Who doesn't love sushi night? Whether you are into sashimi, tuna maki, or tempura, sushi packs the perfect punch of light, salty, umami, fresh, meaty, and savory. When it comes to pairing sushi, much of the Western world turns to sake, but there are other good matches out there that shouldn't get overlooked. Pairing sushi with wine can work brilliantly if you keep in mind a few key concepts regarding flavor and texture.
How to Pair Sushi and Wine
There are a few things to keep in mind when considering sushi wine pairings. The acidity, body, structure, and intensity of a wine will all play a part in how well it goes with your onigiri. An overarching rule is to pair like with like, meaning a delicate piece of fish will be best matched with an equally delicate wine.
While a bold and brooding cab sauv probably isn't the best fit with sushi, fish and rice do pair beautifully with an array of whites, bubbles, and delicate reds. Whites with punchy acidity are a great pairing because the bright and crisp nature matches the clean characteristics of sushi. They provide a great splash across the palate when paired with a fattier fish. Think sharp, acid-bombs that leave your mouth feeling refreshed, like Chablis or dry riesling. These work wonderfully with tempura too, as the acid cuts through the fat. When pairing wine with a lighter, more delicate fish, stick to something a little softer and rounder in body, like a white Burgundy or Provençal rosé. Alternatively, if you have fish with a stronger profile, match it accordingly with a more aromatic wine, like Muscat.
Zippy frizzante is also a great match for sushi. The combination of bubbles and good acidity cleanse the palate in between each bite. If you are eating something super bright and fresh like a vegetable roll full of cucumber and avocado, lean into an equally light and green wine like vinho verde or grüner veltliner. Salty, citrussy wines like albariño and vermentino also make for interesting pairings, providing a freshness while mimicking some of the umami with their salty nature.
Don't overlook red wines! A becoming pinot noir or a fresh St. Laurent can find their place at the table too. These typically go well with richer, fuller-bodied dishes, like crab or barbecued seafood. Generally steering clear of overtly tannic reds and oaked wines is best, as they can quickly overwhelm the delicate nature of sushi and bring out undesirable metallic flavors.
Sushi & Wine Pairings
If you aren't quite ready to make your own matches or want a little more guidance when it comes to finding the best wine for your roll, try these winning pairings.
Sauvignon Blanc With Tempura
A sauvginon blanc with bracing acidity is amazing at cutting through the fat and richness of tempura. The cool, herbaceous notes add complexity without overpowering the fish. Other good wines to pair with tempura are vinho verde, albariño, and prosecco - all of which hit the palate with a refreshing lightness and mild effervescence.
Chablis With Delicate Sashimi or Nigiri
A mineral, acid-driven wine like Chablis is a great match for a more delicate fish such as snapper. Grüner veltliner, with its zippy green profile of peas, garden herbs, and lime, also does a great job matching the subtleties of delicate sashimi.
Pinor Noir With Tuna or Salmon
Nuanced rosés or a beautiful Burgundy are amazing when paired with heartier flavored fish like tuna or salmon. With naturally high acidity and red fruit notes, they enhance the robust flavors and add complexity to the whole experience.
Riesling With Spicy Maki
When you get that spicy kick from the mayo, you want to reach for a sip of dry to off-dry riesling. It will temper the heat while the bracing acidity and crispness will balance the rice, tuna, and seaweed just right.
Chenin Blanc With Mackerel
For a fattier, richer fish, chenin blanc works well as its naturally high acidity and subtle notes of chamomile, quince, and apple chime in to balance the full-flavored, buttery mackerel.
A Note About Sake
For many, an obvious match with sushi is sake. While traditionally, sake wasn't paired with sushi, if this is your go-to and you love it, great! Pairings are all about creating something interesting and pleasing for your palate. Matching sake with sushi isn't all that different from pairing wine with sushi. You want to think about acidity of the sake in relation to fattiness of the fish along with the overall intensity of each. Fruity and floral notes go well with full-flavored fish like salmon, while fatty tuna or rich a creamy California rolls go well with a brightly acidic sake. Think about matching the sake in a way that enhances the fish rather than dominates it.
Next Time, Ask for the Wine List
If you've never had wine with your sushi, it's about time. There are so many options to play with from a dry rosé pet-nat to a Finger Lakes riesling. When choosing your wine, remember to keep in mind that you want a wine that will enhance the flavors of your maki or sashimi through a balanced profile of acidity and body.