What wine should be drunk with a spicy, silky green Thai curry, accompany a Korean stew laden with fiery chilli and garlic, or, perhaps, a delicate sliver of raw sea bream dipped ever-so-lightly into soy sauce? Sampling the fruits of the vine has become more widespread in Asia.
But the question of pairing it with food is less pressing for Asians than for wine devotees in places with a longer history of wine drinking, says Jeannie Cho Lee, a Hong Kong-based wine expert and author of Mastering Wine for the Asian Palate.
Teaming up flavours
“If you are presenting some exquisite delicacy, you wouldn’t want to choose a wine which spoils that,” says Lee. This means taking into account personal tastes and tolerance levels for Asian flavours such as the spice of chilli, the savoury tang of umami present in soy sauce. “Umami really brings out the depth of dark berry flavours, it also brings out any leather or mushroom notes in the wine,” she says. “If the chef gives you the soy dip to use with your (raw) fish, it’s going to taste better if you have it with a Pinot Noir, with a bit of tannins, a bit of depth and spices and herb notes, because there are gentle layers of flavours,” she adds.
Thai curries with coconut milk and spice, such as a green curry, are a relatively simple match with Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon blended wines — a combination of roundness, depth and crispness. With chillis, Lee recommends a red wine with enough fruit to stand up to the chillies and their strong heat. "If you have tannins and chilli together, they accentuate each other," she said.
One real killer, she warns, is anything pungent and fishy, such as Southeast Asian fish sauce, even more pungent shrimp paste, dried anchovies or dried salted cuttlefish, a popular snack in East Asia. “As then, you’re left with a kind of metallic taste, which doesn’t make that food taste good,” she says, adding: “If you still want to drink wine, just drink cheap wine with plenty of fruit.”