See also: Chinese Wine History - Beer and Food - Japanese Cuisine & Sherry
MATCHING ORIENTAL FOOD AND WINE
Sinophiles who happen to be wine aficionados always look for suitable libations to match their Beijing duck, sushi, sashimi and more exotic preparations.
In the last two decades, considerable efforts were made to find the most suitable wines to match delectable specialties of Oriental cuisines with wines. By trial and error, chefs and gastronomes have concluded that Alsatian wines best complement Oriental specialties.
They are lively with a pleasant acid backbone, aromatic with pure, unmistakable varietal character, high enough alcohol to stand up even to “hot” foods, and deeply flavoured to complement even highly spiced dishes.
Choosing an Alsace wine for Oriental food is easy, but you need to know that there us a range of Oriental cuisines, ranging fro mild Japanese to highly flavoured Sichuan, which happens to be so highly spices and hot that no wine can stand up to it. Beer, water, and yoghurt mixed with water are the best to combat the incendiary heat!
Many Asian dishes are sweeter than European specialties. Asian chefs routinely use more sugar in their sauces.
The sweetness of a dish, makes a dry wine, regardless of colour, taste drier. Off-dry wines are more suitable. Sweet and sour fish or pork, Beijing duck whit hoisin sauce, Thai lemongrass, Indian coriander, cumin and ginger for best with Tokay Pinot Gris from Alsace. Italian Pinot Grigio happens to be too light for this purpose.
Alsatian Riesling, bone dry or off dry with their racy acidity and full body, are excellent with sushi and sashimi. Whole fried fish and Shanghai cold cuts can be best matched with dry, aromatic Rieslings.
Dry Gewurztraminer wines, long considered the flagship of Alsatian wines, enhance Thai cuisine very successfully. Gewürztraminer can be dry, late harvest or selectione des grains nobles (selected late harvest). The last two go better with coconut milk based Thai desserts.
China is a vast country with a number of regional cuisines – Beijing, Shanghai, Szechwan, Hokkien, Hakka and Cantonese. Most Chinese restaurants in North America and Europe feature Cantonese cuisine. Some a mixture of many Chinese cuisines and yet a few would feature Szechwan specialties.
Shanghai cuisine tends to be oily and highly flavoured, due to the tendency of their chefs to braise rather than stir-fry. Sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, ginger, sesame oil and rice wine are the seasonings. Steamed crab with vinegar, sugar and ginger sauce, a specialty, is difficult to match with wine, but late harvest Riesling does the job.
Tokay Pinto Gris and Gewürztraminer are good matches for Shanghai specialties. Beijing duck, eleborate multi-course feast, goes best with Gewürztraminer and Tokay Pinot Gris.
For Cantonese food, Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Tokay Pinto Gris are perfect. The main characteristics of Cantonese cuisine are subtlety and finesse. Varietal, dry wines with good acidity complement Cantonese cuisine dishes well.
Indonesian and Malaysian cuisines reflect Dutch Chinese, Indian and Portuguese culinary influences featuring nutmeg, pepper, cloves, cinnamon, cumin, chiles, coconut milk, peanuts, shrimp paste and combinations of spices. Here rich Gewürztraminer, and late harvest Tokay Pinto Gris should be considered the best choices.
Thai cuisine is one of the most versatile and interesting Oriental cuisines using coconut milk curry paste, shallots, garlic, coriander, turmeric, paprika, lemon, lemongrass and shrimp paste. You cannot go wrong using Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Pinto Blanc or Pinot Gris with Thai specialties.
Japanese cooking employs grilling, steaming, frying and boiling. Soya beans play a significant role in the Japanese cuisine – it is as used as fermented paste (miso); custard like cake (tofu); and processed to soya sauce that literally replaces sat on the table. Japanese cooks use salt, pepper, sugar, spring onions, chives, sesame oil, mild rice vinegar, toasted sesame oil, mirin, wasabe and daikon. Rice is the main source of starch. For tempura, consider Riesling, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris.
Teppan-Yaki (grilled meat) i.e. yaki tori (grilled chicken) Pinot Gris or Pinot Blanc are fine, but more appropriate with grilled squid which Japanese love, and sell on the street from kiosks.
Do not hesitate to serve Pinot Gris or Pinot Blanc with shabu-shabu, thinly sliced beef and vegetables simmered in chicken or beef broth, served with dipping sauces and garnished with pickles and sesame.
Alsatian wines represent good value, are full of flavour, crisp, and offer plenty varietal character. They are versatile and can match all types of foods including Oriental cuisine, Mediterranean specialties, Italian regional dishes and Alsatian culinary delights.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu