Sunday, January 12, 2014

There’s More than Beer that Goes with Ethnic Food

By Liza B. Zimmerman

I have never agreed with the presumption that non-Western/non-Mediterranean food was intended to only go with beer. While I love a great pint it is not an excuse for overlooking a great wine pairing. As more elegant and expensive Chinese and Indian restaurants open—such as Hakkasan in NY and SF and Dosa in SF—we see lots of great wines that go with the foods being offered on their lists.

Don’t miss the chance to mix up some of your own great pairings at home when you order out. There are just a few simple rules, long-demonstrated by beer’s popularity with these foods, to follow. Beer is cool, refreshing and cuts and balances all types of spice—from hot peppers to smoky sumac—found in many non-Western cuisines.

You will want to use the same principals in pairing a wine. White, cool, fresh and aromatic come to mind. A hint of sweetness—akin to hoppiness—works beautifully with spice and complex, layered flavors. Many of us have long presumed that reds are easier to pair with foods, from earthy flavors to intense, palate-coating cheeses. Actually whites more often stand up to the task. I just finished writing a wine and cheese pairing guide for an importer and all the food writers on my tasting panel struggled with many more of the reds than the whites in terms of finding good cheese pairings. 

Here are a few good rules for pairing chile-, curry- or other spice-laden dishes with wine:
1) Go white when you can, it will be cool and refreshing like beer
2) Try aromatic white varietals—Rieslings, Marsanne, Roussane—they have the complexity to stand up to these dishes
3) Avoid oaky whites, the sensation of chawing on wood will numb your palate for subtle flavors
4) Experiment with wines with higher acidity than you may normally enjoy: it will cut through intense and fatty flavors and cleanse the palate
5) Go lightly on the salt, as too much of it will make your wine seem watery
6) Make sugar your friend, off-dry Rieslings, such as many from Germany will be divine with spicy food
7) Support the home team: many North African and Middle Eastern countries produce great wines. Try a Turkish, Jordanian or Lebanese wine with foods from the country. We have long said “What grows together goes together.” And China and India are both ramping up for pretty serious wine production. 
8) Don’t be afraid of grape varietals you can’t pronounce or haven’t heard of: consider it an adventure.
9) If you choose a red, think cool-climate wines with more acidity and less alcohol, overly ripe wines will taste like candy with many of these cuisines and won’t complement the layers of flavors. 
10) Embrace the bubbles: sparkling wines are divine with sultry, layered flavors. Champagne is a classic, but France makes great sparklers in many other regions, as does California and Northern Italy. 

A couple of great pairings from DrinkUpNY’s selection might include:
Altanuta Pinot Grigio 2012 (Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy): it is dry and has great citrus notes
Cantine Terranera Falanghina 2011 (Campania, Italy): this grape is one of the great discoveries from the region outside of Naples; it is dry, floral and divine
Jean-Maurice Raffault "Les Galluches" Chinon 2011: if you want a red, the dusty and herbal flavors of Chinon pair well with so many types of food (yes, in a beautiful way)
Gosset Brut "Excellence" NV (Champagne, France): bring on the bubbles, sparkling wines—from France and domestic—open the palate and pair beautifully with spicy food 

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about wine and food for two decades. She is principal of the San Francisco-based Liza the Wine Chick wine writing, education and consulting firm. She has worked on staff and freelance at national magazines such as Wine Enthusiast, The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, Wine Spectator, Where SF and the Examiner. She currently contributes to Cheers, Wine Business Monthly and the Examiner, among others. 
Zimmerman focuses on demystifying wine and transforming it into a tool for business and networking for companies all over the country. Past clients include Genentech, Roche and IBM. 
She has visited all the world’s major wine regions and is one of select few in the U.S. to hold the Diploma of Wine & Spirits (D.W.S.), the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine.

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