Why Champagne Should Be Asia's Favourite Food Wine
Without a doubt, champagne has the potential to surpass still wines to become the most favoured food pairing option
Champagne has immense potential to become Asia’s favourite food wine, and the reasons are as follows:
1. Its yeast-derived umami provides a flavour bridge with umami-rich fermented bean or fish sauces.
2. Different dosage levels accommodate sweet sauces and glazes.
3. Chilli heat and oily fish, enemies of alcoholic, oaky or tannic wines, are ameliorated or even enhanced.
4. Through it all, champagne’s acidity and bubbles keep the palate fresh.
Below, I’ve consulted a range of experts and wine lovers from across Asia for their favourite food and champagne pairings.
For char siu, Hong Kong-based Derek Li (Group Sommelier of JIA Group) chose demi-sec, which he said has become “unfashionable,” because it actually integrates well with the honey glaze and provides lively acidity to counterbalance the fat and bitterness of the meat’s charred edges.
Hong Kong-based Carol Yau (CEO of Brilliant Group and Executive Committee Member of OCC Hong Kong) suggested full-bodied vintage with good acidity, nutty and yeasty notes to provide structure to match the honey sweetness and concentrated roasted meat essence of half-lean half-fatty roasted pork.
Delicate Cantonese seafood dishes were also a hit. Yau also picked steamed fish with blanc de noirs of low dosage that is rich enough and has sufficient back-bone to withstand soya sauce’s umami without overwhelming the soft steamed fish meat.
Taipei-based David Pan (Founder/President of champagne specialist Domaine Wine Cellars and author of an upcoming Chinese-language tome on champagne) chose rosé de saignées, especially from warm, southern-facing slopes of the Montagne de Reims or Côte des Bar. Their fruitiness complements char siu or roast duck’s sweetness; body and light tannins stand up to rich meat and bright acidity refreshes the palate.
Katrina Chang (Consul General of OCC China) named the Shao Guan Bubble Tea Egg by Yue, a creative modern Cantonese restaurant in Guangzhou, made with Shao Guan tea and sprinkled with shrimp, crab and sturgeon roe to mimic bubble tea’s bubbles. The umami and creaminess echo the minerality and brioche notes of a late-disgorged vintage champagne.
Meanwhile, Beijing-based and Sichuan-born David Xing, MW student, made the bold choice of Sichuan hot pot. Though you might think it would overwhelm champagne, he says the cold, spritz and acidity of champagne decrease the hot pot’s heat. People in Sichuan use vinegar for this purpose, he adds, but he prefers champagne.
Tokyo-based Kenichi Ohashi MW (President of Red Bridge and Yamajin) suggested mixed tempura with blanc de blancs. Tempura concentrates each ingredient’s flavours by light dehydration and coating with toasty, hot, crunchy flour, he explains. The toastiness reminds him of champagne’s mature flavours and the base ingredients meld well with blanc de blancs’ characteristic citrus.
Nagano-born Asami Yoshikawa (Instructor at Académie du Vin Tokyo) recommends her hometown’s favourite soba noodles with walnut sauce. “Most local people pair it with sake but rich vintage champagne is also excellent; the toast and brioche aromas go seamlessly with the sauce’s nuttiness.”
Seoul-based Hong Dongmyung (Owner of Seoul’s Ichonbar) recommended jokbal (a soy sauce-braised pig's trotter dish) for blanc de blancs, daechang (charcoal grilled cow intestine) for blanc de noirs and sundae bokkeum (fried noodles with blood sausage) for rosé de saignée.
Korean-born and Hong Kong-based Jeannie Cho Lee MW (the first ethnic Asian MW and author of Asian Palate) chose non-vintage brut champagne with Korean dried yellow corvina fish (gulbi). “I suggest a champagne with a high percentage of reserve wine and a more robust mid-palate (a pinot noir-dominant blend works better) to balance out the corvina's strong flavours. The lightly salted, firm flesh with lingering umami finish works really well with champagne.”
