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Pairing wines with Asian cuisine
SELECTING wine for dinner to go with local food is always a challenge but it can also be an interesting and instructive experience. We learn as we go along, whether we are right or wrong in the first instance is not as important as attempting to match cuisine and wines. A recent dinner for a couple of close friends from Hong Kong was an opportunity to try out intuitive choices of wine pairings.
Champagne Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill 1996
A glistening golden colour, with a palate of rich orangey fruit, still very fresh, leaving a lovely lingering flavour on the palate. Glorious.
This special cuvee by Pol Roger Champagne, first released in 1975, was created in honour of the late Sir Winston Churchill who had famously declared that his favourite drink at breakfast was Champagne Pol Roger. I happened fortuitously to be in London at the time and made haste to drop into Fortnum and Mason on Piccadilly and managed to secure a case (12 bottles) at £40 a bottle - expensive at the time! Winston Churchill 1975 is no longer available today but a pointer to what could be its current price is the S$1,100 price tag for a bottle of 1979 Sir Winston. The 1975 is now a collector's item!
Château Rayas Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2004
Deep dense brownish red with a full soft and warm, fresh bouquet of very ripe fruit, more plummy than orangey in character. Palate very dense concentrated very ripe fruit, long lingering rich finish. Impressive minerality and freshness underpin the dense lush fruit. Good clean long finish. Impressive. Still not fully developed, it could do with a few more years' age.
As hoped, this big fruity wine worked comfortably with the short-rib curry, washing down all the curry and rice, taking all the exotic spices in its stride, leaving the palate fresh and expectant. It was complete harmony on the palate. A very agreeable match.
Bonnes Mares 2004 Grand Cru, Domaine Robert Groffier
A big-bodied wine, strong pronounced pinot noir aromas of strawberry, well-balanced, showing deep flavours of concentrated, ripe berries. Quite a solid wine for a pinot noir but consistent with the character of Bonnes Mares. A very attractive drink albeit at 12 years' age, still quite youthful, and will need a few more years to fully mature.
Drinking this wine with the chicken rice was virtually a no-brainer. It went very well with the special chili sauce. It drank very well on its own too - lovely wine.
Domaine Robert Groffier, Morey-Saint-Denis
Interestingly, although based in Morey-Saint-Denis, Groffier owns not a single vineyard in that commune, his holdings lying in Chambolle-Musigny (Bonnes Mares Grand Cru, Chambolle-Musigny premiers crus Les Haut Doix, Les Amoureuses, and les Sentiers); Gevrey-Chambertin (Chambertin Grand Cru, Gevrey-Chambertin Village).
His wines are like him, pure, not over-oaked, understated but intense, elegant and fine (Clive Coates), and best of all, well-priced. I have the good fortune of being granted a small allocation annually! Bonnes Mares Grand Cru is quite unlike the other wines of Chambolle-Musigny - Chambolle-Musigny, Chambolle-Musigny Premiers Crus Les Fuees, Les Sentiers, and Les Amoureuses, and Musigny Grand Cru. Less transparent, more muscular and firmer-bodied in texture, and can be more tannic, with a fuller aroma, sometimes a bit stolid. The wine takes a long time to mature though.
Choosing wines to accompany Asian cuisine in practice is not too difficult, following basic guidelines I had learned some time ago. Good fruit ripeness, minimum or very ripe tannins, and good acidity (freshness) are the three essential basics guiding the selection of wines for Asian food. Following these simple guidelines, one seldom encounters any gross mis-matches.
Thus from France, red Burgundies, red Rhone wines, ripe vintages of Saint-Emilions and Pomerols; from Italy, Barolos being more full-bodied rather than Chiantis - in Barolo, Pio Cesare Sandrone, Voerzio, Scavino; in Bolgheri, Ornellaia and Masseto. Spanish wines preferably the fuller-bodied and less tannic wines, e.g. from the Ribera - Vega Sicilia, Valbuena and Alion, from Bierzo, Alvaro Palacios' wines from Priorat - Les Terrasses, Finca Dofi and l'Ermita; from Bierzo - La Faraona, Las Lamas, Moncerbal and Petalos; from the family estate Bodega Palacios Remondo in Rioja - Placet and Remondo.
One must not forget the New World. There the choice is vast, as New World wines are generally fuller, softer, fruitier and less tannic. From Napa, being old-fashioned and having had my Napa Valley wine education at the wineries of Robert Mondavi, Stag's Leap Cellars, Opus One, Martha's Vineyard et al, I would still stick to the old-timers and fight shy of the current fad for blockbusters.
Australian and New Zealand wines fit perfectly into the category of fruitier, and less tannic wines and are well worth a good hard look. I have in mind the whole range from e.g. Penfold's, Henschke's, in Adelaide, Leeuwin Estate and Moss Wood in Margaret River in Western Australia.
One should not forget the Pinot Noirs from New Zealand - Martinborough and Carrick are the ones I am more familiar with, and surprisingly good they are, and well worth exploring. From South Africa I can well recommend the wines of Eben Sadie in Swaartland, considered one of South Africa's best wine-makers today.
Finally, a little note about a Chinese Cabernet Sauvignon - Grace Family Chairman's Reserve 2011. I opened a bottle for a blind tasting at the above dinner and invited comments and guesses as to the name of the wine. Most replies favoured Napa Valley or Australian Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon. It was a heavily-extracted wine, big, very ripe, soft tannins, chunky and almost clumsy, lacking sufficient acidity to balance the heavy layer of fruit. Disappointing.