How To Pair Wine With Sushi • The Best Wine and Sushi Pairing Concepts
The thought of pairing sushi with wine can be daunting. So many flavors, so many spices, so much going on. The following tips will help any sushi lover enhance their experience through the magic of a perfect glass of wine that pairs well with any sushi dish.
Fresh fish simply prepared over the top of a bed of rice. Sounds simple, right? Well depending on what you do after is where things can get quite complicated. If simply eating the Nigiri plain, then stick to simple wines. When I say ‘simple’ I do not mean boring, it just means something that will not overwhelm the simple dish. Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir are all good choices and will not overwhelm a dish. However, if you add a little soy and wasabi (which a lot of people do), the nigiri is not so simple anymore. By adding spice and salt you are essentially adding complexity and body, so I suggest matching those flavors with your wine choice. Wines with a sense of sugar naturally calms down spice so Riesling and Vouvray are excellent choices for the wasabi lovers. If you want reds, stick to wines lower in alcohol from cool regions. Red Burgundy or Chinon will always work well. For those who like more wasabi than sushi I would not suggest a wine and suggest 2% or whole milk to tame the heat you are about to endure.
I would start by breaking down the two main species, tuna and salmon. Sticking again with body style, tuna is going to be the lighter of the two so stick to a lighter-style wine. I suggest to go on an off beaten path and go with varietals such as an Assyrtiko from Greece for the white, and Gamay from the southern part of Burgundy for a red. Both of these pairings will accentuate the Sashimi without being overbearing. As for Salmon we can entertain bigger wines to match the body of the fish. My personal favorite varietal of Chardonnay comes into play for the whites. Something with a little body but still offering plenty of minerality, Meursault will make your pairing dreams come true. As for reds, still sticking to a light wine but from a warmer climate, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir will leave you wanting more.
Maki is a little more complex than nigiri and sashimi: fish, vegetables, and seaweed. Since the sushi option is stepped up, the wine option needs to be stepped up too. Since seaweed has such a strong sense of the sea, stick to wines coming from a maritime climate. I suggest white wines such as Albarino, or if you want to get bold, Vinho Verde, which can actually throw an element of the sea. The Albarino comes through with a spritzy/salty touch that can compliment the seaweed and the actual fish from the sushi. For the red wine lovers, I suggest going back to Pinot Noir, but this time from an Oregon region. The earthy tones that tend to exhibit themselves from this region should be perfect with the vegetables and the balance of fruit will add an extra angle to the maki.
The inside-out roll. Not very different from maki and every time I have this type of sushi I get a bigger sense of weight. I am not sure if it is because there is more rice in the sushi or if it can just be a larger roll, but nevertheless, if the body of the dish goes up, so does the wine. I am suggesting a California Chardonnay and for the wine buffs, something weighty and complex like Chenin Blanc from Savenniers. The body, plus the complexity of all the flavors and aromas of both the wine and the Urimaki is a match made in heaven. For a sense of earthiness, go with the bigger red options such as Bordeaux blends and Rhone blends such as Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Make sure to stay away from wines from really hot climates if you like to add a lot of wasabi to your sushi. Spice and alcohol are a divorce waiting to happen.
Last, is the hand-rolled seaweed style of sushi, tamaki. While there are plenty of appropriate pairings from above I suggest a couple different approaches like bubbles and sake. Essentially, all bubbles will do well here but try the often over-looked production of Cava from North Eastern Spain. Usually the Cava is extremely crisp and the acidity in this wine will prove to be a perfect compliment leaving you wanting more. As for sake, the Japanese rice wine, it is commonly perceived as an ill choice to pair with sushi. However, the vast complexity that sake can offer like fruit, herbaceous, floral, and spice notes may prove to match some complex versions of sushi like tamaki. Either way, if you like it, that is all that really matters.
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