Top Pair: Japanese Riesling

top pairing
by Jeff Harding with photos by Antoinette Bruno
Vol. 27
June 2012   

Apparently the Summer of Riesling has reached the shores of Japan. On a recent visit to Tokyo, we encountered a Japanese Riesling hybrid paired with two dishes on our whirlwind tasting tour. It’s called Riesling Lion, produced by Edel Wein in the Iwate prefecture of Japan. A hybrid of Riesling and Koshu Sanshaku grapes, this wine was once deemed too delicate to pair with food and was not as popular as its international cousins. But after the 2011 tsunami, the wine saw a surge in popularity among Japanese sommeliers as its crisp vibrancy is at once refreshing and revitalizing.

Restaurant
Who
  • Sommelier Yoshinobu Kimura
  • Sommelier Yoshinobu Kimura obviously works by the philosophy of choosing wines that make food shine. And the high-concept menu of Chef Yoshihiro Narisawa calls for just that intuitive touch. Kimura’s courtly manner and deft pairings reflect his choices, serving wines that always respect the dish.

Wine
Riesling Lion, Edel Wien, Japan, 2010
Dish
Saien Green Caviar: Peas, Asparagus, Sea Urchin, Ginger, and Passion Fruit
Pairing Note
Crisp and refreshing. Sublime. The first days of summer. These are the words flashing through our minds as Kimura poured the broth of juiced pea pods over the asparagus tips, radish and pea leaves, and sea urchin. The chef added dried prosciutto for a salty, crispy contrast to the fresh vegetables’ sweet burst of seasonal bounty. Grape seed flowers add to the dazzling array of colors on the plate. The sea urchin hidden beneath the bouquet of wild vegetables adds another layer of texture.

Kimura served the Riesling Lion as a counterpoint to the dish. The Koshu "parent" of the wine is a little stronger than the Riesling parent, giving the bright acidity and flavor of a typical Sauvignon Blanc, and the body of a Pinot Grigio. The pronounced minerality, fresh earth and natural bitterness are unmistakable—clearly the pairing connection behind Kimura’s choice in serving this wine. The peas in the dish (lightly vegetal, bitter, and sweet) are a mirror to similar notes in the wine.

Restaurant
Who
  • Sommelier Youichi Oooka
  • Chef Shinobu Namae is known for his study in contrasts as well as the balance of whimsy and grace in his cuisine. Sommelier Youichi Oooka maintains this graceful dance in his pairings, which again focus on the food. It takes humility and skill to find just that perfect wine, one sufficiently (but not overly) understated to act as a spotlight to the dish. With all the pairings Mr. Oooka selected for us, the wine lived up to this standard: delicious in its own right while nimbly allowing the food to be the star. This is one of the hallmarks of a stellar sommelier, and we consider Oooka to be just such a star.

Wine
Riesling Lion, Edel Wien, Japan, 2009
Dish
Turnip, Parsley Emulsion, Jamon Iberique, and Brioche
Pairing Note
The signature dish of L’Effervescence is the Turnip, Parsley Emulsion, Jamon Iberique, and Brioche. The turnip is cooked sous vide for four hours, then seasoned and sautéed. This process protects the flavor and juiciness of the dish. The sweet earth notes from this potentially bland vegetable stand out thanks to that preparation, and by the contrasting fresh green parsley emulsion, hightened with a little salt from the Iberico ham. To emphasize the earthy foundation of this dish, it is served on a piece of volcanic stone from Mount Fuji.

The Edel Wein Riesling Lion is paired here as well, this time the 2009 vintage. It still has that bright refreshing quality, but we find this vintage to have a more pronounced green apple tingling acidity, which adds to the contrast with the earth notes of the turnip. We also found a subtle sweetness that brought our attention back to the caramelized sweet notes on the plate. Classically, a sweet Riesling is a natural foil to salted ham, and these notes are both here, but muted and subtle, calling your attention for a moment away from the turnip. The vegetables are sourced from the same region as the wine, with a resonance of terroir; and we love finding that “what grows together, goes together” isn’t just a stateside philosophy.

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