Matching Japanese flavors with wine! It is the cooking and the sauce that matters.

Mami Whelehan of Pieroth, Japan

When wine was the new kid in Japan, questions always popped up with the question whether wine can go with Japanese food.  Now two decades later, people in Japan seem to have little problem drinking wine with all kinds of Japanese regional and international cuisine.

Yet, people still worry about matching wine and food so I asked Mami Whelehan, the P.R.Director of Pieroth, Japan for her expertise.

Whelehan has set up hundreds of elegant food and wine matching –meet the winemakers—dinners in Japan at some of Tokyo’s poshest restaurants. Her ability to match fine wines from around the world with a variety of cuisines inspires awe among picky wine and food writers in Tokyo.

Whelehan immediately noted that when people talk about Japanese food matching wine, most people are thinking about food that is eaten in a restaurant, not home food.

Visiting wine people are taken to restaurants and have their wines matched with exquisite dishes, but few have ever eaten in a Japanese household. “Sushi and Teppanyaki are restaurant foods, not home foods.”

How about Riesling?

According to Whelehan, German wine are great food wines, but their (Germany’s) promotion circle is conservative, which limits the number of people who can access their wines.

“That is why the tasting event ‘The Riesling Ring’ held each year in Tokyo is wonderful, because one fantastic grape which is made in many styles, by many wine regions and wine makers is showcased.”

German wines have the image of being too sweet, though they come in a variety of styles, are highly acidic, yet fruity to lusciously rich.

“However, young Japanese prefer soft, fruity and tender wines. They can’t cope with acidity as they are used to drinking Coke daily.”

German wines also have an advantage as Japanese women think of Germany as a romantic country with the Romantic road and famous composers. However, German names are almost impossible to pronounce.

WINE AND FOOD MATCHING—it is the cooking and the sauce that determines the wine.

Avocado,Kobosu, Soy Sauce & Wasabi

 

Mami Whelehan then led us through an experiment with little saucers of:

Avocado
Kobosu (citrus)
Soy sauce
Wasabi
&
Three glasses of winesfrom Argentina.
A white Torrentes
a rosé Malbec
a red Malbec

Whelehan said when matching food and wine the main key is to adjust the flavors and weight.

“For example, an avocado is fruity and creamy.  On its own, it goes with a nice medium Chardonnay or rosé. Both have similar body when matching food and wine.”

The best match in flavors and weight with plain, unadorned avocado was the rosé!

Next, we were asked to add some Kobosu juice to a small saucer containing avocado. The citrus gave the creamy avocado a citrus edge, which Whelehan said would demand a more acidic and edgy wine. The perfect match was the floral, but acidic Torrontes.

Our next experiement, we added some soy sauce to another saucer of avocado. Suddenly the best match was the Malbec.

Whelehan explained that the milky lactic acids in the Malbec from the secondary Malolactic fermentation matched the lactic acidity in the soy sauce.  Add a high quality wasabi to this mix, and the fruit in the Malbec cools and melds with the wasabi.

Whelehan’s next example was Shabu-Shabu, thin strips of tender pork swished through steaming water to cook it.

Serve the pork with a citrusy Ponzu sauce and the flavors become lighter, so a lighter wine would match.

Dip the cooked pork into an oiler & heavier Goma, creamy sesame sauce, and you hit the middle weight in wine.

Dip the pork in a spicy sauce and the matching wine would be a fruity red.

Whelehan said, “Also, think of what food tastes like when you cook it differently.  If you taste chicken, grilled without the skin and serve it with lemon juice, you can’t taste the chicken, only the lemon.”

Next she said, “The purpose of making wine was that it was to be drunk as a beverage with food. When we are drinking wine we are not just checking the wine, we are expecting a marriage, complimenting each other.”

“Sushi and Teppanyaki are restaurant foods, not home foods.  Something like Nikujaga ( Japanese stewed meat and vegetables) is traditional home cooked food and Malbec would suit it.   Malbec goes with a variety of food flavors and textures.  At my home we have tofu with olive oil, salt and Kobosu with Malbec.”

A few flavor changes, changes the wine.

WHELEHAN’S EXPERIMENTAL HOMECOOKED JAPANESE MENU

An experimental menu would be salmon as a starter with Malbec, as salmon is not a white fish.

Then have Goma Dofu (sesame seed tofu) with a good quality German white wine.

However, if you prefer Miso , of any color, with your food, then a red wine matches. For the salad, please–no pickled vegetables, instead use balsamic vinegar.

The next dish would be Tara (cod) and a heavy spicy sauce or a soy based sauce  which a Malbec would fit with the flavors and weight.

Then Malbec with Nikujaga as it has sugar and soy sauce . Or pork spareribs in soy sauce.

For dessert, so you think Japanese sweets only go with green tea?

Turns out that Daifuku, Omochi and Anko,  are terrific with German Kabinett level or Spatlese level wines! As the German wine grapes have been picked riper with fuller flavors, they still retain high acidity to cut through sweetness.

If Karinto, deep fried black sugar, is your kind of sweet, then a medium bodied red wine is your match, as in wine it is the fruit which provides the feeling of sweetness.

So basically a few wines have taken you through a whole Japanese home cooked  menu, complimenting and matching weight, acidity, spices and sweetness.  Gochi so sama deshita!

Copyright: Sandra Shoji 2011 サンドラ ショージ

Valentine’s Day– a tale of blind dates, aphrodisiac wine, high heels, forks and ice cream.

