Angela Allen

Sushi and saki pairing.

Sushi translates roughly as “it’s sour.”

Made with vinegary rice, the artful morsels exude a tang. But because sugar, salt and, occasionally, sake, go into the rice mixture, a sweet saltiness is expressed as well.

What a challenge to decipher the flavors emerging from the ingredient combinations of one small piece, much less of an entire sushi selection. Glittering fish roe, paper-thin omelet slices, strips of glistening ahi, and crusty salmon skin bring forth a sea of tastes.

Saltiness makes a regular statement in sushi, especially in makizushi, which is wrapped in nori, a layer of dried seaweed. Some sushi packs small bits of fish or shellfish, such as the Philadelphia Roll that’s filled with smoked salmon, cream cheese, cucumber and/or onion. The B.C. (as in British Columbia) Roll boasts crunchy grilled salmon skin.

With the diversity of ingredients in a full-blown sushi assortment, rice remains the only consistent ingredient. How does wine fit in?

Quite subtly.

Rieslings (see today’s Timely Matters) can partner with sushi because the varietal’s light fruitiness complements the fieriness of wasabi, defined by its harsh, horseradish-like bite. A pinot blanc pairs up well for similar reasons. (A pinot blanc is tough to beat when seeking a friendly wine for just about any food!)

Instead of those wines, we chose the Asian Pear Sake ($11) made by the SakeOne, the Forest Grove, Ore. partner of Japan’s Momokawa Brewing.  Produced under the Moonstone brand, the company’s several fruity sakes’ flavors receive a boost from the infusion of plums, raspberries and Asian pears.

This Asian Pear Sake sends off notes of ripe yellow pear, melon and apple, which blend quietly with more assertive foods. While sakes can come across as thin, this one is full-bodied. And like the best sakes, its clean taste allows the sushi to speak for itself.

Some experts argue that sake, because it’s rice-based, fails to contrast robustly with sushi rice. To the contrary, if you choose your beverage with discretion. The bright, fresh Asian Pear Sake, at 13.5 alcohol, makes a sublime match.

Angela wrote “Pairings,” a column about food and wine matches, from 2006-2008 for The Columbian’s Home & Lifestyle magazine.