Sushi: an impossible food-wine pairing?


Sushi, it’s still all the rage! Despite warnings from the NYT dining section about mercury levels and an economy that is softer than a fatty toro, the WSJ recently declared that “recession or no recession,” sushi “is not going anywhere.” “Iron Chef” Masaharu Morimoto pointed to the the ubiquity of sushi to go places as a sign of the degree to which it is now embedded in our culture.

You don’t have to love sushi as much as Jeremy Piven to think about which wine pairs with this delectable treat. Why not go with a trio of commonly ordered items such as salmon nigiri, tuna maki and tamago? (Or add your own favorite.) Which wine would you pair with sushi–or is it impossible?!?

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45 Responses to “Sushi: an impossible food-wine pairing?”

  1. I would say that the wine you pair with sushi depends on the kind of sushi you’re ordering…if you’re ordering a lot of spicy sushi, go milder on the wine- a chardonnay or sauvingnon blanc. Conversely, if you have more milder tasting fare, you can go a little bolder and have a shiraz, a pinot noir or even a nice bold cabernet.

  2. C’mon Dr. Vino! Haven’t you heard all the buzz?? Austrian Gruner Veltliner is THE grape to pair with Asian foods such as sushi! The crisp acidity of the native Austrian grape cuts right through spicy wasabi and other sauces and enhances the vegetables in the rolls.

    As a side note, this is my favorite “impossible pairing” yet. Sushi is the best 🙂

  3. I love to drink 2007 James David Cellars Muscat Blanc with Sushi! It’s a really light crisp dry white wine. Great nose with hints of honey dew melon and some citrus notes.

    Now I’m getting hungry for sushi at 9 am, thanks for the reminder…:-)

  4. Champagne or any sparkler is what we always have with sushi. If you dig on the spicier side of “bait”, go extra dry or demi-sec to let the sweet tame the heat. We don’t even bother with any other style of wine, so I’ll be curious to see what others suggest.

  5. Gauby Vielles Vignes Blanc. Not to beat a dead horse, it’s just good.

  6. Rieslings actually go great with sushi… Kung Fu Girl Riesling in particular.

  7. Being from Vancouver, which must have one of the highest sushi restaurants/per capita counts outside of Japan, I’ve drunk a fair amount of wine alongside sushi. I partially agree with Christy about what specifically you’re eating, but I’m talking an assortment of rolls, with some spice… California, Spicy Tuna, Prawn Tempura, maybe some sashimi…stuff like that.

    My favourite is a good dry Riesling. Last one I had was the Rippon Jeunesse ’08 from Central Otago, NZ. Pairs beautifully.

  8. Champagne, beer or Riesling-preferably trocken.

  9. I just wrote a story about wine and sushi for Wine Enthusiast’s Dec. issue, which should be out soon! My favorite wine and sushi pairing is sparkling wine, not only because they’re a great sensory match but because both are an art form.

  10. All of these suggestions are excellent (particularly champagne, of course), and I fail to see how sushi could be conceived of as an impossible wine pairing. There are all sorts of wines that work well. Just don’t spill your wine on that girl.

  11. Confused about how bold red wine would complement milder fish???
    Love to see all the riesling recs, as well as the gruner and bubbly. Would add a nice fresh rose to the mix, especially for fattier fish such as tuna or salmon.

  12. There are lots of good ideas above. I just want to add Albarino from Galicia in northern Spain to the mix. Galicia is teeming with seafood, and Albarino is a natural with just about all of it.

    The Spanish say Albariño has the minerality and bracing acidity of Riesling, the texture and peach/apricot character of Viognier, and the floral bouquet of Pinot Gris. It also has a zip, a zing and a flair that’s all its own.

  13. Count me in as one who favors a medium-rich sparkling wine with sushi. The sweetness of the rice needs to be considered because each sushi house has its own preparation, but short of something so spicy that it only goes with beer or spatlese Riesling, it is the bubbles for me.

