Some chilis with your cabernet? In Asia, sure

Tue Aug 23, 2011 5:04am EDT
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By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) - What wine should be drunk with a spicy, silky green Thai curry, accompany a Korean stew laden with fiery chili and garlic, or, perhaps, a delicate sliver of raw sea bream dipped ever-so-lightly into soy sauce?

As economic growth brings more Asians into the middle class and the ranks of wine-lovers, sampling the fruits of the vine -- mainly for prestige -- has become more widespread, purely as something to drink because it tastes good.

But the question of pairing with food is far less pressing than for wine devotees in places with a longer history of wine drinking, said Jeannie Cho Lee, a Hong Kong-based wine expert and author of "Mastering Wine for the Asian Palate."

"The reality of how people drink wine and enjoy it is very casually, without a pairing concept in mind," she said in a telephone interview.

"But if you really want to show off a wine, you obviously don't want a food that kills it. If you are presenting some exquisite delicacy and you want to show off that dish, or a particular special meal, you won't want to choose a wine to spoil that."

This means taking into account personal tastes and tolerance levels for basic Asian flavors such as the spice of chili, the savory tang of umami present in soy sauce.

"Umami as an ingredient in general -- it really brings out the depth of dark berry flavors, it also brings out any leather or mushroom notes in the wine," she said.

"If the chef gives you the soy dip to use with your (raw) fish, it's probably going to taste better if you have it with a Pinot Noir, with a bit of tannins, a bit of depth and spices and herb notes, because there are gentle layers of flavors."   Continued...