Food & Drinks

What to drink with different kinds of Japanese food | Wine

Asahi Dassai 45 Junmai Daiginjo, Japan (£14.99, 30cl, London Sake) What are the best drinks to have with Japanese food? The plural is important here because, as with any cuisine, the rather obvious answer is: ‘It depends what kind of Japanese food.’ There’s no reason a drink that works very well with, say, the delicacy of sushi, will also be a hit with the rich savouriness of thin strips of meat cooked briefly in a bubbling broth shabu shabu style. Still, for all its variety, there are certain qualities that run through Japanese food: a subtlety of flavour, forensic attention to texture and presentation, and plentiful helpings of umami. All, certainly, are present and correct across the menu at swanky St James’s Japanese restaurant Ginza, where London-based Italian sommelier Angelo Lorea picks out ideal matches. He has clearly thought deeply about his combinations and Japan’s national drink, sake, inevitably gets a starring role, while the soft-focus melon-and-mango of Asahi Dassai 45 Junmai Daiginjo gently complements gossamer-tender strips of sashimi.

Forza della Natura Orange Catarratto, Italy 2022 (£8.99, Waitrose) Lorea is not hung-up on the ‘grows together goes together’ school of food-and-drink matching. His choices are decidedly cosmopolitan, and one of the most enjoyable and imaginative combinations at Ginza when I visited was Johanneshof Reinisch Pinot Noir 2021 from Austria (£19.25, the Whisky Exchange) with wagyu beef. Now, Austria isn’t usually a place I’d go to for pinot noir, and pinot noir of any kind isn’t my go-to for beef, but in this case the silky-fine tannins of the wine were in absolute like-for-like harmony with the melting texture of the beef. Another textural hit was a herb-inflected, apricot-tangy and gently grippy Italian orange wine (Tenuta Sant’Agostino Bucce D’Uva Malvasia Trebbiano from Campania) with a feather-light but flavourful, mineral-rich king crab tempura. It’s a pairing I’ve almost managed to recreate at home in rather more humble style using king prawns in my rough-and-ready tempura and Waitrose’s excellent-value, lemon pithy and spicy orange wine from Sicily in my glass.

Grace Koshu Kayagatake, Japan 2022 (from £19.29, All About Wine, Strictly Wine, Novel Wines) One style of drink that Angelo Lorea didn’t propose on my visit to Ginza, but which I reckon was born to go with Japanese food, is dry sherry. Manzanilla, with its salty marine tang, is great with nori seaweed, and a glass of Solear Barbadillo Manzanilla (£12.49, Waitrose) with an onigiri triangle wrap is my idea of a quick, civilised lunch. So, too, in umami-meets-umami style, a richer dry sherry, such as oloroso, with anything miso-based (Morrisons Oloroso, at £6.50 for 37.5cl, does this job just fine). Finally, I’ve been increasingly impressed with the quality of Japanese wine, with the native koshu grape responsible for the most distinctive wines. Discreet, too: don’t expect loudness of flavour from producers such as Grace in Yamanashi, just a light, elegant, floral and citrus-infused and deceptively incisive dry white for pairing with sushi.

Follow David Williams on X @Daveydaibach

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