By Mia Stainsby
Dinner with Vancouver Sun wine writer Anthony Gismondi was somewhat Socratic.
Something the Greek philosopher said has been super-glued to my brain: The unexamined life is not worth living.
Harsh. Not worth living!
And so, I try to examine.
I dona��t imagine Socrates was referring to the subject of pairing wine and sushi, but in a city of sushi-heads like Vancouver, ita��s worth examining.
In a life-enhancing quest, Gismondi arranged a sushi and wine tasting at Blue Water CafA� and Raw Bar, a restaurant known for its commitment to sustainable seafood and its fine wine list. Sadly, Socrates was unable to attend.
Something that I did learn, Mr. Socrates, is that you cana��t consider mates for wine without doing the forensics on food. How, when you think of it, did ginger, vinegar, soy sauce and wasabi become mates on a plate? Most likely, they were bacteria-fighters against the dangers of eating raw fish before the days of refrigeration. But these ingredients, alas, are not conventional wine-huggers. In fact, ita��s like sushi and sashimi had no intention of playing nicely with wine.
My gut response would be to go straight to a good sake or a sparkling wine, which I feel can bring peace and harmony to aggression and conflict in sushi. Or even a nice cold beer.
Blue Water CafA� sommelier and wine director Andrea Vescovi is not so defeatist. a�?You do need focus, but ita��s not like it used to be even 10 years ago,a�? he said. a�?The globe has expanded and ita��s great to experiment. At the end of the day, there are certain guidelines but there are no concrete rules.a�?
Herea��s what finer palates than mine concluded in a sushi and wine matching exercise. The wines were chosen by Vescovi and Blue Water assistant wine director William Mullholland. (Vescovi was interviewed by phone afterwards.)
A crab and avocado roll wrapped in a thin omelette arrived with a Avril Creek 2010 Pinot Gris, winery direct.
a�?The wine becomes a bit bitter with the wasabi and the soy. The wine really changes,a�? said Gismondi, whoa��s otherwise a big fan of the wine. a�?It becomes skinny. A little more fruit would help fight off the wasabi.a�?
Vescovi, however, thought the Pinot went quite well with the sweetness of the crab.
Next we tried a spicy tuna roll with a Sea Star 2013 Stella Maris, mostly gewA?rztraminer but blended with Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, riesling, ortega and schonburger, and sold only at Blue Water. Gismondi liked the match despite the many facets of the spicy, vinegary dish.
a�?If sushi is spicy, a slightly fruity, aromatic wine is best,a�? he said.
Vescovi agreed: a�?The Stella Maris offsets the heat with its sugars.a�?
An assertive dynamite roll with tempura-battered prawn and a spicy aioli came with fat and spice issues.
There were two wine matches a�� a Sperling Old Vines 2011 Riesling, winery direct, and a 2009 Venturi-Schulze Vineyards 2009 Brut Naturel (no sugar), $32.10, winery direct. Gismondi liked the bubbly.
a�?It cuts through the deep frying,a�? he said. a�?Ita��s a perfect texture of bubble. Ita��s got a little balsamic in it. It stands up to the fried part. Ita��s pretty good at doing what it should be doing. In general, you can go sparkly with any fried food.a�?
As for the Sperling Riesling, a�?the touch of sweetness in the Sperling Riesling softens the touch of heat in the dynamite roll,a�? he said.
a�?The Brut works well with the tempura and balances the brine of the tobiko,a�? Vescovi added.
Toro (tuna belly) sashimi came with a Staga��s Hollow 2011 GVM (Grenache, Viognier, Marsanne), winery direct, and Terravista Vineyarda��s 2012 Fandango Albarino, winery direct, a Spanish grape.
a�?The Staga��s Hollow is a round style of wine. Ita��s gone through malolactic fermentation that softens the acidity adding richness and complexity to the palate. Ita��s a weighty wine,a�? Gismondi said.
a�?The Fandango Albarino has more of a contrasting style with the toro,a�? Vescovi said. a�?Ita��s lighter with more acidity and it cleanses the palate.a�?
One of the matches for a sockeye salmon sashimi was a Cedar Creek 2011 Pinot Noir.
a�?Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir a�� theya��re marriages made in heaven with salmon,a�? Gismondi said. a�?The grapes are mutations of the same variety and ita��s a great match for B.C. salmon.a�?
Said Vescovi: a�?The salmon proteins soften the Pinot quite nicely.a�?
And finally, red tuna sashimi was served with Masukagami Super Premium Junmai Dai Ginjo Sake ($100) and a 2010 Borgo Scopeto Chianti Classico.
a�?Therea��s simplicity in the clear taste of the sashimi with sake,a�? Gismondi said.
a�?Chianti was a happy accident,a�? Vescovi said. a�?A producer told us to try it with salmon or tuna sashimi, and we said she was crazy. But with a touch of soy, ita��s harmony. The saltiness of soy showcases red wine as long as you just brush it on lightly instead of dunking. Keep it subtle and it actually heightens the wine.a�?
Vescovi cautions against using too much wasabi with sushi.
a�?Just a little touch can work really well with a wine like the Stella Maris or the Sperling Old Vines Riesling,a�? he said.
As well, he said, you should match power (food) with power (wine) and lightness with lightness. And dona��t add alcohol to fiery food: a�?You wouldna��t want to introduce higher-alcohol wines like zinfandels or syrahs to dishes like spicy tuna,a�? he said, a�?because it will only accentuate the heat and flame in your mouth.a�?
Heading into warmer weather, consider champagne or other sparkling wines.
a�?The temperature of the sushi is cold, and if ita��s a hot night, ita��s more enjoyable,a�? Vescovi said.
And, he adds, therea��s nothing wrong with a beer and sushi.
Those who might know me might imagine me unconscious on the floor after so many wines. I regret to inform them I practised restraint and left the restaurant upright.
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