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Choosing the proper wine to go with your dinner must always be based on your personal taste, your budget, and your mood. I can’t stress this enough. If it tastes good to you, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. We all have different preferences and frankly, not all of us are geeks with a mission to find the optimal food-and-wine experience. That said, to make a combination really sing there are a few neat tricks that will help you pick the suitable style of wine for the occasion at hand. And in the process steer you away from a possible culinary nosedive. We’ve all had one of those…. To help you enjoy the best of both worlds, we’ve created a guide for the best wine for sushi pairing.
A Guide to The Best Wine for Sushi Pairing
In all honesty it’s often frustrating to pick out a suitable bottle of vino. It is way too easy to get lost or confused among the towering, intimidating shelves at the specialized shop or grocery store. Luckily, in most cases, we get away with a fair taste experience even when our evening drink is not based much, if at all, on the dish going with it. Perhaps the bottle of our liking was simply one of few comfortably familiar labels. An old time favorite, a friendly face of sorts. However, the style and the properties of the wine becomes increasingly important, and the wrong choice much more evident when pairing it with Asian food. For example sushi. One may think that since the wine in the glass is so tasty, and the sushi on the plate is so very delicious- enjoying them together would naturally be a win-win kind of situation? Not necessarily. But there is help to be found and smoothening shticks to apply.
Adjusted over time
In the so called Old World countries, wine has been produced for sometimes as long as 8000 years. It is not surprising, when you think of it, that local food and local wine have adjusted to match each other over time in classical wine nations like France, Spain, Italy, Germany and so on. ”If it grows together, it goes together” is a common motto used to describe the matter. It is almost like a mantra to me personally and I always bring up the concept of this when hosting tastings. It is brilliant in its simplicity. The regional fermented
grape juice and the areas traditional dishes have simply lived side by side for so long, thousands of years, to the point were they match hand in glove.
Not wine producing by tradition
For this very reason matching Asian food with wine can be quite the challenge. Asian countries are not traditionally wine producing nations. This means in short that wine and the traditional cuisine of the different areas of Asia are no natural match. Just think about Thai, Indian, Chinese and Japanese food for a second. Often the traditional dishes of these tasty world-famous kitchens are hot or spicy and many times complemented with sweet components like coconut milk, chutney, tropical fruit, raisins and so on. Furthermore, they don’t use much salt, dairy or cheese to smooth a difficult pairing over. A rule of thumb is namely that salt and fat are real good pals in any food and wine combination melt down.
A difficult match
Let’s look at sushi in particular. The carefully rinsed, prepared and utterly tasty sushi rice is boiled in water seasoned with salt, sugar and a later addition of rice vinegar. This gives a distinct sweetness. Making a great rice for sushi is in itself an art form and not many can master it perfectly. Sushi literally means vinegar rice. But as much as I love a well-made sushi rice, it messes with the wine.
Another hurdle when bringing wine into the picture is that the wasabi throws quite a strong punch. No matter if it’s heaps of Temaki, Nigiri or Maki on the plate. We will inevitably encounter sushi’s ever present sidekick, the beautifully green and utterly potent wasabi.
This Asian green horseradish is strong, sinus cleansing and indispensable when it comes to sushi.
As you might have experienced before or suspected by now sushi is clearly not tailored, if you may, to go with wine. The sweet and spicy elements on the plate are instead quite hostile towards most styles and grapes. Choose a bone dry, acidic white wine and try to enjoy it with your tempting, lush and alluring salmon Nigiri just waiting there on the plate. Collision! The spiciness will get even more pronounced, together with an heightened experience of the acidity in the wine. It is perceived too dry. Dry, sour, unpleasant and tart.
So. Sushi and wine pairing is not self-evident. Not to mention if you were to select a red one- not that I’m saying you would ever take part in such a travesty. Then you add yet another variable into an already intractable equation. The tannins. These buggers get considerably tougher encountering spicy dishes. Don’t go there. Beer on the other hand is a good option due to being a traditional drink in both Thailand, Japan, India and China. But if your mind, like mine, is set on wine there is hope still!
How do I chose? Firstly, go with a WHITE wine. You immediately eliminate the trying variable mentioned above- the tannins. Not that I would ever pick a red wine to go with my sushi. Not even a light one like a pinot. Anyhow. Take the tannins out of the equation and the matching gets a little easier. Secondly, pick a white wine that is off-dry. This does not imply a sweet wine. Not a wine with loads of sugar, no need to panic, but just enough to soften the spiciness and help the combination. Residual sugar works wonders in spicy and
tricky pairing situations. The slight sweetness is like a bridge between troubled components. It magically soothes the reaction you get in the wine from the heat of the food. And remember. The rice has a certain sweetness to it that integrates beautifully with the few grams of sugar in the wine. In the end, matching wine and sushi can absolutely be done. And it can be done with a more than pleasing result.
A sugar free solution?
What if you don’t like, or can’t have even a few grams of helpful sugar? No worries. You can still save yourself a total disaster. Pick a quite fruity, opulent white wine from a new world country. Preferably with body. It will offer richer, riper fruit that mimics sweetness, and the acidity will be lower due to riper grapes. All together these treats results in a much more forgiving wine in the case of getting thrown together with sushi.
Best wine for sushi pairing
My go-to sushi wine is german riesling, and always in the off-dry style. This due to my explanations above, and also because I absolutely adore the grape and the style. Riesling is so so good. The wines from the German region Mosel often presents some residual sugar, moderate pricing and a truly heavenly match with sushi. Certainly there are other options. When it comes to off-dry riesling America, New Zealand and Australia offers great alternatives and runner-ups. Below I have listed some of my favorite sushi wines. Buckle up!
2018 Dr L Riesling, Dr Loosen, Mosel, Germany
2017 Kung Fu Girl Riesling, Charles Smith Wines, Washington State, USA
2018 De Bortoli Gewurztraminer Riesling, De Bortoli, South Eastern Australia, Australia 2019 Stoneleigh Riesling, Stoneleigh vineyards, Marlborough, New Zeeland