The Best Wine to Pair with Sushi

When you think about sushi, you probably consider pairing it with soy sauce, wasabi, which is Japanese horseradish, or fresh ginger. Drinks may be the last thing on your mind, but guess what, you can pair sushi with a glass of wine. It will add something special to your dining experience and you probably won’t want to enjoy your next sushi without a delicious bottle of wine. 

If you aren’t sure about this, go to a Japanese restaurant and you will find that they have a wine list. Ask them for recommendations to pair with the sushi you choose. You can find wine and food pairings at food festivals as well. For example, there was a food festival in New York which had more than 100 vendors and local food trucks. There was Japanese food on offer which was paired with wine.

In this article, we will be taking a look at which wines are the best to pair with sushi. You will hopefully be surprised at how well sushi goes with wine and will be inspired to try a glass or two. 

What Other Drinks Could I Have with Sushi?

Another option is beer, but if you choose this, you should go for a light beer or a lager. Sushi is generally light and heavier beers don’t pair well especially as they are starchier. This limits the options out there. 

You could have sushi with Sake which is, of course, Japanese. However, it is made from rice and is brewed in a similar way to beer. Pairing Sake with sushi just adds rice upon rice and this can be too much. It would fill you up too quickly and would ruin the dining experience. However, Sake does go well with sashimi which is a dish of bite-sized pieces of raw fish eaten with soy sauce and wasabi paste. Sake is an acquired taste and it is less crisp and acidic than wine which makes it less of a good pairing. 

If you want a fresh and bright drink to go with your sushi, the best choice is wine, in particular white wine which is much lighter than red wine and either beer or Sake. 

Why are Pairings with Sushi Different to Pairings with Fish?

Yes, there is fish in sushi as you know, but it has complex textures and flavours. You are not only looking at fish and seafood, but rice, vegetables, and seaweed. Sushi is generally more salty and diverse in flavours than fish so it will need different wine pairings. 

Tips For Wine Pairings

Wine is supposed to be a complement to the dish you are serving and it shouldn’t overwhelm it. However, it’s not all about the taste of the food or what it is. Here are some points you need to look into.

  • Consider your flavour preferences. You will need to choose a wine that has flavours you like. If you prefer undertones of honey and nuts, you might want to go with a Chardonnay, but if you like fruity flavours such as apple, melon, and pineapple, go for a Sauvignon Blanc.
  • You should be willing to try out new wines as you might find great choices out there.
  • Consider how the food has been prepared. For example, a light, bright wine won’t go with a rich sauce while a meaty fish probably won’t pair with a white Riesling.
  • You should think about what condiments and side dishes are being served with your meal. They can alter the choice of wine you choose. 
  • Make sure that the flavours of the wine and the food aren’t too similar. The flavours of the food will fade and the meal will seem insipid.
  • When it comes to sushi, you will probably need a light fresh wine. However, if you choose a stronger tasting fish like mackerel, you will need a bolder wine, possibly a red.

Is it Important to Match the Type of Sushi to the Wine?

Yes, it is important to choose the right wine to go with the sushi. Sushi does vary and some contain light fish and others, heavier fish, so you will need to choose different wines. Now we’ll go through sushi varieties so we know what’s out there.

  • Maki. Maki is rice with a filling that is wrapped in seaweed. It contains fish that is often rtaw, and sometimes vegetables. It has layered flavours and you get a very distinct seaweed taste. It goes well with a red Amarone, a white Chenin Blanc, or a red Valpolicella Ripasso.
  • Uramaki. This is similar to Maki, but the rice is on the outside and the seaweed on the inside. It is similar to Maki in texture and flavour. Wine pairings are similar to Maki.
  • Sashimi. Sashimi is sushi served without rice. This makes it less starchy and salty than either Maki and Uramaki. However, it is often served with soy sauce which makes it more salty. It is best served with white wine, such as a Muscadet.The aroma of dry wines don’t interfere with the delicate flavours.
  • Nigiri. Nigiri is a cone-shaped mound of rice that is steamed and then coated with wasabi and topped with a tiny bit of seafood. It is the most starchy of all the sushi, but the least salty. A white Sauvignon Blanc goes well with this type of sushi.

What are the Common Fillings in Sushi?

