When Garrett Smith, beverage director of NYC’s acclaimed omakase den Sushi Nakazawa, serves red wine alongside chef Daisuke’s artful nigiri, he still sees diners recoil in surprise. “A common phrase I hear is, ‘I don’t want to break any rules,’” says Smith. So, in addition to the challenge of pairing with a range of light/delicate to earthy/umami flavors, he has the added task of quelling certain preconceptions.
Champagne and Riesling—uncontested sushi-pairing champions—take up a solid portion of his wine list’s real estate, but Smith loves opening up Burgundy and even richer reds from California. “The idea is to follow the progression of flavors that the chef is plating,” he says, “and red wine really fits in by the time we get to the third or fourth plate, which is generally the silver fish, like mackerel, yellowtail, crab or different kinds of shrimp.”
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Fish texture, he argues, is often more significant to its pairing possibilities than flavor alone. “You have to think about the oil content, if the skin will be included, or if there’s roe, which adds another structural element. Each fish gets treated differently, so if there’s a sear on it or something like a Japanese mustard or ginger, that will add richness.”