If you had to choose between red or white wine, while 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 stone fruit flavour spectrum of white wine is better suited to the majority of Asian cuisines.
But like any food and wine matching, you need to apply a little thought before making the best decisions. So, here we’ll discuss the “go-to” white varieties for Asian food, the characteristics they possess and the foods they sing with.
Image Courtesy: unsplash.com
This Germanic variety is dominated by apples and citrus flavours, has a high acid profile when young, and has a lovely minerality that always expresses its growing site and conditions. Riesling, when young, is light 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 and Indonesian cuisines. The high acidity works well with creamy fish curries, soups, and noodle dishes.
Also from Germany, “Gewurtz” (pronounced Guh-wurtz-traminer) is another variety that handles spice beautifully. The varietal name actually translates as “spice” and is generally lower in acid when young, but has a soft and creamy mouthfeel that works really well with spice, pork, poultry, and fish. Gewurtz has exotic musk and tropical fruit aromatics which makes it a nice fit for dishes with raw elements in them; fragrant sauces, sweet components of dishes, salty, sour, and spicy dishes. This variety is great for Singaporean / Malaysian inspired dishes as well as Thai and Vietnamese.
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 generally has a soft, creamy texture. Pinot Grigio is Italian and is picked earlier to build a fresh crispy / crunchy mouthfeel. Both have a lovely citrus and stone 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.
Similar to Pinot Grigio, Sauv blanc is a fresh and fruity variety with plenty of youthful acid 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.
When it comes to Semillon, think seafood in all its glory, across the whole Asian cuisine spectrum. The citrus make up of this wine makes it a perfect partner for the salty edge that you get with seafood. 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. It can then handle food with more complex layers, spice and texture. For example, young Semillon would be the perfect sushi wine and the older ones would be great for a yellow or green Thai fish 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 characteristics. 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 dishes from Singapore, Malaysia or Thailand.
Chardonnay is the king of all white varieties and as such has many shapes, styles and sizes that add complexity to making a decision about food. It is a variety that can be citrus and/or stone fruit dominated and it can be mildly or 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 the 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 to go for mid weighted dishes with a moderate amount of complexity. For some reason, nuts seem to work with Chardonnay. A good place to start is poultry and pork stir-fry.
When it comes to considering what wine will work with your food apply the general food matching advice provided at the end of the post.
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 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 soft 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 out, 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 love spice are Gewürztraminer, aged Semillon, Pinot Gris and Viognier.
Find all the great wines mentioned in this article at Wine Selectors.
Find your nearest Asian Store