Throughout the past year, I've looked in this column at the diverse cuisines of Asia, and tackled the vexed question of how well they pair with wine. And the answer has been: pretty well – as long as you give it some thought.
Of course, there are plenty of challenges. Above all, Asian food boasts an amazing variety of powerful flavours, and many of them make food harder to pair with wine. The robust spicing of much Indian and Southeast Asian food, for example, and ingredients such as rice wine and salty fermented beans in Chinese food, need a wine of substance to stand up to them.
And then, contrastingly, there are the delicate, subtle flavours that crop up many Asian cuisines, in particular Chinese and Japanese. Here, the constrasting challenge is not to overwhelm the food with the wine.
Fortunately, the world of wine is equally diverse, and over the past year I've looked at lots of wines that pair perfectly with these foods. When it comes to spice, especially the dry spices characteristic of Indian food, look for wines that lean towards fruit, are lower in acid and tannins, and have a mild sweetness, which will calm the heat in a dish where tannins would amplify it.
That means reds in general are more problematic to match than whites; the best tend to be soft, fruity reds such as those made without heavy oaking in a hot climate, such as Cape Mentelle Cabernet Merlot.
Among whites, sparkling wine often complements spicy food for the same reason that beer does – the bubbles scrub and refresh the palate; Chandon Brut and Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label both have complex flavours that stand up well to spices. For other white wines, it's best to go for ones low in alcohol and oak flavours; try, for example, Cape Mentelle Sauvignon Blanc Semillon or Cloudy Bay Chardonnay.
For the richly flavoured cuisines of Southeast Asia, similar rules apply. Lying at the heart of Thai cuisine, for instance, are six ingredients, many of them posing challenges when it comes to wine pairing: chillies, lemongrass, kaffir lime, galangal, garlic and fish sauce.
But Thai salads, soups and khanom (snacks) go well with white wines, while the abundance of meats and heavier fare such as curries on a typical Thai menu makes pairing with red wine easy.
Singaporean and Malaysian food, likewise, tend to be strongly flavoured and, above all, spicy. The secret to pairing is to choose wines that are relatively low in alcohol or are off-dry and possess a certain sweetness, whether from residual sugar or fruit: good examples would include Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Chardonnay or Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc.
Beyond this, serving a lightly chilled red or a well-chilled white is a sure-fire way to refresh palates fatigued by the spicy, rich food. The mix-and-match of constrasting flavours, spices and sauces that characterises Philippine cuisine, meanwhile, can make wine-pairing a challenge; if a dish is predominantly salty or spicy, try a fruity white wine such as Cloudy Bay Late Harvest Riesling, and for a hearty stew, a robust red wine such as Domaine Chandon Shiraz.
The cuisines of northeast Asia are similarly filled with ingredients that can overpower a lot of wines, and by the practice common to many Asian cultures of serving dishes all at the same time. Red wines with soft and delicate tannins, a balanced and full body, rich aroma, low acidity and a slightly sweet taste work particularly well with much Chinese food, such as Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Merlot and Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir.
Wines that often match well with the numerous little dishes of Korean food, meanwhile, include Pinot Noirs such as Cloudy Bay, and spicy Australian Shiraz such as Cape Mentelle Shiraz.
So, by following a few simple rules, it turns out that matching wine with Asian cuisine isn't as difficult as it might look at first. But, as ever with wine-pairing, the most important rule of all is: eat and drink whatever you think tastes good together.
This concludes The Flavours of Asia bi-weekly series on LifestyleAsia. Here's a list of the entire wine pairing series in case you missed any:
- Cantonese Cuisine
- Indian Cuisine
- Indonesian Cuisine
- Japanese Cuisine
- Korean Cuisine
- Malaysian Cuisine
- Northern Chinese Cuisine
- Nouveau Chinese Cuisine
- Philippine Cuisine Pt. 1
- Philippine Cuisine Pt. 2
- Singaporean Cuisine Pt. 1
- Singaporean Cuisine Pt. 2
- Taiwanese Cuisine
- Thai Cuisine Pt. 1
- Thai Cuisine Pt. 2
- Vietnamese Cuisine