In Aspen, we love our raw fish, domo arigato. We also love our red wines, merci beaucoup. But the old wine myth states that red wine and fish do not go together, and the conventional wisdom is that beer, sake (hot or cold), bubbles and maybe even a dry riesling, are what to order at a sushi bar.
Fortunately, Aspen is a place where rules are broken and myths dispelled. Kenichi sommelier Ericka Briscoe revels in the openness of the Aspen wine community. “Here, people drink what they like rather than fitting into boxes or guidelines,” she says, noting admiration for the clientele at Kenichi, many of whom return to the local institution each season.
White wines have long been the preferred pairing for fish because tannic red wines can overwhelm the delicate and fresh flavors—especially if those reds have been aged in oak. The acidity levels in white wine often complement fattier fish like toro, the belly of tuna.
At Matsuhisa, diners also feel free to pair the finest red wines, like something from Gevrey-Chambertin, with the freshest toro or the new-style sashimi that Philip-san (head sushi chef Philip Tanaka) prepares to perfection. Beverage director Carlos Solorzano-Smith has curated a list that speaks to quality, not rules. Even the world’s most discerning wine drinker can find something at Matsu that defines satisfaction—no matter the shade.
And Briscoe enjoys the challenges in pairing wines and fish. “You can’t talk about sushi or wines in a vacuum. Each has diversity, and you need to know about the preparation of the fish or the weight of the wine to try and find continuity,” she explains. “But if you understand how the fish is prepared and the effect of the acidity in the wines, you can create magic. Just as there is umami in food, I believe that there is umami in wines as well.”
Briscoe suggests that grape varietals like gamay from Beaujolais can make for great pairings with seafood. She suggests an elegant medium-bodied 2014 Domaine Olivier Merlin Moulin-A-Vent with some of the famed Kenichi rolls. And for those who want adventure, a 2012 Tapiz Black Tears malbec makes for a bold choice.
Approximately 40 percent of Briscoe’s sales at Kenichi are red wines. “People will ask me what I like, and I’ll ask them what they drink. From there, we can come up with something that will work for them,” she says. “It’s fun to try different wines and pairings.”
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