Sushi and Red Wine? You Must Be Kidding.

By Anthony Todd in Food on Mar 23, 2010 4:00PM

Pairing wine and sushi has always been a challenge. Every so often, an article will appear announcing Riesling or Gewurztraminer as the perfect wine for sushi - and every time we try to drink it, we sigh and go back to drinking sake. That all changed on Thursday night. Usagi Ya, and their wine expert Juan Guardia, invited us to a sampling that expanded our horizons.

The most difficult problem pairing sushi with wine, according to Guardia, is the soy sauce. Soy sauce obliterates the taste of most wine, and the generally recommended white, sweet wines have their hands full just trying to get through. The first rule for sushi and wine? Cut back on the soy. Probably not a bad idea to cut back on the wasabi, too. This doesn’t mean that you have to serve only pristine, unadorned fish if you want to pair it with wine. The most surprising treat of the evening was a Unagi Nigiri drizzled with the traditional sweet eel sauce. We never would’ve thought a wine would get through the sugar, but the offered Tempranillo was the perfect compliment.

Other surprises included a salmon nigiri, paired with Pinot Noir and a white tuna paired with a dry prosecco. While not every pairing was perfect, the point was made - sushi can match many varieties of wine. A few general tips: Red wines with tannins are to be avoided - hence the focus on Spanish reds and Pinot Noir. Focus on texture, as well as flavor - soft, buttery wines match well with high-fat fish. Guardia’s advice? Don’t panic. “Too many Americans over-think wine pairings, and are afraid to try anything new. Just try it!”