Skip to content

Which Wines Go with Sushi

Wine and Food Pairing Basics

Sushi is a popular cuisine enjoyed worldwide! It’s known for its blend of fresh seafood, vinegared rice, and unique ingredients such as salty seaweed accompanied by soy sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger.

While traditional sake is a common pairing, wine can also complement sushi beautifully. As a matter of fact, you can elevate the flavours of your sushi and create a memorable dining experience by choosing the right wines. Therefore in this post, we’ll explore some of the best wines to pair with sushi and offer tips on selecting the perfect bottle.

But you should know that sushi is one of the toughest foods to pair with wine. So, if you’ve had wines clash with sushi, that’s normal! Nevertheless, after reading this post, you’ll be able to avoid these common wine pairing errors.

For now, let’s examine some basic wine and food pairing rules to understand how sushi will interact with wine. Then, we’ll identify the most important food elements in the dish. In this case, we will need to match the wine to the strongest food flavours in sushi.

So buckle up and get ready folks! 

Dos and Don'ts

Wine pairing dos

The 3 wine and food pairing rules we will apply to wines that go well with sushi are:

 

  1. Identify the most important food element of the dish and match the wine to that
  2. Match the weight of the wine with the weight of the food
  3. Spicy foods will make the alcohol feel hotter and conversely make the food taste spicier. Therefore, it’s often best to choose a wine with low alcohol to go with spicy foods.

But you can’t mention the rules that make pairings work, without mentioning the ‘don’t do this!’ rules.

Wine pairing don'ts

  1. Avoid high alcohol wines with spicy dishes.
  2. Avoid wines with high levels of tannin and wines aged in new oak barrels when eating fish – especially when eating raw fish like salmon.

Now, let’s examine the three wine and food pairing rules that apply here more closely.

 

But first, here’s a shameless promotion of our upcoming wine classes…

Want to learn more about wine? Start here...

Take WSET Level 1 in Wines Online

A beginner level course for those wanting to dip their toes into the world of wine.

4-week course
followed by exam

Take WSET Level 2 in Wines Online

An intermediate level course for those wanting to to dive head first into the world of wine.

5-week course
followed by exam

Wine and Food Pairing Rules:

#1 how to find the right wine course for you

Identify the most important food element(s) in the dish

What’s your favourite type of sushi? Is it bonita fish sushi? Perhaps you like spicy albacore tuna? Or maybe the vegetarian sushi rolls please you the most?

How do you choose a wine when you order one type of roll, but your partner prefers another kind? Which sushi do you choose to pair with the wine?

In truth, it doesn’t matter!

When pairing wine with food, you often need to identify the strongest flavours or boldest flavours in the dish and choose a wine to pair with that.

To this end, the most important food element in sushi rolls is the soy sauce. Why? This dipping sauce is the strongest and therefore the most important element in choosing what wine to drink with sushi rolls.

The second most important food element in sushi rolls is the wasabi. Why? Because even miniscule amounts of wasabi are extremely spicy.

The third most important element in sushi is raw fish (if you order any). Along this note, fish oils greatly increase the likelihood that the wine will taste either super fishy or taste metallic – like you’ve just licked the steel bars in a playground. Yuck!

Here are the most important (strongest) flavours in sushi...

Soy Sauce

Soy sauce is a fermented condiment made from soy beans and wheat. It is full-flavoured (pungent), highly salty and slightly sour.

Due to its full flavour, this food element is more important than the type of sushi roll you order.

Wasabi

Wasabi is a common condiment served with sushi. It is made from a green Japanese root that is part of the horseradish family.

It is made into a thick paste. And even miniscule amounts of wasabi are extremely spicy.

Due to it’s extremely high spice levels, wasabi is one of the strongest food elements in sushi.

Wasabi - the spicy horseradish condiment for sushi
raw sushi

Raw Fish

Not all fish types are hard to match with wine. But, salmon oils are extremely difficult to match with wines correctly. When this goes wrong – it goes horribly wrong. Tuna, might be a close second in this regard
 
First, know that it’s not you! Most people can’t get this pairing right. But keep reading to learn how to avoid ruining your wine when you drink it with sushi.
 

