In preparation for the Sushi and Wine Tasting this Friday, here's a few of my thoughts regarding sushi, sake, and wine pairing.
Sake, or Japanese rice wine, comes in a wide array of styles and flavors, but here’s a brief rundown of some of the most useful things to know. First, the styles vary from light to full-bodied, with the lightest being nama zake and progessing to ginjo, daiginjo, junmai, and aged sake. Sweetness is also a variable to take into account; sweeter sakes, like the unfiltered nigori or some aged sakes can be excellent next to spicy foods or desserts.
Sake is made through a process that’s kind of a blend of wine and beer fermentation. The grains are polished to some degree (with more polishing generally being associated with finer sakes), soaked, and cooked. They are then dosed with a dose of a fungus that turns the starch to sugars and a dose of yeast that turns the sugars to alcohol. Some sakes have brewer’s alcohol added before the final step (pressing the rice solids from the liquid sake) to enhance flavor extraction. Some sakes see a secondary fermentation in the bottle and become sparkling sakes; the sparkling sakes found in the US are tend to be sweet and acidic and thus fairly versatile.
Beverage Pairing with Sushi
Opinions are split on serving sake with sushi. Some people find that the ricey qualities of sake are an overwhelming complement to the rice in sushi and that flavors of things like wasabi tend to completely overwhelm the sake; these people tend to serve sake with sashimi or as an aperitif or with dessert exclusively. Others alternatively find much pleasure in matching the more delicate flavors of sake to specific sushis, but sake in general is not a optimal pairing for most foods, tending to be low in acid. Junmai sake particularly tends to have higher acidity; combined with its weightier nature, it can stand up to comparatively richer dishes than most, including and especially cream sauces.
Some prefer serving teas like oolong with sushi, but these are in the minority. Some ales also work. Successful wine pairings will take more care and thought, but they can be extremely rewarding. Low alcohol wines made from Chenin blanc, Riesling, and Gewurtztraminer will do well with spicier sushi; unoaked, minerally chardonnay from Burgundy will have the body, fresh fruit, and minerality to work with most preparations; and the heavier flavors associated with eel or seaweed have been known to do well with Californian Zinfandel or Italian Amarone. Sparkling wine, from Champagne to the sparkling Vouvrays of the Loire or the cavas of Mediterranean Spain, are all well suited to deliver a pleasant accompaniment.
If you'd like to come to the tasting, call us at 573-442-2207 to make reservations. The cost of the tasting is $15 and we request a two bottle purchase.