Moscatel and strawberries laced with chocolate. (photo:Hiroshi Shoji)

Valentine’s Day in Japan used be shocking. Women giving ‘obligation chocolate’ to male bosses and co-workers.  Recently, the pendulum is swinging back to Valentine’s Day, as a day for ‘the ladies’. However, instead many Japanese women are giving not giving Valentine’s Day chocolate and wine to males, but instead their female friends.

Long ago, in the misty past February 15, was the Roman’s highly honored festival of Lupercalia. Luper means wolf, and rituals were held possibly honoring Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome who legend says were suckled by a she-wolf.

The festival included a lottery where young men drew the names of unmarried women from jars. During the festival the blind dates got intimately acquainted over feasts of food and wine. Were these the origins of Valentine’s Day messages?  As Rome spread its empire to Gaul and Britain, so were its customs.

The patron saint of love, St. Valentine, true dentity unknown.
Was he a Christian martyr, executed on February 14, 269, who left friendship note for his jailer’s blind daughter, signed “Love from your Valentine”.

Or was he was a priest, sentenced to death on February 14th for secretly marrying soldiers banned from wedded bliss by the Emperor Claudius II who believed soldiers’ only love should be the Roman Empire.

The history of love has not been easy, as love was considered an out of control emotion and definitely not a sane feeling. For most of history, marriage was to gain land and wealth.

Our next patron of love was Catherine de’ Medici.
A wealthy 14 year old Florentine teenager, she was sent to marry the Duke of Orleans, France’s future king Henry II in 1533. Catherine decided to wow France’s medieval court with Italian graceful living.  It seemed that the French court’s idea of a glamorous banquet was baked boar preserved from spoilage with Asian spices and eaten with a dagger.

Catherine’s power-dowry included the best of Venice.  Glittering mirrors and glass wine goblets, along with gold cutlery including a shocking new instrument for carrying food to mouth, the fork.

Her entourage included poets spinning tales of romance and chefs bringing Italian fresh herbs and fruits, and full-bodied wines. The chefs also brought the secret of making a magical treat, ice cream.

Catherine, extremely plain and short, worked with an unknown shoemaker to enable her to tower seductively over her subjects, creating Europe’s first high-heels.

Until the late 1900’s a Parisian aphrodisiac rage was drinking Champagne from a high-heeled slipper. Today, the aphrodisiac of choice for most women is chocolate, and wines that just make a sensual match.

STAR PICKS- Sweets for my Sweet:

Gaspar Florido Jerez, Moscatel, Vine Dulce Natural Y Varietal, Pedro Romero, Spain, available at Nissin, Tokyo

Amber colored with a hint of pink, made from Muscat grapes, probably the first domesticated eating and wine grape, originally from the Middle East. The nose has hints of raisins, rose petal jam, maple syrup and brandied blood oranges.

Deviation, Quady, Madera, California, available at Nissin, Tokyo.

Andrew Quady is the master of unique dessert wines. He says Deviation is a love potion, as it includes Domiana, which was used since Mayan times in Central and South America as an aphrodisiac. Orange Muscat wine is infused with leaved from Scented Geranium leaves along with dried leaves and flowers from Damiana, (aromatized wines have flowers herbs or spices seeped in the wine to draw out their flavors, scents or medicinal properties)  Can be used in cocktails or as a dessert wine. Heavenly scents of carnations, lavender, sage, a bit of anise and plums.

 

 

Cline Ancient Vine Mourvedre, Cline Cellars, Contra Costa County, 2008, N.California. available at Hotei Wines.


Mourvedre originally known as Mataro was from Spain before it crept up the Mediterranean coast to southern Rhone where is it is used in S.Rhone reds wines. In California it is one of the grapes used by wine makers near San Francisco, known as the ‘Rhone Rangers’. Fred Cline’s Oakley Ranch is 40 miles east of San Francisco and Cline has some of the oldest vines in California.

Old vines while producing few bunches of grapes, produce intensely rich flavors. Cline wines are value for money, and get high Parker Points.  A rich, but dry red wine with nuances of baked meats, black leather, raisins in chocolate, bitter cherries, and lush black fruit. Fantastically versatile with grilled meat or chocolate cake.  The Jarviar Bardem & Penelope Cruz of wines.

Banyuls Rouge ‘Cuvée Joseph Géraud’,  Banyuls, France. Berry Bros & Rudd, Japan.

Banyuls is France’s most southerly appellation near its border with Spain, right on the Mediterranean. Wines are traditionally made from red Grenache grapes. While the wine is still on its skins, grape spirits are added which kills of the yeast, and keeps a higher level of grape sugars in the wine. The wines are aged in older oak barrels left in the sun. This baking during the day, and cooling at night increases the wine’s capability to age and adds layers of complexity. A tawny beauty with a nose and palate of Black Okinawan Sugar, caramel, bitter chocolate, Chinese tea and Christmas pudding.

Dorrien Estate The Old Contemptibles Very Old Tawny, Barossa, South Australia, available at Village Cellars, Japan.

Barossa’s history is full of long aged dessert or sticky wines that have no problem aging 20-80 years. The name, ‘The Old Contemptibles’ comes from a story about the British Expeditionary Force, regular army group of soldiers serving under General Sir Horace Lockwood Smith-Dorrien. The soldiers stopped the German Army at Le Cateau in 1914, supposedly earning the wrath of Kaiser Wilhelm who called them a ‘contemptible little army’.

Dorrien Estate specializes in making wine in small batches, and is the only certified organic winery in the Barossa. This tawny port-style wine is a  blend of  Cabernet and Shiraz.  Aged in wood so that oxidization lets the wine breath while the color turns from red to a rich tawny-amber color. Excellent with walnuts dipped in chocolate.

Copyright: Sandra Shoji,  サンドラ ショージ