Recently man came into our wine store in Valencia asking for recommendations for wines with sushi. He was a keen cook and he explained to me the different flavours of the algas he had just bought in the Ruzafa market and that along other ingredients he was going to prepare a selection of Sushi dishes.
People who come to my wine courses will know that there are no rules when it comes to pairing wine with food, except that it can be important to be aware how certain ingredients will impact on the wine.
There are many styles of Sushi but one thing they have in common is that they are high in umami, which basically means very tasty but difficult to put into words. A good example of umami is to heat a raw mushroom in the microwave for a minute. This is the taste of umami which along with salt, acidity, sweetness, sourness and bitterness makes up the range of flavour sensations we can detect on our palates.
Dishes that have a distinctive flavours can have effect of making a wine taste less fruity, more bitter, thinner and more astringent. Drink a glass of an oaky Rioja after eating the cooked mushroom and see how it tastes. This is just a natural reaction. So it is important to choose wines that have a similar level of intensity of flavour and that are low in tannins.
Fino and Amontillado are perfect to accompany sushi dishes. Sherry is one of the great food wines because it has a smooth, intense flavour with a touch of saltiness that lifts the food to another level. Jamón Serrano, a food that is often not well matched with wine because of its high level of umami, is perfect to accompany a glass of Fino.
However, if you are not a fan of sherry, which other wines should you consider?
Good quality Albariños are known for having a high level of citrus, lemon and lime flavours and high acidity, making them a good choice to accompany the seafood sushi dish. The key factor is the intensity of flavours and the acidity will cut through the oiliness of the fish.
Grüner Veltliner, an Austrian grape, has a similar style to Albariño with a hint of white pepper. The crisp acidity balances the richness of the sauces while the citrus flavours combine well with the intensity of the other flavours.
Pouilly Fumé or Sancerre, classic French wines from the Loire Valley made from Sauvignon Blanc are wonderful food wines that are aromatic with a high acidity but are well balanced and just combine perfectly.
Sparkling wines are great with Sushi. Prosecco from northern Italy has delicate flavours of pear and lemon together with a crisp acidity and refreshing bubbles that make it an ideal wine to share with friends while trying to coordinate your chopsticks.
The key is to experiment, try different pairings to find out what works best for you.