Hey! This site is reader-supported and we earn commissions if you purchase products from retailers after clicking on a link from our site.
While sushi may seem like a great meal while you are on the go thanks to its small size and ease to eat, that does not mean it is neglected from the more upscale dining environments around the world. Sushi can be eaten in a restaurant as a full meal just the same as a steak or beef wellington meal can. By this, I am talking about how sushi can find its way into the luxurious and more high-class restaurants easily, without looking out of place.
As you may well know, a lot of the higher quality restaurants promote drinking alcoholic beverages alongside your food. Sushi is no different from this and whether you are an accustomed drinker, or only occasionally indulge yourself, you will still enjoy pairing wine with sushi.
Table of Contents
- 1 Why Is Wine Pairing Important?
- 2 How To Pair Wine With Sushi
- 3 What Wine Pairs Best With Sushi?
- 4 Is It Worth Pairing?
Why Is Wine Pairing Important?
Wine pairing is becoming increasingly popular across all restaurants and is also starting to become a more common occurrence for home cooks who want to celebrate a meal with friends or family. A restaurant or diner can argue the importance of this by saying that alcohol and food are a great way to boost revenue and profits when sold together, and the statistics prove that this is true. Yet, that would not explain why home cooks are also starting to join in on this or why customers are so infatuated with buying drinks alongside their meal.
The reason for this iconic pairing being so popular is because of how it changes your perception of the meal. When paired correctly, both your wine and food will taste different in a really good way. The flavors will bounce off of each other, so to speak, and allow you to notice different tastes that you hadn’t experienced before. While the process is still quite subjective, there are obvious links to when red wines or white wines are better suited to a meal. Using the correct wine with a certain meal will enhance both the flavors of the wine and the food beyond belief.
Not only is the food going to taste better, but drinking any type of alcohol over a meal is a nice way to socialize when with friends or family. While over-indulgence will get you drunk, having a little bit can help clear the air and raise everyone’s spirits. When in a restaurant, pairing wine with your food is also a nice way to feel adventurous while not risking anything as the waiter will help you make the right choice. This can enhance the atmosphere and help you feel more connected to the environment and enjoy yourself more.
How To Pair Wine With Sushi
Pairing wine with sushi, or any food for that matter, can be considered an art. It can take years to properly master being able to pair the perfect bottle with whatever dish you have been served. While it may be seen as an art and is therefore subjective, there is also a lot of logic and culinary science behind the thought process of serving certain bottles with certain food.
It’s true that there is still a lot of creativity found in pairing wine with food, and you can be as bold and adventurous as you like, but there are also some methodologies that have been founded since the popularity of this iconic pairing has risen. The methodologies are not law and are not forced to be followed, however, they act as guidelines for ensuring that you get the best possible experience out of your wine. There are 9 main methodologies that are followed pretty commonly, although depending on where you go there may be a few more or a few less. The nine most common ones are;
- The wine should be more acidic than your food
- The wine should be higher in sugar content than your food
- The wine should match the intensity of your food
- Red meat and red wine pair the best together
- White wines pair better with fish and chicken
- The fat found in food is likely to balance out the bitterness in some wines
- Wine should be matched to the sauce of your meal
- White, rosé, and sparkling wines are used for contrasting pairings
- Red wines are usually used for congruent pairings
There are two very important words used in the list that split the pairing types into categories. These are ‘contrasting pairings’ and ‘congruent pairings’. The former, known as contrasting pairings, is all about having the flavors from your wine and food contrast each other to create new blends and experiences. The flavor of your wine should differ enough from your food so that it can cut through some of the flavors and reveal a new way to perceive your food. The latter, known as a congruent pairing, is where your wine should be balanced with your food and both have a similar flavor profile. This helps the flavors enhance each other to a new level without changing any of the fundamentals of the dish. Everything will still taste the way it is meant to, but it will be nicer and slightly more intense.
While it is not stated in any of the methodologies, I believe it is important to emphasize the fact that you do not have to adhere to any of this. If you want to drink a very particular bottle of red wine, then go for it. This also goes beyond wine, as it is certainly not for everyone. If you instead want to enjoy a glass of whisky or a soft drink, then you are well within your right to do so. Pairing wine and food is an enhancement to the experience, and is slightly traditional, but no one will force you to follow it as such.
What Wine Pairs Best With Sushi?
Whether you are looking for a contrasting or congruent pairing, the flavor profile and texture of sushi can change easily depending on the ingredients used. Because of this, there is no single bottle that will be perfect for sushi as a whole. The best way to go about deciding the best wines is to mention what sushi they go well with. There is a clear distinction between sushi and other similar items found in Japanese cuisine, the most similar dish being known as sashimi which is raw fish, whereas sushi is technically lightly cooked fish.