The central flavour of sushi is the filling. This will determine the wine you pair it with. The wine has to enhance and complement the flavours of the sushi. Common fillings include trout, red snapper, bluefin, salmon, roe, scallops, clams, crab meat, squid, clam, eel, shrimp, and tuna. You can also get sushi rolls which are filled with vegetables, in particular avocado and cucumber.

The most popular sushi rolls include the following:

  • Surf and Turf. These rolls can contain cucumber, fish cakes, imitation crab, beef, carrots, tuna, salmon, and avocado. They are meaty in texture and are the heaviest out of all the different types of sushi rolls. 
  • Vegetable Roll. This is vegetarian and contains such fillings as asparagus, avocado, scallions, carrots, and cucumber. They might even have the addition of cream cheese-making them feel richer. Unlike many types of sushi rolls, they aren’t very salty and don’t have the texture of most sushi. However, they do have a seaweed wrap. 
  • Spider Roll. This is a heavy roll as it has fried fish in it as well as fish eggs. Some may contain fried crab with avocado, cucumber, radish sprout, roe, and carrot.
  • Caterpillar Roll. These rolls contain such fillings as fish cakes, imitation crab, avocado, and cucumber.
  • Philly Roll. This is a creamy and cool roll. It contains cream cheese, salmon, and avocado. There are also sesame seeds which give an extra crunch.
  • Tempura Roll. This roll contains avocado, shrimp, and usually eel sauce.  
  • California Roll. This roll contains imitation crab, cucumber, and avocado.
  • Dragon Roll. You will like these rolls if you like eel. They contain eel, avocado, and cucumber and are topped with eel sauce.
  • Rainbow Roll. You will like the appearance of this roll as it is colourful and bright. It is jam packed full of seafood such as imitation crab, tuna, salmon, shrimp, and yellowtail. There is also avocado and cucumber. Because it is so packed with flavour, a light white wine would go best with it. 

What Else Should I Know About Sushi?

Some seafood used in sushi, such as shrimp and salmon, is cooked first while other other types of fish are used raw such as imitation crab. 

Raw fish is more robust in flavour and so would require a heavier wine perhaps even a red wine. However, when fish is cooked it becomes mild and could therefore be paired with a full-bodied white wine. The choice is yours. Raw fish is almost meaty in taste which is why you can pair it with a red wine. You can use imitation fish, crab comes to mind. However, imitation fish is not as flavourful as real seafood and fish. andwould be best paired with a white wine. You also have to consider other fillings such as cream cheese, avocado, and cucumber. You would be most likely to put these ingredients in with cooked fish, so again a white wine is best as they are light in flavour. Vegetables are cooling and fresh and will give you a less meaty sushi.

What is the Best Way to Select the Right Wine to Go with Sushi?

It is always difficult to choose the right wine to pair with  a particular food and sushi is particularly hard to pair with a wine. This is because there are so many varieties, flavours, and ingredients in sushi. With this in mind, we will give you some guidelines which will hopefully help you to choose the perfect wine. 

How Acidic  Should the Wine Be?

Acidity makes wine taste tart. It is a natural and essential preservative. If you want an example of an acidic drink, think of lemonade and other carbonated drinks. They make your mouth pucker, but that’s not a bad thing. Many people enjoy this hit. Because sushi can be very salty, you will want a drink to balance this out. An acidic wine is your best bet and white wines are much higher in acidity than red wines. Riesling is a great choice. However, if you prefer red wines, you can still enjoy your favourite tipple. PInot Noir is a light red wine that is known for its acidity. The acidity of wine also balances out the fats which both fish and avocados have.

How High a Tannin Level Should My Wine Have?

Tannins are found in the skins of the grape. They determine how dry the wine feels in your mouth. You will find that red wines are higher in tannins than white wines. Some red wines that are very high in tannins can be bitter like dark chocolate or black tea. They are heavy and for this reason you don’t want to pair a wine with high tannins with sushi as it will completely overpower it. There is enough texture in the sushi and you don’t need any more.  Wine high in tannins is astringent and would not pair well with the salty elements of sushi. However, as always, there is an exception to the rule. If your sushi contains yellowfin tuna fish, a wine high in tannins would be a good match so you could go for a red wine. This is because yellowfin tuna is meaty in texture and flavour and wines high in tannins go well with meat particularly steak. 

