3 Perfect Wine Pairings for Sushi

Sushi Platter with salmon sushi soy sauce and chopsticks
// By Kyle Thacker // , Jul 31, 2019

Topics: Wine Knowledge

Who hasn't had sushi? Well, maybe a few of you. But the Japanese food has become extremely popular in the U.S. as American palates open up to foods that aren't ketchup. Sushi is versatile because it's not a specific dish, but rather a style of preparation.


Using a wide range of flavors and ingredients, sushi can meet the tastes of any diner. But this diversity makes pairing wine with sushi challenging. We're taking on that challenge by suggesting 3 wine pairings for sushi, plus alternatives, to enjoy at your next sushi dinner.


Vinho Verde


Vinho Verde isn't a specific varietal of wine. These wines can be red, white, rosé and beyond. But for sushi pairing purposes, you want a white Vinho Verde.


The name Vinho Verde translates to "young wine." Bottling these wines at an early stage is what lends a compliment to sushi because of the natural fermentation these wines undergo once bottled. This bottle conditioning creates slight carbonation and a refreshing effervescence. It's a like a very subdued sparkling wine.


Look for white styles that are fruity and floral, similar to Pinot Grigio. The carbonation in a Vinho Verde is slight but offers just enough bubble to act as a subtle palate cleanser. The green fruit notes are refreshing and delicate enough to pair with seafood while the carbonation will cut through heavier flavors you might find in your sushi like soy sauce or the tempura batter on a maki roll.


Try Broadbent, with sparkling bright citrus


Read Backbar's Wine Knowledge Guide


Dry Rosé


Sparkling or still, rosé can be a perfect compliment for seafood. And a balanced rosé should stand up to the flavor-and-texture variety that sushi offers.


For sushi pairing, go with a dry rosé that doesn't wilt under the strain of big flavors but won't overpower the lighter fish with too much sugar and fruit. Light, dry French rosés made from pinot noir grapes are perfect.


Think wines from Alsace and Burgundy.


These rosés combine reserved summer fruit flavors like strawberry and cherry, brightened by acidity with a dry finish. This balance gives pinot noir rosé an edge over sweeter and heavier styles found elsewhere.


Try Gustave Lorantz le Rosé, with light summer berry fruits, bright minerals


Red Burgundy


To round out the trio, we suggest pinot noir as a (possibly) surprising sushi pairing. But not just any pinot noir. What you're really looking for is a red Burgundy. There are two primary grapes grown in Burgundy: pinot noir for reds, chardonnay for whites. Red Burgundy is 100% pinot noir.


The pinot noir wines produced in Burgundy can be markedly different from California or New Zealand pinot noir. Many pinot-enthusiasts cite Oregon pinot noir as being the new world region with the most in common with the burgundy style. Though the range of pinot noir styles can vary throughout Oregon.


Red Burgundy has more acidity and is a lighter wine than the fruit-and-sugar forward pinots associated with California. The red fruits of Burgundy red are balanced by minerality bestowed on these wines by the limestone soil found in the region. This region is often cited as a classic example of how terroir can affect a wine's profile.


Pinot noir from Burgundy can stand up to bold flavors found in sushi, but it's acidity and limestone-gifted minerality will cut through sushi with oily fish like tuna or salmon. The style's restraint won't overpowering delicate white fish flavors.


Burgundy wine is labeled and marketed by classes.


The top classification, reserved for the best vineyards producing top quality wine, is Grand Cru. Grand Cru is followed in descending order by Premiere Cru, Village Wines, and Regional Wines at the lowest tier.


Regional Wines shouldn't be considered poor quality wines. These wines are sourced sourced from multiple vineyards and are built for aging like many Grand Crus that have vineyard specificity that aficionados of Burgundy seek out.


Try Saint-Romain "Sous le Chateau", with red fruits, tannins


Other drink pairing options




Wine isn't the only beverage to drink when dining on sushi. Beer, with it's carbonation and yeast-heavy body is a great at complementing sushi. A lager like Kiran Ichiban will do just fine.




Sake is not a traditional pairing for sushi in Japan because the rice wine doesn't compliment the rice dish but merely reflects it. But that doesn't mean sake and sushi don't go really well together. Try Funaguchi Kikusui. It's a canned sake that is un-pasteurized and un-diluted.


Green Tea


If you're looking to avoid alcohol, but keep it traditional, then green tea is for you. The nutty flavors and herbal notes of green tea pair very well with sushi. Konacha, or "agari" green tea is what is traditionally served at sushi restaurants.

Kyle Thacker

About the author, Kyle Thacker

Kyle is the Marketing Director for Backbar. Before helping Backbar connect with the restaurant industry, he managed multiple bars in Chicago, with a love of whiskey and cocktails.

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