Food & Drinks

Pairing Sushi, sake, and wine


Japanese Sake and Sushi. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

Why is sake a good match with sushi and raw fish? Sake, also known as magic water boasts a superior ability of taste, colour, odor, and feel profile, unlike any other beverage.

Sake is brewed from rice and therefore has a distinct and rich umami (deliciousness) flavour which makes it the perfect pairing partner for sushi, which is delicate food, yet has a saline taste from both rice and the raw fish.

Rules for pairing Sushi

Sushi pairing aims to balance or enhance the flavours. The idea is to create a synergistic effect on the palate. Here are some basic guidelines:-

> Pair miso soup with warm Honjonzo sake

> Pair shellfish with light and chilled sake , for instance, the Ginjo sake

> Pair white and lean fish with chilled Superior Junmai Ginjo sake

> Pair fatty fish with room temperature Junmai Daiginjo sake

> Pair Enomae or spicy sushi with Tokubetsu sake.

> Pair Japanese desserts like Matcha Azuki with plum wine or indeed the sweet and creamy Junmai Nigori sake, served chilled.

Clear sake can be served across all meals cold or warm depending on the quality and the desired pairing. Remember, warming sake reduces the aromatic properties.

On the other hand, cloudy sakeis unfiltered and can sometimes be floral and sweet. It is best served at the end of a meal.

How to drink sake

Drinking sake is a ritual shrouded in honour, respect and reverence. Sake is often decanted in carafes and poured with both hands. The etiquette is to pour in your friends’ glass – never in your own. Sake is best drank from ceramic or clay cups and is best enjoyed with food.

Sake glasses

Traditionally, sake is served in small ceramic or clay cups, which enhance its flavours. The modern alternative is small, thin-rimmed glasses.

Drinking sake is ceremonious and the glasses are small to allow for the ritual of honour and reverence with each pour and sip. Drinking with both hands is encouraged.

Best wines to pair with sushi

A provoking contrast of cultures guides the choice of wines to pair with the sushi and sashimi menu. There is a specific selection aimed to showcase the congruity in pairing delicate and complex sushi with some of the best wines from South Africa. The underlying principle is for the wine to enhance or balance perfectly with the food

Medium acidity wines like Chenin Blanc are perfect paring partners for sushi and the Mullineux Old Vine Chenin Blanc paired with the tofu, sea eel and miso soup. Ataraxia Sauvignon Blanc paired beautifully with scallops, fatty tuna and the sea urchin sushi while the Mont Rochelle Little Rock Blanc is a perfect match for the flounder and squid sushi.

Pairing red wine with sushi is particularly tricky. Choose medium-bodied and low-tannin wines with savoury notes like the Kumusha Cabernet/ Cinsault Blend, the Copper pot Pinot Noir and the proprietary Bouchard Finlayson Hannibal. However, the perfect wine for sushi is sparkling wine and the L’Ormarins Brut Classique NV pairs particularly well with the sashimi.

Plum wine and dessert pairing

Also known as umeshu, plum wine is a fruity, semi-sweet, tangy and refreshing drink. It is a healthy and refreshing digestif with plum, almond and marzipan notes that pair well with desserts.

Ms Victoria is a Nairobi-based sommelier