Thanks to Lia and her wonderful wine inspired blog, Swirling Notions, we’re finally writing out what we enjoy drinking when we eat Asian foods. Lia’s Pairing Primers is a series of excellent and educational write ups on pairing foods. Lia asked us to share our favorite Asian-inspired food pairings and getting this post together required alot of thought, drinking and tasting!
Spicy, Salty, Sweet, Sour, Bitter. Pairing wine with Asian food can often be a bit daunting and complicated. For so many Asian dishes, particularly Vietnamese food, there are so many layers of flavors and ingredients. The range of flavors from spicy to sweet, to salty then sour variations within each bite can make pairing even more confusing.
Traditionally wine isn’t drank much with the the majority of the cuisines in Asia, but that doesn’t mean it can’t go well with it. Beers, teas, iced coffees and local beverages of the cuisines are often the first choice (as well as good choices) to sip with your meal, but we’ve become a more diverse world, and have in our grasp the world’s wines, so let’s explore how they might match up.
For the Vietnamese Asian inspired foods that we typically consume, we find some wines in general work particularly well. White wines, in general pair well, but dry Rieslings, dry Gewurztraminer, dry Rosés, many Viogniers, and Champagne (or Sparkling Whites or Rosés not from Champagne) are our almost no fail go-to’s.
These white wines tend to have a crisp, brightness, as well as a touch of sweetness that goes with the varying delicate, strong and often spicy Asian flavors. For the intensely flavored and spicy dishes, the sweet, strong fruit flavored and aromatic white wines, like German style Rieslings, really cleanse the palate nicely and is refreshing at the same time. Muscats are another good all-around choice and if you’re partial to Muscats, these wines can help quell the heat in your spicy dishes too. They can be substituted about anywhere we mention the Rieslings or Gewurztraminers, although they tend to be a bit heavier and we generally place them as a second choice.
Most all of the former wine choices that we mentioned don’t overwhelm the general lightness of Asian cuisine, but still have the character to not get lost in the abundance of flavor that the dishes have. As an added bonus, they all stack up very well to hot, chili flavors. Particularly the slight sweetness of the dry Rieslings and Gewurztraminer handle the spiciness very well. They seem to cleanse ones palate of some of the flames, so that as you eat and sip, your mouth goes “Oooh!” “Ahhh” “Oooh!” “Ahhh!” It becomes a beautiful dance of fire and refreshment.
As much as we love our reds, they often overpower our favorite Asian dishes. We generally try to avoid the heavy, robust, tannic reds. Very spicy dishes with fierce heat definitely clash with these heavier wines. Although with some dishes, such as heavier grilled meats, a softer red wine can still be a nice pairing. The reds that tend to work best for us are Syrahs, Pinot Noir, many Rhone reds (go Gigondas and Chateauneuf de Pape!), and the occasional Zinfandel (it’s one of our dear favorite reds, so we have to try it with everything.)
Often times when we’re smoking or bar-b-que-ing Asian marinated brisket or fatty pork butt/shoulder, we will serve red wines. The heavier, fatty, salty meat dishes have always been complimented by reds such as Zinfandels and one of our favorites, Rhone reds. Our Asian dishes that are heavy on the garlic, spices and fat also calls out for a red wine.
A bit of a surprise is Champagne! Champagne’s (or other sparkling wine’s) effervescence is quite nice when paired up with our meals. The bubbles, acidity and lightness frequently compliments (“that’s such a beautiful dress” “I love your hair” “You are looking awfully fit”), refreshing the palate with the more rich or spicy dishes (ex. pate, any dish with nuoc cham as a dip) and yet is still delicate for the light dishes. So don’t just limit the Champagne to appetizers, because it can carry it’s weight through almost any Asian meal with remarkable finesse.
Our current favorite Champagne is Bugey Cerdon, a French sparkling wine. The bubbly, slightly sweet sparkling rosé always pairs perfectly with our lighter, herbed salad dishes. We LOVE, LOVE Bugey Cerdon!
Since we tend to think food first then chose the wine to drink with it, here are some dishes and what our primary choices with them would be. Please remember, this is always subjective, and if you like something totally different with your meals, there is nothing wrong with that. Food and drink is about what is pleasing to the one consuming, and don’t let anyone tell you different. This is just what we like.
Here are our favorite Asian-inspired food and wine pairings:
Fresh Springrolls- These great and soft rice paper rolls are always a popular dish at our dinner parties. We often grab a dry Rosé, Viognier, a dry to medium-dry Riesling (Kabinett or Spatlese), or a Gewurztraminer. If you have a spicier nuoc cham fish sauce dip (like we often do) the Riesling, particularly a Spatlese Riesling is our first choice. The spice and bit of sweet together is divine. Champagnes will also go well, or if you are dying for a red have something very light such as a Beaujolais Nouveau. However, dear “red lover” try a nice dry rosé or Sparking (Champagne style) Rosé. You may fall in love.
Fried Springrolls- Very similar as the fresh springrolls, but we tend grab something a bit crisper to balance fried foods. A Sauvignon Blanc or white Burgundies work well here, and the dry rosés are often the quite tasty with the fried springrolls. Viognier is another great choice. But, of course, any of the wines mentioned for the fresh springrolls would make us happy.
