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I was having a conversation with my sister the other day and she mentioned that she had always wondered what wines she and her friends should drink when they’re eating different types of Asian cuisines. I was honestly a little stumped myself at first. I have a habit of getting beer or cocktails when I get any sort of “Asian” food, so I’d never really given the matter much thought. I figure this is probably a relatively common question even if I wasn’t sure of the answer.
Wine pairing is tricky. Everyone has heard certain rules like “reds with steak, whites with fish and poultry” and “what grows together goes together”. But there’s always an exception to these rules. So bear in mind that my recommendations should be seen more as guidelines rather than hard and fast rules. With maybe one exception…
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Americanized Chinese take out like lo mein and General Tso’s Chicken goes great with a bubbly like Champagne or prosecco. This was one of the first rules I learned when studying to be a sommelier. The acidity balances the sweet flavors in many sauces and cuts through the fattiness.
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Authentic Chinese Cuisine, particularly Szechuan foods like mapo tofu and Xi’an lamb noodles also have that mouthwatering spicy sweet oily combination of flavors that goes well with a nice dry bubbly. If sparkling isn’t quite what you prefer, a riesling is another great option. In fact when in doubt when dealing with Asian food, you can almost always be safe with a riesling. French riesling tends to be drier and a bit more full-bodied than a German riesling which will keep it from being overpowered by the fattier dishes in Szechuan cooking. A German Riesling has a little bit of extra sweetness that makes it great for cleansing the palate after a particularly spicy bite. (My personal preference when it comes to German rieslings is a Mosel. They’re a bit on the drier side and there’s a crisp minerality to them that I absolutely love)
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You don’t have to limit yourself to white though. Spicy or salty meaty dishes are the perfect showcase for a fruity, playful wine like a blaufrankish or a pinot noir. If you want to get even more fruit forward, a Beaujolais (or really any gamay) or a garnacha could be a really exciting pairing.
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Korean food has a lot of heat, sweet, sour, and umami flavors so it tends to operate under similar wine pairing rules as the ones governing Chinese. Cut your spicy foods like Bibimbap with a wine that’s a touch sweet if you’re going white or more on the fruit forward side if you are leaning towards a red, and pair something fatty like Bulgogi with something acidic. Pinot noirs and Beaujolais work beautifully but a dry rosé is also a fantastic choice. If you’re starting with seafood or scallion pancakes, an acidic white with a bit of a fruity body like a gewurtztraminer or a gruner veltliner is a great accompaniment.
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What if you’re feeling more like sushi though? You could attempt to find the type of fish, only order versions of that, and then pair it with the wine that is best suited for that particular fish. But where’s the fun in that? It’s better to just go with a great Provencal rosé or a delicate yet fruity wine like an albariño. They’re tasty but they won’t compete with the delicacy of the raw fish. They also go well with most tempuras.
Photo Credit: Fuji Sushi House
Meatier Japanese dishes like katsu, yakitori, and hibachi also go extremely well with an oaky full-bodied red like Rioja or a red blend from the Côtes du Rhône.
If there’s one running theme to this pairing guide it’s that you can rarely go wrong with an off-dry riesling or a pinot noir. I’ll discuss some pairing options for Southern and South East Asian foods in a part two, but for now, go forth and eat!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kristy Kingan is a research analyst at the Philadelphia Museum of Art by day and a complete wine geek by night. She completed the first level of the Court of Master Sommeliers in 2016 and is particularly interested in wines from Central and Eastern Europe.