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If you had to choose red or white wine when considering what will have the broadest appeal for most Asian cuisines, white wine would be your best bet. Not discounting the incredible pairings you can create with red wine and Asian food, the citrus and stonefruit flavour spectrum of white wine are better suited to the majority of Asian cuisines.
But like any food and wine matching, you need to apply a little thought to make the best decisions so here, we’ll discuss the “go-to” white varieties for Asian food, the characters they possess and the foods they sing with.
This Germanic variety is dominated by apples and citrus flavours and have a high acid profile when young and has a lovely minerality that always expresses its growing site and conditions. Riesling, when young is light and fresh. And as it ages, the acid profile drops and opens up layers of fleshy, creamy citrus fruits that handle spice beautifully. Riesling is a great wine for Thai food, Vietnamese food and seafood dishes across Chinese, Malaysian Indonesian cuisines. The high acidity works well with creamy fish curries, soups and noodle dishes. Try pairing it with these: Belacan Fried Chicken, Sambal Ladies Fingers (Sambal Okra) or Vietnamese Caramelised Fish in Young Coconut Juice (Ca Kho Dua).
Also from Germany, “Gewurtz” (pronounced Guh-wurtz-traminer) is another variety that handles spice beautifully. The varietal name translates as “spice,” generally is lower in acid when young, but has a soft and creamy mouthfeel that works well with spice, pork, poultry and fish. Gewurtz has exotic musk and tropical fruit aromatics which make it a nice fit for dishes with raw elements in them like fragrant sauces, sweet components of dishes, salty, sour and spicy dishes like Braised Pork Belly with Lotus Root, Thai Steamed Fish with Chilli and Lime or Chicken Karaage.
Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio
These two wines are from the same variety but are named separately to reflect the style. Pinot Gris is French/German and is picked a little later with a lower acid profile, exotic aromatics and has a soft creamy texture. Pinot Grigio is Italian and is picked earlier to build a fresh crispy/crunchy mouthfeel. Both have lovely citrus and stonefruit fruit mix to the palate and both are great for a range of Asian food styles. For Pinot Gris, look for dishes with more complexity and depth of flavour as the lower acid profile will absorb more flavour without clashing. Think fish curries, laksa, spicy fish, seafood and poultry braises. For Grigio look for fresher, lighter dishes like salads and fried seafood. Try pairing it with these: Crispy Skinned Thai Chilli Snapper and BBQ Sambal Fish (Ikan Bakar).
Similar to Pinot Grigio, Sauv Blanc is a fresh and fruity variety with plenty of youthful acids that is great for light, fresh dishes. This variety can have a grassy, savoury element to the palate that will sometimes clash with spice, so keep it fresh and light with this wine and you’ll be happy. Dishes like Caramelised Salmon with Pickled Carrot Salad (Two Ways), Fresh Vietnamese Spring Rolls or Quick Duck Pancakes.
When it comes to Semillon, think seafood in all it’s glory. Across the whole Asian cuisine spectrum. The citrus makes up of this wine make it a perfect partner for the salty edge that you get with seafood like a Grilled Lobster with Spicy Basil Garlic Sauce. The only consideration for this variety is age. Generally speaking, when young, this variety can have a high acid profile so keep your food choices fresh or even raw. As Semillon ages, it gets softer and more complex and can then handle food with more complex like foods with spice and texture. For example, young sem would be perfect with sushi, like Shiitake Mushroom Sushi (Shiitake Nigiri). While older sem would be great for a yellow or green Thai fish curry like Thai Poached Fish in Red Curry.
This variety is all about fine citrus, broad stone-fruits and texture. Viognier generally has lots of depth and complexity which makes it great for food that has similar characters. The wine can have an oily, creamy texture which makes it great for spicy or sharp foods. Spicy Chinese dishes from the north will work with Viognier as will sambal laced fish, pork or poultry dish from Singapore, Malaysia or Thailand. Or you can also try it with Singapore Chilli Crab or Mabo Tofu Japanese Style (Mabo Don).
Chardonnay is the king of all white varieties and as such has many shapes, styles and sizes that add complexity to deciding on food. It is a variety that can be citrus and stone-fruit dominated and it can be mildly of heavily oaked. Having said all that, Chardonnay is utterly delicious and when you find a good food match it can make your meal an occasion. Firstly, consider the style of wine and choose your food accordingly. If it is a fresh, light chardonnay, use the “Weight for Weight” principle and go from there. If the wine is rounder and more complex, you will need bigger flavoured food to balance out the flavours. A good tip with Chardonnay is, go for mid-weighted dishes with a moderate amount of complexity and for some reason, nuts seem to work with Chardonnay. A good place to start with dishes to pair with are Bun Cha Hanoi with Light Fish Sauce and Pickled Carrot and Papaya, Hakka Braised Pork Belly with Wood-Ear Fungus (Char Yoke) and Crispy Pork Belly.
General white wine/Asian cuisine matching advice:
Weight for weight: if you have big flavours in your wine you will need big flavours in your food so that the wine does not dominate.
Think about the general fruit descriptors for the wine and then consider the flavours in the dish look for components that might compliment. For example, citrus wines go great with savoury dishes and stone fruited wines love a little sour.
Younger wines generally can have a higher level of acidity. This can sharpen the flavours and can affect the flavour of the food. Acidic flavours can clash with some flavours but the acidity in wine is great for cutting through and balancing out fatty, creamy components of dishes.
The texture match of your food and white wine is really important. If you have crispy crunchy food, a softly textured wine will generally be a better fit. For soft, creamy and fatty textures you will need acidity to cut through and balance.
Spice needs texture to balance it our so think of how intense the spice is in the dish and then think about the texture of the wine to balance or compliment. Varieties that live spice are Gewürztraminer, aged Semillon, Pinot Gris and Viognier.