With their high acidity and sugar levels, Rieslings are the perfect wines to pair with Japanese cuisine. Mami Whelehan, a manager at public-relations firm Pieroth Japan, who regularly lectures in Japan on wine-food matching, spoke to The Japan Times about how to combine Rieslings with Japanese food.
“With Rieslings, you need to look at acidity and the residual sugar. In Japanese home-cooking, mirin (sweet cooking wine made from rice) and sugar are used in most dishes, so it’s easier to match,” she said.
Mirin works well with the sweetness in a Riesling, while citrus flavors — such as those from the fruits yuzu, sudachi and kabosu — complement the natural acidity in the wine.
“It’s best to use halbtrocken (half-dry), which has some residual sugar but is not completely dry; it’s the most versatile Riesling when it comes to matching with Japanese food,” said Whelehan.
A note of warning, though: Soy sauce kills Riesling’s aromatic flavors, so use it sparingly — if at all. But surprisingly, a biting horseradish hit of wasabi can stimulate the nostrils, bringing out the delicate mineral flavors and green-apple scents of drier Rieslings. “Just don’t use wasabi from a tube, because that is artificial and too spicy,” Whelehan warned.
While the driest Rieslings match well with plain white-fish dishes, medium-dry and sweet Rieslings are a great match for certain kinds of sushi, tempura and shabu-shabu (hot pot).
The acidity in Rieslings is great for cutting through the fattiness of the prime slices of pork used in shabu-shabu. “To make it a better match, you should use a sauce with citrus juice in it that matches the acidity well,” Whelehan added.
The same reasoning applies to tempura, with Riesling’s natural acidities tempering the fattiness of the batter. Whelehan recommended matching Rieslings with leafy-vegetable or bell-pepper tempura. Ootoro (fatty tuna) contains very high levels of sweetness, making it a perfect fit for the sweeter German Rieslings.
While many assume the sweetest Rieslings are best drunk alone or with desserts, a nicely aged sweet variety takes on a petroly aroma that can change our perception of flavors. “Our palates cannot perceive the sweetness in the same way as when the wines were young,” Whelehan explained.
If you’re feeling really adventurous, you could even try pairing a sweet Riesling with traditional Japanese sweets. Whelehan has worked with Japanese sweet-manufacturer Toraiya, which now carries a German Zect that tastes divine with Yuzu jello.
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