Wine and Spirits with Asian Cuisine: A Perfect Pairing!

L to R: James Oseland, Litty Mathew, Chris Johnson. (Elsa Ruiz/Asia Society)
L to R: James Oseland, Litty Mathew, Chris Johnson. (Elsa Ruiz/Asia Society)

NEW YORK, December 10, 2008 - Mixologists, champagne connoisseurs, and a sake master treated culinary fans to a "spirited" discussion at the Asia Society about pairing wine and spirits with Asian food. The panel, which included Cynthia Sin-yi Cheng, founder, cyn-et-vin; and wine editor of Cravings, Chris Johnson, mixologist, sake master, and owner of Bao Noodles in New York, Litty Mathew, mixologist at Modern Spirits in Monrovia, California, and Nobu Otsu, proprietor of The Winery in New York, shared their expertise in choosing the right wine or spirit to complement a meal. Moderated by Saveur magazine Editor-in-Chief James Oseland, the discussion was capped off by a reception, where guests sampled hors d’oeuvres with different types of champagne, sake, vodka and wine.

Once associated with the likes of Bordeaux and Bavaria, fine wines are now a growing presence in Asia from Bombay to Beijing. Apart from importing alcoholic beverages in frenzy, Asian vineyards have also emerged to produce respectable wines—in places such as Thailand, Vietnam and China. Here in America, many restaurateurs have taken the cue to reinvent their menus through pairing their fine cuisines with refreshing innovative drinks, imported Asian beers and wines with outstanding results.  

According to the panel of experts, pairing depends on the palate (and the palate is affected by our moods), so wines and spirits are easy to pair when in the company of friends. Bordeaux are not so flexible to pair with Asian foods, but sake, according to Johnson, is easy to pair with subtle flavors. Sashimi and oysters also go well with sake.  Cocktails taste well if they contain an element of the food that their being paired with. Spirits have a great ability to cleanse the palate and they are good to serve in between courses.

The panel also agreed that pairing by color is a good rule. According to Mathew, pork and beef go well with red wine, but shumai, shrimp, fish or noodles go well with white wines. Dry champagnes go well with raw sea food, rose champagnes go well with duck or chicken. Vintage champagnes have enough body to go well with meats. Otsu also pointed out that wine selection of wine shouldn't be based on the protein, but on the sauce used. He also said people should think about "geographical matching," and pair food with the wine of the region.