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Wine and Japanese Food Pairing – Perfect Matching

Japanese cuisine is broad and complex. It can seem strictly traditional while at the same time showing strong outside influences. With Japanese dining, the ritual and settings can sometimes be more important than the food itself. Japanese cuisine is concerned with clean flavours and purity of expression. Many dishes are deceptively simple, with sometimes only a single ingredient.

chardonnay yakitori

Yakitori skewers and a bold Chardonnay

Pairing wine with Japanese food may be seen as a mismatch, but can offer some successful flavor combinations. In the same way that sake or traditional liqueurs can provide unique flavours, wine has qualities that traditional Japanese beverages may lack. Japanese food is often categorised by cooking method or style of preparation, which is how we have broken up the sections below.

Raw Food

nigiri wine

Nigiri and wine pairing

Nothing compares to the taste and sensation of freshly cut, quality raw fish with no other additions. The pure flavours of sushi and sashimi demand crisp, clean and pure wine flavours.  A bright riesling, an earthy gruner veltliner or a mineral Chablis will provide a textural and flavourful companion to the best raw fish, fresh seafood, beef tartare and crisp vegetables.

Soups

There are many liquids that underscore Japanese cooking, from the ubiquitous dashi broth to popular miso soup. These suimono often represent the umami flavours that are strongly associated with Japanese food. Pairing wine with umami can be tricky; so don’t overlook classic fortifieds like a great Fino or Manzanilla sherry, with a fresh savouriness that works well with umami. The strongly salty Assyrtiko from Santorini in Greece is also an unlikely but perfect pairing.

Pickles and Vegetables

cucumber sunomono

Cucumber sunomono

Pickled vegetables (daikon radish, ginger, cucumber) and sunomono– ingredients treated with vinegar – are intended to be fresh and refreshing, a palate cleanser unto themselves. For this reason it’s not necessary to pair perfectly, but wines naturally fresh and high in acid like Riesling, or Sauvignon Blanc (especially with zesty and herbal flavours) can work nicely to assist the palate cleansing elements.

Tempura

Deep fried and battered food like tempura and other agemono, such as Katsu and Karaage dishes are typically suited to a wide variety of styles. These soft and friendly flavours work with aromatic and fuller-bodied whites, from Pinot Gris to Chardonnay. They also stand up to a bit of tannin so light to medium reds are all good as well – think Pinot Noir, Gamay or Grenache.

Grilled and Fried

yakitori wine

Various Yakimono paired with white and red

There are a range of innovative and skilful grilling and frying techniques that create the different yakimono of Japanese cuisine, all of which serve to strongly highlight the main ingredients being cooked, rather than additional sauces or additives. This presentation of grilled or fried meats works perfectly with fragrant, lighter bodied reds. Nebbiolo has the perfect range of flavours, lighter body and structure to pair very well with yakitori beef, chicken and more. The same can be said for cooler-climate Syrah and Greek Xinomvro.

For more food and wine pairing ideas and advice, check out the articles on our blog such as Thai food and wine pairing, or Pizza and Wine Pairing.

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Kieran Clarkin

Kieran Clarkin

Digital Marketing and Tour Host at Wine Compass
Kieran is a WSET Diploma student, Chin Chin sommelier and host for Wine Compass. He loves chatting about wine, hosting tastings and getting people interested in wine generally. He's big into Victorian wine, the Loire Valley and the very under-rated wines of Greece.
Kieran Clarkin

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