Wines for Japanese Food

published in Time Out

Unlike other Asian cuisines that involve blends of sauces, herbs and spices to create flavorsome dishes, Japanese food celebrates the taste of one main ingredient.

Each dish is created through measured portions, meticulous preparation, and a juxtaposition of textures, shapes and colors. With such meticulous detail and discipline, how could one possibly serve anything alongside other than the traditional sake or green tea?

Think again – Riesling, dry or sweet, has crisp acidity, supple body and lightly minerally tone – it’s ideal for sushi and sashimi. The alternatives – Petit Chablis, Frascati, Gruner Veltliner and Pinot Grigio – all share the same tangy palate cleansing traits. Tempura, airy and crusty, calls out for the same wines that cut through the oily flavours to contrast the salty tasting dish.

With roasted, grilled or smoked Japanese dishes whites are overcome. Go red instead. Teriyaki features the caramelised taste of mirin and sugar; yakitori is smoky whilst teppanyaki grilled meat is dipped in nutty or soy sauces.   To match, serve Chateauneuf du Pape, Chianti, Navarra red or Burgundy/Pinot Noir.  If you prefer bolder wines (Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon or Barolo), uncork aged texturally smooth versions.  Such red wines with some earthiness will also coax out similar tastes in leafy greens such as goma ae (spinach with sesame sauce).

A popular noodle dish is zaru soba – cold buckwheat noodles with green onion, nori and wasabi dipped in sauce.  Here, a fruity Chardonnay, with toasty undertones rules.

Shabu shabu’s flavours come from the sauce – ponzu, vinegar or lemon scented soya sauce and gomadare (sesame-miso). Sukiyaki sauce contains soy, sugar and sake. Tastes are salty, sweet and nutty here. Enhance them with something alcoholic…and ice cold – serve sweet port or sherry, on the rocks. Now that’s zen!

Find out more in the books “Pairing Wine with Asian Food” or “Wine with Asian Food”