Swap out the bottle of Bordeaux at your next big family meal with these little-known, sommelier-recommended pairings that prove there's much more to discover still when it comes to the relationship between wine and Asian food
Despite a thriving populace of avid wine drinkers to be found in every major city in Asia, the practice of pairing wine with Asian cuisines still remains in its infancy to this day. This is due in large part to the family-style format found from China to Indonesia, where meals are best eaten from shared plates in large groups, making the Western tradition of pairing single portions of food with exacting expressions of wine a near impossibility.
It's no wonder that diners often resort to crowd-pleasing red wines like Bordeaux or Burgundy as a handy catch-all to last them through the many courses present in a feast.
Still, that's not to say that it's a futile pursuit. With their strong, oftentimes pungent flavours, pairing Asian dishes with wine is a challenge that many sommeliers relish, and successfully doing so is a badge of honour, however small, that they can happily take along with them to the next family gathering.
Whether it's a subtle Satèn Brut with Cantonese seafood, a refreshing blaufränkisch to counter punchy Korean cuisine, or a spiced New Zealand syrah to compliment the lime and chilli of Thai food, there are surprising combinations to be found out there. To this end, we asked four wine experts from around the region to fill us in on their favourite pairings, and encourage you, dear reader, to try these out at home too.
Bak Kut Teh and Beaujolais
"Bak kut teh is a traditional Malaysian Chinese specialty founded in the Klang Valley by immigrants from China's southern Fujian province during the 18th century. This homely dish is made from pork bones and different parts of the pig (such as ribs) and boiled with a variety of herbs and spices in a huge pot for a few hours. This mouth-watering combination results in an aromatic, hearty and stomach-soothing pork broth served in a clay pot.
I indulge my bak kut teh with wine which has a fragrant aroma, velvety texture, soft tannins and vivid acidity to balance the richness of the broth. Hence, the 2018 Jean Foillard Morgon or 2019 Alex Moreau Fleurie from the Beaujolais region in France are my preferred choices. They often have a fresh fruity aroma with earthy nuances of rose, liquorice and pepper. I like how they are elegantly framed in a medium body, with a velvety, silky palate. Their bright acidity is great to balance the broth’s oiliness."
— Danny Tai Wai Siong, DipWset, CSW, Bourgogne wine specialist at Vinoble Petaling Jaya, Malaysia
Bak Chor Mee and Viognier
"As a sommelier with the Shangri-La Group, I spend a lot of time matching up fine wine with fine food. I enjoy this part of the job as I am able to discover unusual combinations that enhance the dining experience. While some may find local hawker favourites unsuitable for wine pairing due to the generous use of condiments and sauces in cooking, I find there are so many layers of texture and nuances you can explore with this type of cuisine.
One example is bak chor mee (minced meat noodles) with the 2013 Freemark Abbey Viognier from Napa Valley. A voluptuous, fruit-forward wine, the Viognier pairs perfectly with a bowl of savoury, tangy and spicy bak chor mee. The full body and strong flavours of the wine really enhance the tangy and umami taste of the vinegar and stewed mushrooms, which would otherwise be subdued by others."
— Britt Ng, head sommelier at Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore
Lechon and Baga
"My last wine trip before the pandemic was to Portugal and I discovered so many grape varietals I never heard of. This is when I first tried Baga. I brought a bottle of Vadio Tinto (which is Baga from the Bairrada region) to our family noche buena (Christmas Eve), which had a lechon part of the buffet spread. I was blown away by how well they went together.
Baga is a medium-bodied red with textured tannins and this cut through the fat and highlighted the texture of the lechon. It is a wine bursting with flavours of red fruit and a nice chalky minerality. After further research about the Bairrada region, I found that one of their local signature dishes is a suckling pig!"
— Pilar Almario, brand educator at Moet Hennessy Philippines
Roast Goose and Dessert Wine
"My rules of wine and food pairing revolve around merge and contrast. Merge means combining food and wine with similar flavours, such as steak with a full-bodied red wine; while contrast means the food and wine taste different, but if you pair them up it will create a desirable chemical reaction—such as pan-seared foie gras with Sauternes. Most importantly, you have to keep tasting new combinations to find the perfect pairing.
A great pairing of similar flavours is Cantonese roast goose with a sweet wine—specifically the 2007 Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Selection de Grains Nobles (SGN)—because the goose has such a strong roasted flavour that it does will with a dessert wine that is full-bodied, fruity and honeyed.
For a contrast pairing, I go with Chiuchow marinated goose with Blanc de Blancs champagne. The higher the amount of fat, the tastier and more tender the meat will be; because goose carries more fat than chicken meat does, the average goose carries a richer flavour compared to most of the poultry meats. That’s also the reason why marinated goose is the best to pair with a champagne thanks to the higher acidic profile of the latter, which helps to cut through the fat."
— Gon Leung, general manager at Bâtard, Hong Kong