5 Great Wine Pairing with Japanese Foods

by JJ Buckley Fine Wines

Bowl of Japanese ramen wiht soft boiled egg and pork

So often, the right wine can take a meal from good to incredible. That's because the right pairings create a balanced experience - the flavors of the wine enhance the flavors of the food and vice versa. Everything tastes even better together than they would on their own. 

There are many classic wine pairings, particularly in the great Italian or French cuisines. After all, Italy and France are famous for producing some of the world's best wines. Wine with cheese or wine with chocolate are also well-known pairings. These are far from your only options, though.

There are some lesser-known, but still just as incredible, wine pairing choices. If you want something a little off the beaten path, why not try pairing wine with Japanese food? 

Common Characteristics of Japanese Food

Japanese cuisine is incredibly diverse. Sushi, ramen, and tempura often come to mind first, but those dishes only scratch the surface. Many dishes focus on simplicity and the freshness of the ingredients while others emphasize seasonal foods. Often a dish will feature different vegetables in spring than it would in the fall. 

As an island nation, seafood is a large part of Japanese cuisine. Many dishes also feature other meats, though, including pork, chicken, or beef. The country had a ban on meat for 1,200 years. This tradition still influences Japanese cooking styles, even in meat-based dishes.

The limit on meat ended in the late 1800s, however. As Japan opened up to the world, it began absorbing meat-based dishes from other countries. Dairy products became more common as well, but they aren't a significant part of the cuisine.

Another common characteristic of Japanese food is that there's a substantial emphasis on presentation. The appearance of the food is practically as important as the flavor. Japanese cuisine offers a broad sensory experience. The right wine can help enhance that experience even more. 

5 Ideas for Wine Pairings with Japanese Food

In traditional Japanese cuisine, sake reigns supreme. Others may drink beer with their meals. In modern Japan, other drinks are becoming more common. Wine is a great alternate option when you choose to experiment. Take a look at a few ideas for wine pairings with Japanese food to inspire your next Japanese meal.

1. Sushi and Grüner Veltliner

Sushi (and sashimi) is such an iconic Japanese food, it's often the first thing people think of when they consider Japanese cuisine. Sushi offers a broad array of options, with numerous styles of dishes available. The core dishes are sashimi (sliced raw fish without sushi rice), nigiri (fish and other ingredients topping a small sushi rice cake), churashi (sliced fish and other ingredients over a bowl of sushi rice), and maki (plump rolls of rice, fish, and other foods). Sushi cuisine is based on sushi rice (short-grained, sticky rice mixed with rice-wine vinegar, sugar, and salt), raw or cooked fish, fresh or pickled vegetables, and seaweed. 

A crisp, clean white wine like a grüner veltliner often works best with the fresh flavors of sushi. The wine is high in acidity and features notes of lemon and lime, which works well with the seafood in most rolls. The herbaceous notes pair perfectly with fresh vegetables. 

There are plenty of other wine pairing options with sushi to consider here. If you hope to pair a specific sushi or sashimi dish with a wine, you might try rosé with salmon rolls or pinot gris with shrimp nigiri. 

2. Shoyu Ramen and Pinot Noir

Ramen is a simple dish consisting of broth, noodles, and a base seasoning (tare). From there, you can add a variety of toppings, such as sliced pork, fish cakes, egg, scallions, and bean sprouts. 

Shoyu ramen refers to one of many styles of ramen. The classic Tokyo-style soy sauce-based ramen is both salty and tangy. A light to medium-bodied pinot noir, with its light tannins and tart red fruit notes, works beautifully with the savory flavors of the ramen and won't overwhelm the texture. 

3. Tonkatsu and Reisling

Tonkatsu is a pork loin (or fillet) breaded in panko breadcrumbs and deep-fried. It is often served with fresh cabbage over rice. Tonkatsu is a delightful mix of crunchy on the outside and juicy on the inside. The dish is finished with a drizzle of complex tonkatsu sauce. The sauce blends intense sweet-sour-salty-pungent flavors similar in spirit but not in style to Western barbecue sauces. 

An off-dry Reisling is the perfect match for tonkatsu. The high acidity cuts through the fat of the dish, while the apple, apricot, and peach flavors play well with the pork. For those who enjoy red wines, Rioja is also a good choice. 

4. Beef Teppanyaki and Bordeaux

Teppanyaki translates to "grilling on an iron plate." The seared meats and vegetables represent another classic style of Japan's cuisine.  The term refers to anything cooked using a teppan. The chef's choices could include seafood, noodles, chicken, or beef, as well as tofu and vegetables. For beef teppanyaki (or beef teppan), a fine Bordeaux can enrich the flavors of the meat. If you plan to take your teppan to the next level with Wagyu steak, a fruitier New World cabernet sauvignon would also be an excellent choice. 

5. Chicken Yakitori and Sauvignon Blanc

Yakitori refers to skewered chicken char-grilled to perfection. The grill adds delicious smoky flavor to the meat. You can serve yakitori lightly salted, or you can marinate the chicken in yakitori sauce before grilling. The sauce is made with mirin, soy sauce, sake, and sugar. Yakitori sauce provides a delightful sweet and salty glaze similar to the better-known teriyaki. It melds with the taste of smoke and char.

A crisp, refreshing, grassy salted sauvignon blanc proves to be an ideal partner. However, if you prefer your skewers doused in yakitori sauce, a fruit-forward pinot noir or oaked merlot may be a better alternative. 

Enjoy a Glass of Wine with Your Next Japanese Meal

The right glass of wine can take any meal to the next level. While sake may be the traditional go-to for Japanese food, that doesn't mean you can't enjoy a glass of Champagne with your gyoza or sauvignon blanc with your vegetable sushi rolls. When you balance the components of the dish with the profile of the wine, you'll have an experience you won't forget any time soon. 

Are you looking for a great wine to pair with your next Japanese-inspired meal? Whether you're hosting an intimate dinner for two or a large-scale party, JJ Buckley Fine Wines has bottles for all of your needs. Check out our selection today!