 

Wine and Food Pairing Rule:

Match the weight of the wine with the weight of the food

Professional sommeliers know that in order for a wine and food pairing to work, you have to match the weight of the wine with the weight of the food.

Because if they don’t match, you’ll end up thinking the wine isn’t very good. Perhaps you won’t be able to taste the wine at all because it is too light. Or, the wine will completely hide the flavours of the food because it will be too heavy.

What do we mean when we discuss a wine's weight?

A wine’s weight could be more accurately described as mouthfeel.

Think about what it’s like to leave skim milk in your mouth versus whole milk. Then think about what the mouthfeel of having whipping cream in your mouth.

On the other hand, wine schools use another term to describe weight.  They describe the difference in mouthfeel between a light-bodied, medium-bodied and full-bodied wine. Again, body is how we describe a wine’s weight or mouthfeel.

If you would like to know more about wine body and how that relates to choosing wines to go with food, you can check out my post here.

So then, what wine weight or body do we need so that the wine stands up to the soy sauce and the sushi?

Soy sauce with fatty fish and rice is fairly weighty, but not as heavy as a dish smothered in a teriyaki sauce, for example.

You will therefore need a mid-weight or medium-bodied wine to stand up to the sushi rolls dipped in soy sauce.

 

How can you tell if a wine is medium-bodied or how can you tell if the wine is a mid-weight wine?

In short, mid-weight wines are mostly wines within the 11-13.5% abv alcohol range. 

Yet, wines that have low alcohol (11% and below), but have some residual sugar (RS) in them can also be mid-weight. This is because sugar increases body. Wines with that have a touch of sugar in them (RS) are called ‘off-dry‘.

Truly, it’s a complex combination of factors that work together to create a mid-weight wine. But don’t you worry! We’ll cover many examples of mid-weight wines below so you WILL get this.

 

 

Are you already a WSET wine student?

Check out our mobile-friendly guides designed specifically for your WSET wine course

  • written by a certified-WSET educator
  • hundreds of multiple choice and matching questions
  • pass with high marks while saving time!

My questions are harder than the exam. So, these guides will make your exam seem easy!

and backed by our 15-day 100% money back guarantee

Wine and Food Pairing Rule:

learn taking wine class

It's often best to choose a wine with low to medium alcohol (8% - 13.5%) to go with spicy foods.

 

It’s often best to choose a wine with low to medium alcohol if you are eating spicy foods. That’s because hot spice makes the alcohol taste hotter. Conversely, the alcohol in wine will bring out the hot spice in the food. Hence, you need to be aware of this when adding wasabi to your sushi.

But there are some things you can do to contain the heat (if you want to!)

German Rieslings are often off-dry AND have low alcohol to boot.

However, if you don’t add a lot of wasabi to your sushi or if you love the heat in your mouth, choosing a low-alcohol wine won’t be necessary.

And off-dry wines are not the only wines that will work well with sushi.

 

Now, let’s cover suggestions for wines that really work well with sushi! We’ll take care to avoid wines with high levels of tannin and lots of new oak barrel ageing because those wines really don’t work well with fish oils, soy sauce or with lighter vegetarian rolls.

 

Which wines should you drink with sushi?

Here are wines that go with sushi

#1 how to find the right wine course for you

Drink off-dry Rieslings that showcase ripe fruit flavours such as peach and apricot.

off-dry Rieslings go well with sushi

Off-dry or slightly sweet wines such as Spätlese [pronounced ‘sshpate-lays-uh’] German Rieslings  tend to work really well with both raw fish and soy or ginger-based dishes. These wines bear low – medium alcohol levels so they won’t heat up your mouth if you like wasabi.

However, a riper style off-dry Riesling from Washington State (US), Canada or from New Zealand will also pair quite well. These wines tend to have higher alcohol levels. So if you don’t mind the heat in your mouth with the wasabi, they’re great.

 

Rieslings are also known for being intensely fruity. Furthermore, Riesling wines rarely have high alcohol.

