Even though we're still more likely to reach for sake or beer when searching for a beverage pair with Japanese cuisine, we increasingly look to wine these days to quench the thirst that comes in the wake of the marine and umami flavors of both classic and innovative Japanese cooking. And while we have no "traditional" ground rules for such a marriage, in part because the advent of the serious fine wine list at fine Japanese restaurants is a relatively recent development, we can always turn to the fundamental ground rule for pairing as our guide: Look for a wine that evokes and complements the same aromas and flavors of the dish in question.
All things considered, I can't think of a better wine to fit the bill than Santorini, the Greek island wine made from the Assyrtiko (ah-SEER-tee-koh) grape and named after the island where it is produced. Over the last couple of years, the bright, zinging acidity, salty stone fruit flavors, and an intense minerality of these wines has been thrilling aesthete sommeliers from New York to Houston to San Francisco, and more and more bottlings have found their way to our market.
We've written about the Gaia Santorini Thalassitis here at Wine Time, but Boutari and Sigalas are two other producers that you can find in Houston (I've seen the Gaia and Boutari at Spec's, while I've only spied the Sigalas on a few wine lists around town; Houston sommelier Justin Vann authored this excellent lyrical post on the Sigalas here).
In my experience, Santorini is rivaled only by Champagne in its ability to deliver high-acidity wines that literally taste like the sea, the ideal pairing for the aromas and flavors encountered in Japanese cuisine, whether traditional or creative, whether land- or seafood.
I've also been impressed with how well these sturdy wines age: When I visited Santorini last year, I tasted bottlings going back to the early 1990s, and some of them were fantastic. At around $25 a bottle retail, Santorini is a great category for a collector like me.
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But the icing on the cake is how well these wines keep in the fridge. The bright - electric, really -- acidity of Assyrtiko acts a natural preservative in the wine, and I love watching it evolve over the course of three, four, and even five days.
We're so lucky to have such a vibrant Greek community here in Houston. And we're just as fortunate to have a taste of the Aegean sea in our glasses.