Japanese Flavours + BC Wines

SushiJapanese influenced dishes and ingredients are more popular in our everyday lives than ever, and saké is traditionally the go- to alcoholic drink. What are the alternatives?

In the old days most food and wine pairings were made based on locally available ingredients, such as Chianti with Putanesca sauce, or Vinho Verde with fresh sardines.  With the globalization of world trade, you can easily purchase these overseas ingredients in your neighbourhood grocery store. The question now is what do we drink with our take-out sushi or that piece of exquisite Wagyu beef?

In Japan, the custom of accompanying food with saké developed at the same time of food and wine pairing evolving in the West. As with wine and grapes, different types of rice produce various styles of saké, ranging from dry to sweet, each with its own specific serving temperature. However, saké is best consumed young and fresh. Saké is the essence of rice; its restrained and delicate flavour has an advantage over wine when pairing with Japanese food.  Wine is generally consumed along with a new powerfully flavoured style of Japanese cuisine done with a Western influence.

The flavors of Japanese cuisine are generally subtle and traditional condiments are used to enhance the ‘Umami’ experience.

The appreciation of wine and food is affected by appearance, color, smell, taste, temperature and surroundings. Of these, taste is probably the most important. Typically, most of us are familiar with sweet, sour, salty and bitter tastes. In Japanese culture there is a fifth taste called ‘Umami’, which has now been accepted into Western ideals regarding taste perception. This word literally translates as ‘delicious taste’. This is the taste sourced from Glutamate and Ribonucleotides. Umami plays a major role in Asian food, so it is worth understanding the basic concept.  Glutamate is an amino acid, found in all protein- containing foods. Two Ribonucleotudes, Insinuate and Guanylate, are synergistic with glutamate and contribute most to the umami taste. Umami naturally occurs in food during ripening, fermentation, cooking, smoking, curing and aging.

This means that wines made from grapes with higher ripeness levels, undergo a longer fermentation or are vinified with lees contact should have a higher level of umami. Products such as cheese and tomatoes contain a high level of natural umami from Glutamic Acid.  Meat, fish and mushrooms all naturally contain Ribonucleotides. Very little about umami has been written in English, and much of what has been written seems misleading. It is often written that savory foods high in umami make wines taste drier, less fruity, more acidic and bitter. Umami increases the perception of your taste buds, and enhances your experience while it does not change the flavours of the product itself.

There’s often one key component to a dish that will help you decide on what to drink with your umami experience. Here are some leading Japanese flavours or dishes and complementary BC wines to match.

Sushi. Taditionally paired with sake and beer. A dry sparkling wine also pairs well, simulating beer while having the added advantage of acidity to act as a palate cleanser.
Try: Summerhill Pyramid Winery Cipes Brut or Road 13 Vineyards Sparkling Chenin Blanc

Sashimi. Matching a wine will depend on the fish. For example, a red meat fish like bonito or blue fin red tuna with soy sauce, ginger and garlic can go well with a light red wine. On the other hand, an albacore tune with yuzu dressing will most likely pair well with a white.
Try: Foxtrot Vineyards Erickson Pinot Noir 2009 or Tinhorn Creek Winery 2 Bench White 2011

Soy, Teriyaki and Miso Sauce. Being high in lactic acid, soy sauce tends to spin things in favor of red wine. Take a piece of pork for example – if you eat it alone it goes best with a glass of rosé, but once you dip it into soy sauce and wasabi, a red might work better.
Try: Orofino Vineyards Red Bridge Merlot 2009 or Fairview Cellars Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

Sichimi (seven spiced pepper mix). This is a blend of herbs made from Chinese medicinal herbs.  Most of these spices supposedly work to prevent colds. They typically contain chilli pepper, ginger, shiso, shansho pepper, dried mikan orange peel, black sesame and hemp seeds, and the pronounced heat requires a viscous rich white wine or a lightly oaked red.
Try: Van Westen Vineyards Vivacious 2011 or Blue Mountain Gamay Noir 2011

Yuzu. Native to China, yuzu is a fruit containing organic acid which is one of the keys to matching wine and food. The zest contributes aroma to a dish while the juice can be used as an alternative to vinegar. Yuzu tends to prefer white wines with a good dose of acidity.
Try: Synchromesh Wines Riesling 2011 or Clean Slate Wines 9 Mile White 2011

Dashi. A dried kelp base broth, similar to beef or chicken bouillion, is light and delicate in mouthfeel and can have bold flavors with the addition of dried bonito or shiitake, adding different layers of flavours to the broth. Dashi favours a full bodied white wine.
Try: Le Vieux Pin Winery ‘Ava’ 2010 or Meyer Family Tribute Series Chardonnay 2010

Wasabi. Enjoyed for its fragrance, a light floral white wine makes for a good pairing. The aroma and spiciness start to dissipate shortly after consuming. The affect on the nose is much greater that the palate, as it does not linger like chilli pepper. Most wasabi is often served as a paste made from powder, which tends to be more potent and creates problems with wine. If you cannot get fresh wasabi, remember that only a judicious amount is necessary so that it is just perceptible and not a dominant force.
Try: Joie Farm Muscat 2011 or Lake Breeze Gewürztraminer 2011

As with any endeavour, one must have a fundamental understanding of the basics to derive maximum pleasure. In this respect, wine and food matching is no different. However, there is a school of thought that sometimes the best pairing with food is happiness. Drink what makes you happy!

Written By:

We get many people writing guest articles for us, as well as past contributors. This is the Guest ...

Comments are closed.