The task of marrying the delicate nuances of sashimi with the bold flavors of a Los Carneros Merlot presents a unique challenge to the connoisseur of fine dining. The Los Carneros AVA, straddling both Napa and Sonoma counties, is renowned for its cooler temperatures, influenced by marine fog and breezes off the San Pablo Bay, producing Merlot with pronounced minerality and refreshing acidity. In contrast, sashimi, a staple of Japanese cuisine, relies on the freshness and quality of raw fish, often paired with soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger. The complexity arises from the traditional pairing preferences for sashimi, which lean towards white wines or sake, chosen for their lightness and ability to complement the delicate flavors of the fish without overwhelming them. This thesis proposes modifications to the classic presentation of a sashimi platter to harmonize with the character of Los Carneros Merlot, thereby creating a pairing that respects both the wine's and the dish's intrinsic qualities.

The Los Carneros Merlot Profile

A bottle of Cuvaison 2021 Merlot, Arcilla was used as a reference in this exercise.

Los Carneros Merlot is distinct for its medium body, moderate tannins, and balanced acidity, attributes stemming from its cool-climate origins. This wine typically showcases flavors of black cherry, plum, and hints of spice, with a subtle earthiness that can complement a wide range of foods. The challenge lies in its pairing with sashimi, where the primary flavors are delicate and the preparation is minimalist, relying heavily on the quality of its seafood.

Sashimi: An Overview

Sashimi, characterized by its simplicity and elegance, is an expression of the chef's skill in slicing and presenting raw fish. The traditional accompaniments – soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger – serve to enhance the fish's flavor without masking it. The inherent challenge of pairing sashimi with a Los Carneros Merlot lies in the potential for the wine's robust flavors to overshadow the subtlety of the fish.

Sashimi and Los Carneros Merlot

Proposed Modifications to the Sashimi Platter

1. Selection of Fish

To pair with Los Carneros Merlot, the selection of fish should lean towards richer, oilier varieties such as salmon, mackerel, and yellowtail. These types of fish can stand up to the bolder flavors of the wine, providing a fatty richness that harmonizes with the Merlot's tannic structure and fruit notes.

2. Incorporation of Umami and Earthy Elements

Introducing components that feature umami and earthy flavors can bridge the gap between the sashimi and the wine. Shiitake mushrooms, lightly pickled or marinated, can be served alongside the sashimi, offering an earthy counterpoint that echoes the subtle earthiness of the Merlot. Similarly, a light soy glaze or a sprinkle of truffle salt over the fish can enhance umami, making the sashimi more congruent with the wine.

3. Use of Fruits and Spices

Incorporating fruits that mirror the wine's flavor profile, such as plums or cherries, can create a harmonious link between the dish and the drink. A delicate garnish of finely diced plums or a cherry reduction can introduce a sweet and tart element, complementing the wine's fruit characteristics without overpowering the sashimi.

4. Temperature and Texture Contrast

Serving the sashimi slightly chilled against the room-temperature Merlot can highlight the contrast in temperatures, making the pairing more dynamic. Additionally, incorporating elements with contrasting textures, such as crispy fried shallots or seaweed crisps, can add complexity and enhance the overall sensory experience.


Pairing Los Carneros Merlot with sashimi requires a thoughtful reimagining of the traditional sashimi platter, introducing elements that can stand up to and complement the wine's profile. By selecting richer fish varieties, incorporating umami and earthy flavors, and playing with fruits, spices, temperature, and texture, it's possible to create a harmonious and unexpected pairing. This thesis not only challenges conventional food and wine pairing paradigms but also opens up new avenues for culinary creativity, proving that with careful consideration, even the most unlikely pairings can lead to extraordinary gastronomic experiences.

Sashimi and Los Carneros Merlot