Usually, the first alcoholic drink that comes to mind when thinking of eating sushi is sake, a Japanese rice wine.
However, wine is also a great alternative since it highlights the clean flavors of fresh fish. In this article, we’ll share what wine pairs with sushi.
Getting to Know Your Sushi
What is Sushi?
Sushi, a traditional Japanese dish, combines vinegared rice and fish or other seafood. Sushi features raw fish more often, but sometimes it is seared or cooked.
The term “sushi” refers to the rice’s sourness, which is the most vital ingredient of the dish.
What are the types of sushi?
When fish and rice are rolled into a sheet of nori or seaweed, then it’s called “maki.” On the other hand, Makizushi is a type of maki that’s formed like a cylinder.
A nori sheet is wrapped around a layer of raw seafood, rice, vegetables, and sometimes, even cream cheese. The result is a roll that is sliced to create bite-sized pieces.
You’ll eat an uramaki when you’re served a roll where the rice is outside, and the filling and nori are inside.
If you order nigiri on a menu, you’ll receive a mound of rice shaped like an oval with a sliver of raw fish or seafood. There are times when the seafood is fermented or seared, like in the case of shrimp or eel.
Yellowtail, fatty tuna, and salmon are the most common fish used in nigiri sushi. The usual garnishes added to the sushi include ginger, wasabi, and scallions.
Uni, a sea urchin’s sex organs, is an expensive kind of sushi. Despite its price, it’s still a popular option among sushi enthusiasts due to its delicate, sweet flavor.
Temaki Sushi, also known as handrolls, features a loosely rolled nori shaped like an ice cream cone. Fillings such as fish, fish roe, and vegetables are placed inside the cone.
How to Choose Wine for Sushi
A wide array of wine regions and grape varieties excellently pairs with sushi. Generally, most white wines, sparkling wines, and roses are great sushi companions.
There are also red wines with lighter and softer notes that go well with the flavors of this delectable Japanese delicacy.
It would be best to avoid tannins and heavy oak since they can overpower the taste of fresh seafood and vegetables.
Rich and robust red wines can clash with the flavors of sushi and can make it taste fishier than intended. Cross out Nebbiolo and cabernet sauvignon from your list if you’re planning to eat sushi.
The Best White Wine to Pair with Sushi
Primarily grown in Portugal and Spain, Albariño is hailed as a seafood lover’s wine. This light-bodied, high-quality wine has a refreshing citrus flavor, subtle saltiness, dry taste high acidity.
It goes well with Shiromi sushi, a type of nigiri topped with white-fleshed fish such as Amber Jack, Sea Bass, Yellowtail, or Sea Bream. You can also enjoy a glass of Albariño with raw or seared shellfish, shrimp, or uni.
One of the most loved white wines is the Sauvignon Blanc. Its origins may be in the French city of Bordeaux, but it was New Zealand that introduced it to the world.
This high acidity and low-sugar wine have green herbal flavors that are refreshing and crisp. It is important to note that oaked sauvignon blanc doesn’t pair well with fish, so it’s best to avoid it.
Sauvignon blanc and mackerel are a match made in sushi heaven. Raw, grilled, and cured (shime saba) mackerel work perfectly with the wine.
Maki rolls with a hint of citrus flavors and almost all cuts of nigiri are also best enjoyed with sauvignon blanc.
If your taste buds are feeling adventurous and looking for an alternative to sauvignon blanc, grab a Gruner Veltliner wine bottle. This Austrian-grown white wine is dry and has lime and green pepper flavors.
Its minerally and complex flavors go well with many sushi variations.
Full-bodied and spicy Gruner wines from the Kremstal, Kamptal, and Wachau regions of Austria are best paired with sushi filled with fatty fish like mackerel and tuna. You can also have a bold Gruner with plates of fancy sushi rolls.
Muscadet, pronounced as “muss-kuh-day,” hails from the Loire Valley in central France. This light-bodied, bone-dry wine is made from various white grapes called Melon de Bourgogne.
This excellent food pairing wine has high acidity and faint citrus notes.
