Asian Food and Wine Pairing
By Ha-Kyung Choi and Mai Vu
Pairing wine with Asian cuisine has long felt like a gamble. The many
layers of ingredients and flavors featured in one dish and the simultaneous
serving of multiple dishes can make pairing wine with Asian food overly
complicated and risky. The safest bets seem to be a beer, a sweet cocktail,
or water. But a few key tips can make wine pairings with Asian food
easy, mutually enhancing both the wine and the meal.
Balance is the basic consideration when pairing wine with Asian dishes.
As a rule, wine with heavy alcohol or tannins will block the rich flavors
of most Asian dishes. Foods that are spicy are enhanced by a wine with
very little alcohol; otherwise, the heat from the alcohol will intensify
the heat sensation from the food. The best bets for hot, spicy foods
are a German style Riesling or a Muscadet from the Loire Valley in France.
Contrasting tastes in wine and food matching is another approach that
can be used with Asian food. Slightly sweet wines are a good contrast
to the salty flavors in most Asian cuisines, while matching some of
their sweeter flavors. Typical sweet wines include many Rieslings, Gewürztraminers
and lighter style Chenin Blancs.
These easy tips can enhance your next Asian food outing and provide
opportunities to experiment with different varietals and styles. The
challenge may be to convince Asian restaurants to stock the wide-ranging
variety of wines that make a fine match with their complex dishes.
Kirkgaard's Curried Halibut Filet With Grapefruit Salsa
This dish presents the classic Asian palate of hot, sour, sweet, salty
with a hint of bitterness. To complement these flavors, the classic
pairing is a balanced German style Riesling Kabinett. Typically an off
dry, high in acidity, and medium bodied wine that straddles the perfect
balance between sweetness and acidity. The wine complements the hotness
of the jalapenos while not overpowering the fish. Another derivation
is serving a bottle of champagne: its effervescence in conjunction with
the grapefruit salsa will cut through the honey and curry powder flavors
while not suppressing the delicate taste of grilled halibut.
Power's Beef Sashimi
A common Japanese dish, sashimi, is raw seafood served thinly sliced
with traditional condiments such as grated white radish, wasabi, or
ginger, and ponzu sauce. Applying a twist to this time-tested recipe,
the chef decides to replace seafood with Piedmontese beef strip loin,
searing it in a hot oiled pan and then slicing thinly. To complement
this updated dish appropriately, pair it with an old world wine, preferably
red wine from the Loire Valley, France, and served chilled. In America,
the perception persists that it is bad form to serve chilled red wine.
However, serving a chilled Chinon or a Bourgueil will prove a formidable
pairing with this modernized dish. After savoring the taste of the beef
delicately dipped in its traditional accoutrement, a sip of the wine
will accentuate the traditional condiments, especially the wasabi and
the ginger, while negating the oily taste of the searing preparation
Raichlen's Lemongrass Chicken
Evidenced by the prolific number of Vietnamese and Thai restaurants
currently operating in this country, Southeast Asian cuisine's popularity
has skyrocketed in the last ten years. A staple recipe in this genre
is lemongrass chicken, a dish with a complex mélange of ingredients,
thus creating a challenge for pairing wine. While the taste of lemongrass
is increasingly better understood, the dish's other main ingredient,
fish sauce, presents its own unique challenge. Derived from naturally
fermented sun-dried anchovies, the liquid has a briny quality. Consequently,
the prepared chicken possesses a salty, herbaceous quality, which demands
a dry, fruity wine like a Sauvignon Blanc. These grapes tend to have
a grassy, hay-like character and shows depths of fruity characteristics
ranging from just ripened green plums to apricots, depending on the
region. As such, choose a young, Sauvignon Blanc acidic wine aged in
steel barrels to enhance the lemongrass, cilantro, and mint flavors
that permeates this dish.