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Jan 14, 2008 12:52 PM

questions about pairings

Can you pair sushi with red?

Are there any big pairing rules not to break?

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  1. Different strokes for different folks.
    In the end, if you like red wine with sushi then who is to say you can't do it.

    Reds will typically be too big/tannic and will overpower the fish. Or the wasabi may kill a red wine.

    Typically you would pair a white such as Gewurztraminer, Riesling, or Sparkling Wine/Champagne.

    A Pinot Noir may work as a red wine.

    Again, wine pairing is really a matter of personal taste.

    1. Rosé Champagne and sushi work very well together.

      Are you concerned about pairing rules with sushi? The big flavors of a red wine may overwhelm the fish, so the fish's subtle flavors are lost. Likewise, as Scott M. says, the spicy heat in the wasabi may kill some of the flavors in the red wine, so it's actually not the best choice of wine for a pairing. Unless it's really really what you want to drink.

      Generally, you match intensity: the intensity of the food's flavor's with the wine's flavors. Sushi and Champagne are about the same intensity, especially when it comes to Rosé Champagne, which has a tiny bit more heft in its flavor than regular Champagne. Champagne goes well with just a touch of spicy heat, like that of wasabi, so I also think it's a good fit for that reason. The bubbles in the wine work particularly well with oily fishes, too. That's the same reason bubbly is good with smoked salmon and caviar.

      So there are three wine pairing strategies there: equal intensity; wine/spicy heat compatibility and effervesence/fat compatibility. A few other wines will work, but Rosé Champagne is just about my favorite wine pairing with sushi.

      Some other basic food and wine pairing strategies are: match the tone of the food with the wine (everyday/everyday, opulent/opulent), match geography (wine from the same region as the food), match common flavors (flavor mirroring), or provide a contrast of flavors (the classic example is spicy hot food with a slightly sweet wine that acts like a foil to the spiciness). If you're able, it can be quite fun and educational to taste two or three wines with the same dish. My favorite experience in wine pairing is when, after you have a small bite of food and a sip of the wine together in your mouth at the same time, a third, brand new flavor is born.

      1 Reply
      1. re: maria lorraine

        Strongly second the Rosé Champagne, rec. One could possibly pair a ligher BJ, or still Rosé, but a lot will depend on both the sushi and the wine.

        I have always loved the pairing of a Groth Napa SB, with most of the sushi, that I have had. It has a great balance of fruit and acid, and has held up to some really hot wasabe, nicely. I have had less luck with NZ SBs, though I do love them. Same for white Bdx., just does not seem to go quite right, but that is based on my tastes.


      2. One of the reasons I don't like red wine with raw fish is that I find the tannins interact with the fish oil to give an odd bitter metallic taste. The more oily the fish, the more I notice this taste. The culmination of this comes when I try to eat smoked salmon with red wine. I think this is why Pinot Noir can work well with some fish, because the tannins seem smoother and don't interact as violently (generally speaking).

        1 Reply
        1. re: moh

          I've found pretty much the same. There have been a few instances, where I found a nice Syrah, that worked with salmon, but I always just reach for a PN.

          Someone had a salmon main and a WA Merlot recently. It was absolutely horrible. Both the fish and the wine, were fine, on their own, but did not work together.


        2. Not a big fan of sushi with reds either. But unlike the other posters, my issue isn't with the spiciness of the wasabi, since I've used wasabi in other recipes and drank with red wine to satisfactory results. It's the soy sauce and the pickled ginger v. the tannins that completely destroy the structure of red wines for me. Any red wine with decent tannins begin to taste like cherry cola.

          As an experiment, try eating some steamed dumplings or pot stickers and make a traditional dipping sauce: soy, rice vinegar, sliced ginger. The red wine with it? Just awful.

          In my experience, Maria's right, champagne is absolutely perfect with sushi and accompaniment. A yeasty champagne with toast and briocche notes goes great with miso. A blanc de blancs goes well with lighter sashimi (red snapper, fluke). A rosé works best with heavier fishes (tuna, salmon) and a lot of spicy tartare preparations.

          Other good white candidates if you don't like the bubbly recs, again from personal taste, in order of preference:
          Gruner Veltliner
          NZ Sauvignon Blanc, though as Bill points out, this is by no means universal. Sometimes the grassiness of some of them come on a little too strong and with the clean flavors of the sushi, there's nothing to push them into the background.
          Riesling, preferably one that is very dry and has high acids.

          If you still prefer reds, a pinot could work with some of the heavier fishes. But I agree with Bill, your best bet is probably a light Beaujolais.

          1 Reply
          1. re: mengathon

            I do go along with the Riesling rec. Depending on the heat, I'd start with Kabinett and work up.

            My complaint with the NZ SBs, is that the fruit that I usually get is towards grapefruit, and there are often other elements, that just have not paired with the sushi, that I've sampled. One of the nice aspects with the Groth (and similar) is that it's more towards mild lemon. It's got good acid, but is not too pronounced in most other aspects. Had some Nautilus, Marlborough SB with sushi (about 3 mega-platters of nearly everything) in New Orleans, and would have killed for the Groth. The Nautilus was OK, but I had to work past some of the profiles in it. It's a personal taste thing, and I dearly love NZ SB with so very much, or by itself. Wife is less a NZ SB fan, as the grapefruit aspect puts her off. It just means more Cloudy Bay for me.


          2. Not even the LAPD's fabled SWAT team will kick in your front door for serving red wine with fish.

            My own personal favorites with sushi specifically are cold sake, beer, champagne, and riesling.

            That said, YOUR personal favorites may be different, and I say: enjoy them!

            1 Reply
            1. re: zin1953

              They can have my btl. of PN (or Syrah, depending on how I feel), when they pry it from... !

              Glad that I'm not in LA. [Grin]