    I can see Albarino and dry to off-dry Muscat as well, but it is hard for me to want anything heavy red with sushi between the tanginess of the fish and sweet/sour edge of the rice.

    Now, uni, my fave, must have sparkling wine, full stop, for me, but Unagi, usually the dessert of an evening of sushi would be happy with a sweeter white.

  14. I still enjoy sushi despite warnings, so we just eat it in moderation. You can pair sushi with wine. I think these work great: Dry/Off-dry Riesling, Pinot Gris, Austrian Gruner Veltliner, Albarino/Alvarinho, Sauvignon Blanc (for the sushi with more greens in them), white Burgundy, crisp Burgundian style Chardonnay from the US, and crisp white blends.

  15. I suppose technically not a wine, I always have Saki with Sushi. Maybe the fancy stuff but it’s the only place Saki is the first and natural choice.

  16. I’ve always been a staunch advocate of drinking sake or sparkling wine/champagne with sushi….especially a bottle of DVX from Mumm Napa. Last week I went with something different for our spicy maki – a bottle of ’05 Beaux Freres Pinot Noir….an excellent pairing as it turns out!

  17. Rosé champagne. Trust me on this one.

  18. Some nice suggestions here. But, Christy, you will have to work to convince me about the effectiveness of shiraz!

    Peter – sure, not “impossible” as, say, fried butter on a stick, might be. But we needed something more practical after that one. And wasabi is certainly an X factor here…Since you have vast expertise in both champagne and sushi, what do you find works best for you — no dosage or richer, fuller champagne?

  19. cremant d’ alsace…always

  20. OK…what grows together, goes together. Hard and fast rule of food and beverage pairing, right? True, the fish is from the water, but the sake is primarily water.

    It’s a real shame that Americans just can’t understand the beauty of premium sake.

  21. You’re buying, right? I’ll have some Diebolt-Vallois “Fleur de Passion” 2000!

    I would also drink a nice dry Manzanilla. The Hidalgo “La Gitana” is terrific with seafood, raw or otherwise.

    Bizarre to think of Gruner Veltliner as an obvious choice, but it is.

  22. Call me crazy, but sake for me is the natural choice. The Japanese have been doing it for hundreds of years, and there are so many wonderful sakes out there! Cold, of course.

    As for wine, I’d put in a vote for bubbles, particularly a sparkling rose for fattier fish.

  23. One of my wine students works at a local sushi restaurant and says she is often asked to recommend a red wine to go with sushi. Her choice? The A to Z Pinot Noir. Personally, I think she might be on to something!

  24. Manzanilla de Sanlucar or Fino from Jerez. Nothing can beat than!


  25. Manzanilla de Sanlucar or Fino from Jerez. Nothing can beat that!


  26. sake = rice wine
    seems fair game to me
    I’m partial to warm sake

  27. I’ve had a lot of success with Spanish garnachas and fish (even white fish) so if I were to do a red, that’s what I’d go for.
    But actually, I think a Vinho Verde would be very nice too.

  28. I think it is really the dash of wasabi plus the vinegar in the rice that creates the curve ball, i’ve had some good success with spatlese…but with salmon, toro, or any tuna sashimi, I’ve had excellent pairing with older Barolos. The inspiration came from having carne crudo (and nebbiolo) that is so ubiquitous in piedmont.

  29. No wine goes as well with sushi as sake, it’s true.
    Also true: no white wine goes as well with sushi as red Burgundy. Pinot noir adores soy and has always been a natural with meatier fish. The only raw fish it really clashes with are shellfish.

  30. Sake aside…. Costal Italian whites! (Well, actually, a prosecco would work well too) Anything like a good Insolia from Sicily, a Vermentino, Verdicchio, a Costa d’Almalfi (like Marisa Cuomo’s) or even a good Pigato or Cinque Terre Bianco.

