Wines for Japanese Food

published in Time Out

Unlike other Asian cuisines that involve blends of sauces, herbs and spices to create flavorsome dishes, Japanese food celebrates the taste of one main ingredient.

Each dish is created through measured portions, meticulous preparation, and a juxtaposition of textures, shapes and colors. With such meticulous detail and discipline, how could one possibly serve anything alongside other than the traditional sake or green tea?

Think again – Riesling, dry or sweet, has crisp acidity, supple body and lightly minerally tone – it’s ideal for sushi and sashimi. The alternatives – Petit Chablis, Frascati, Gruner Veltliner and Pinot Grigio – all share the same tangy palate cleansing traits. Tempura, airy and crusty, calls out for the same wines that cut through the oily flavours to contrast the salty tasting dish.

With roasted, grilled or smoked Japanese dishes whites are overcome. Go red instead. Teriyaki features the caramelised taste of mirin and sugar; yakitori is smoky whilst teppanyaki grilled meat is dipped in nutty or soy sauces.   To match, serve Chateauneuf du Pape, Chianti, Navarra red or Burgundy/Pinot Noir.  If you prefer bolder wines (Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon or Barolo), uncork aged texturally smooth versions.  Such red wines with some earthiness will also coax out similar tastes in leafy greens such as goma ae (spinach with sesame sauce).

A popular noodle dish is zaru soba – cold buckwheat noodles with green onion, nori and wasabi dipped in sauce.  Here, a fruity Chardonnay, with toasty undertones rules.

Shabu shabu’s flavours come from the sauce – ponzu, vinegar or lemon scented soya sauce and gomadare (sesame-miso). Sukiyaki sauce contains soy, sugar and sake. Tastes are salty, sweet and nutty here. Enhance them with something alcoholic…and ice cold – serve sweet port or sherry, on the rocks. Now that’s zen!

Find out more in the books “Pairing Wine with Asian Food” or “Wine with Asian Food”

Thai Food & Wine

published in Time Out Singapore

Thai food – some like to wash down the spice with icy cold beer, others prefer sweet milky coffee to pacify frazzled taste buds. But what wine will make Thai food tick?

Whether it’s a meat, seafood or vegetable dish, it’s the bright, zesty herbs – lime leaf, basil and lemongrass – that set Thai food apart from other Asian cuisines. Tangy turmeric, mint, nutmeg, ginger, garlic, cloves, coriander, peppercorns, sweet shallots, spring onions and chilli complete the plethora of flavourings. For texture and taste there is salty fish sauce and silky-textured coconut milk.

Thai cuisine, harmoniously combines disparate flavours and delivers more than the searing piquancy of chilli. In essence, it’s a balance of sweet, sour, salty, bitter and hot tastes.

So, onto wines. With so many styles out there, there’s no reason why a wine won’t pair well with Thai.

Sweet wines always work with chilli. Pick a spatlese or late-harvest Riesling, Moscato or even an ice wine or Sauternes. Sweetness in the wine envelopes the chilli making everything taste as smooth as silk.

Coconut-based curries taste, well, nutty. Seek complement with an oak-aged white wine – Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc or Fume Blanc?  The wine’s smokiness will mirror the coconut flavour, whilst citrus and white fruit nuances in the wine sets off the curry, whatever its colour.

If you must have vin rouge, avoid robust tannic-reds. They become more astringent when interacting with spicy foods, herbs and fresh vegetables. Go for a Merlot, generic Shiraz-Cabernet blends or Sicily’s Nero d’Avola.  If you must make a statement, have port on ice – off the mainstream but its rich, spicy and with an alcoholic kick to finish things off.