Just make sure to choose a Riesling that has ripe fruit flavours of nectarine, apricot and peach. One reason is because the ripe fruit adds to the body weight of the wine. Conversely, avoid the underripe green apple/ lime citrus-style Rieslings as these are lower in body.

Riesling Grapes in Germany
Riesling Grapes in Germany

Wines with lots of juicy fruity flavours and low tannin go well with sushi.

Choose wines with ample fruit-forwardness or juicy fruity flavours stand up to fish oils and soy sauce in both white and red.

 

Alsatian Gewurztraminer go well with sushi

Concentrated fruit notes such as peach, nectarine and pineapple for white wines and strawberry, raspberry and cherry for red wines – tend to work really well with sushi dishes. Here, the fruit concentration that helps avoid fishy or metallic off-flavours coming out in the wine.

 

We already mentioned riper styles of Riesling up above. However, Pinot Gris or Gewurztraminer from Alsace also offer ripe fruit flavours. Not to mention, Gew’s [gooz] from Alsace sometimes have a bit of RS – which helps too.

Gewurztraminer’s exotic flavours of lychee, nectarine, orange peel and rose petal fit that ripe fruit concentration we are looking for to go well with sushi.

Red wines that go well with sushi...

How about red wine options?

Remember, you are trying to avoid toasty new oak flavours and wines with high tannin.

I’m splitting hairs here but I’m going to give you all of the information that my extensive experience with wine pairing provides.

Therefore, if you are choosing a Pinot Noir – pick a Pinot with ripe, deep red fruits such as cherry or plum not the lighter strawberry fruited wines – you want this to be a mid-weight wine, not light. Furthermore, pick a Pinot Noir that uses used oak, or clay amphora for ageing, instead of the customary new French oak. Or at least a Pinot that uses very little new oak to get the best results in your food pairing.

But, as long as the Pinot Noir has very concentrated red fruits (think Volnay Premier Cru  from France or Seasmoke from Santa Barbara), a little new oak will be just fine. You’ll recognize these wines for their price tags…$$$$!

Yet, it’s not necessary for the wine to be that pricey. The trick here is to find a producer that uses a gentle touch with new oak and offers silky, creamy rich fruit.

 

Girl eating sushi

more red wines that go with sushi...

An easier choice is to pick a Beaujolais from France. Made with Gamay Noir and showing intensely fruity cherry, pomegranite and raspberry in a light to mid-weight frame, these wines are rarely oaked. So, if you have to drink red, these are great for pairing with sushi. Those young Beaujolais Nouveau wines released in November add freshness and fun to the mix.

Another red suggestion is a ‘Joven’ Tempranillo from Spain like those from Rioja.

Joven‘ by definition means the wine is unoaked and shows fresh fruit qualities. On this thread, most ‘Joven’ wines made with Garnacha or Cariñena should fair well too. Just note that Garnacha and Cariñena-based wines have higher alcohol than the Tempranillo-based wines from Rioja. Wasabi or no wasabi is the question??

Prefer Italian? So do I!

Cheap Chianti Classicos fit the bill (no oak, medium alcohol, ripe fruits) as do inexpensive Merlot’s from Venezie IGT, both from Italy. Prego!

 

Beaujolais from France is a light bodied red wine that goes well with sushi
Joven Rioja go well with sushi
learn taking wine class

Sometimes, an oaked Chardonnay will do the trick - but it MUST be one that showcases ripe, concentrated fruit flavours.

Oak can be fine with sushi – but it must be a wine that has ample fruit. Therefore, if you prefer Chardonnay, choose wines from California, or Australian over New Zealand or Canada.

Again, best are producers that are known for restricting new oak barrel usage. But as long as the fruit flavours of pineapple, banana and peach dominate the oak flavours – this pairing may work just fine.

That’s why French wines are often better than New World wines. Think Pouilly-Fuissé, Meursault or Puligny-Montrachet for your Chardonnay choice.

But you are gambling here!

