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.
Mami Whelehan then led us through an experiment with little saucers of:
Three glasses of wines –from 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.”
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