Asian food with wine?
Asian dishes are a tapestry woven with varying tastes and textures. Their intricacy is owed to the sugar, vinegar, salt, chilies and savory spices used often in combination. There is also umami that weird and wonderful “something” in fermented beans, fish paste, soy sauce, twice boiled stocks, and mushrooms that imparts a depth of flavor.
What to imbibe with such complex goings on?
We tend to leave our wine glass at the door when entering an Asian restaurant and opt instead for hot tea, cold beer, or just water.
I opt mostly for beer due to the non-wine lists in most Chinese eateries.
Asia does not have a wine tradition. Traditional chefs concern themselves with balancing ingredients on the plate rather than what to pair with them in the glass.
So then, does wine have a place at the Asian table? Yes. But where should one begin?
With German Riesling. German Rieslings range mainly from off-dry to lusciously sweet and are labeled according to ripeness and increasing sweetness—a key factor in the quality of the wine. The wines are labeled Trocken (dry) Kabinett (off-dry to lightly sweet), Spatlese (late picked, medium sweet), Auslese, (select harvest, sweet) Beerenauslese (select berry harvest), and Trockenbeerenauslese (select dried berries that have been affected by noble rot, a kindly fungus that concentrates sugars, but leaves alone the acid). And, lastly, Eiswein, Kabinetts, and Spatleses possess enough fruit, sweetness, and zippy acidity to play off and not overshadow Asian complexities. The wines’ modest alcohol levels also help to calm the tongue when, guaranteed, you bite down on one of those fiery little chilies that has burrowed beneath the noodles.
In late march, Johannes Selbach from Weingut Selbach-Oster made his annual visit to Vancouver. Selbach’s family has been growing wine grapes for over 400 years. The vineyards lie on slopes facing the Mosel River. The wines are elegant, with refined green apple and white peach notes and a minerality that reflects the blue-grey slate soil that feeds the vines. This year, Waldorf Wine Agency, Selbach’s representative in Vancouver, invited a few wine writers to lunch with Selbach over a few of his rieslings at the city’s renowned Sun Sui Wah Restaurant.
Shrimp Dumplings, Crispy Duck, and Which Wine?
As we took our places, he greeted us with a good-natured “I hope the wines don’t suck.” He needn’t have worried. The wines played some pretty sweet tunes to a lengthy parade of Cantonese dishes.
Selbach Fish Label, a second tier wine to the more refined Selbach-Oster lineup, kicked off with just the right note. Bright fruit and firm acid complemented perfectly steamed shrimp dumplings. I loved everything about the apple/peach intensity and zing of Zeltinger Schlossberg Kabinett 2008 and with minced Peking Duck wrapped in lettuce, and king crab legs steamed in spicy salt, body fried with minced garlic. The balance of honey, lime, apple and mineral in Zelting Schlossberg Spatlese 2009underscored the ginger and green onions in pan-fried halibut.
For me, beef tenderloin slivers with broccoli with black peppercorn sauce proved a bit of tough go the wines. A light mango pudding and creamy egg tart, however, held on to the dessert and wine tenet. The dessert should never upstage the wine, which in this case was a sumptuous refined Sonnenuhr Auslese 2009.
The pairings were well thought out and rest assured none of the wines sucked. – Julie Pegg, RFT Wine Editor