International Sushi Day is celebrated on tables around the globe in June with parades of spicy tuna rolls flanked by bowls of wasabi and rows of edamame and chopsticks. The only thing missing from the preparations is the beverage pairing for the traditional Japanese meal. We’re here to help with a few of our favorite wines, beers and cocktails for the occasion.
For the wine/craft beer/cocktail-induced foodies that we are, it’s an especially happy day because sushi is one of the easier eats to pair. Now, before you question our sanity, we purposefully did not include sake on our list. Sake has a heavy rice profile and countless mixologist, gastronomists and sommeliers agree that it’s too bland for sushi.
You’ll just need the right wine, the right beer and the right cocktail – we’ve maki’d it really easy.
Albariño with anything tempura
Most tempura rolls are doused in spicy mayo or eel sauce, coated in crispy fried panko and boast a sweeter meat like shrimp, scallops, crab or white fish. With a profile of delicate sweetness, acidic sauces and rich panko, Albariño will work with tempura rolls. The wine meets each component with a solution: lemon and lime notes for the acidic sauce, green peas for the slight touch of sweet and zippy mouthfeel for the tempura.
Grüner Veltliner with Dragon or Caterpillar roll
These rolls spotlight the briny sweetness of eel with a nod to fresh crunch from cucumber and buttery avocado. With laser-focused acidity and hints of white pepper and citrus, Grüner Veltliner will provide the exact flavor compliment that this roll requires. They’re culinary soymates (nailed it!).
Kabinett Riesling with Spicy Rolls
We know that sugar calms heat. But this complex version of a wonderfully aromatic white wine is honestly the only wine you need with spicy tuna, spicy salmon or volcano rolls. Saiko!
Cocktails lighter on the alcohol work best with sushi. You’ll want to add flavors that echo the sushi, so anything ginger based, anything cucumber infused or anything slightly sweet and delicate (lychee, for example) will make a roe-markable duo. Try this recipe:
6 oz Lime LaCroix
1 oz Simple Syrup
1 tbsp Ginger, freshly grated
½ cup Water
2 tbsp Honey
Simmer syrup, grated ginger, water and honey for five minutes. Cool and strain. Add vodka to a glass filled with ice and pour cooled syrup mixture over. Stir and top with LaCroix.
Sapporo and Kirin Ichiban
These beers, hands down, are the BEST choice for sushi. In fact, Japanese people typically enjoy their sushi with beer more than any other drink. Yep, an ice-cold Sapporo (not sake) is the go-to choice (Japan-guide.com). Why? Because soy sauce and wasabi are so incredibly potent, they tend to annihilate the nuances in most wines and cocktails. The dry, rice-wafer flavor and texture of these Japanese beers don’t try to add anything complex to the mix – they’re just there to wash down the bite of nigiri with a refreshing swig.
A couple tips
We highly recommend, under any circumstance, that you avoid pairing sushi with a full-bodied red with because of the earlier-explained wasabi and soy sauce offense. They are natural enemies to the tannins. Plus, tannin sometimes extracts a strange, metallic flavor from fish. Stick to pinot noirs and Spanish red blends if you want to go to the dark side.
A good sushi pairing will emphasize umami (the fifth taste after sweet, sour, bitter and salt). You’re looking for that flavor that emphasizes the textures, allowing all flavors to fill the mouth. You’ll know it when you experience it.
Alright, you should be set for any sushi eating that’s heading to a table near you. And if you do insist on sake, here are a bunch of options.