A Sushi Wine Pairing Throw-Down

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Today at Wineopolis HQ we held a mini contest to find the best wine pairing for sushi.

We’re seriously in love with the whole intoxicating, zen-like experience of eating sushi — using your digits and chopsticks to eat, or feeling the retronasal burn of wasabi, and it’s just so darn pretty to look at. Eating sushi recruits many of our senses just like enjoying wine.

But choosing a wine for sushi isn’t about deciding between a Merlot or Chardonnay.  Serving a bold full-bodied red or big buttery white wine could totally take over a lovely delicate piece of sushi and you wouldn’t want to deny your taste buds the blissful enjoyment of melt-in-your-mouth awesomeness that sushi brings.

Sushi has a variety of different flavor components and textures. So finding a wine that plays well with the acidic vinegar of pickled ginger, is not too high in alcohol to make the heat of wasabi even hotter, and can stand up to the umami-ness in soy sauce can be a bit of a challenge.

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Our panel of judges was presented with salmon and tuna “tokyo rolls” — a sushi/roll hybrid. Inside the rolls was a sheet of nori (seaweed) and a small piece of: avocado, cucumber and fish. Outside a nice thin slice of tuna or salmon laid atop each roll to match the fish inside, and was garnished with finely chopped green onion.

The judges had to choose one winner from the wines that were presented to pair with the raw fish dish: French Rosé, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Grüner Vetliner. While these were all potentially great wines for sushi pairings, our panel could only pick one favorite. Here’s the outcome…

Since the sushi we served was not the fattier type like toro/otoro and was leaner, the buttery-style Chardonnay was a little overbearing and full-bodied for these salmon/tuna rolls. The French Rosé and Sauvignon Blanc were both close for first place because of their acidity, but the Rosé didn’t give the pop-wow that our judges were looking for and the Sauv Blanc took over the delicacy of the sushi with its prominent bell pepper notes.

It was agreed by our judges that the Grüner Veltliner (pronounced: grooner velt-leaner)from Hungary was the winner. Why? It’s high acidity worked very well with the pickled ginger and the low alcohol content allowed the GV to play nice with wasabi and avoid any mouth fires. It was not a sparkling wine but passively petillant which means that there were tiny almost undetectable bubbles in the wine and this gave it a nice little tingle on the tongue — much like the prickle of the pickled ginger.

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This particular Hungarian GV from the Tolna region didn’t detract from the sushi itself. The flavor and texture of the cucumber and avocado still came through whereas these subtle flavors got a little lost with some of the other wines.

Hat’s off to our winemaker friends in Hungary at Count Karolyi and cheers to the Grüner Veltliner grape for winning our sushi/wine pairing throw-down. If you want to try this wine, ask for it at your local wine shop and let us know what you think.

What’s been your best or worst wine pairing with food? Tell us in the comments below.

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