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Can you match wine and chillies?
Who better to turn to than the Aussies for advice on pairing wines with a wide range of spicy Asian food? Here's another preview of the food and wine matching sessions at the Melbourne Food Festival - Solving the Eternal Chilli Dilemma. Answers from Neil Prentice of Moondarra Wines and chef Benjamin Cooper of Chin Chin.
Q So what should we be thinking about in wine terms when we're matching wines to chilli?
NP "I am always primarily conscious of avoiding a clash between tannin and chilli. Though my Koh Samui friends love to point out that locals only ever drink beer (bitter) or Black tea (bitter/tannic) with their food."
BC "I tend to go with something that has a reasonable residual sugar level and lower alcohol levels. (The sugar tends to mellow the chilli heat) . You want something that is happy to play second fiddle rather than fighting for attention.
A good acid structure also makes pairing easier eg a good Sauvignon Blanc."
Q Can you give some examples of the styles of wines that work best with individual hot dishes?
BC "Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, Sav Blanc, Pinot Gris/Grigio, Pinot Noir.
The sweeter whites work really well with things like jungle curry or som tum (papaya salad) while the pinot will go with a red duck curry or rare beef salad."
NP "The sherbet /sweet/sour of riesling harmonises with the combination of spice and seafood.
The viscosity and mouthfeel of Pinot Gris is great friend of spicy pork.
The classic combination of duck and Pinot Noir transcends cultures by crossing wonderfully from French cuisine to Thai."
Q And some of the ones that don't hit it off so well?
NP "To my mind bordeaux/cabernet is a clash because of the chilli/tannin conflict. So while Bordeaux is the most "digestible" of wines I don't think it has empathy for highly spiced dishes."
BC "I don’t really enjoy chardonnay and spicy curries together
Big heavy reds and wines with high alcohol content are slightly more challenging to pair with Asian food. For example a big shiraz and massaman curry for me doesn’t work so well. I find it leaves the palate all a bit overpowered. The high alcohol also igniting the chilli further."
Q Are there other ingredients/sides you can bring to the party that makes a pairing more likely to work?
BC "Definitely - for instance the duck and pinot thing
Tomatoes help to bring the chilli and wine together
Proteins definitely help. The classic meat and red wine pairing or seafood and white
Herbs can help to bridge the flavour profiles as well
Chocolate also helps eg chocolate moles in Mexican cuisine"
NP "A little sweetness in Riesling, Pinot Gris or Chenin Blanc can enhance aromatic herbs like coriander and also be a beautiful foil for both the fire of chilli and pungency of fish sauce."
Q Surprise me with a match I'd never think would work and tell me why it did.
NP "Pinot Noir with spicy seafood can work - a red curry of soft shell crab for instance. The glycerol in Pinot Noir has empathy for red chilli and breaks the seafood/red wine rule. A slightly sweet riesling an be a wonderful match with a Massaman Curry - breaking the preconceived rules of beef and white wine."
BC "Pinot noir and stir fried mussels in tomato and chilli jam.
Seafood is traditionally a white wine food but the tomatoes and the smokey wok and chilli heat really work well with the pinot."
The Melbourne Food Festival starts this Friday and runs until March 17th.
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