As any food-lover will tell you, the popularity of Japan’s cuisine has been increasing, as top Japanese eateries can be found all over the world. But one style of food seems to attract the most devotion: sushi.
While sushi is probably Japan’s most famous dish, it’s also the one that causes most confusion, as the term ‘sushi’ encompasses a wide variety of ingredients. All sushi dishes use rice seasoned with vinegar as their base. An array of ingredients – from raw fish (sashimi) to aged fish, vegetables and seaweed – are then added.
Styles range from nigiri, a small brick of rice topped with raw fish; to maki, where rice is laid on sheets of dried seaweed (nori) with toppings, then rolled and cut into bite-sized morsels. Traditional seasonings are also served alongside sushi, including savoury soy sauce and fiery wasabi (Japanese horseradish), accompanied by palate cleansing gari (pickled ginger).
Wine with sushi
With such a wide variety of tastes and textures, it can be hard to pair sushi with wine. However Japan’s signature grape, Koshu, offers a perfect solution. ‘Koshu is made in five discernable styles, each offering something different for sushi,’ says Peter McCombie MW, an expert on Japanese wines.
‘There are sparkling styles; crisp Koshus aged in stainless steel; full-bodied wines aged in oak; creamy styles with lees contact; and textured, skin-contact orange wines,’ explains McCombie.
The Koshu grape is naturally low in acid, which is why it works so well with sushi. ‘You’d expect to need a wine with high acidity to pair with fatty fish such as tuna. But interestingly that’s not the case,’ says McCombie, as wines with high acid can make fish taste metallic. Koshu also has a relatively low iron content, meaning that when it’s paired with raw fish, you’ll get no fishy aftertaste.
A matter of taste
To find out more, Decanter joined McCombie at one of the UK’s top sushi restaurants: Yashin Ocean House. Head sommelier Raku Oda and executive chef Shinya Ikeda prepared a special menu to showcase the food-friendliness of Koshu with sushi (see below).
‘I have been selling Koshu by the glass at Yashin Ocean House for seven years,’ says Oda. ‘I tell my customers that it’s unique and because we’re a Japanese restaurant, they should try it. The first time they try it, they love it. Now people will always ask for it when they come in.’
‘Koshu works very well in terms of food pairing,’ adds Ikeda. ‘Lighter styles are good with delicate white fish, but with more intense dishes, Koshu can match the intensity. For example orange Koshus complement the richness of eel.’
Highlights included savoury sea urchin, paired with a textured Château Mercian, Yamanashi Koshu 2017. ‘The wine frames this dish, because it’s not overpowering, but it still has presence,’ says McCombie.
Char-grilled eel made a harmonious match with Lumiere, Prestige Class Orange 2018. ‘The savoury profiles in the wine and sushi match each other,’ explains Oda.
Kurambon, Sol Lucet Koshu 2017 complemented a selection of white fish nigiri, including turbot, sea bream, sea bass. ‘This is one of my favourite matches,’ says Ikeda. ‘The concept of this dish is lightness and the Koshu has gentle acidity and delicate flavours that match perfectly.’
The mineral style of Haramo, Koshu Lees Contact 2017 made a good partner to shellfish nigiri. ‘The salinity and minerality of the wine gives a fresh lift after every bite, with the sweetness of the scallop in particular bringing up the citrus notes in the Koshu,’ comments McCombie.
A platter of aged fish nigiri – a speciality of Yashin Ocean House – matched with the crisp Grace Koshu Private Reserve 2017. ‘I sell this by the glass – and it out-sells all of the other wines on my list,’ says Oda. ‘It’s a fresh and approchable style of Koshu that everyone will enjoy.’
For McCombie the tasting highlighted the fundamental way that Koshu and sushi work together.
‘There’s a precision about both the wines and the food; a thoughtfulness and attention to detail,’ he says. ‘This is mindful eating and drinking.’
For more information contact JFOODO (The Japan Food Product Overseas Promotion Center). Visit: wine-jfoodo.jetro.go.jp/uk or email: email@example.com
On the menu
Château Mercian, Yamanashi Koshu 2017
Six months on lees adds texture to the palate, with an umami note. Lots of bright citrus notes on the nose and palate, with mouthwatering acidity.
Grace Wine, Grace Koshu Private Reserve 2017
Winner of DWWA Gold in 2018, this crisp, zesty white has notes of Japanese citrus, white peach, pear and green apples with refreshing acidity.
Haramo, Koshu Lees Contact 2017
Fresh, subtle and delicate style, with a chalky mineral note and floral hints on the nose. Crisp and clean palate with salinity and brisk acidity.
Lumiere, Prestige Class Orange 2018
Amber colour with aromas of dried orange peel, orange zest, russet apple and apricot. Dry, full-bodied and savoury palate with saline acidity.
Kurambon, Sol Lucet Koshu 2017
Clean, fresh and delicate wine with herbal aromas and notes of Japanese citrus. A nice silkiness to the texture, with low acidity on the palate.
First course: uni (sea urchin) and aged squid
Second course: eel shirayaki with caviar, hojiso and kinome, served with unagi-cha
Third course: white fish nigiri – turbot, sea bream, sea bass
Fourth course: shellfish nigiri – smoked oyster, langoustine, scallop
Fifth course: aged fish nigiri – aji, maguro, salmon
Thanks to Yashin Ocean House for hosting our pairing session. www.yashinocean.com