So if you notice you’re wine is tasting fishy, either lessen the amount of soy sauce you dip the rolls in or, push the wine aside and finish drinking it after you’ve finished the sushi rolls.

A better gamble is to think pink and choose a rosé.

The rosés that go best with sushi are ones that are fruit-forward – with lots of red, juicy fruits showcased in the wine and mid-weight in body.

So, I think this rules out most Provence rosés – they are too pretty, too light and the fish and soy sauce will likely highlight those metallic, fishy off-flavours in the wine.

Yet, if you don’t dip in soy, Provence rosés will drink well with both fish and vegetarian rolls.

Overall, Tavel from France is a much better choice to go with sushi!

Likewise, there are some new world rosés that offer that fruit-forward style. Even better is if the rosé has a little residual sugar in it. The sugar will smooth out the complicated soy/ raw fish combination. 

Meyer Family Vineyards Rosé and Little Farm Mariposa Vineyard Rosé from British Columbia match this style.

And we can’t forget about bubbles! 

A Champagne from France with a good dosage of RS (residual sugar) can be fantastic. Best yet is a Champagne Rosé that’s made using the Saignée (as it raises the body weight and fruit concentration in the wine).

Sync the pairing by thinking pink, I say!

Tavel Rosé from France goes well with sushi
Champagne Rosé made in the Saignée method will go well with sushi

With complicated full flavoured dishes, you could choose a simple, lightweight wine and it will work reasonably well..

Keep this idea in your backpocket.

Choosing an inexpensive and simple lightweight wine will work reasonably well with sushi rolls.

Northern Italian Pinot Grigios, pretty much any basic patio sipper can fill in here.

Inexpensive wines won’t have any new oak for both red and white. Since truly, sushi is an inexpensive meal – so why bother splurging on expensive wine?

 

In fact, if you eat sushi by itself, without soy sauce or wasabi, you could choose a simple, lightweight wine and it will work really, really well...

A light style of wine is in fact optimal when you don’t use the soy sauce. Even better are vegetarian rolls with the soy sheets instead of the seaweed wrapper. In this instance, an inexpensive Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or a Touraine Sauvignon de la Loire from France will also do the trick.

Do you remember earlier in this post, I suggested you stay away from light rosé wines such as those from Provence?
 
Consider this… if you eat sushi by itself, those pale pink Provençal rosés will go nicely with your sushi rolls.
 
In fact, after sharing this post, one of my followers suggested sushi with Fino Sherry! I couldn’t agree more!
 
To elaborate, you should know that Fino Sherry is an adventurous wine for many. It has aromas and flavours of green olives and almonds and it is quite salty or savoury in its finish. Try this as your ‘daring pairing’ when the mood fits.
 

Summary

When choosing which wine to drink with your food, first isolate the main flavour or strongest flavours in the dish. Then, choose a wine that is the same weight as that food element.

Therefore, I’ve choosen to match the wines above to the soy sauce, the wasabi and the raw fish in sushi rolls.

And if the wine you choose ends up tasting fishy or like you’ve just licked metal, it’s not you.

Raw fish dishes like sushi are known to be difficult to match with wine. Just remember to enjoy the journey and choose a different wine next time using the recommendations above.

Want to Become a Food Pairing Guru in One Night?

Invite Joanne and host an unforgettable night with your friends. Learn more here.

Girl with chopsticks and sushi

If you like what you see, go on and share it!

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on email

2 Comments

  1. A thorough exploration of the topic! Very informative, Jo – thank you. I’m a big fan of the Gewurztraminer, so I will have to try that will my next sushi feast.

    • You buy the sushi, I’ll bring the wine! 🙂


Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts

Join our community at

SommWine

* indicates required
Email Preferences
Email Format

We use Mailchimp for sending emails. Learn about their privacy policies here.

Why?

Free Stuff + Great Wine Content

And if you sign up today, receive a free chicken wine pairing exercise in your email and free access to our Ultimate Guide to WSET Level 1 in Wines course!

Let's Connect!

69-2400 Cavendish Way, Whistler BC

604 902 6406

joanne@sommwine.com

SommWine

Log In below