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Sep 4, 2012
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Wine With...Salmon and Soba Noodles

With a filet of ultra fresh salmon waiting to be prepared for dinner, we wanted to come up with a meal that had subtle but recognizable Asian influences. Our goal was to create a dish with accents such as ginger, sesame oil, soy sauce and rice vinegar, but at the same time to produce a dinner that would be very wine friendly. The challenge with many Asian dishes is that while they may be perfectly suited to a beer accompaniment (or even sake as a bracing, clean accessory), the traditional Asian trinity of tart, sweet and salty, combined with the pungency of ginger, sesame, raw scallions and so forth, all too often muddies the complexity and comparatively subtle flavors of wine.

Our multipurpose approach with the salmon included softening the sting of the rice vinegar by “diluting” it with lemon juice (which has its own acidic component of course, but in combination with vinegar appears to moderate the overall astringency). We added the inherent sweetness of shredded carrots to round out the salty dose of umami-rich soy sauce, and hints of refreshing cucumber to create a sort of oasis on the palate. Lastly, we integrated soba noodles into the dish. They absorbed and diffused some of the more assertive flavor elements, while paradoxically providing a backdrop against which these same key components might be best appreciated—in the same way that a neutral background behind a portrait, whether a painting or a photograph, is often the best way to emphasize detail and character.


We made the noodles ahead of time and served them at room temperature, topped by the salmon hot off the grill. Alternatively, the salmon and the noodles certainly may both be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator until ready to be presented as a main-course salad or a cool and substantial appetizer.

Serves 4-6


1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

1 tablespoon sesame oil

2 scallions, sliced

1 pound salmon, skin on


One package Soba noodles (6 or 8 ounces depending on brand)

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

1/4 cup rice vinegar

2 teaspoons soy sauce

1/8 teaspoon cayenne (or to taste)

2 scallions, sliced

1/2 cup shredded carrots

1/2 cup diced cucumber

For the salmon, combine the first four ingredients and pour the mixture over the fish. Cover and marinate for up to an hour. When ready to cook, coat the grill rack with non-stick vegetable oil. Pre-heat it on high or if using charcoal, until the fire is red hot. Remove salmon from refrigerator and discard the marinade. Reduce the heat to medium or grill the fish, skin side down, over the coolest part of the grate. Cook it skin side down for five minutes, then turn and grill for another five minutes, or until done to taste.

For the noodles, cook them according to package directions. Meanwhile combine lemon juice, ginger, vinegar, soy sauce and cayenne in a large bowl. Add scallions. Stir in carrots and cucumbers. When the noodles are done, drain them and add to the bowl. Toss thoroughly to combine.

To serve, divide the noodles among individual serving bowls and top with a piece of the salmon. Sprinkle each serving with a few sliced scallions if desired. Pass lemon wedges separately.

* * *

This dish offers a fairly subtle panoply of flavors, so wines that are very assertive can too easily overpower it. It thus pairs best with white wines, particularly onoaked ones, or crisp rosés. Being delectably fresh, it also benefits from being matched with an equally fresh-tasting, bright wine. The five listed below were our favorites of the thirteen we tried, but we suspect that the varietal or place of origin matters less than the wine’s matching the basic profile described here. Choose a wine that fits that fits that profile, and you most likely will be very pleased.


Approx. Price


La Rochelle, Santa Lucia Highlands (California) Pinot Noir Rosé 2011


A light-bodied rosé, this pale pink wine meshed well with our salmon and soba. It offers a crisp streak of acidity, preventing its cherry and red berry flavors from seeming overly sweet, so allows the dish to express itself fully.

Morgan, Santa Lucia Highlands (California) “R & D Franscioni Vineyard” Pinot Gris 2011


As with the La Rochelle rosé, this wine’s bright acidity was what made it such an attractive partner for the Asian-inspired salmon dish. Fruit flavors reminiscent of pears and crisp apples only added to its appeal.

Peregrine, Central Otago (New Zealand) Riesling 2009

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)


The oldest wine we are recommending, this Riesling still tasted lively and youthful, with bright apple and stone fruit flavors, all enhanced by hints of stony minerality. Very slightly off-dry, its subtly sweet notes enhance the ginger and other Asian elements in the dish.

Ponzi, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Arneis 2011


Not many American wineries produce a wine made with Arneis, a northern Italian grape that until recently grew just about nowhere else. But perhaps more should. This example, with its faintly floral bouquet, lush fruit flavors, and long finish suggests that Arneis can make first-rate wines in cool vineyards in the US. Its lush texture is balanced by its taut acidity, making it an especially good partner for this subtle but multi-layered dish.

Southern Right, Walker Bay (South Africa) Sauvignon Blanc 2011

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)


Bright grapefruit and other citrus flavors come to the fore in this well-made because well-balanced Sauvignon. They clearly echo flavors in this dish, so the match here proves compelling because complementary.