If you’re like me, you’re doing your best to support local restaurants by purchasing gift certificates or ordering takeaway. Wednesdays have become #TakeoutDay and it’s a nice excuse to treat yourself during the week. Just make sure to order directly from the restaurant, as they may otherwise lose up to 30% of their revenue to third-party commissions. This past Wednesday was sushi.
Now sushi provides a bit of a conundrum when it comes to wine pairing because there’s such a range of styles and flavours. You’ve got salt and umami from the nori and soy sauce; heat from the wasabi or a spicy roll; and a gentle sweetness from the rice and potentially the fish or shellfish. As a general rule, I’m not pairing to match an individual roll, but an assortment of sashimi, nigiri, maki, and uramaki.
Sashimi – thinly sliced fish, with no rice
Nigiri – typically a thin slice of fish or shellfish served on sushi rice
Maki – smaller rolls of sushi rice and filling (from fish to vegetables) wrapped in nori
Uramaki – similar to maki, but the sushi rice is on the outside of the roll and may be topped with roe or seasame seeds
It’s helpful to eliminate some options off the top. Tannin can make fish taste metallic, so if you’re a red-or-bust drinker, put away the full throttle Napa Cab or structured Pauillac and grab a bottle that is suitably low in tannin. Look for a light-bodied Pinot Noir like a Bourgogne Rouge or a quaffable Beaujolais, with the savoury complexity of the Old World complementing the umami flavours found in the sushi. The best part: these are wines that won’t break the bank, typically under $30, and can be served with a slight chill as we approach the summer months.
In general, though, I lean towards a white or rosé. Anytime you have heat or spice, an easy answer is an off-dry white like Riesling or Gewurztraminer. But I don’t think that’s the solution: unless you go overboard on the wasabi, you’re more likely to be pairing umami flavours than spice. And that’s why I’m grabbing a crisp, dry white or rosé, ideally with a subtle savouriness to complement the nori and soy sauce. Given the delicate flavours often found in sushi, a wine with subdued aromatics will give you the most versatility at the dinner table. Think about a Chablis or Sancerre. If you’re going pink, a Provencal rosé.
Sure, you can splurge on a Premier or Grand Cru Chablis, but a Petit Chablis will absolutely do the trick with sushi, and typically can be found for less than $25. Plus, it’s a great entry point to quality producers like Domaine Seguinot-Bordet. Sancerre may not have the pungent intensity of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, but the subtle herbs and citrus tang are fantastic with vegetarian sushi, while a Provencal rosé can match the intensity of the wildest sushi rolls on the menu.
So, next #TakeoutDay, order a large assortment of sushi, open a bottle or two, and experiment with your own food and wine pairings. If you’re keen to learn more, you can enrol in Fine Vintage’s Food & Wine online course anywhere, anytime.