Tina Tian (entrepreneur, pharmaceutical marketing consultant and gourmet enthusiast), whose family is Vietnamese and Chinese, suggested blanc de noirs with crispy quail (chim cut chien bo) to accentuate the wine’s creamy and fruity notes and zero dosage styles, as well as with a straightforwardly dressed squid salad (goi muc), which she says “snaps joyfully with every bite” and “hugs your mouth” with the distinctive aroma of Vietnamese coriander (rau ram).
Bangkok-based Sunthorn Lapmul (marketing director at Wine Dee Dee Group), advised caution with sweetness and acidity in his hometown cuisine from Isaan, in northeastern Thailand, which can kill champagne’s texture, plus its chilli heat. Blanc de blancs with tom som pla makham (seabass in green tamarind spicy soup) is perfect: chardonnay’s clean, pure acidity surprises with the natural acidity of young green tamarind, a common ingredient in Isaan.
Bangkok-based Sariya Kampanathsanyakorn (wine educator and consultant) picked blanc de blancs with light salads e.g. lemongrass and fresh prawn; and vintage rosé for heartier curries such as roasted duck—its acidity cuts through the coconut milk’s fattiness.
Manila-based Ian Santos (2019 Philippine Sommelier Competition Champion and co-founder of Uvas Wine Club) and Central Luzon-based Odie Pineda (Certified Sommelier) both independently proposed sisig—chopped pork head, liver, onions, soy sauce and calamansi, sometimes topped with pork crackling—with brut rosé, suggesting it’s a killer match! Both note rosé’s ability to cleanse the palate with this fatty, rich dish. Santos names the wine’s richness as key; Pineda says the dish enhances the rosé’s fruit.
Jakarta-based Eva Iskandar (Consul of OCC Jakarta) chose light and fresh blanc de blancs with prawn crackers; rosé de saignée for beef rendang and blanc de noirs for spicy fried chicken, which she says needs a fuller bodied wine.
Kuala Lumpur-based Roderick Wong (founder of the Wine Academy in Malaysia and Honorary President of the Sommelier Association of Malaysia) proposed keropok lekor, a traditional Malay fish cracker, with blanc des blancs for its richness, mineral freshness and toasty flavours; chicken rice with rosé champagne for its acidity, dryness and floral notes; and marinated grilled chicken skewers with a richer, riper rosé de saignée (provided the peanut sauce is mildly spiced!).
Singapore-based Eugene Tan (Director of Food and Beverage at Resorts World Sentosa) recommended the popular chilli crab, an “explosion of meaty crabby flavours with spice, sweet, savoury, umami, salt, crab fat and ‘wok hei’” with demi-sec champagne. “The gentle sweetness calms the spice and bubbles refresh the taste buds.”
Singapore-based Timothy Goh (Director of Sales at Vinum Fine Wines) picked nasi lemak with blanc de noirs because the more robust and fuller characters are needed to support the fragrant and rounded profile of the rice and also (importantly) the fried chicken, which is marinated with various spices but without chillis.
See also: The Best Food and Champagne Pairings
Mumbai-based Sonal Holland MW (founder director of Sonal Holland Wine Academy) picks champagne, with its moderate alcohol, to alleviate the perception of spice. “The vivacity of blanc de blancs can be a great palate cleanser alongside a rich, creamy korma or makhani, whereas ripe, fruity styles of rosé are perfect accompaniments to the vast repertoire of green leafy and lentil dishes, smoothing out their slight bitter edge on the finish.”
Delhi-based Subhash Arora (founder president of the Indian Wine Academy) says champagne is his quintessential food wine, especially when unsure whether white or red would be suitable. Champagne’s palate cleansing is a big help and high acidity helps handle the fats. Though his “fave” is a brut with its slightly higher sugar, he says nothing beats a dry champagne with light snacks.