    I just find that many of these wines pick up a certain freshness and brine from the sea air they grow so close to, which just naturally well with raw fish. Keep in mind too, that the Italian version of sashimi, or crudo, is quite popular in many costal towns in the country, where its been served forever (usually drizziled with olive oil and lemon), so when traveling to one, you might find an Italian drinking one of these with their own plate of raw fish! And really, who are we to argue with them?

  31. 2005 Château de Varennes Savennières. Had that at a Local High End Sushi Restaurant Fantastic the wine was kinda of simple but went so well.

    Also hear Champagne goes great

  32. C’mon, bro, don’t jump the shark on this series. Sushi = Sparklers. Simple.

  33. Hmmm, seems not to be impossible, given the wide range of suggestions.

    BTW, Tyler I love gastro-porn and, I have to say, your choice of pics in this and recent articles suggests a naughty side to the East Coast Expert LOL

  34. I once had a very sweet, light red called Red Fox, from the Goosewatch Winery at Saranac Lake, with some spicy tuna rolls. And it was delicious!

  35. Based on the above picture alone, I would suggest a Pussy Fuisse.

  36. Riesling of course! We’ve created our Dry Riesling just for Sushi!!!!

  37. Champagne, BdB
    Muscadet, esp. for shellfish
    Dry Rieling
    I’ll skip all of that noise about the bold red, but a cru Beauj sounds fine, esp. a little chilled
    Dry Sherry? Sure
    Maybe a tawny if not too sweet? Sure.
    A nice Soave

    And lastly, the Montagny blanc from J.M. Boillot that I had last night would be a wonderful compliment, with light toast and lemon. In fact, I may have to do this today!

  38. Wasabi and an off-dry Riesling are great together, so that’s what I suggest there. Sake seems natural, but I like albarino and can’t wait to try that w/ sushi!!


  39. Geez, even us wine guys need a change of pace. If you’re going to eat your fish raw instead of cooked, I say drink chilled Japanese ginjo sake instead of wine. A thousand years (or so) of sushi eaters can’t be wrong! 🙂

  40. Dear Ed–

    If the Japanese had invented sparkling wine instead of the folks in Champagne, we would all be drinking bubbly with our sushi and not giving it a seccond thought–except for those of us who prefer Riesling, Gruner Veltliner, Muscadet, Tkakoli, Albarino or Oregon Pinot. :-}

  41. Some 30 years ago I set down with the chef of a tiny Sushi restaurant in Palos Verdes, CA, tasting through 40 different wines we both thought would be the ideal wine match for his Sushi.

    The wines were not ‘bought/collected’ based on our own wine/style preferences, any particular price points or brand name recognition. We bought these strictly based on certain (terroir) flavors we were hoping would either contrast or match most sushi flavors. (Wine YOU LIKE will go with anything.)

    And the winner was:

    A 100% Riesling Kabinett from the Middle Mosel with ‘a certain/the right’!! amount of residual sugar.

    BTW, it is quite scary to see the type of wines wine distributors unload in most Sushi restaurants. IMHO, the owners of most Sushi restaurants have very, very litle wine knowledge and go along with a sales rep’s wine recommendations.

    I was recently asked to go over the wine list of a small local Indian restaurant. The rep had unloaded completely over-the-hill California Chardonnays and other ‘dead’ wines from the distributor’s close-out list. Quite sad and, unfortunately, not really an exception when it comes to smaller ‘ethnic’ restaurant.


  42. PS: Sparklers (perfect!) were not part of our ‘sushi wine collection’.

  43. Gruner Veltliner is my favorite with Sushi but a dry New Zealand Sauvignon blanc or a dry French rose would work too.

  44. A fruity, unoaked Chardonnay or Pinot Noir in general are the best pairings for mild, delicate sushi. For spicy sushi, a dry white such as Gruner Veltliner would pair perfectly. These are your best three wine choices. Avoid Sauvignon Blancs, Rieslings, Pinot Grigios and other reds. Sushi doesn’t pair well with highly acidic wines.

  45. Sparkling, fruity wines will also pair well.


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