We know, wine pairings can be pretty intimidating to the uninitiated (especially when deviating from the standard red-wine-and-steak variety), but we have great news for you: we managed to get hold of the experts over at CellaRaid who were more than happy to give us a couple of valuable tips and pointers!
First and foremost, here’s a serious pro tip: pair wines with local foods (as opposed to traditional ‘western’ fare) and you’ll incur zero corkage charges (most of the time, anyway)! Local restaurants, along with zi char and hawker food stalls, are usually more relaxed about patrons bringing their own wines (do so for your own drinking pleasure, obviously, don’t go around hawking the stuff) since they don’t usually have their own wine list.
A typical Asian meal also offers a large variety of dishes, which translates to a much larger margin for error, since there’s such a broad range of food you can pair your wine with!
Pairing Singaporean Dishes and Wine: A Quick Guide
- Build on guidelines, and take sauces into consideration
You’re probably somewhat knowledgeable about the basic guidelines: white meat usually goes with white wine, and red meat usually goes with red wine. The beauty of Asian food is its complexity – various meats are cooked in all sorts of different sauces, and these transform the taste of those meats. Take fish, for example – it’s usually a white meat that pairs well with white wine, but when cooked with something strong and rich like a black bean sauce, it goes much better with a light to medium-bodied red!
- Think of wine as a condiment – would it go well with your food?
Our well-loved chicken rice is a great way to illustrate this point. This dish usually goes with chili and dark soy sauce that lends the dish a slightly sweet flavour, so you could pair with a slightly fruity wine like a Chenin Blanc or Moscato. Spicy food usually has a more robust flavour, so go with something that would complement it and which has enough ‘weight’ to hold its own amidst the fire in your mouth like a full -bodied Shiraz pairing with tandoori chicken. Alternatively, for spicier dishes like Sze Chuan food, you could pair with something crisp with a bit of fizz to cleanse the palate, like Prosecco.
- Either opt for ‘contrast’ or ‘complement’ when pairing
Choose a lighter wine if the dish is lighter – like a glass of Sauvignon Blanc with salt baked, lightly grilled, or steamed fish, and a medium-bodied red like Pinot Noir or Rose when having fatty fish like tuna or salmon. Or you could go in the complete opposite of the taste spectrum and pair a a lusciously sweet dessert wine like a late harvest Riesling with a savory and salty dish with salted egg yolks – it really depends on what you like!
- Think of traditional pairings and build from it
Sushi usually goes with sake, but when looking for a similar profile in wine, a Champagne with that tell-tale sake-like nutty and creamy nuances would be a perfect fit as well! Likewise, if you’re looking to pair wine with lup cheong, look for wines that you usually have with charcuterie, as they’re pretty similar.
- Be your own judge. Buy a variety of food items, get one or two bottles of wine, and try it out for yourself!
Wine is supposed to be fun! No one is judging you, so let your personal preferences be your guide and experiment.
CellaRaid offers monthly subscription discovery boxes that contain 3 vials of different carefully curated wine options, and they all come with tasting notes and food pairings so you can discover what you truly enjoy without spending a lot for an entire bottle!
To answer some of the more general questions most of you may have:
What are the best wines for beginners?
Moscato! This one is very light and often times comes across like a soft drink (i.e. Sprite). As most Singaporean food is pretty spicy and/or flavourful (like the ubiquitous Char Kway Teow), this is the easiest to pair them with. It’s slightly sweet and refreshing, and normally works well with most Asian dishes. For those without a sweet tooth, Sauvignon Blanc is also a good alternative- it’s dry, crisp and very versatile, usually providing zip to the dish.
The reason these are both white wines is simple: the spice in most Asian foods have the tendency to interfere with the tannins (from the grape skins that make a wine red) in red wines, making the dish spicier and the wine more tannic. However, a heavy bodied Shiraz could hold up to some curries (as they tend to be spicy as well) – but they’re not an easy wine for the uninitiated to appreciate. White wine is usually a safer choice!
How to choose a wine at a restaurant
Your best bet is to go for a mid-ranged option! They usually cost $60-$90 and most wine lists at this price range will normally feature Moscatos, Sauvignon Blancs, and Chardonnays for whites, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Shiraz for reds. Besides considering the food that you are ordering, a person’s palate also plays a big part in the wine selection – if you’re someone that’s used to enjoying robustly flavoured foods, certain wines are bound to taste pretty watered down to you (i.e. Pinot Noir), so go for a heavier bodied option like a Shiraz. One tip is not to order the house wine by the bottle, as tempting as the pricing may be. Paying just a bit more for a bottle can usually mean much more in quality and satisfaction!
How to choose wine as a gift
First and foremost, make sure that it looks presentable (half the time people judge a wine by its label along with its taste), and most importantly, stick to your budget – don’t get too fancy unless you know they really appreciate wine. The safest option is a red wine – it’s hardier and can be stored for a longer period of time outside of a proper wine fridge without going bad. Champagne may look nice as a gift, but is more susceptible to damage from improper storage, so only get it if you know it’s going to be opened soon or the receiver has a wine fridge.
When is an expensive wine worth the price?
This is really based on personal preference – some people love aged wines, and some hate it! Most good wines will age in the bottle – they evolve and gain secondary flavours like earthy, umami notes while primary fruit flavours mellow down. However, not everyone appreciates drinking a non fruit-driven wine. An important thing to take note of when buying aged wines is to know who you’re buying from – storage in Singapore is KEY due to its hot and humid climate. Also, ensure that you have proper storage at home if you’re planning to buy and keep expensive aged wine, or it’ll be a complete waste of money! Under the bed or in a dark cabinet don’t make the cut as wine storage options in tropical Singapore.
What to serve at a party to appeal to many guests
Choose uncommon and more interesting wines, like those from Portugal, Argentina, Eastern European countries or some of the lesser known regions of France (i.e. Madiran) and Italy (i.e. Sicily) to offer your guests a brand new experience! Avoid the standard wines from popular wine-producing areas and try something new. For the more adventurous, China and India also produce wine, and Chinese wines have recently been on the radar of wine critics (they aren’t messing around)! Currently, natural and biodynamic wines are all the rage now and some of these make for interesting dinner conversations so do seek them out.
It’s important to not get wines that are too cheap as well – pay a little more to get something a lot better, especially when you’re buying it in Singapore. Alchohol tax is already $10, and after factoring in GST, shipping, handling, and storage, the base cost just to bring a bottle of wine onto the shelves is probably $15-18. Do the math and you will realise that only a couple of dollars goes into actually paying for the wine itself. Comparatively, every incremental dollar paid after that would directly go to the wine cost and presumably quality as well.
This cannot be over-emphasized: you’re your own best judge, so give different varieties of wine a try and figure out what you like for yourself! You’ll never really know unless you try. Cellartracker and Vivino are free to use community review sites that are pretty helpful to find out more about a specific wine, Google is your best friend, and CellaRaid is here to help you expand your palate (and to help you save money, since you don’t have to commit to buying multiple full-sized bottles at one go!) Click here to check them out!