The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of sushi is sake. This Japanese drink is also known as rice wine, even though it’s more of a beer than wine. But, that’s a completely different subject, for another blog post!
According to Hiroshi Ishida, one of the most renowned sommeliers in Asia, ‘Sushi is designed to be enjoyed in one bite’. He believes that there is no point in ordering a different glass for every sushi flavor. He said that every wine should be paired with a minimum of two or three sushi dishes.
His advice on the matter is to follow the Nagare (flow)! Here’s what he meant by that.
Ishida claims that the Nagare (flow) of the sushi and how it’s served matters the most.
If you find yourself in an authentic Japanese restaurant, where “Itamae” (Japanese sushi chef) prepares a fresh sushi dish in front of you. First and most important of all is to tell him that you are interested in pairing your sushi with wine.
For example, it is almost impossible to find a proper wine to pair it with Japanese halibut, squid, and tuna. Therefore, it is best to ask the sushi chef to group the dishes based on their ingredients.
If it is an assorted sushi platter, then there is a pretty good chance that you can’t pair it with just one wine. It is very difficult to pair every piece with a single wine, even if you have an experienced sommelier to help you with the task.
Here is Ishida’s take on some popular sushi dishes and the best wines to pair them with for maximum enjoyment.
Whitefish (Shiromi) & Shellfish (Kai)
Both whitefish and shellfish are served fresh and without any additional seasoning or processing. Just a touch of wasabi and a pinch of salt are enough to make the most of them. Sushi chefs don’t even recommend having them with soy sauce.
These dishes can be best paired with a wine that is mineral, acidic, and dry. If possible, fetch a bottle or a glass of Assyrtiko from Santorini, Albariño, or Chablis. If the sushi restaurant doesn’t have any of those wines, choose any wine that matches their top features: acidic, mineral, and dry.
Rice & Wine
There is a consensus that steamed rice pairs perfectly with Pinot Noir. Steamed rice has its sweetness, which matches the acidity present in the Pinot Noir. It will be even better if the sushi comes with some Akazu seasoning, which is a type of red vinegar. If the establishment can’t offer Pinot Noir, then any lighter red wine will have to do.
“Edomae” is a Japanese word that describes “slightly processed”. In the world of sushi that means dishes that have been seasoned with some sauce or bit scorched. As a result, these dishes often have smoky or stronger flavors.
Again, by adding some Akazu, these dishes can be nicely paired with classic red wines like Brunello, Rioja, and Bordeaux. The same goes for Scorched Maguro, Unagi, and Anago.
Bad Wine Pairing
According to Ishida, rice in terms of pairing is much like a cushion – it can absorb any flavors. Therefore, nothing can become unpleasant.
But on the other hand, sushi dishes have a gentle flavor and are pretty delicate. A wine featuring a heavy fruit extraction and rich in alcohol can ruin the experience. These types of wines should be avoided at any cost.
Sushi and Japanese Wines
Just because some wines come from Japan doesn’t necessarily mean it should be matched with a sushi dish. But at the same time, there are some that pair very nicely with various sushi dishes. Koshu is a Japanese made wine from Yamanashi County that is a great match to Shellfish (Kai). This wine also goes well with vegetable sushi.
Another fantastic pairing with Japanese sushi is another Japanese classic drink, plum wine. When paired with stronger flavored sushi, the plum wine perfectly pairs with many of the flavors – but it is important not to select an overly proofed (strong) plum wine, as the alcohol here can dominate the more subtle flavors from sushi.
The Secret Touch is in the Condiments
Finally, in the effort to make the most of the sushi and wine pairing, it is essential to use premium quality wasabi and soy sauce. Cheap soy sauces and some dried up wasabi paste can make the entire pairing experience unforgettable in a bad way.
So, no pairing with acidic wines, and always look for red wines with moderate to low fruitiness. Pinot Noir and Burgundy can potentially elevate your sushi experience to a new, super-delightful level of enjoyment.