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Food & Drink

The flexible grape

Traditionally muscled out of the way by the ever-boisterous beer in the race to wash down Asian dishes, Jane Anson suggests grape instead of grain as the ideal accompaniment for everything from sushi to curry


Maybe it’s the thought of sultry summer days, but as soon as spring arrives, I start hankering for Asian foods; delicate rows of sushi and sashimi, spicy prawn curries peppered with lemon grass and coriander, chicken infused with cardamom and cumin. What this usually means is a fight over what to order alongside the dishes; Tiger or Tsing Tao beer, or an Alsace gewurztraminer. Beer has definitely won the majority vote when it comes to a good curry, but – not surprisingly – I think we are too quick to put the corkscrew away. You just have to follow a few rules when it comes to matching highly perfumed foods with wine. Because Asian food often emphasises contrast between flavours and textures, the classic grapes of cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay aren’t an easy match, especially the bigger, more alcoholic styles. As a rule, the best wines for Asian foods are those with lower levels of alcohol, more gentle tannins, crisper acidity, or even a small amount of residual sugar. And while gewurztraminer is an excellent match, it’s just too easy to always reach for the same bottle whenever your food has a hint of soy sauce. There are many lesser known grapes that are undergoing a revival at the moment, and it’s an area that rewards experimenting – although I haven’t included it in this list, I had an amazing Ribero del Duero red with shabu shabu beef and Japanese mushrooms the other night that was just gorgeous.

Ravenswood Old Vines Zinfandel 2004, £7.50 
A gorgeously smoky nose from this Sanoma Valley wine. This has real depth of flavour, and is a beautiful example of a zinfandel, with very round sour cherry fruit and a good structure. It’s literally a sweet and sour wine – it starts with savoury overtones would perfectly suit shredded duck pancakes, but then an underlying sweetness kicks in mid palate that would bring out the best of a plum dipping sauce.

Bellingham Chenin Blanc, the Maverick 2004, £ 8.54 
This South African chenin blanc started off with a slightly one dimensional flavour profile, but had a lovely honey sweetness that made me persevere, and a seductive mix of lemon freshness with sweet oak. I don’t suggest pairing it with any really strong spicy flavours, or it could be overpowered; it would bring out the best in a Thai mango salad, or even a Chinese-style chicken with black bean sauce. Having said that, I had it with a spicy prawn stir fry and it started to take on a really good kick after a bit of garlic and ginger.

La Rose Bellevue 2006, Premieres Cotes de Blaye, Cuvée Tradition, £6.99 (approx)
From the often overlooked Premieres Cotes de Blaye region of Bordeaux, this lovely sauvignon blanc is unoaked, so make the most of its clean, fresh flavours with sashimi or sushi. There’s also an excellent lightly oaked version (Cuvée Prestige) that is perfect with the rounder flavours of Chinese food.

Bonterra Viognier 2005, £17 (approx)
Organically grown wine from Mendocino County in California. This is highly floral, with lovely notes of elderflower, gooseberry and Turkish delight. There are so many delicate flavours going on that anything too hot and spicy might be a shame, but this will stand up to layers of lemongrass and subtle flavour infusions. I had it with crab and prawn spring rolls, but it would be an equally good match for a fragrant Thai curry.

Brampton 2005 Viognier, £ 8.99
Another viognier, this time from South Africa. It’s hard not to keep recommending this grape; just such a gorgeous, mix of honeysuckle, lemon and rose, and brilliant for Asian food (I had it with a Thai prawn curry, with ginger and garlic) because its flavours are just so zesty and full of life. Incidentally, some people think this grape is related to gewurztraminer because of its aromatic and slightly floral qualities – so this is a good way to keep the gewurztraminer link with Asian foods, but also trying something a little bit fresher.

Petale de Rosé Chateau la Tour de l’Eveque £9.00
Why is rosé wine so underused with Asian dishes? It has a natural sweetness and high acidity and more body than many whites. Regine Sumeire makes beautifully ragrant, lightly colour roses from this Provencal domaine, and you’re going to be very popular if you bring it out at a dinner party with a lightly spiced Indian prawn puri.

Mad Fish Reisling £7.95
Okay, so reisling is almost as well traveled as gewurtraminer when it come to matching with Asian food, but trying this Australian version rather than a sweeter German reisling makes a good change. There is gorgeous acidity in this wine, but also real character. It’s very adaptable, working across a range of Asian foods, from chicken and pork satay to ramen, to a spicy phad thai.

Three Choirs 2005 Stone Brook, £5.95
An English wine with an delicate, almost appley flavour. The nose is beautifully aromatic, although it loses some grip and depth on the palate. Would go well with Cantonese-style pork ribs, as the sweetness would draw out the flavour of the pork.

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