The word sushi means vinegar (su) and cooked rice (meshi, shortened to shi). Then, the rice is usually combined with other ingredients such as raw or cooked fish, other seafood, cooked egg or vegetables, and can be wrapped in dry seaweed called nori. Finding a wine that goes well with sushi can be a challenge because the wine has to stand up to the tartness of the vinegar, the oiliness of the fish, the saltiness of soy sauce, the spicy taste of wasabi, and the exotic flavors of pickled ginger.
I recently attended a sushi class organized by a Japanese friend of mine. She showed us how to make California rolls and Chirashi-zushi, or scattered sushi, which is rice spread in a bowl with fish and vegetables scattered on top.
Making sushi was a lot of fun and not as hard as I had imagined. And last but not least, at the end of the class we organized a little wine pairing exercise. We first try our sushi with sake. The sake had a mild, slightly sweet taste that mirrored well the flavors of the sushi rice. But not being a sake connoisseur, I have to confess that I did not get too excited about it.
Then we tasted a Champagne J Lassalle Brut. I found that the toasty and yeasty flavors of the Champagne added more stylish and distinctive notes to the sushi. The bubbles and acidity of the wine had a lively cleansing effect on the palate, which helped us better appreciate the complex flavors of our food.
Finally, we tried a Corazón Gewürztraminer from Anderson Valley. The wine had a discreet flowery nose and a dry, crisp palate with green apple and typical lychee fruit aromas. The wine had a lot of finess and I really liked the way it enhanced the flavors of the food.
So wine is great with sushi. My personal taste goes toward dry, fruity, and crisp whites. I also heard that light, non tannic red wines such as Pinot Noir or Beaujolais work as well. If in doubt, however, don't forget that a lively bubbly will always be fine.
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