I’m sure all wine retailers can attest that they regularly hear “I’m going out for a BYO dinner, what wine will work with Thai food?” Whether you’re searching for that perfect bottle or trying to select a glass to go with a dish, the question generally circles around “Where do I begin when matching wine with a chosen cuisine?”.
In Australia we have 65 wine Regions with varying climates and terroirs. The array of styles and expression of varieties means there is literally a bottle for every different type of dish, and Asian cuisine is one of the most complex to get the wine pick right, even as a third generation Australian born Chinese woman.
My grandfather was a Chinese seafood chef and had a restaurant in Newtown called George’s in the 50’s. Asian flavours have been in my life since I was old enough to rub it in my hair and throw it against the wall. These days I have slightly better manners and appreciate the food in my bowl.
In Australia we have the whole gamut of Asian cuisine and rarely do we have to go outside our own neighbourhood to find it. A good portion of Aussies are more comfortable ordering a Pad See Ew or Nasi lemak than we are with picking a bottle to match. I suppose the most intimidating part is that Asian cuisines vary so greatly from pungent earthy spices to fragrant, floral aromatics, and then to umami bombs with aching heat spikes.
Let’s start by identifing exactly what cuisine you are working with. I begin with listing the most popular dishes from that particular culture.
I then look for themes or reoccurring elements within those dishes; be that an array of fragrant herbs, coconut milk, fermented foods, a combination of toasted spices, chilli or garlic and seafood pastes. And from there consider the proteins and how they are prepared. Is the seafood grilled or steamed? Are the meats charred or slow cooked? Lastly I always factor in texture. Asian cuisine is always considerate of texture and so too should your wine pick. I like to consider the weight and texture of the wine and also where it sits within the timing of the meal.
The cooler climates of Australia produce wines with fine acidity and can work well with delicate seafood and those cuisines with an abundance of herbs. Aromatic and fruity styles of white wine like Great Southern Riesling, Swan Valley Chenin Blanc, Orange Sauvignon Blanc and Tasmanian traditional method sparkling all work very well with dishes that make use of citrus, sweetness, herbs and colourful vegetables.
Earthier and more moderate dishes like root vegies, dahls, coconut milk curries, dumplings and wok fired noodles can handle more moderate textured whites like Macedon Ranges Chardonnay, Yarra Valley Marsanne, Mudgee skin contact Pinot Gris and Margaret River barrel aged Semillon Sauvignon Blanc blends. For dishes like grilled meats with charred spice and chilli, don’t go past some of the chilled Rosés and savoury reds on offer; malbec based Rosé from Langhorne Creek, Heathcote Sangiovese, McLaren Vale Grenache and those delightful aromatic Hunter reds.
For desserts always consider the sweetness level – Asian sweets can be all the way from savoury to extremely sweet. Riverina aged botrytis wines work well for tropical flavours and desserts with orange, lychee, rose, mango and pineapple elements that are custard or pastry based. On the other hand, late harvest style dessert wines like Canberra and Clare Valley Riesling are better matches for iced granitas, green tea and mochi ice-cream.
A good food and wine pairing can be, at the best of times, greater than the sum of its parts. Only with the tasting of the dish and wine together can you know what works for you and what doesn’t; it starts with being creative and giving it a go. Our Australian wine culture is a myriad of flavours and textures, just like our modern Australian/Asian cuisine. The world is your oyster; freshly shucked perhaps with ponzu or grilled with ginger and shallots.