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

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Wine and Mushrooms, Japan’s Sensual Magic!

Autumn in Japan is mushroom heaven.

Rural biking expeditions on narrow Japanese foothill roads edged with maple trees lead into chilly pine forests. What seems to be stacks of neatly cut firewood are nurseries for  Shiitake mushrooms.

Wine and mushrooms are sensual magical friends. The key is pheromones, chemical equivalents to hormones. Pinot Noir’s earthy, forest floor, spice and musk odors are said to mimic male androstenone. Mushrooms have lots of protein and B vitamins.

 

In Japan they are the perfect antidote to steamy summers that wring the life out of people.Pinot Noir’s ancestral home of Burgundy is home to pricy pungent truffles sniffed out by truffle pigs and truffle dogs. Burgundy’s cuisine is packed with   soul-satisfying fungi dishes that put some meat on your bones in preparation for winter. Mushroom or truffle omelets, mushroom and chestnut stuffed roasted fowl or beef. Mushroom stews or large raviolis plump with duck stuffing floating in broth speckled with shaved truffles.
The natural wine match is Burgundy’s red wine grape, Pinot Noir, smelling of forest floor and wild things. However, Burgundy’s other red grape is Gamay, which in Japan is known for the loads of drink-up soon Beaujolais Nouveau that hit these shores each November like clock-work. However, some wine shops do carry Beaujolais from one of Beaujolais’s top ten villages from small wineries. These can be velvety rich with an edge of cherry, especially with a few years of maturity.
Mushroom & Wine Breakfast at Tasting Australia (photo-Hiroshi Shoji)
Autumn in Japan have restaurants celebrating the return of cool weather with mushroom tempura, Chawanmushi—a steamed egg custard and Matsutake Gohan, rice steamed with Matsutake (pine) mushrooms.
Tiny, earthenware or China teapots of fragrant Dobinmushi appear in restaurants and at home. The pale broth is served in a tiny teapot (dobin)and topped with an even tinier inverted cup holding an even tinier wedge of a citrus called yuzu. It is enough to make you feel like you are at Alice’s tea party with the Mad Hatter.
Floating in the dobin’s broth are usually two ginko nuts, a slice of fish cake, a shrimp, a smidgeon of skinless chicken and a dainty sprig of mitsuba a Japanese wild parsley. The crowning glory is a single slice of delicate Matsutake pine mushroom whose price of Y15,000 and up for three mushrooms at a local farmer’s market is enough to make you want to go into the business of Matsutake growing
For those who can afford to buy whole Matsutake mushrooms, the tradition is to cut them in half lengthwise and grill them over smokeless charcoal, and serve with a squeeze of the citrus Sudashi.
The key to matching Japanese mushroom dishes with wine is gauging the mushrooms’ meatiness and flavors. Delicate Dobinmushi would be overwhelmed by an oaky, buttery Chardonnay, but might work with an unoaked, dry Chablis. Yet, if your mushrooms are button type and in a creamy white sauce, then a buttery Chardonnay is a perfect choice.
However, dobinmuchi’s lemony yuzu and celeryleaf-like mitsuba (trefoil) better suits a young, cool-climate Riesling. Pale gold as late autumnal sunlight, Riesling’s citrus, apple or Asian peach flavors, low alcoholic content and higher acidity make it a terrific food wine. Cooler climate Rieslings have more citrus, stone and green apple flavors, while warmer climate Rieslings are rounder and with peach nuances.
German Kabinett (level of ripeness) Rieslings are off-dry with lower alcohol and zippy high acidity. Young Rieslings from Austria, Alsace and New Zealand are still crisp, but with higher levels of alcohol. Those from Australia and Washington State tend to be fuller flavored with more body.
Meatier mushroom dishes like Mushroom Risotto,Portobello or Shiitake mushrooms stuffed with bread crumbs and cheese find a nice match with a bold Barolo from Italy’s northwest Piedmont, made from the king of Italian grapes, Nebbiolo.
Tomato and mushroom dishes need wines that can handle the acidity in tomatoes. The classic match is the Sangiovese grape, whose most famous wine is Chianti Classico from Tuscany, Italy.  Recently, Sangiovese is also popping up in Australia and California.
Few white wines match tomato dishes. Yet, Austrian chefs and cooks often pair Austria’s elegantly robust grape, Gruner Veltliner with pasta or cutlet dishes made using tomatoes. Tasting of white pepper, lemon and floral honey, Gruner’s acidity matches tomatoes’ acidity. Also, Gruner’s slight green character matches the greenness found in more store-bought tomatoes.
For autumn days when the frost is on the pumpkin, cook up some brown mushroom soup or stew, a steak smothered in Shiitake mushrooms or sautéed Pierogies or Gyoza stuffed with potatoes and brown mushrooms. Or even pastry stuffed with smoked duck and mushrooms.

Duck and mushroom stuffed pastry (photo-Sandra Shoji)

 

Their richness and heavier weight suit subtly oaked red wines like a Cabernet Sauvignon from Coonawarra, South Australia, a New Zealand Pinot Noir or delicate Zinfandel like Ridge.
Another grape that can handle hearty dishes is Pinotage from South Africa. Pinotage is a cross between the delicate Pinot Noir and the sturdy Cinsault grapes. When made well with a few years of maturity, it is a very suave wine with essences of mushrooms, wild strawberries, violets, blueberries and smoke.
On a final note, while visiting Food-Ex 2010 in Japan, a huge food and beverage annual event that draws exhibitors and visitors worldwide, we discovered truffles are now being grown in Hokkaido. While they may not need pigs or dogs to sniff them out as they won’t be found in pungent forests, they still tasted sensually delicious.
(Copyright 2010: ( Sandra Shoji-サンドラ ショージ)