Wine Varieties for A Variety of Asian Dishes
Wine doesn’t have a long history with Asian food, so wine lovers have only recently discovered how to pair the two. With the nearly-pure-alcohol baijiu, akin to our white lightning, in China and the variety of sake in Japan, Asia as a whole has not traditionally made wine a staple of its dining culture as wine growing is a recent phenomena.
That is changing fast. With increasing demand coming from Western influence, and the acres of land in Asia becoming more suitable for grape growing because of climate change, wine is quickly becoming an exciting part of Asian meals.
Asian cuisine generally has many flavors and ingredients, often served across several dishes across a single meal. To ensure that the flavors are enjoyed, it’s best to approach Asian food wine pairings with a sense of balance. Though there are some dishes, like stir-fry, that benefit from heavier wines, it’s best to stick with white wines for Asian cuisine.
Lighter White Wines
The lightness and, sometimes, sweetness of Chinese food in particular calls for lighter wines, including demi-sec Champagnes and Sonoma Coast Pinot Noirs. Spring Rolls, especially those wrapped with soft rice paper, do well paired with these, though when fried spring rolls are served a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, slightly chilled, works a better balance. For the lighter Chinese fare, you might also consider a dry rosé, for those who want the color of red without the alcohol.
Heavy alcohol tends to intensify the spicy sensation of food so a fruity and aromatic Riesling would do well to counterbalance a Szechuan meal, most famous for its flavorful but intense spices. Part of what makes a Riesling so appealing in an Asian meal is how its sweetness compliments the common salt component of an Asian meal. For this reason, a Prosecco works just as well, bringing simple intense flavors like pear, peach, and apricot.
Spicy seafood dishes, like a South Asian roasted halibut or a Thai shrimp soup, would pair well with a Muscadet, which is low in alcohol by French government decree and offers a refreshing, almost-citric acidity.
The array of flavors present in a dim sum means that it’s even more important to keep one’s palate fresh in between steamed noodles and tofu dishes. Viognier’s from the French Rhone Valley bring a floral aroma, though must be enjoyed young as the floral notes disappear with age. Viognier’s tend to be dry and with low-acidity, helping to balance any heat sensations from the meal.
Many Asian dishes feature lemongrass, orange and lime flavors. Citrus-based wines, like a Chardonnay or lychee-reminiscent Gewürztraminer, do particularly well against this backdrop.
Red wines aren’t all bad for Asian dishes. Indeed, smoked or roasted proteins like Peking duck can benefit greatly from the high-acidity of a Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, which often have strong notes of darker fruits and cherries with a long finish. Heavier proteins can benefit from a rich sweetness, from a California Cabernet to a mature Languedoc-Roussillon wine. The Roussillon’s, produced in southern France, draw from many varietals, like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, and are heavily fortified with a high alcohol content.
Cumin lamb, either stir-fry or on skewers, will enjoy the balancing that typical spicy Asian dishes call for. Because cumin lamb is richer but still a delicate flavor, you could consider an older red Bordeaux or a Cabernet Franc, bringing strong red and black berry flavors along with a fine tannin mouthfeel.
Chardonnay’s do well against chicken-and-peanuts dishes like Kung Pao chicken.
Asian cuisine ranges from spicy to sweet, from stir-fry vegetables to hearty meats. The broad flavor profiles of Asian cuisine mean that there’s a variety of choices. While Rieslings and Gewürztraminers stand out as safe bets, feel free to be adventurous with dry, low-acid, high-citrus whites and darker, sweet reds when working with protein-heavy Asian cuisine.
About the Author
Matthew Sonnenshein is the writer for AYZA Wine & Chocolate Bar, making sure their blog is busy with insight wine & chocolate information. With two Manhattan locations, AYZA is the NYC wine bar that takes the pairing of fine wine and gourmet chocolate to a new level, while also boasting a stellar chocolate martini. Follow AYZA on Twitter.
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