How to pair wine with the complex flavours of the fifth taste, umami
by Vivian Song
Published Friday, October 31, 2014 9:33AM EDT in CTV News , CTV television network Canada
Given that umami was only formally accepted as the fifth taste by the scientific community less than 30 years ago, the enigmatic flavour sensation is at a bitter disadvantage when it comes to wine pairings.
Adjectives used to describe the final flavor profile include expressions like “pleasantly savory,” and “earthy.” That is, unlike its counterparts sweet, salty, bitter and sour, umami is more complex and evades a tidy definition.
Imagine, then, the kinds of challenges umami-rich foods present for wine lovers. How do you choose a wine that complements, rather than destroys, the delicate balance of flavors found in many Japanese ingredients like soy sauce, miso and shiitake mushrooms?
At the inaugural edition of Vinexpo Nippon in Tokyo this weekend — the first time the world’s largest wine fair will host an event in Japan — sommelier Hisao Morigami will teach Japanese wine lovers how to reconcile wine with the fifth taste experience that’s so integral to their native cuisine.
Morigami’s biggest tip? Bypass wine altogether and consider pairing a common Japanese dish like eggplants in sweet soy sauce with a glass of Brut champagne that offers a good complement with its minerality and sharpness, he suggests.
Champagne house creates Umami bubbly
In response to Japan’s growing interest in wine, biodynamic champagne house Champagne De Sousa recently released a limited run of bubbly aptly called Umami, developed specifically with the fifth taste in mind.
Described as having a velvety texture, length, minerality, softness, depth and viscosity, Umami was developed to be paired with dishes that carry its namesake in addition to replicating the mouth-watering sensation produced by umami-rich foods.
Umami wine is made with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes.
In his book ‘Pairing Wine with Asian Food,’ Singapore-based wine expert Edwin Soon also offers tips on how to get around the complex flavor profile of the fifth taste.
One rule of thumb when it comes to pairing umami-rich seafood dishes heavy on ingredients like shrimp paste, for example, is to avoid chewy, tannic red wines as the reaction produces a metallic taste, leaving the mouth dry and rough, Soon says.
Adding a teriyaki sauce, however, could render a seafood dish friendlier to a young Bordeaux or Italian Barolo.
Another general rule of thumb: A dry Pinot Noir, with its silky tannins and good level of acidity, works well with umami-rich foods, as do dry white wines and dry sparkling wines.
The one Japanese food that defies any wine pairing?
Tsukemono — preserved Japanese vegetables.
“The pickles should simply take the place of wine to leave your palate refreshed,” he said.
Here are Soon’s wine suggestions for umami-rich foods:
• Chenin Blanc
• Muller Thurgau
• Picpoul de Pinet
• Soave Classico
Vinexpo Nippon runs November 1 -2 in Tokyo.