I think diners who shy away from even trying raw fish believe they are in for a strong, fishy taste and slimy consistency, when really, a fresh example can contain beautifully subtle, gentle flavors and a clean texture. Its understated taste explains some folks’ need to drown each bite in soy sauce and wasabi. Sashimi is a good start for neophytes, since it omits the seaweed, which itself can be an acquired taste.
Once having jumped the introductory hurdle, some of us would like an alternative to sake to accompany this once rare delicacy hailing from Japan, which is now found and enjoyed throughout the United States. We asked two wine educators, one master sommelier and one master chef for guidance, and they obliged with their usual eclectic suggestions:
With the fresh, delicate, exotic and texturally intriguing characteristics that most forms of sushi share, I like a Duval-Leroy Brut NV Champagne. Thirty-two dollars is a reasonable price for real Champagne, and people deserve such a treat during these challenging times. The Duval-Leroy exhibits sultry aromas of apple, pear and flowers with hints of biscuity yeastiness, framed with tiny bubbles. The crisp acidity and minuscule bubbles do not overpower the subtlety of the sushi, but cleanse the palate for the next exotic bite. The diversity of flavor and styles of sushi are endless, and this Champagne harmonizes with most. The sparkling/sushi combination is the ultimate indulgence, and the simplicity and texture of the sushi coupled with the creativity of a great sushi chef is extraordinary. Bubbles only make it better! – Gregg Lamer, Wine Educator, Vino Five-O, The Premium Wine Outlet, Napa, CA
For sushi, the wine served depends on the fish and the preparation, and I love sake, of course; otherwise I like the 2002 Fonsalette Côte du Rhône with fresh uni, natto [fermented soybeans] and salmon sashimi – without dipping in soy sauce and wasabi. Alternatively, an off dry fat-bodied Pfalz wine like Muller Catoir Scheurebe Spatlese is amazing, highlighting the fruit and texture of the wine with most sushi, while tempering the spices and wasabi. – Chris Blanchard, Master Sommelier, Chappellet Winery, St Helena, CA
Editor’s Note: The 2002 Côtes du Rhône White Château de Fonsalette Réservé garnered 87 points. “Mature, with nectarine and apricot notes followed by an edgy finish where hints of mineral and peach skitter underneath. Intriguing wine.” – Wine Spectator, August, 2005.
As Mr. Blanchard stresses, eating these selections of sushi without the accoutrements allows you to enjoy the marriage of subtle fruit flavors and minerality of the Fonsalette to the flavors of the fish.Due to its mild fruit flavors coupled with minerality, this wine works equally well with the varying flavors of uni (sweet and creamy), natto (strong, even objectionable to some) and salmon (with its unctious texture).
When I first started marketing West Coast wines to Japan, the only beverage offered with Sushi was sake. Since then, beverage options have changed a great deal, both in Japan and here, in the United States as “grape” wine has taken its rightful place along rice wine as a viable paring selection. On one of my recent visits to my favorite Sushi restaurant, Arigato, in Roseville, California, I brought in three different wines to pair: the 2008 Kunde Magnolia Lane Sauvignon Blanc, the 2006 Acacia Winery Lake Chardonnay from Carneros, and the 2008 Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc Viognier. I paired three rolls, a deep fried shrimp and avocado roll (Fair Oaks), a tuna and avocado roll (Pacific) and a soft shell crab, salmon, seared tuna and avocado roll (Galleria). It was interesting to experience how one wine really stood out with a specific roll. The Acacia Chardonnay went quite well with the Galleria as the richness of the wine blended well with the slightly sweet taste of the crab. The fruit notes in the Pine Ridge Chenin/Viognier blend also complimented the citrus flavor in the Pacific roll. And, the grassiness and crisp acidity in the Kunde Sauvignon Blanc melded perfectly with the spiciness in the sauce of the Fair Oaks roll. My guidelines for sushi and wine . . . if it’s rich, (crab, salmon, sauce, etc.) go with a Chardonnay; if there’s any spiciness to the roll, go with a Sauvignon Blanc and if any citrus, go with a softer wine that has melon or citrus flavors! – Roxanne Langer, Founder and Wine Educator, WineFUNdamentals, Penryn, CA
There are so many kinds of sushi out there, but my husband [Master Chef, Roy Salazar] and I tend to order hamachi (yellowtail), tuna toro (belly of tuna) and uni (sea urchin). The common elements in all are the buttery, rich taste and texture. I like to cut some of the richness of this dish with something acidic like a nice Champagne. When we were in Hanoi last year eating at Bobby Chinn Restaurant, the staff knew of my fondness for Uni and created an appetizer dish in my honor. The dish was added to the menu with my name on it and yes, was accompanied with a nicely chilled champagne. Thank you for the great memories, Bobby. I like a Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill Champagne by Pol Roger. The acid cuts the buttery richness of the uni and adds depth to the experience. – Master Chef Julie Tan, Vice President, A Sip and a Taste; Consulting Chef at Independent @ Yan Can Cook; Culinary Writer