When thinking sushi, the first thought is usually sake (saa-kaay), and rightfully so. Colloquially known as Japanese rice wine, sake is actually closer to beer than wine. But, that’s another story.
So, in lieu of the classic, let’s chat (sushi-friendly) grape-based beverages.
In this article, the aim is to simplify some of that “what if,” discerned through tireless (and totally selfless) tasting of wines alongside some of the more interesting styles of sushi.
The Best Wine For Sushi
Sushi is one of the more diverse types of food; there are many regional variants as well as North American adaptations. Never before have there been so many flavour options!
Try it with Tempura
Albariño bursts with 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.
Try it with a Dragon Roll (Cucumber and Avocado)
This Austrian native variety is rarely grown elsewhere. These wines have high acidity and flavors of white pepper, green peas, lime, and lemon. It could play really well with a Dragon Roll (eel, crab, cucumber, avocado, eel sauce). The razor sharp acidity cuts through the richness of the sauce and sticky rice, and the green flavors dance wonderfully well alongside the cucumber and avocado.
Try it with a Chopped Scallop Roll
This northern Italian tank-method sparkler has a bright, peachy, lemony fruit essence, sometimes with a hint of sweetness. Prosecco is an outstanding complement to a chopped scallop roll. Scallops are naturally sweet, soft, and delicate. Sometimes made spicy, a creamy chopped scallop roll just begs for a touch of sweetness and high acidity to slice through the succulence.
Try it with a California Roll
Provençal Rosé has bright acidity and is bone dry, while being seriously red-fruit dominated and mineral driven. Enter strawberries macerated on a hunk of wet slate. Provence is famous for many things, most applicably: seafood and rosé! The crab and creamy avocado in a California roll are just begging for a light, bright rosé.
New Zealand Pinot Noir
Try it with the North-American Inspired Philadelphia Roll
For you red wine diehards; New Zealand Pinot Noir, or the rarer red Sancerre (also Pinot!), showing lighter body and tannin could be just the right match. Tannins in red wine are important to note when pairing with fish, because tannin can render fish tasting metallic. Fortunately, the cream cheese in a Philly roll will help to soften that effect.
Fino or Manzanilla Sherry
Try it with Uni (Sea Urchin)
This entire article would be amiss without a mention of Sherry. Fino or Manzanilla (man-tha-nee-aa) styles, with their light body and briny salinity, are a match made in heaven for seafood choices with a more intense flavor. Uni, or sea urchin, is essentially the foie gras of the ocean: smooth, mildly nutty, and briny without being overtly fishy. The salinity factor is the key here.
Try it with a Spicy Tuna Roll
A Kabinett level sweetness German Riesling with a spicy tuna roll just says “foodgasm.” It’s widely known that sugar turns the dial down on chili heat (the beloved Sriracha included), and sushi rolls are no exception. Spicy rolls are generally made so via spicy mayonnaise. So, an aromatic, high-acid wine with some sweetness to it would certainly be the natural direction. Yum.
Try it with an Unagi Roll
“The one with Unagi.” – Thanks, Ross.
Unagi, or freshwater eel, is similar in texture to chicken, while tasting somewhat Swordfish-esque, but with an underlying sweetness. There’s a strong taste to it that begs for a wine with a comparable strength. Look for wines that are from higher altitude regions (such as northern Italy) for examples that won’t fall into sugar-level overkill.
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. Make note to be mindful to avoid high acid soy sauce when it comes to lower acid grapes (like Gewürztraminer).
Other Wines That Scream for Sushi
- Gavi: A Piedmontese wine made from Cortese grapes is high in acidity and shows peachy, floral aromatics. Try this with traditional sashimi.
- Muscadet Sèvre et Maine: The Loire’s answer to Fino Sherry; this is a low alcohol, high acid, seriously minerally and salinity driven (badass) wine. Another perfect choice for sashimi.
- Assyrtiko: The Greek semi-aromatic grape from Santorini is stellar with seafood, showing notes of citrus rind, white flowers, and beeswax. Yellow-tail comes to mind for a delicious match.
- Chablis: The northern Burgundian rendition of Chardonnay grows on Kimmeridgian clay soils, which are literally crushed up seashells from the Jurassic period …now, if that isn’t a sign!
- Amontillado Sherry: Lastly, though this hasn’t been tested as of publishing, a dry, nutty Amontillado style of Sherry somehow screams Aburi sushi. Aburi style sushi is flame seared fish. A hand-held blowtorch over a piece of bamboo charcoal chars the top, resulting in a somewhat smoky, nutty flavor. This is a Vancouver, BC favorite. You should probably attempt this pairing immediately, and report back. (Drooling already.)
“If it grows together, it goes together.”
Food and wine are incredibly intertwined entities that have progressed over centuries in absolutely every culture. Generally, there’s a reason that the wines made in any given area pair so well with the local cuisine.
That said, the whole world is a melting pot and it’s time to experiment, in the name of science!