Salads & Such
Vietnamese Jackfruit Salad
This refreshing salad, with sweet, pungent jackfruit, calls for a refreshing wine. Sauvignon Blanc will go nicely with this playing off of the shrimp and the jack fruit. Our usual match-ups of a Riesling or a Gewurztraminer to compliment the nuoc mam dressing on the salad also make great choices. We just put them second because you might get sick of us mentioning them as our first choices so much (you’ll soon see them mentioned more. A lot more). Champagnes would be another great choice, Viognier again, and a Frascati, an Italian white from Rome are all good choices.
Red Rice Salad with Mint
Once again the Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and white Burgundies are all great choices. The abundant amount of fresh herbs (mint/cilantro/parsley) are often complimented in the Sauv. Blanc. And the crispness goes nice with the cool, cucumber in the salad. But we wouldn’t complain with dry Rosé, Champagne, or Frascati here either. All are great to take on a picnic with this satisfying salad. This red rice salad with mint is a perfect picnic salad, and many of your favorite perfect picnic wines make a perfect companion. Perfect.
Mizuna Mustard Green and Shrimp Salad
With the nuoc cham based dressing, a dry Riesling (or Gewurztraminer) is a great choice. Sauvignon blanc, Champagne (particularly a Rosé), or a dry rose wine would also be winners. The Riesling (or Gewurztraminer) is the ideal choice, though, for a couple reasons. The sweetness of the shrimp is easier to pair with any of the aforementioned wines, but the spiciness of the nuoc cham complicate matters a bit. However, the Riesling is up to both challenges and shines with this dish.
Oh how we love this stuffed squid dish. It’s an addicting combination of squid, and ground, fatty pork and it is packed full of flavor. Since we usually dip the squid in a spicy nuoc cham, a Spatlese Riesling or a Gewurztraminer are the instant favorites. The modestly sweet quality of the wines draws out some of the heat from the nuoc cham and balance the palate perfectly. Plus they are bright enough to cut though the slight richness of the fried squid. Once again, Champagnes and dry rosés are also excellent second choices to have with the squid and nuoc cham dip.
This dish has a bunch of choices we like with it. Starting light, a Sauvignon blanc is nice. The dry rosés and Champagne go very will with the smokiness from the grilled fish and are amongst our very top choices. An off dry white like a Kabinett Riesling or drier Viognier are mighty tasty, too. Diane even loves her dear Zinfandel with the grilled snapper.
Banh mi fillings vary incredibly much, and so do the wines that go well with them. Once again, in general, we would recommend whites such as Sauvignon Blanc, drier Rieslings or Gewurztraminers, or a nice Viognier. Dry rosés and champagne are great and there are a few reds that go quite well with the Vietnamese sandwiches. For our top red choices we tend to prefer Zinfandels, Pinot Noirs, Syrahs, and Rhone Blends to go with the banh mi. The combination of crusty baguette, savory pate, and fish sauce based meats are complimented well with those reds. Just remember, it’s a sandwich. Try not to over analyze the damn thing, and just drink and enjoy.
Pulled Pork Banh Mi
With the smokey pulled pork as a filling, we will lean more towards a dry rosé or a Zinfandel for this banh mi. Depending on how hot it is outside, we might also grab a nice dry Riesling, a slightly aged Viognier or even a Sauvignon Blanc to enjoy with our banh mi.
Black Pepper Pork Banh Mi
For this one we might lean more towards a fruitier red. Something like a Syrah, or Pinot Noir. Of course, Champagne (particularly a Rosé Champ.) or a dry rosé would also be yummy. If we get heavy handed with the black pepper, the smoky, spicy elements of the pork go quite well with a nice cold glass of beer too. But that’s saved for another beer pairing post!
Bo La Lot (Grilled Beef wrapped in Wild Betal Leaves)
One of our favorite dishes calls for one of our favorite wines, the spunky, brash and peppery Zinfandel. Well, maybe not an over-the-top Zin, but a tasty well balanced Zinfandel. The la lot leaves (for those who haven’t tried them yet) have a unique, peppery quality, which combined with the beef and the smokiness from the grilling lead up to this Zin – Bo La Lot pairing. Pinot Noir or most all red Rhone blends would also be great. I (Todd) really like a nice Gigondas with the Bo La Lot. Dry rosés are good to, especially in summer, and a Sauvignon blanc to compliment the peppery la lot is a nice choice for a white wine.
BBQ’d Pork Loin Stuffed with Swiss Chard and Pineapple
There are a lot of exquisite flavors here, and most are super wine friendly. You can almost run the table on the variations of wine to enjoy with it, but here are a few to narrow down the list. Try it with a Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon blanc, Viogner, dry rosé, champagne, Pinot Noir, most Rhone reds (a Gigondas or Chateauneuf de Pape are our favs) or a Syrah. Or just about any other wine you enjoy with barbecue. Did we say it pairs well. Add a nice sangiovese, the frascati, barbaresco… Ok, we’ll stop. You probably have the picture of it’s pairing options by now.
Well, there’s a bit of a sampling of some Asian pairings. Stay tuned, as we soon will have a page coming with more pairings, as well as some helpful tips for to help you understand what to look for when pairing food and drink. Again, we have to mention our disclaimer. Taste is super subjective, and what works best for us might not for you. Go with what tastes good to you and enjoy it. And we want to reiterate that pairing food with drink doen’t just have to include wine. There are many beverages which heighten the eating experience, but for today’s post we chose to bring a focus on wine. Otherwise we might still be writing this post out over the next month or two discussing the plethora of choices of beverage. Hope you enjoyed.