Should I Choose a Sweet or a Dry Wine to Pair with my Sushi?

Generally, sushi is best with dry wine. However, if you are having something like a spicy tuna roll, you could get away with a semi-dry wine which has a touch of sweetness. A sweeter wine tends to balance out the spicy flavours and the heat. The same goes for any meaty fish used in the sushi rolls. This is reinforced if there is a spicy sauce. You could even drink a mildly sweet wine. However, most sushi is bright and light, especially sushi that contains vegetables and therefore pairs well with dry wine. 

Is it Better to Pair Sushi with a Full-Bodied Wine or a Light-Bodied Wine?

This agains depends on the fillings in the sushi. If they are filled with light ingredients such as fresh vegetables, shrimp, or cooked salmon, a light-bodied wine would go best. If you drink a full-bodied wine with light dishes, it can overpower the flavours of the meal However, if you are eating sushi filled with meaty fish such as tuna or oily fish, serve a medium or full-bodied wine.

  • Light options of fillings include avocado, cucumber, shrimp, and imitation crab and they go well with a light-bodied wine.
  • Medium options of fillings include cooked salmon, fish cakes, and eel and pair well with a light-bodied wine.
  • Heavier options of fillings include yellowfin tuna, and raw salmon. They go well with either a medium-bodied wine or a full-bodied wine. Tempura, which is a Japanese dish of fish, shellfish, or vegetables fried in batter also pair well with a medium or full-bodied wine..

What Colour of Wine Pairs the Best with Sushi

We have already said that most sushi is light and bright. Therefore it would pair well with a white wine which has citrus notes  like Riesling or Chenin Blanc. Of course, it is well known that most seafood is paired with white wine so this fact isn’t surprising. However, if you don’t like white wine, choose sushi filled with meatier fish like yellowfin tuna and then you can pair it with a medium-bodied red wine like Merlot or Chianti. The same goes if the sushi has a sauce of heavy wasabi cream.

What Flavours Should I Look For in a Wine?

For most sushi, you will want a bright and fresh wine. Look for a wine that has citrus notes like lemon, grapefruit, and lime. Other fruity notes such as apple and pear also go well, but keep away from darker fruits such as blackberries, blackcurrants, and plums. These flavours are usually associated with red wines anyway. However, if you are eating sushi with yellowfin tuna or tempura, you can steer towards these flavours. Cocoa and earthy notes would also only pair well with meatier fish. 

Can I Pair Wine That Has Been Oak-Aged with Sushi?

It isn’t a good idea to pair sushi with wine that has been aged in oak barrels. The main variety of wine that has been oak-aged is Chardonnay. Ageing in oak barrels tends to produce wines that are robust and rich. They are usually buttery and creamy and have a hint of vanilla. This doesn’t pair well with sushi.

Can I Pair Sparkling Wine with Sushi?

Sparkling wine adds a special touch to any meal or celebration and it naturally pairs well with sushi that has lighter fillings. It goes well with sashimi and sushi rolls filled with vegetables and light fish such as shrimp and scallops.

A Summary of Wine Pairings with Sushi

Your best choice of wine to pair with sushi is a light and bright white wine, one that is high in acidity, light to medium in body, has fresh citrus notes, is dry, and is low in tannins. You can, however, pair a medium-bodied red wine with meatier fillings. Don’t pair the sushi with a wine that has a salt element. There is already enough salt in the sushi in the form of the seaweed and if you are serving soy sauce with the meal, there is even more salt in the meal.

What Types of Wine Go With the Different Types of Sushi?