The salty and light flavors of Muscadet blend well with nigiri made with raw fish. You can enjoy a glass with white fish, fish roe (ikura), and uni sushi.
The Best Red Wine to Pair with Sushi
Pinot Noir is a well-loved wine all over the world. It’s famous for its spice, flower, and red fruit aromas enhanced by a smooth finish.
The flavors that make this red grape wine exceptional are derived from hibiscus, clove, raspberry, and cherry. This dry, medium-bodied wine has high acidity and low tannins.
The fruity nature of this wine pairs well with unagi, salmon, black cod, and tuna sushi. Its minerality and acidity can balance the ocean-fresh flavors of oily fish without overpowering their natural taste.
Barbera hails from the valleys and slopes of Northern Italy. It’s touted as the “wine of the people” because it’s more affordable than most wines.
This low tannin and high acidity vino have sour cherry and strawberry notes, making it a light-bodied wine.
These fruity and herbal reds are a fantastic companion to salmon, hamachi, and tuna sushi. It can also go well with sushi filled with cooked shellfish and other seafood.
The elegant Rioja wine comes from the rich soils of North Central Spain’s three sub-regions. The dominant grape in Rioja is a red wine grape that can only be found in Spain.
This medium to full-bodied vino has rich flavors and high tannins. The savory notes are a perfect combination of plum, tobacco, herbs, and dark berries.
When you have Rioja in your cellar, you may pair them with tuna, salmon., unagi, and marinated-Black cod sushi. They’re also great for other items on the menu, such as sauteed and grilled dishes.
Malbec may not be as famous as Pinot Noir or Merlot, but it still elicits love from many wine lovers worldwide. It’s renowned for its full-body, rich, fruity flavors and deep purple color.
If you’re trying to lessen your alcohol intake, watch out when you’re drinking this wine since its ABV levels can reach up to 15% Malbec wine is excellent with cooked black cod or broiled unagi sushi.
It also works well with sushis rolls with a bit of a kick and spice.
The Best Sparkling Wine to Pair with Sushi
If you’re celebrating a significant milestone and craving Japanese food, you can pop a bottle of champagne while enjoying sushi. These most popular sparkling wines have an oaky, full-bodied flavor.
Ikura (red caviar), masago (smelt roe), and tobiko (flying fish roe) sushi are best enjoyed with a bottle of champagne. The sparkling drink also goes well with any raw sushi. An omakase meal will be more spectacular with a bubbly in your hand.
Northeastern Italy is the origin of Prosecco wines. It’s named after the Prosecco, an Italian suburb of Trieste. It is produced using Glera grapes and exhibits the flavors of green apple, cream, pear, and honeydew melon.
Its intense fruity and floral aroma and light bubbles make it a good choice for several Asian dishes, including sushi.
This less expensive alternative to champagne works wonders with a wide array of shellfish and raw fish sushi.
It is also an excellent companion to Western-style sushi rolls such as Philadelphia rolls, Avocado, cucumber, cream cheese rolls, and California rolls. Prosecco matches well with sushi, is spicy and saucy, and has several ingredients.
The sweet white is known as “frizzante” or slightly sparkling. It’s created from the Muscat Blanc grape and carries the sweet notes of orange blossom and peaches.
This Italian wine exudes a particular floral scent that comes from “linalool,” an aromatic compound found in cinnamon, citrus flowers, and mint.
Moscato’s exceptionally light flavor and soft texture pair best with spicy Kani, tuna, and crab sushi rolls. It balances the spice and provides a refreshing respite for the taste buds.
You can have it with a crunch roll, sushi made from spicy tuna, and crispy seaweed.
Wine and sushi pairing is an excellent combination of Eastern and Western cultures. The fruity, aromatic notes of the wines mentioned above blend well with the fresh flavors of the sushi.
You can choose different red, white, and sparkling wine the next time you’re in a sushi bar. Now that you know what wine pairs with sushi, you can confidently order the next time you’re in a Japanese restaurant.
Hiroshi Nakamura, a Tokyo-born sushi chef turned US-based writer and critic, is the voice behind ichisushi.com, blending traditional sushi wisdom with modern insights.