Pairing for The Asian Palate
Master of wine Jeannie Cho Lee shares tips on what to drink with Asian cuisine. By Merritt Gurley
When it comes to wine, Jeannie Cho Lee is one of a kind—literally. She is the only Korean Master of Wine in the world. A Master of Wine, in case you aren’t familiar with the rare title, is a gifted oenophile who has passed the course of study at London's Institute of Masters of Wine. There are currently less than 300 individuals alive who bare the distinction.
One of only four Masters of Wine based in Asia, Lee has made it her mission to educate the public about enjoying wine with Asian cuisine. Too long wine has been collecting dust in Japanese, Thai, Malaysian and Chinese restaurants while sake and local beers have taken the limelight. Now Lee is hopin to put wine at the center of many Asian meals.
Lee has authored two books on the subject: Asian Palate and Mastering Wine for the Asian Palate, with a third in the works. Her latest project is educating people on how to talk about wine. “By using descriptions of ingredients we know and love, I hope to have people remember the flavors better,” she says, “thus building confidence and increasing the chances that they will really remember the wines.” Lee will take part at World Gourmet Festival at the Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok (September 3 to 9) where she says attendees can expect to learn a more Asian-centric wine vocabulary. “I will share my thoughts and experiences on how best to introduce wine to a table brimming with intense spices and seasonings, such as those in a typical Thai or Vietnamese meal.”
Read on for her input on how to choose, drink and pair wines with classic Asian meals, along with a general tips on wine buying and trends.
Things to avoid when choosing a wine
1. Blatant marketing names such as “Purple Cowboy” and “Cupcake Cabernet.”
2. Any seepage or leaking from the top, which indicates the bottle was most likely badly stored, handled or transported.
3. Any wines targeted just for women or just for men.
Wine myths debunked
1. Gewurztraminer goes with all Asian food. Wrong. This variety is so powerful that it overwhelms delicate flavors and textures easily.
2. White wines with fish. Wrong. With Asian food, it is not the ingredients that need to be paired with wine but the seasonings.
3. Lightly-colored red wines like Pinot Noir are thin and light wine that should be paired with light foods. Wrong. Pinot Noir pairs wonderfully with barbecued meats, especially Peking Duck and roast goose.
Three wines to keep stocked at all times
1. Good sparkling wine, especially champagne
2. Pinot Noir from Burgundy, Oregon or New Zealand
3. Vintage 1980's Bordeaux (Bordeaux becomes more versatile after 20 years)
o Dish: Som tam
o Wine: Alsace Riesling
o Why: Intense sour and tart flavors require wines with high acidity levels. Refreshing Riesling, with firm acidity, served chilled, will liven up the palate.
o Dish: Chicken green curry
o Wine: New Zealand Pinot Noir
o Why: Strong fruit intensity is key to stand up to the many spices and flavors.
o Dish: Mango sticky rice
o Wine: Sauternes
o Why: Delicate sweetness from the mangoes works well with the sweetness of Sauternes while the richness of the sticky rice is complimented by the full-bodied flavors of the wine.
2. Kuala Lumpur
o Dish: Laksa soup
o Wine: Sparkling rosé
o Why: A refreshing sparkling wine can work very well with a dish that is spicy, flavorful and hot.
o Dish: Beef rendang
o Wine: Fruity Cotes du Rhone
o Why: The pepper and nutmeg taste of the Cotes du Rhone brings out the spices in the rendang while the vibrant red berry fruit adds a dimension to the beef.
o Ondeh ondeh (coconut sweet)
o Wine: Tokaji
o Why: Sweet Tokaji from Hungary has an acid backbone that balances the grated coconut.
o Dish: Rojak (fruit and vegetable salad)
o Wine: Late harvest Chenin Blanc from Loire
o Why: The sweet and spicy chili sauce that coats the ingredients needs a strong wine like a late harvest Chenin, with its baked apple flavors, to cut through the mélange of ingredients and seasonings.
o Dish: Fish head curry
o Wine: Off dry Riesling from New World
o Why: This spicy curry dish with delicate fish is best offset with a refreshing wine, so a chilled Riesling is perfect.
o Dish: Fried carrot cake
o Wine: New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
o Why: This is not sweet like a traditional dessert. It has pungent flavours but is not heavy or protein-based. Thus a medium-bodied, vibrant wine like Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand stands up to the dish very well.
4. Hong Kong
o Dish: Dim Sum
o Wine: Young, red Village-level Burgundy
o Why: Red Burgundy has firm acidity and a medium body—perfect for dim sum.
o Dish: Crab in Black Bean Sauce
o Wine: California Fumé Blanc
o Why: High salt intensity can clash with aggressive tannins in red wine so a robust white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc is ideal.
o Dish: Wife Cake
o Wine: Sweet Vin Santo from Tuscany
o Why: The nuttiness of the the wife cake from almond paste and sesame plays off the sweet nutty flavors of Vin Santo.
o Dish: Kimchi and white rice
o Wine: Prosecco
o Why: Considering the strong fermented flavors, a fairly neutral but refreshing and cool wine is best.
o Dish: Beef bulgogi
o Wine: Aglianico from southern Italy
o Why: The thinly sliced beef needs a wine that is not too heavy and has sweetness to play off the marinade, with a fruity core and firm tannins—Aglianico offers all of this.
o Dish: Mattang (sweet potatoes with syrup)
o Wine: Sweet wine from Barsac
o Why: A full-bodied sweet wine from Bordeaux pairs well with this dish. I chose the Barsac instead of a Sauternes because I am looking for sharper acidity helps cut through the creamy potatoes.
o Dish: Miso soup
o Wine: A savory but flavorful Pinot Noir
o Why: The umami-laden miso pairs well with savory Pinot Noir which has the fruit to stand up to the flavors but the elegance to balance the soup.
o Dish: Yellowtail sashimi
o Wine: Grand Cru Chablis
o Why: The texture of yellowtail is creamy and rich in a subtle way, which is exactly what great Grand Cru Chablis is about—depth with delicacy.
o Dish: Green tea ice cream
o Wine: Late harvest Pinot Gris from Alsace
o Why: There is an herbal element in Pinot Gris which echoes the green tea.