You’re about to have sushi, and the waiter asks if you would like red wine with sushi or something else to drink. Should you go for a glass of red wine or stick to something more traditional like sake?
In general, red wine with sushi is not the best food-wine pairing. Lighter white wines typically pair better with seafood which is a critical ingredient in most sushi. That said, red wines like Gamay or Pinot Noir can work with sushi. When you can find those red wines, go ahead with the pairing. Otherwise, avoid red wine
1) Which Red Wines Go Well With Sushi?
While you can drink red wine with nearly anything, some food wine pairings work better than others. Traditionally, white wines like the Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé from the Loire Valley of France pair better with seafood.
The first step to pairing red wine with sushi is to know your red wine options.
- Avoid Full-Bodied Red Wines. Start by avoiding rich, full-bodied red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Syrah. These wine varieties will usually overpower sushi. That means you will likely taste the alcohol in the wine and perhaps one or two fruit flavors. In essence, you will only taste a fraction of the wine’s flavors. It is like going to the theatre and watching the show with one eye closed. It might still be fun, but you are missing out.
- Seek Out Light Bodied Red Wines. Instead, look for a lighter red wine like Gamay or Pinot Noir. Sometimes restaurant menus provide limited information about the available wines. In that case, look at the alcohol percentage as a shortcut. Specifically, find the red wine with the lowest alcohol level (aim for less than 12% if possible) and try that one.
2) Avoid Soy Sauce And Wasabi With Wine
To take your red wine with sushi experience to the next level, skip the soy sauce and wasabi. These common additions to sushi are helpful if you are trying to add flavor to white rice. However, they will overwhelm the wine. To minimize the temptation, ask to remove the soy sauce and wasabi from your table. If you are dining with other people, move the wasabi and soy sauce away from yourself so the temptation will be easier to resist.
The alternative option is to save wasabi and soy sauce to the end of your meal after you have finished off your wine. At that point, go ahead and enjoy those spices. As an experiment, compare and contrast the flavor of sushi without wasabi and one with it. On occasion, strong spices are used to cover up poor quality fish (e.g., airport sushi is usually not known for its quality), so keep this tip in mind.
3) Choose The Right Sushi To Go With Wine
While many types of sushi feature fish like salmon and tuna, there are exceptions. You might find sushi that feature vegetables and meat, for example. Further, some sushi involves additional sauces and seasonings. Look for sushi with meat as one way to improve your dining experience. As mentioned above, avoid soy sauce and wasabi whenever possible.
When you order a wide variety of sushi (e.g., some with tempura, some with seafood, some with vegetables), the food and wine pairing process becomes much more difficult. No single wine will pair equally well with everything. That’s why you might want to make life easier on yourself by adding some non-sushi side dishes to your meal.
4) Get Non-Sushi Side Dishes
Ordering non-sushi side dishes is an excellent way to improve your dining experience. For example, you might have a small order of sushi to start. Later in the meal, order a meat dish and have your red wine with that dish. You can also sip your wine gradually through the meal and see how it pairs with different courses.
Alternatively, many sushi restaurants offer meat dishes like Yakitori (i.e., skewers of chicken or pork). You can also experiment with dishes like Teriyaki. However, keep in mind that Teriyaki dishes are typically made with soy sauce. That means you will need to choose a full-bodied wine (e.g., a Cabernet Sauvignon) to keep up with the intense flavors.
5) What White Wine Goes With Sushi?
There are multiple promising options for pairing white wine with sushi. Some of the most popular options include:
- Gewürztraminer. A classic white wine made in France, Germany, and many other places in the Alsace wine region. Gewürztraminer is also quite aromatic – you can enjoy its scent quite easily. In many cases, it also has a high alcohol level (about 14% is quite common, according to the Alcohol Professor). Gewürztraminer fell out of fashion for several decades, so this is a great time to rediscover it.
- Riesling. This light-bodied white wine is an excellent choice to enjoy with sushi. In the event, you plan to have sweeter sushi, see if you can find an off-dry Riesling. Off-dry wine is a bit sweeter than dry wine, and it pairs well. Riesling is particularly popular in cool wine regions like Germany and Ontario.
- Sauvignon Blanc. Sauvignon Blanc goes well with deep-fried foods (i.e., anything with tempura). Sauvignon Blanc also has strong aromas like Gewürztraminer. Expect to experience relatively high acidity and minimal tannins. Sauvignon Blanc is most commonly described as honeydew, grapefruit, white peach, and gooseberry in terms of taste.
- Pinot Grigio. Also known as Pinot Gris in France, Pinot Grigio is usually made in three different styles according to Wine Folly: minerally & dry, fruity & dry, and fruity & sweet. In terms of pairing the wine with sushi, stick to the dry options.
When choosing a white wine to pair with sushi, there is one kind of wine to avoid. I suggest avoiding an oaked chardonnay. Don’t get me wrong: a well-oaked chardonnay is one of my all-time favorite kinds of white wine. However, the rich buttery quality of such a wine will generally not go well with sushi.
6) Red Wine With Sushi: Have Modest Expectations
When you seek out more unconventional food-wine pairings, you’re gambling to a degree. There is a slight chance that you will find an unknown pairing that you will love. In most cases, an experimental wine pairing like combining red wine with sushi will be unremarkable. Keep your expectations modest when you try a pairing like this.
If you are looking for another unconventional wine pairing to try that also involves seafood, read “Does Cabernet Sauvignon Go With Salmon?” You will find out why this food and wine pairing isn’t recommended. However, there are ways you can have both enjoyably in the same meal – read it to get the tips.
7) What About Wine With Dessert?
Choosing a wine for dessert is easy. When possible, choose a dessert wine like ice wine from Canada or a port from Portugal. These sweet wines have been traditional dessert choices for a long time. For more tips on adding wine to dessert, check out my article on wine chocolate pairing. Hint – you will have a better experience if you start with high-quality dark chocolate.