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Pinot Grigio delle Venezie DOC and the flavours of Japan

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A match made in East London

Sommeliers often say that serving Japanese food with wine is both one of the most difficult and interesting pairing exercises. The fine flavours and textures of nipponic cuisine, alongside the vibrant intensity of some of the condiments and sauces, proves a challenge when it comes to finding beverage companions.

And yet, the answer can be awfully simple. Seek wines that have: balanced acidity, bringing freshness to the different textures without obscuring them; an elegant aromatic profile, serving as counterpoint to intense sauces while bringing to life the more subtle flavours;  a subtle mineral backbone to run alongside the trademark umami components of Japanese cuisine. All these characteristics are some of the fundamental characteristics of the much-loved Pinot Grigio delle Venezie DOC.

We headed to Mio Yatai in East London, to understand a bit more about the essence of Japan’s everyday flavours and how to enjoy them with a good glass of Pinot Grigio.

Aldin Karaali, sommelier and manager at Mio Yatai, served as our guide. The venue has long been a favourite among locals and visitors alike, providing guaranteed satisfaction to those seeking authentic Japanese fare. Located above Regent’s Canal, on the bridge that opens to the bustling and iconic Broadway Market, Mio Yatai’s light-filled room is always full of creative types seeking the famous ramen and poke bowls.

But when it comes to drinks, customers can get a bit conservative. Which is why Karaali is rethinking the whole beverage programme. As he prepares a major overhaul of his wine list, and experiments different pairings, this was a perfect moment to discuss the many affinities of Japanese cuisine with Italy’s most famous wine. ‘Customers come in and are ready to experiment with all the food flavours but can easily stick to cocktails or beer – or even tea – when ordering drinks. I really want to introduce more wines and sakes.’ Karaali agrees that not exploring pairing possibilities with wine – not least Pinot Grigio –  customers are missing an opportunity.

The very opening of a meal is an invitation for a perfect aperitif: the salty, crunchy deliciousness of edamame beans could not be better enjoyed than with a glass of softly fragrant Pinot Grigio delle Venezie DOC. Simple and perfect. The spiciness of a chicken katsu bao bun, on the other hand, is perfectly offset by the wine’s mineral freshness and fruit generosity. Spice is also a territory where the Ramato styles thrive – a degree of skin contact adds red fruit nuances and a gentle grip, which respond particularly well to spicy prickle.

Ramatos can also, however, serve as supporting cast to the subtlety of raw fish. ‘And we can’t forget the character of the rice,’ says Karaali. Indeed, the rice that supports many of Japanese (or Japanese-inspired) dishes, from sushi to shirashi or poke bowls, is in itself special. A masterpiece of sourness, measured stickiness and a touch of sweetness, it enters in easy dialogue with the characterful Ramatos.

How about ramen? Can Japan’s most loved street food, now elevated to hipster favourite, be paired with wine? One would be a fool not to. The umami intensity of the 18-hour broth and mushrooms, the crunchiness of bean sprouts and bamboo shoots, and the earthiness of tea-pickled eggs call for nothing else than a fresh and soft glass of Pinot Grigio delle Venezie DOC. Dinner is served.


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