When you eat sushi, Chinese food, or pad thai, what’s your drink of choice? If you’re like most: Beer, maybe sake, if you’re feeling adventurous. Why not wine? The general dearth of wine options on most Asian food beverage lists is a good reason, but a more common one is that consumers just have no idea what wines to drink with Asian food. This food runs from ultra-spicy (General Tso’s chicken) to ultra-delicate (toro sushi), with some cuisines giving a taste of each during the meal.
Master of Wine Jeannie Cho Lee recently came to San Francisco to show us that pairing wine with Asian flavors isn’t just possible, it can be fantastic. And she turned to the country that makes the most inspired, common, and – if you think about – strange natural pairing with Asian food: Germany.
Lee led our group through a four-course meal at SF’s Ame restaurant, each paired with two different (and often wildly contrasting) wines, to see what we thought worked and what didn’t. A snapper carpaccio with two gelees, umami soy and lemon sea salt, was a great dish – and the soy gelee worked surprisingly wonderfully with 2009 Friedrich Becker Pinot Noir from the Pfalz region of Germany. I was less enamored with a 2010 Castell Silvaner when paired with the lemon gelee, which handily overpowered the wine.
Up next was a tuna tartare with slow cocked egg, dashi broth, and a smattering of bitter greens. Here, the reds didn’t pan out – a 2006 Furst Pinot Noir was too earthy and shallow, unflattering with the bitter components of the dish. A 2003 Fritz Haag Auslese Riesling was however a phenomenal match. Sweet wine? Yes, but at age 9 it had mellowed and caramelized, offering enough acid to keep up with complex dish.
Finally, a lobster dish in coconut curry broth. Here both wines – a 2010 Spatlese Riesling from Selbach-Oster and a 2010 Riesling from Leitz – worked well, but for different reasons. The Spatlese, though young, didn’t bomb the dish with sugar, tempering the mild heat in the curry, while the crispness of the Leitz Riesling was a natural pairing with the dish. It didn’t have the acid I would have liked but any Riesling probably could have done the job. (Alas I had to skip the last dish due to time constraints.)
That leads us into Lee’s general pairing tips – which were presented in a booklet created with the Deutsches Weininstitut – which, as you might expect, are heavy on the use of Riesling. All German whites get a shout-out or two for almost every region from India to Japan, but Lee also recommends German reds with Northern Chinese food, Sekt (sparkling wine) with Singaporean food, and even Pinot Noir with sushi and Indian curry.
Of course, you can’t define an entire country by one style of food, and wine pairing recommendations can’t be pinned down based on a gastronomic stereotype, either. Lee’s book is a great reminder of that, and should serve as a reminder that one size doesn’t fit all in the wine and food world – and that one needn’t resort to Sapporo just because it’s sushi night.
Not that there’s anything wrong with Sapporo.
Update: Congrats to our five contest winners, who will each be getting a copy of the book!