese. This week, we’re going to switch gears and talk about sushi. It’s time to figure out what wines pair best with sushi.
Sushi and Sake
Before talking about sushi and wine, let’s talk about sushi and sake. Most of us automatically order sake when we’re at Japanese restaurants, because we learned long ago that that is a great pairing. Why is it such a great pairing? Well, according to Kyoto Experience, “Sake has the effect of eliminating the fishy odor of fish. The effect of supplementing the defects of ingredients with another ingredient is called “supplementation”. In addition, both fish and sake have rich umami ingredients, and by combining these two umami, you get synergistic effect. That is why food and drink with similar flavor goes pretty well.”
The Challenges of Combining Sushi and Sake
VinePair tells us that combining sushi and sake is a mistake. They say that in Japan, sake isn’t paired with rice dishes. They argue that “Because sake is brewed from rice — yes, brewed; sake production is more similar to brewing beer than winemaking — pairing it with sushi essentially just adds rice on top of rice. This was seen as “too much of a good thing,” according to Rolnick [beverage director at Neta in New York], and would fill the diner up too quickly, defeating the intended purpose of a beverage pairing.
Pairing Wine with Sushi
BrightCellars has some good advice for pairing wine with sushi. “You could drive yourself a little crazy thinking about the nitty gritty details of every menu item in your cart. After all, a piece of nigiri (fish over rice) or maki (a roll), is a whole experience on its own. Even though wine pairing usually goes best when you consider all the tastes and textures – the cut of fish, the cooking style (or lack thereof), etc. – when it comes to sushi, we believe in keeping things simple. So, don’t worry about picking the right wine for each roll. Instead, think about the big picture. This way, when the sushi arrives, all you have to do is chill out and enjoy.”
What Wines Pair Best with Sushi?
My personal favorite wine to pair with sushi is Sparkling Wine. The acidity of the wine goes perfectly with the sushi, and also the wine’s palate-cleansing capabilities probably allow you to enjoy more sushi than you would if you were drinking a different wine. I highly recommend this pairing, and I recommend a semi-seco rather than a brut, because a hint of sweetness makes a big difference in how nicely the two pair.
Wine Folly, as always, has many wonderful suggestions. In addition to Sparkling Wine, they recommend these wonderful wines:
- Albarino, Spain’s wonderful white wine that has “flavors of lemon, lime, green peas and blossom, with high acidity and a slight bitterness on the finish. Winner winner, prawn tempura dinner: this is phenomenal with the sweetness of the shrimp, the oiliness of the deep fried Panko, and the acidity of the sauce.”
- Grüner Veltliner, Austria’s wonderful white, has “high acidity and flavors of white pepper, green peas, lime, and lemon”. They recommend this wine with a dragon roll (eel, crab, cucumber, avocado).
- Rosé from Provence “has bright acidity and is bone dry, while being seriously red-fruit dominated and mineral driven.” They recommend this wine with a California roll.
- Pinot Noir is the perfect red for folks who can not drink white wine or Sparkling Wine. Its low tannins make it safe for fish, and they say it is a perfect pairing for a Philadelphia roll.
- Sherry, specifically Fino or Manzanilla styles, “with their light body and briny salinity, are a match made in heaven for seafood choices with a more intense flavor. Specically, they talk about sea urchin.
- Riesling with some sweetness pairs perfectly with a spicy tuna roll. Sugar reduces the heat of the chili, and it gives you great acidity to boot.
- Gewürztraminer, they say, pairs perfectly with unagi, or freshwater eel. “There’s a strong taste to it that begs for a wine with a comparable strength. The ginger notes in “Geh-wurtz” will also sing alongside the pickled ginger garnish – not to mention the fact that the residual sugar in this wine quells the quick-burn of wasabi.
When thinking about what wines pair best with sushi, do you have other ideas? I’d love to hear them.