8 Unique Wine and Sushi Pairings

by JJ Buckley Fine Wines

Assortment of sushi and nigiri on a plate with chopsticks.

Sushi is arguably one of the most popular foods from Japan - so popular in fact, it’s easily recognized in countries all around the world.

But sushi isn’t just popular; it’s also incredibly diverse. Most sushi starts with rice wine vinegar-infused rice and seaweed. Fillings or toppings include a variety of ingredients, including fresh vegetables, different types of fish, crab, eel, sea urchin, and more. Where sushi is typically served, along with well-known sushi rolls, there are also often dishes like tempura, nigiri and onigiri.

For beverages, when most people think sushi, they think sake. While this pairing is popular, it’s not the only one. Sushi also works quite well with Western wines. Here are eight unique wine and sushi pairings to consider for your next gathering.

Pairing Wine and Sushi

Sushi is generally considered a delicate dish. As such, it tends to work well with white wines, which are lighter and less robust than reds. That being said, this doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a glass of red wine with your sushi. If you love red wine, choose one that has a more delicate flavor profile so that you avoid overpowering your meal.

There is a huge variety of sushi and as such, there is no one perfect wine pairing. Instead, you need to think about the ingredients in the type of sushi you’re serving when considering what wine to pair with it.

First, consider the type of fish. Fatty fish needs a wine higher in acidity and tannins, which will help to cut through the richness. Leaner fish does much better with a wine that’s softer and rounder. Fish with a strong flavor, like mackerel, needs a wine that can help to tone down the robust flavors and help give the sushi a more delicate taste.

If you’re using tuna, it’s important to think about the type, as there are many varieties. Tuna ranges from delicate to robust. Sushi using yellowfin requires a different wine than a sushi dish using bluefin.

In no particular order, here are our top 8 best sushi and wine pairings.

1. Tempura and Albariño

Tempura isn’t technically sushi. It’s a dish consisting of seafood or vegetables, dredged in a light batter of flour, eggs, and water, and then deep-fried. You can also have sushi rolls served tempura-style, some of the most popular types being shrimp tempura rolls, tiger rolls, and crunch rolls.

Being deep-fried, tempura is oily. Albariño is a fruity, floral, acidic wine that pairs beautifully with the dish. The acid helps to cut through the oil, rounding out the flavor. The wine also helps to cleanse your palate, creating a balance between the tempura and the wine.

2. Salmon Rolls and Rosé

When it comes to a sushi wine pairing involving salmon, match the color of the wine with the color of the fish. A dry rosé pairs perfectly with a salmon roll. Not only do they look great sitting next to one another, but their flavors play very well together as well. The bright acidity of the rosé cuts through the fattiness of the salmon, while the salmon makes the fruity flavors of the wine pop.

Rosé, particularly a Provencal Rosé, is also perfect for California rolls. The light, bright wine works beautifully with the crab and creamy avocado.

3. Dragon Rolls and Grüner Veltliner

A dragon roll consists of eel, crab, avocado, cucumber, and eel sauce. These ingredients make this roll a rich one. Grüner Veltliner is the perfect partner. Hailing from Austria, Grüner Veltliner wines are high in acidity with notes of lemon, lime, and white pepper. The sharp acidity of the wine cuts through the richness of the seafood and the sauce while the herbaceous flavors play well with the vegetables in the roll.

4. Spicy Tuna Rolls and Riesling

Spicy tuna rolls get their heat from a spicy mayonnaise. The best wine pairing for this particular roll is a slightly off-dry Riesling. High in acid, this wine helps cut through the richness of the fish and the mayonnaise. At the same time, there’s just enough sweetness to help tone down the heat.

5. Veggie Rolls and Sauvignon Blanc

Veggie rolls offer a fish-free way to enjoy the simple, delicate flavors of sushi. This vegetarian alternative typically includes cucumber, avocado, and carrots. Some veggie rolls are simply cucumber or avocado. Other versions include asparagus and pickled daikon.

Fresh vegetables need a fresh, crisp wine. A Sauvignon Blanc, with its high acidity and citrus notes, works beautifully with the raw vegetables in a veggie roll, especially the green ones like cucumber and asparagus.

6. Shrimp Nigiri and Pinot Gris

Shrimp nigiri is a fairly simple dish, comprised of cooked, butterflied shrimp on top of rice. Pinot Gris, with notes of apple and stone fruit, is perfect for the light sweetness of the shrimp. The two balance one another, making for a delightful experience. The wine also has some citrus notes, which act like a squeeze of lemon to brighten the sushi.

7. Toro Aburi and Pinot Noir

Toro Aburi is tuna belly that’s been slightly seared with a blow torch. The lightly charred top gives the tuna a more complex flavor, adding hints of nuttiness and smokiness to the fattiness of the fish.

While a Pinot Noir is a red wine, it’s light-bodied. The wine, which also pairs well with other meaty foods like steak, has higher acidity and lower tannins. The tuna stands up to the tannins while the acidity cuts through the fattiness of the fish. While red wines aren’t typically paired with fish, this pairing works perfectly.

8. Uni and Sherry

Uni, or sea urchin, is often considered to be the foie gras of the sea. The flavor is mildly nutty and sweet but not overly fishy. Its smooth texture has been likened to that of ice cream.

Sherry is the perfect complement to the more intense and concentrated flavor of uni. A Manzanilla Sherry is light-bodied and has a salinity to it, traits that are a perfect match for uni’s intensity.

Looking for the perfect wine for your next gathering? JJ Buckley Fine Wines has just the wine you need, no matter your meal. If you need help deciding on the best wine to serve with sushi, or any other dish you’re planning, our consultancy services are here to help. For more information and to place your next order, contact JJ Buckley today.