Wednesday, 23 April, 2014

 
Published February 28, 2014
Dining
The right wine for Asian food
Making an informed choice of wine with Asian fare heightens the outing, writes NK YONG
BT 20140228 WINE28 978317

Spoilt for choice: The perennial question of what wine with what food is a topic with limitless boundaries and almost endless choices. - PHOTO: AFP

BT 20140228 WINE28 978317

Wine with food, or rather what wine with what food is a topic with limitless boundaries. In Singapore, we have the great advantage of a fascinating and extremely wide variety of Asian cuisines readily available, at all price levels and in excellent quality too.

I EXPECT that there are many who, like me, have become so accustomed to drinking wine with our meals that the idea of just water as the beverage becomes unthinkable. It's like a saying I read in a Chinese restaurant in London more than 40 years ago: "Water is for washing!"

Last week we had dinner at a very popular and well-regarded HDB coffee shop which had been recommended by fellow gourmands. The advice was "go early - 6.30pm - because you have to queue". We felt that, notwithstanding that it was a coffee shop, we should have wines with our dinner. Just one white and one red, plus wine glasses as we expected that the place would not have any glassware.

Queue we did have to, not for long though, and the ambience was what might be termed "rough and ready". Despite fumes from the passing traffic and accompanying dust, we were soon distracted by the food and the greater pleasure of the wines. The food arrived in rapid succession - it was satisfactory but nothing to shout about. The wines, though, were good!

Puligny-Montrachet 1er cru Les Folatieres 1987, Joseph Drouhin.

A brilliant golden colour, 18K gold! A bouquet of distinctly mature white chardonnay wine, very ripe citrus fruit, peaches, and mixed nuts, especially peanuts; medium-full bodied and a good volume, displaying a rich flavour with savoury undertones, lots of good freshness and a long, clean finish. Very appealing and a very nice drink which went well with the seafood. It well exceeded my expectations although I was not really surprised given my past happy experiences with aged Drouhin wines, white and red! This may be only a negoce wine but what a beautiful wine it was, at 26 years of age, mature but fresh and vigorous.

Hermitage 1997, Gerard Chave

A very deep dark red with just a tinge of brown. A full, warm and rich aroma of very ripe black berry fruit with that hint of soya sauce which identifies its Syrah origin.

A big full-bodied wine, filled the mouth with rich flavour, full of the soft flavours of ripe berry fruit. There was lushness with the deep, dense flavours, a touch of savouriness, altogether quite complex, power rather than elegance, but a well-balanced power. Still not quite mature at 16 years, will need a few more years.

Gerard Chave is a great wine maker, my favourite Hermitage producer today. A visit to Chave is more than just a wine-tasting visit. It is not just a lesson but a master-class on Hermitage from a master of the craft.

We would be taken round the cellar tasting barrel after barrel, but in a departure from the standard barrel-tasting, we would be given samples of wine to taste from five to seven different climats (vineyard sites) on the Hermitage hill.

The characteristics of each climat's wine would be explained by Gerard pointing out the merits of each and its contribution to the final blend. What a priceless lesson!

Whenever I taste a Chave wine, I am reminded of the cellars of Chave and of Gerard Chave explaining in French and a little English, with us trying desperately to understand with our very meagre grasp of French.

But fortunately, the wines said it all. And drinking the 1997 Chave brought back memories of those visits to Gerard Chave's cellar tasting barrel samples and trying very hard to comprehend his explanation of each cuvee. A warm person, very kindly, and patient and a generous vigneron.

In recently reviewing my notes of those visits, I came across what Gerard said, "In white Burgundy you worry about acidity. In white Hermitage, we are not concerned with acidity.

White Hermitage is about texture, about glycerol and minerality." Those words echo again in my memory and now with further experience and with more wine under my belt, as they say, I am beginning to understand what Gerard said with reference to the minerality. And what he said about it applies with equal importance to white Burgundy.

Wine with food, or rather what wine with what food is a topic with limitless boundaries. In Singapore, we have the great advantage of a fascinating and extremely wide variety of Asian cuisines readily available, at all price levels and in excellent quality too.

We also have readily available a huge variety of wines from all corners of the world, in all categories, at all price levels, and with generally satisfactory provenance, an advantage that we tend to take for granted.

From our experiences too we have more or less thrown away the guidelines and the standard books on what to drink with what - white wine with sea-food, red wine with red meat, et al.

How do you apply those guidelines to Asian cuisines? With a nod and a wink! In other words, we know those words but we have learnt to broadly follow the guidelines modified by what we have learnt through experience and a lot of practice!