Your Crisp Japanese Food & Wine Guide, Sorted
Wine has the vital knack of adapting itself to myriad soils, climate, cultures peoples and above all food. The one shining attribute that sets wine apart and, wine enthusiasts would argue, above its counterparts in the alcohol family is the ferment’s popularity on the dining table. Not just a French or Italian ‘thing’, the idea of wine and food has permeated nearly every cuisine and breaking into Japanese fare is about as it gets. Yes, the Japanese are into it and why shouldn’t they – their diverse cuisine pairs perfectly well with a number of modern wine styles. In fact Japanese food and wine have a lot in common – both are about freshness and purity of produce and a harmony of flavours which is also true of wine.
The aesthetic for Japanese cuisine is also important – the presentation and appearance of the dish much with wine where the colour and clarity influences the senses almost as much as its palate. Sea food is the undeniable backbone of Japanese food partly due to a meat ban of 1200 years that ended only in the late 19th century. And there’s no better companion to raw and fresh fish served as sushi and sashimi than vibrantly acidic and fruity white wines. Similarly, The sinfully deep fried Tempura presents sharp flavours and fat to contend with – a challenge well taken by barrel aged whites and delicate reds like Pinot Noir. The possibilities are here are infinite and exciting so we’re only getting you started with a list of leading wines that match with and elevate Japanese fare to another level.
Riesling is a very popular choice with those who love Japanese food. There is a whole range of German Riesling styles, especially from the iconic Mosel region that pair well with Japanese cuisine, including both seafood and meats. The off dry and sweet styles nicely contrast the spicy flavours and meaty texture while the typically high acidity of Germanic Rieslings lifts then dish’s overall character.
Gruner Vetliner is the original Austrian white – crisp, fresh and sprightly – that’s also a favourite with lovers of Japanese food. pairs nicely with sushi, lifting its delicate flavours. You’d think that Gruner is more at home with sausages and pork schnitzel – German and Austrian staples but this delectable surprises on the upside with a Japanese spread. The classic Gruner is light, crisp and clean with good acidity that’s ideal to pair with sea food sushi as well as vegetarian Sushi.
New World Sauvignon Blanc has been another big vinous hit with Japanese cuisine all round. South African and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc express generous fruit and crackling acidity that complement the salty and sweet glaze of teriyaki and a range of spicy Japanese dishes. Their essential exuberance also light up the flavours the copious, delicate seafood dishes.
Chardonnay is a perpetual sensation in Japan and yes, that’s largely because Chardonnay makes the world’s most precious whites in Burgundy which the Japanese can never get enough of. Much like Sauvignon Blanc, unoaked and young Chardonnay from Chablis in Burgundy as well as South Africa and Australia perfectly match with Japanese cuisine – the balance of fresh flavours is ideal for both Tempura and Sushi rolls. The richer, barrel aged styles from Burgundy’s Côte de Beaune and California’s Napa Valley are sumptuous matches for Tempura and Yakitori dishes.
Prosecco is undeniably made in Italy but was destined to be set down on the low lying Japanese dinner table. Italy’s most famous bubbly gets along with Japanese food like a house on fire. The Prosecco’s generous fruit flavours of peach and lemon as well as high acidity cut right through some of the rich Japanese sauces and are simply a delight to pair. So while Champagne was the original sparkling wine of choice and still overwhelmingly remains, Prosecco is getting there with Japanese grub.
Rose wines from the South of France are just dandy to drink by themselves but also reliably hold the potential to elevate Japanese cuisine with their light and refreshing balance of ripe fruit and acidity, especially working nicely with California Roll. These summery roses can surprise with a striking combination of crackling acidity and intense fruit that beautifully life and highlight the simplicity of pure Japanese produce.
If there’s one red wine that was destined to dazzle a Japanese gourmet experience, it just had to be Pinot Noir. Both the cuisine and wine are a challenging, lifelong pursuit of perfection that has stoked and motivated the world’s best chefs and winemakers respectively. Ramen buffs have a bounty of Pinot to choose from — the salty and tangy flavours of Ramen are well softened and absorbed by elegant New Zealand Pinot Noir with a palate of red fruit and soft tannins.