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
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
Wine lovers aren’t easy to please when buying holiday gifts. Their friends and loved ones live in terror that they will buy the wrong wine or the wrong vintage, upsetting the sensitivities of the demanding ‘connoisseur’. So instead of wine, why not give something wine-related to satisfy a high maintenance wine geek.
Recently, I spied a visiting French wine maker wearing a tie sprinkled with frolicking images of bulldogs, grapes, wine glasses, wine bottles and the letters ‘RP100’. Ah, the perfect gift for males who only drink wines rated 90 points and above by the world’s most influential wine critic, Robert Parker. Available at Parker’s website, the description says that 100% of the proceeds from tie sales goes to The Wine Advocate Fund of Philanthropy to benefit the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the AppleTree Institute.
Who says that wine lovers lack a sense of humor? In “John Cleese’s Wine for the Confused” DVD, John Cleese, of ‘Fawlty Towers’ and ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ fame, wittily, but gently guides beginner wine lovers through the endless maze of grapes, regions and wine brands.
A wine enthusiasts must-see is Jonathan Nossiter’s long, long movie ‘Mondovino’. A fascinating and eye-opening series of interviews with of some of the international wine world’s main players, several who dig their own graves with their tongues. Advanced warning, Nossiter speaks 7-8 languages fluently in the movie, so get a DVD with sub-titles you can read. It is also a good idea to split the movie into 40 minute segments, spread over a couple of nights.
For impatient wine buffs who can’t wait 30-50 minutes for white or sparkling wine to chill, there is a wide range of electric wine chillers. Some look like standing wine coolers, while others are horizontal. Wine buffs obsessed with correct temperatures might fancy an Infrared Thermometer with Laser Targeting Wine Thermometer. Impressive for whipping out at a wine shop or restaurant to laser your about-to-be-purchased wine checking if it has been kept at the correct temperature.
Wine people who love games are in luck, as suddenly there is an explosion in wine tasting party games. Even a ‘Murder Mystery Party – A Taste for Wine and Murder’, a who-dun-it dinner party complete with instructions of pre-dinner shopping, secret clues and a murder to solve.
Wine traditionalists, snug in their beds, dreaming of joining a burgundy-colored, velvet-robed European wine tasting society might want the gangsta rapper Bling of a Silver Tastevin dangling from a chunky chain. Used in French wine cellars to taste wine from the barrels, the tastevin’s shallow, silver saucer’s dimpled surface reflects a wine’s color by candlelight. Being made from silver instead of glass insures no shattered shards flying through the air if it hits the stone floor of a wine cave.
Another traditionalist must-have is the antique-patterned Hanging Cork Bottle Accessory. Hung like a necklace around the neck of a wine bottle or a decanter, a silver plated chain links two silver grape clusters proudly clasping a cork like a crown jewel.
However, if you feel brave and do give wine, give something unique, bold and luscious, and definitely a cut above the rest. Our survey for December is, ‘What is your favorite Holiday wine?’
(Copyright 2010, 2011-Sandra Shoji, ”サンドラ ショージ” )
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.
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.