A little shabu shabu with your wine

Food & Drink - December 3rd, 2010

by J.K. Whelehan

What could be better than pork shabu shabu? December is filled with Christmas celebrations and bonenkai (end-of-the-year parties). It’s a festive and lively time when we enjoy eating out, but how about taking a night off with your friends or family over a simple dish and some delicious wines to match with it?

Nabe is perfect for guests who travel to your house on a cold night, and the dish offers the possibility of serving different wines throughout the meal. Shabu shabu consists of sliced meat and vegetables that are cooked in pot of boiling water at the table and then dipped into a variety of sauces. The name derives from the noise made when shaking the water off the meat.

The reason I focus on pork is that it is versatile, and therefore your wine selection is more dependent on the sauce plus the cut, and how you combine the two. The basic rule is, if you are opting for white, you need to select the least fatty meat, and reversely for red you need to select meat with more fat.  To simplify, I will divide the sauces into three types, ponzu (soy sauce and citrus), sesame sauces, and spicy sesame-based sauces with garlic (a modern derivation).

If you start by serving less fatty pork with ponzu, it should pair well with non-oak-aged whites such as Gavi or a Grüner Veltiner. They will work well because of the citrus element interacting with the fruity character of the wines.  Alternatively, if you serve a less fatty meat with a sesame sauce, it should work well with a light- to medium-bodied red such as Chianti or a Salice di Salento from the south of Italy. (A quick tip: When selecting the sesame sauce, choose a high quality one so that it is not too sweet — this will favor the wine.)

Once you add pork to a spicy sesame sauce with garlic, your selection has definitely moved to red, and, if you switch to more fatty meat, you should consider a full-bodied red with weight and structure, such as a Dolcetto from Piemonte or a “super” Tuscan, i.e. Cabernet-based. If you do, you should find the weight concentration of these wine balances with the strong character of the sauce.

In summary, simply by manipulating the sauce you use and the meat you select, you can enjoy a wide range of wines with shabu shabu.