  • Tempura: Tempura pairs well with a wine that has a light body and bright acidity such as Sauvignon Blanc. Fried fish does better with a wine that lifts it and Sauvignon Blanc does the job.
  • The Heavier Fillings: These are options that are high in umami such as raw salmon and yellowfin tuna and surf and turf sushi rolls. You can choose a red wine such as Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is high in acidity, high in tannins, has a medium body and flavour notes of black cherry, vegetal notes of green pepper, and vanilla. However, you could also go for a full-bodied white wine like Riesling or Muscat. These two wines would pair well with a spicy tuna roll.
  • The Lighter Fillings: Sushi that is filled with imitation crab, shrimp, scallops and vegetables fit in this category. These sushi rolls need a delicate white wine with a light body and high acidity. The wine should also be dry or extra-dry. In this way, the flavours of the sushi will be lifted. Excellent choices would be Chablis, Sauterne, Albarino, and Sauvignon Blanc. If it’s a special occasion or you just want a fruitier flavour, go for Prosecco. It tastes of apple, peach, melon, and pear. It is light-bodied, high in acidity, and vibrant.
  • Nigiri: Nigiri pairs well with a simple wine with a central flavour note. Nigiri doesn’t have rich fillings like avocado or cream cheese nor does it have the seaweed wrap so you want a wine to complement it, not overwhelm it. The wine should be refreshing and light and Pinot Grigio is a good choice. It is acidic, citrusy, light-bodied, and dry.
  • Sashimi: Sashimi focuses on raw fish so you need to pair it with a wine that complements the natural oils in the fish and the meaty taste. You could choose a light-bodied red wine like Pinot Noir. It is a medium-dry wine which is fruit-forward. It tastes of redcurrants, cherries, and mushrooms. You could also try an unoaked Chardonnay which has flavours of green apple, lemon, and pineapple.

Suggestions of Wine Pairings

Perhaps you’re not sure of where to start when choosing the right bottle of wine to go with your sushi. If so, we’d like to give you a few suggestions.

  • If you are eating tempura, a 2017 Groth Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley is a good pick. It has been produced in California in various microclimates which gives the wines a lush, full melon and citrus taste and aroma. You will also taste peach and apricot. The wine is light, bright, and refreshing.
  • If you are eating a s[icy tuna roll, a good choice is the 2017 Pacific Rim Sweet Riesling. It is medium-sweet with stone fruit and citrus flavours. The aromas are vibrant with notes of tangerine peel, lime zest, and jasmine. The sweetness isn’t too overpowering and doesn’t overwhelm the heat and spiciness. It brings out the natural sweetness of the tuna and if you’re having a dessert after the sushi, the Riesling will go well with a fruity pudding.
  • If you are having lighter sushi such as vegetable rolls or Ca;ifornia rolls, a 2017 Doclas Rias Baixas Albarino would go well. It tastes a little like Sauvignon Blanc but is not so herbal or vegetable-forward. It has notes of citrus fruits such as grapefruit and lemon, and stone fruits such as peaches and nectarines. There is a hint of minerality which gives it a crisp and refreshing taste.
  • A wine that pairs well with nigiri is the 2017 San Pietro Pinot Grigio. It has fruity flavours of lemon-lime, and stone fruits such as peach and apricot. You may get aroma of salmonds, spices, and honeysuckle. It is rich enough to match tuna or raw salmon.
  • For Sashimi, try the White Queen Chardonnay 2014. This wine comes from Sonoma County which is one of the best grape-growing regions in California. It is pale yellow in colour and has flavours of grapefruit, peach, and undertones of sweetness in the shape of honey, brioche,  and nuts. It hasn’t been aged in oak so you won’t get any earthy aromas or tastes. It has high acidity and alcohol and is a great wine to serve with food.

Frequently Asked Questions

Perhaps you still have some questions about sushi and if so, we will answer some here.

Can I use any rice to make sushi?

No, not if you want to have the best results. In order to produce the authenticJapanese standard, you should use short-grain Japanese rice. Long-grain rice like jasmine and basmati won’t do as they aren’t sticky enough for sushi. If you can’t get any Japanese rice you can use medium grain California rice. That should manage to keep the rolls together. There are different types of Japanese rice (also called Japonica). There is ordinary rice that is called uruchimai,  glutinous rice that is called mochigome, and uruchimai, which is most commonly used and is composed of short translucent grains.

How do you get everything to hold together in a sushi roll?

It is important that the rolls hold together properly as you don’t want to have a mess on your plate. It is the rice that does the job and this is why you need to choose the right type of rice. When you come to forming the rolls, close them really tightly so that they keep their shape.

Do you make sushi rolls with hot or cold rice?

You should never make sushi with hot rice. This is because it won’t balance the tastes and textures of the sushi. This is particularly true if  you are using raw seafood. Once the rice has cooled down, then you can make the sushi. Make sure that it is cool, not cold. This allows the rice and aromatics to open up.  If you are short of time and want the rice to cool down quickly, spread it on a baking tray and cover it with a towel. This stops the rice from drying out. 

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