Ever wondered if you can pair your favourite red wine with delicious Asian food such as chilli crab, bibimbap or tandoori lamb? Are you stumped by wine flavour descriptions such as gooseberry, mulberry or aniseed? Or wish that there was something to help you be more confident when ordering wine?
We’ve all heard that you should pair red meat with red wine and white meat with white wine. But surely there’s much more to that. With the help of author and wine connoisseur , Edwin Soon, we take a look at how wine can be paired to complement Asian food.
Moscato and Chilli Crab
Moscato and Chili Crab. Now why didn’t I think of such a genius pairing? Spicy and sweet! The tinge of sweetness in a Moscato is perfect to temper the spiciness of the chili crab… and the bubbles help to cleanse the palate, making it a wonderful drink to go with Singapore’s national dish.
As Moscato is served chilled, it really has the effect of an ice cold Coca-Cola, reducing the spiciness of the dish. The Marenco Moscato d’Asti is one of the best Moscato I’ve tried – the optimal level of sweetness and the intensity of the alcohol really comes through.
Sauvignon Blanc and Dim Sum
The Sauvignon Blanc is one of the most popular white wines available in the market. Well balanced and suitable for a wide variety of dishes, dim sum is a good option to pair with this wine. Dim sum is a style of Cantonese cuisine with different dishes served in bite sized portions.
Each dish has their own flavour palate – deep fried carrot cake, black bean soft ribs or steamed char siew bao. The Sauvignon Blanc has good intensity which works well with deep fried foods; yet the freshness complements the steamed items.
Thai flavours are also good with Blancs, with the bright and citrusy flavours of lime and coriander. The herbal undertones to Blancs are often good with a wide variety of Chinese cuisine, as long as they are more delicate in flavour and slightly sweet.
Shiraz/Syrah and Satay
Don’t be frightened by the complicated sounding wine name. Syrah is better known in this part of the world as Shiraz (after the Australians had their way with the pronunciation of the French grape). As Shiraz is a full-bodied wine, it is very suitable for smoked meats, where it will stand up to the strong smoky flavours.
With its hint of star anise and black pepper flavour, what better dish to go with Shiraz, than the fatty charcoal grilled meat skewers? The smokiness of char-grilled satay will absolutely kill a more delicate wine but the Shiraz’ strength of body definitely stands up to the heat. Go for the old world French Shiraz (Syrah) for the best flavour pairing, as the new world Shiraz tend to be fruitier with more spice.
Australian Shiraz goes well with most non-spicy Chinese food as well, especially if there are sweet tones to the dish, such as sweet and sour pork. Shiraz needs fat to taste real smooth, and avoid real spicy dishes as the peppery Shiraz does nothing to help ease that fire in the food.
Tempranillo and Tandoori lamb
Out of the various wines that we are introducing in this article, Tempranillo is the least known variety. It has a similar profile as Shiraz but less peppery, and is good for spicy Indian food such as tandoori chicken and lamb, or any Indian stew. It is also perfect with milder curries.
The rich flavours of Indian cuisine renders most wines powerless and leaves the strong Tempranillo as as one of the last wines standing. While it seems strange to be pair Indian food with Spanish wine, it really isn’t that much of a stretch as Tempranillo is a great wine to go with Middle Eastern cuisines as well.
Think kebab, stews, and bread; or the extensive use of yogurt, turmeric and cumin. You can definitely see the similarities there. Tempranillo is also good with Chinese cuisine with stronger flavours such as hot pots. Look for dishes with a lot of star anise, peppercorn and garlic.
Rose and Deep Fried Foods
Ah, 50 shades of the sparkling Rosé. Red grapes that are lightly crushed and left to soak in their skins for anywhere between a few hours to a few days before the solids are strained away and the juice left to ferment in tanks. How long the skins stay soaking will determine the colour of the wine.
In the spectrum of sparkling wines, Rosé is the most dry and the least sweet. This is an important point to note, to help you identify a real Rosé. Usually, when in doubt, pick French.
As the Rosé is the Swiss knife of wines, it can match with most foods. However, deep fried food are especially nice with the Rosé, as the dry and sparkling nature of the wine helps to reduce the greasiness. With the range of Rosé available, pick a full bodied fruity rosé made from Syrah and Cabernet grapes from America.
Merlot and Bibimbap
Bibimbap is a delightful dish of beef, vegetables, sweet soy and sesame, topped with some chili flakes and gochujang (Korean chili paste). A well balanced bibimbap is not too sweet nor too spicy and has just the right mix of flavours.
A cool climate Merlot is dry and full bodied, with just the right amount of acidity to enhance the flavours, and cut through the spiciness if you, like me, like your food with an extra spicy kick. Hot climate Merlots are the fruitier sibling and is nice as well, if your bibimbap is more sweet than spicy.
Port and Kimchi
Korean food is chock full of strong flavours, often spicy and acidic. This is exceptionally true for their most popular side dish – kimchi. Kimchi is a traditional fermented Korean side dish made of vegetables and various seasoning. There are many different kinds of kimchi, and the most common ones are made from cabbage, scallions and cucumbers.
A strong dish such as kimchi is difficult to match, but a refreshing tawny port served on ice will stand up to its intense flavours. It is inherently sweet yet spicy, with a taste reminiscent of fruits and nuts, fully complementing the complexity flavours of the kimchi. Try it with other sharp flavours such as belachan, or Szechuan styled dishes
Riesling and BBQ Sambal Stingray
Another spicy dish! We Singaporeans really love our spicy food. BBQ stingray with spicy sambal sauch goes really well with ice cold, sweet and easy to drink sweet Riesling. To cut the heat, you’ve got to pick the late harvest style dessert Riesling. Read the label and you should pick the Auslese or Spatlese, both are sweet to semi sweet, and will be perfect for this rich, spicy dish.
The sambal sauce may be a little rich to the digestive system so the fruity tones and acidity will help to counteract the impact.
While we have provided food pairing examples, don’t be restricted by them. Taste is a very personal thing, and there will be other pairings that would excite you just as much as these have for us. Try out various different brands and types and leave us a note on your preferences!
If you need a little more help though, check out the Asian Wine Lexicon – a booklet folded to just the size of a credit card that fits nicely into the wallet or purse. In the lexicon, there are 20 common wine varieties (10 red & 10 white), which includes the classic & Asian flavour palates descriptions, as well as a handy suggestion of Asian dishes that would go well with that particular variety of wine.
To help you up your wine connoisseur status, there is also a simple chart with 5 dimensions that wine experts use – intensity of flavour, sweetness, acidity, body and tannin.