Although we are avid home cooks, when things get too busy, we entertain friends by ordering takeout and setting up a tasting and dinner pairing with wines which we first encountered while traveling, but are readily available at local wine shops. Although we have long been fans of Chablis, our love affair with these wonderful wines was rekindled when we judged the 2010 Chablis Wine Competition this past January. One of the other judges was a Japanese journalist, who extolled the virtues of Chablis with Japanese food. While this pairing seems obvious, as the cuisine of Japan is heavy on seafood, we were very surprised to learn that Japan leads the USA in the consumption of Chablis by a margin of three to one.
The region of Chablis is in the north of Burgundy, about one hundred miles south of Paris. The vineyards were once a sea bed, and to this day fossils of oysters and other mollusks are found among the rocky soil. The strong mineral content comes through in the flavor of the wines, especially in Petit Chablis and Appellation Chablis, which see very little oak if any at all. (Grand Cru and Premier Cru Chablis are barrel-aged, and work better with heavier foods such as meat and cheese.) Only Chardonnay grapes from this venerable region may be used in Chablis wines. While many people think of young Chablis as the perfect match with oysters and other shellfish, it is usually not the first choice when planning a night of sushi. With a little organization, you can create an evening of food and fun for you and your friends.
First, check with your local wine shop in order to have a selection of at least four different Chablis wines. If it is difficult to find a variety in your area, order ahead using an online retailer, such as Sherry-Lehmann, which offers around 30 choices. You will want to look for Petit Chablis—which see the least amount of oak—or Appellation Chablis. The four appellation designations have to do with vineyard location, sun exposure, soil composition, and drainage. Petit Chablis are generally the ones you will be served as a house white in a Paris bistro; although they are excellent values, they tend to be harder to find here in the US. You may want to use three Appellation Chablis one Petit Chablis.
Order sushi from your local Japanese restaurant. Plan to have it arrive about half an hour before your guests do. There are a few different types: maki, or rolls; nigiri, hand-formed ovals of rice topped with fish; and sashimi, slices of raw fish without rice. Although restaurants provide soy sauce or wasabi, most Japanese use very little. We suggest you do the same, to allow the true flavor of the fish to pair with the wine. Try some spicy, some not so, and remember the cucumber or avocado rolls for any vegetarians in your group.
If you wish to carry the Asian theme through to your tableware, remove the sushi from the takeout trays and arrange it on square white plates to showcase its color and beauty. National retailer Crate and Barrel offers a selection of sizes, or try an Asian market in your area—which is also a great place for decorative chopsticks. Think about ramekins or saucers for soy sauce and wasabi, to minimize the plastic containers on your table. Also use clear glass or crystal Chardonnay glasses to best evaluate the color and body of the wine during your tasting.
Before serving the sushi, start with a brief tasting of all your wines. Begin with the Petit Chablis. Pour a small amount into each glass, one wine at a time, and evaluate each with your senses. Discuss the color (which will range from almost clear to pale straw,) scent, and taste of each wine with your guests. It makes for a lively and educational discussion. After tasting through all of the wines, leave the open bottles either on the table or in an ice bucket, and let your friends pour their favorites with dinner.
Among our favorite Petit Chablis and Appellation Chablis wines which are available in the US are:
• Domaine Bachelier Petit Chablis 2008. Strong notes of melon and pineapple on the nose continue through on the palate. Nice acidity. MD/JJ
• Jean-Marc Brocard Petit Chablis Domaine Sainte Claire 2009. Well balanced apricot, peach, and lemon curd on the nose and in the mouth. Clean, bracing finish. MD/JJ
• Domaine William Fevre Petit Chablis 2008. Fresh green apple and white floral notes, with a strong mineral finish. MD/JJ
• Domaine Bardet et Fils Chablis 2008. Ripe apple and tropical fruits with a hint of jasmine. MD/JJ
• Romain Bouchard “Le Grand Bois” Chablis 2007. Tastes of pineapple and clementine are accented by notes of buttered toast due to the 10% of this wine which is aged in oak. MD/JJ
• Domaine Chantemerle Chablis 2008. Mineral and tropical fruit notes, including kiwi and tangerine, with a nice clean mouth feel. MD/JJ
• Corine et Jean-Pierre Grossot Chablis 2008. Notes of pineapple on the nose harmoniously balanced by the bright taste of pineapple and clover. MD/JJ
• Domaine William Fevre 2008 Chablis. Elegant nose of peach and freesia gives way to Granny Smith apple and a thirst-quenching finish. MD/JJ
ALSO SEE: Sushi Behind Closed Doors for additional pairing tips and instructions for making various rolls at home and Sushi Made Simple for a chef’s tips on ordering the raw stuff at restaurants.