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Sunday January 15, 2012

Yam seng with wine

Instead of beer or tea, make your feast festive and even more delicious by serving wine.

WINES and food are meant to be enjoyed together. Wines are affordable and guests love to toast with it. Selecting wine should not become a source of stress, particularly when the family regroups for the Chinese New Year.

For the reunion dinner, be mindful of the following and the wines you choose will seamlessly blend with your food.

Understanding the interactions

Dishes that are sweet such as Yee Sang can throw an unflattering light on the wine, making it taste relatively bitter, sour, or thin. Choose wines that are as sweet but not too heavy bodied. Late-harvest wines, demi-sec Champagnes and Spumantes will fit the role splendidly. Moscato is my all-time favourite for this dish.

Sour flavours in food, will bring out fruity flavours in wine making it taste less dry. White wines (Chenin Blanc, Semillon, Trebbiano or Viura) could co-exist happily with steamed grouper with preserved vegetables, for instance. But what if your fish is served up modern style – say a deep-fried silver cod that incorporates other tastes as in a spicy mango sauce? A lightly sweet wine can work here. Yet I found, to my surprise that the best match is a white wine with lemon pith acidity that plays off the sweet-sour-spicy mango sauce. The wine choices here are many – bone dry New World Rieslings, trocken German Rieslings, Albarinos or brut Champagnes.

“Heaty” foods can be deep-fried or spicy. Crispy skin chicken or crispy fried frogs legs with ginger call out for refreshing Pinot Grigio/Gris or a rosé – I particularly like Spanish or Portuguese pink wines.

Fiery dishes like Mongolian beef will need wines with significant sweetness. This is because sweet wines will contain the beef’s chilli-hot sensations. Taming the piquant chilli takes all precedence when pairing wines. So whether it is beef, prawn or pork, as long as it’s spicy-hot, go for a sweet wine. Here’s a tip – sweet sherry/port “on the rocks”, might raise eyebrows but the manner of service will delight palates.

Savoury and salty components in food will, accentuate flavours, tannins and alcohol in wine. Reach for soft light but fruity red wines (Beaujolais, Pinot Noirs, Grenaches or Côte du Rhones,) even with non-meats such as braised abalone or oysters with black moss.

What if serving a particular wine with specific dishes is too complicated?

Furnish two wines – a spicy white (Gewürztraminer) and a smooth red (Merlot). The reason is that amongst your guests, there will always be some who will enjoy reds and others who will drink only whites. And those who drink both will discover suitable matches with whatever food is served – your banquet should take off like a firecracker!

Chinese regional cuisine

Chinese food can pose a challenge to wine matching because of its diverse sub-cuisines. Here are suggested wine liaisons.

Match the grandeur of Imperial haute cuisine: With Beijing duck, the grand wines of great estates, (white and red Burgundy, mature Rhones as well as fine Cabernet Sauvignons and Shiraz) and Champagnes always, without fail, make noble suitors.

With roast suckling pig (often “offered” to the Jade Emperor, and to ward off evil): I love a full bodied wine with a crisp finish. Yes, I am referring to a Chardonnay, a little buttery in texture, toasty with peach, melon and citrus, making the perfect foil to the crispy crackling and the flavour of the pork.

Enhance the flavours of the south: With Cantonese, pair wines according to the texture and the delicacy of the dish. With steamed fish, shrimps, scallops and lobster, white wine with some texture (Viognier, Pinot Blanc, Soave “cru”, Verdicchio from the Marche or white wines from the Rhone Valley) work well.

Challenge the richness but give in to the fruits of the sea from the east: “Red cooked” Shanghai dishes should be confronted with Cabernet-Franc with a herbal-like dryness, Pinotage or Zinfandel, with its full-fruited nature. Beggar’s Chicken is one dish that co-exists happily with fruity or herbal red wine. When dishes are intensely flavoured, as in “drunken” dishes, a dry or lightly sweet sherry will make a good liaison since all other wines just won’t stand up to the alcohol in the food. Do allow the exquisite flavours of seafood to emerge with light-bodied North Italian white wine as accompaniment.

Be wary of the west and the rest: Szechuan and Hunan cuisine need sweetish wines to tame the spice.

Other south-east Asian-influenced Chinese cuisine: Tze char, for example, is fiesty so a correspondingly smoky wine (Pinot Gris) or aromatic white wine (Sauvignon Blanc) can work most of the time.

For dessert, leave wines alone: Over the years I have tried a range of Chinese desserts – pancakes, sweet soups, glutinous rice balls, egg white puffs, almond jelly, mango sago cream, egg custard tart and black jelly – and my recommendation is to enjoy them without wine. Even a honeyed Gewürztraminer hasn’t been able to match any of the desserts although it made contact with Or Nee, the Teochew sticky yam pudding. The wine had enough sweetness to echo the sweetness in the dessert, yet it had the necessary acidity to have a cleansing effect on the palate. The lychee flavours of the wine complemented the taste of the sweet yam and gingko nuts in the dish. I thought I would mention this if indeed, you intend to have a wine with a dessert.

Happy New Year!

> Edwin Soon is a qualified oenologist and has run wine shops and worked as a winemaker in various countries. He now writes and teaches about wine around Asia.

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