Find out more in the books “Pairing Wine with Asian Food” or “Wine with Asian Food”

Indonesian & Malaysian cuisine with Wine

published in Time Out Singapore

With 6,000 islands Indonesia’s populace share a diverse cuisine. Indonesia’s Maluku,  “the Spice Island” gave the world mace, nutmeg and cloves. In return, the Spanish brought chillis, the Arabs and Indians arrived with spices whilst the Chinese settlers introduced noodles and soy sauce.  Malaysian cuisine reflects her melting pot of cultures too.  Malay cuisine’s flavours are a legacy of trade with neighbouring countries such as Indonesia, India, the Middle East, and China. Indonesia and Malaysia share dishes such as satay, nasi goring, tempeh, beef rendang and gado gado. Indonesian cuisine usually leans towards spicy and sweet or spicy and savoury; the same dish, cooked Malaysian style might contrast the tastes of sour with sweet; the sweet with chilli or salt and so on.

Whatever wines you choose for Indonesian and Malaysian cuisines, they have to be highly-flavored to meet head on, a predominant taste – be it the spice, the sweetness, the savouriness, the nutty coconut flavour and more.

Parry satay’s smoky peanut taste with a lightly sweet wine – a Vouvray moelleux. This wine will also match gado gado salad’s dressing. Nasi lemak is chilli sweet so venture a Hungarian Tokaji – the cold syrupy wine will quell the chilli and texturally match the dish. Ditto for Indonesian nasi goreng featuring kecap manis. For Malaysian nasi goring that is savoury rather than sweet, opt for Verdicchio which is soft and friendly also to ayam goring.

Enjoy coconut-based dishes (curry kapitan, lontong, opor ayam) in tandem with toasty Pinot Noirs or Chardonnays. Tahu goreng, is sometimes served with crushed peanuts with lime or a sweet sauce with the addition of prawn paste. Both versions will not overcome the oak aged – Soave Classico, or Spanish Albariño Barrica.

Ikan Assam Pedas – fish cooked sour and hot, is the perfect foil for Sauvignon Blanc / Sancerre. Cava’s, smooth elegant genial bubbles will elevate the dish flavours and those of dishes like the sweet-sour babi panggang.

Roti Canai or Prata (in Singapore) is the local fried crepe. Martabak is the same, but filled with minced mutton, garlic, egg and onion. Both are served with curry and the most suitable wine is a sweet sparkling spumante.

Find out more in the books “Pairing Wine with Asian Food” or “Wine with Asian Food”

Indian Food & Wine

published in Time Out Singapore

The cuisine of India, country of countries, is diverse. Mughal pullaos, Goan seafood, Seekh kebabs and Punjab vegetarian – it’s spices for seasoning, enhancing, and flavouring food. How do wines fit in?

Dishes heavy on spice, not chilli, can be paired with Portuguese vinho verdes, Spanish cavas and Italian proseccos – these lemon zesty wines will pare down the spice. For snacks like samosas, pakoras, papadams and murukus, ignore the spice and pair for the salt.  Crisp chablis or sweet spumante – they’ll work a contrast of tastes.

For sweetly aromatic rogan josh, kofta, korma and husaini (lamb, raisins and almonds) – fruit-forward rosés will parry its sweetness and fruit. With tandoori, medium-bodied red and white wines with hints of oak will downplay the dish’s smokiness. Choose rioja and soave superiore.

Fruity red wines like pinot noir, chianti classico or Sicilian nero d’avola yearn for creamy kormas and tangy dhansaks. The wines’ soft tannins envelope the fatty textures whilst the fruit matches the tang. Treat yoghurt based dishes as you would creamy ones.  Go for a textural match and to hell with the wine’s nuances.  Spices take the lead here so uncork generic blended shiraz or merlot for your tikka and bhindi kadhi.

For chilli-piquant food, avoid high alcohol wines.  Chilli’s heat comes from capsaicin, an alkaloid that is soluble in alcohol.  Before any high alcohol wine washes the heat down your throat, it’ll spread it around your mouth in a short, intense burst!  Wines for the fiery vindaloo are German spatlese types and Alsace Gewurztraminers – whose sweetness will carry the chilli away.  So who’s ordering the lime juice or beer these days?

Find out more in the books “Pairing Wine with Asian Food” or “Wine with Asian Food”