Wine with Asian Food
Matching wine with Asian cuisines is not the same as matching wine with European cuisines. Traditional wine styles evolved alongside European foods and flavors, so pairing wine is generally easy. However, in Asian food settings, wine has not always been a traditional accompaniment, so the combination can be a little more challenging.
The best wines for Asian foods are those with moderate levels of alcohol, softer tannin, crisper acidity, and sometimes (but not always) a judicious amount of residual sugar. It is a matter of harmony and balance within the context of hot, sour, salty and sweet food sensations.
ASIAN FOOD AND GERMAN RIESLING
Quintessential German-style Riesling Kabinetts — penetratingly
scented, juicy rich, light and fine as silk with a whispering sweetness
balanced by perceptible acidity — are usually the first wines
cited for Asian foods.
PAIRING ASIAN FOODS AND VIOGNIER
White wines made from the Viognier grape are actually an unorthodox
choice for Asian style foods for two reasons. They tend to be low
in acid and full in alcohol, somewhat like Chardonnay. But unlike
Chardonnay, Viogniers tend to be extremely fragrant, billowing with
exotic fruit, honeysuckle-like perfumes, and suggestions of violet
and white pepper.
cooking in particular can be tilted towards sweetness balanced by
a mild bitterness and saltiness, such as is found in chicken in gingery or citrusy syrups.
In Southeast Asia, fish is often coated with curries and coconut
milk or strong pastes made from coriander root and peppercorns. In these food contexts, the aggressively
full, hefty, peppery qualities of Viognier are often superior to
the more feeble alcohol and higher acid qualities of Riesling.
when full-flavored Asian dishes are prepared correctly, a good,
balanced Viognier can contribute an exotic note of its own to the
The jammy, lusciously raspberry-like, black-peppery spiced aromas
and flavors of first-rate California Zinfandel are a sensible, if
unorthodox, choice with barbecued pork or beef ribs coated in sweet
or spicy marinades. A proper Zinfandel has the red-wine tannin to handle fatty,
charred meats, yet the roundness and fruitiness to enhance, rather
than fight, the hot spices.
there is a presence of peppercorns, some vinegary zest, or slightly
hot garlic, chile, and gingery sensations, a zesty, peppery, fruity
Zinfandel finds another surprising food element.
ASIAN FOOD PAIRED WITH SOUTHERN FRENCH WINES AND BLENDS
The entire premise of balancing Southern French varietal reds — Syrah
for its floral, spicy, structural fullness; Grenache for its plush,
mildly peppery red fruitiness; and Mourvedre for its meaty, dark
fruitiness — draws comparisons to the balancing of sensations
in Asian-style cooking.
advantage of Southern French varietals and blends is that their
tannins are moderated enough so that they don't taste bitter in
relation to sweet, sour, salty or spicy sauces, yet they retain
enough tannin to digest meat fats. Then there is the factor of umami;
specifically, the reaction of salt and acidity when activated by
foods high in amino acids (such as mushrooms, aged cheeses, and
sea vegetables), which effectively reduces the sensation of bitterness.
When wine is served in this context, there is a greater chance that
the wine will taste "milder" and dishes more savory.
ASIAN FOOD MATCHED WITH ROUND ITALIAN REDS
The range of red wines made from these grapes, not only in Italy
but also now in California, is astounding. Each has its charms:
Dolcetta, a zesty black fruitiness; Barbera, an even zestier-edged,
palate-sticking fruitiness; and Sangiovese, a mildly zesty, cherry-fruit
complexity. All are marked by qualities of slightly elevated acidity,
low to medium tannin, and earth-related characteristics manifested
in multiple ways, from burning leaves and licorice to roasted meat
and leather-like nuances.
these structural and aroma-flavor advantages, there are few wines
that perform as well with Chinese- or Southeast Asianstyle
hot pots of beef or pork; especially when punctuated by peppercorns,
garlic, or scallions; the licorice-like tastes of star anise, cilantro,
or coriander; and sacred basil. Then there is the vast range of
small production Italian and California wines that utilize these
varietals as blending elements: Sangiovese with Cabernet Sauvignon,
Sangiovese with Tempranillo, Barbera with Nebbiolo, Zinfandel with
Barbera, etc. While unorthodox, the good thing about these innovative
"Italianate" wines is that they fit in with many of the
unorthodox styles of fusion cooking being done all around the world.
thinking is this: if Asian cooking is untraditional with wine, the
best wines for Asian foods may very well be the most untraditional
For more information on these varietals,
check out our Wine Varietals Definitions