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Wine and sushi are trendy, now more than ever given the looming Olympics in Japan. Consuming them almost always evokes an experience. But, seriously: can they truly dance together? 

This very question was the topic of a public tasting held to coincide with International Chenin Day on June 18. It was hosted by Chenin Blanc champion Ken Forrester with guest Cathy van Zyl Master of Wine (MW) and featured a recorded presentation by top Japanese sommelier Taku Iguro.

Image Credit Chenin Blanc Association Of Sa 2
(Image: Chenin Blanc Association of South Africa)
Sushi and Wine Pairing.

The answer, it turns out, is in the how. “We generally eat sushi differently to how it is consumed in top-end Japanese restaurants,” says Cathy, showing pictures of her visit to the country. “There’s a real love of food and wine.”

As with some local restaurants that don’t set tables with seasoning, wasabi at leading eateries is incorporated only by the chef and in dishes that warrant it. As for soya sauce, it is generally applied lightly and only directly onto fish. 

Taku explained that sake has traditionally been consumed with sushi because of matching flavour profiles. The savoury character of the rice is a perfect fit with the “round and mellow” sake. White wine and particularly Chenin Blanc, has however shown itself to be an equally excellent partner, he says.

“Good acid, citrus notes and creamy textures that are often associated with Chenin Blancs pair especially well with fatty fish such as yellowtail, tuna and salmon,” Taku says, suddenly declaring: “Chenin loves sushi and sushi loves Chenin!”

The secret to seeing the magic of wine and sushi essentially lies in in using a light touch with the condiments and employing ginger as it was intended – a palate cleanser between dishes.

Image Credit Chenin Blanc Association Of Sa 3
(Image: Chenin Blanc Association of South Africa)
“Chenin loves sushi and sushi loves Chenin!” - Taku Iguro.

Cathy pointed out thesis research that identified the most popular wines consumed with sushi at premium Tokyo restaurants – Champagne, Chablis and Bordeaux reds. “The latter was on the list because many regarded it as a safe purchase. The Chablis came as no surprise. It is Chenin-esque given its acidity and its demonstration of minerality.”

The tasting at Ken Forrester Wines outside Stellenbosch paired Raats Original 2020 with swordfish nigiri; AA Badenhorst Secateurs 2020 with tuna California roll; Beaumont Hope Marguerite 2019 with oxtail potstickers; and, Ken Forrester FMC 2019 with pork potstickers. 

The latter dumplings were served with soya sauce and chilli relish, an ingredient that often features with white wines.

The Sushi Chenin event was hosted by Dan Nicholl, host of the Dan-Really-Likes-Wine Show and the Chenin Blanc Association of South Africa