The main aspects of sushi to focus on when it comes to pairing wine with are how it is prepared, the flavor, the texture, and the fish used. As for the type of sushi it is, there are two terms that are good to know. Nigiri is fish over rice, which is arguably the most iconic piece of sushi. The other type of sushi is known as maki which is a roll that is sometimes wrapped in seaweed, or can instead be inverted and have rice with sesame seeds on the outer layer with the seaweed being on the inside.
Pinot Noir is a great light-bodied red wine that offers a perfect match for any salmon or tuna-themed sushi dishes. The tannin content in Pinot Noir is also very mild which helps it pair with the more fragrant flavors found in sushi. The amount of soy sauce used might want to be limited as this can interact with the tannins in wine and produce a very sharp and bitter taste. It is worth noting where your Pinot Noir is from as Northern American Pinot Noir is better suited to herbs and spices, whereas New Zealand Pinot Noir is a great pairing for a sweeter taste.
One of the more popular dishes to enjoy with this is a spicy tuna roll. While the tannins in your Pinot Noir may make the spice a bit more intense, the taste of tuna mixed with this bottle is more than worth the heat.
As mentioned with Pinot Noir and the tannins affecting the salt and producing a bad taste, the same thing happens with tannins and spicy food. Therefore, a dry riesling is perfect for pairing with a sushi roll that has spicy components to them. The sweetness of the riesling will help balance out the spice and if you want an even sweeter taste then an off-dry riesling will be perfect. spicy food lovers will really want to pay attention to the tannin levels of their wine when it comes to pairing it with spicy food otherwise they may get more heat than they bargained for.
While seafood dishes are delicious, some people have allergies or dietary restrictions that stop them from eating them. Thankfully, vegetarian sushi dishes exist and are really good. As the main ingredients are vegetables, the flavor profile is quite different from that of other sushi rolls. With this in mind, rose wine pairs exceptionally well with vegetables and a light-bodied dry rose will make your avocado rolls otherworldly.
If you are wanting to eat a light fish maki then your best pairing will be a light-bodied white wine such as Pinot Grigio. The best bottles to buy for this pairing are those that have avoided being aged in oak. You want the wine to be as light as the fish. A bottle that has notes of fruit or tropical flavors will also work wonderfully.
Sauvignon Blanc is one of the more popular red wines and for good reason. It is well balanced and tastes brilliant. Surprisingly enough, it pairs really well with one of the more niche types of sushi. This type of sushi is known as tempura and has been deep-fried. The flavors of tempura are well balanced but can be easily overwhelmed if you choose the wrong wine. To ensure this does not happen, a nice light-bodied Sauvignon Blanc is the ideal pair.
If you are wanting to be something of a traditionalist, then pairing your sushi with rice wine is a great way to get the full experience. Commonly referred to as Sake, rice wine is a traditional Japanese wine that can be enjoyed both hot and cold. Sake is one of the more popular dry and sweet wines to pair with sushi as it also adds a fruity and nutty flavor to the seafood dish.
While it does not pair the best with every roll out there, Gruner Veltliner is perfect for pairing with eel. Sushi restaurants usually prepare their eel by smoking and caramelizing it, which is where Gruner Veltliner is great at cutting through the fish taste and allowing the rest of the flavors to express themselves.
If you prefer wine with a sweet and fruity flavor and want something light, then Prosecco is a great choice. It is really well paired with a dish that is sweet and spicy, such as a chopped scallop roll. The Prosecco will cut through that flavor combination and enhance it. The bright acidity of this sweet wine makes it great for any wine lover and non-wine lover alike.
This rose comes from the area of Provence which is notorious for its rose wine and delicious seafood. This is already good, but it gets even better when you realize how perfect of a combination they make together. Provencal rose is at its best when paired with a California roll as it adds a more crisp flavor to the otherwise fishy and creamy sushi.
Sherry is not mentioned too often when wine pairings are spoken about and this needs to change. Manzanilla Sherry is a great bottle to have in general but it is especially brilliant when paired with uni, which is sea urchin. The briny flavor matches the sherry perfectly and the flavors are enhanced so much. The nutty and smooth texture of the uni is paired so well with the salinity that Manzanilla Sherry has to offer.
Sparkling wine might seem fancy and best suited to formal occasions, but this is unnecessary. Sparkling wine such as champagne is so low in tannins that it can pair incredibly well with the majority of sushi dishes. The subtlety of the wine accentuates and enhances any sushi platter without overpowering anything. While you do need to make sure you don’t choose a sparkling wine that is too sweet, there is no reason to save these bottles for the right day. Every day is the right day for sparkling wine if you’re brave enough.
Is It Worth Pairing?
While it may be overkill to ensure you have the perfect bottle of wine for every meal you eat, I would recommend that doing it once or twice every few months is absolutely worth it. Save it for a special occasion or to perk you up at the end of a rough week, there is no need to do it so often that you get bored of it.