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How to Pair Your Wine (and Sake) With Food

By T: The New York Times Style Magazine Singapore

Luigi Giordano

Pairing food and wine should be the most natural thing in the world. After all, it is but a practice that involves the two fundamental psyches of our physicality: our sense of smell and taste. But often, it can be a puzzling labyrinth of jargons so arcane that some would find it daunting.

There are cardinal rules to it, says DFS wine connoisseur Aditya Lamba, but the notion of wine and food pairing essentially boils down to the selected wine being an equal complement to a specific food, and vice versa. There are simple but perhaps overly broad rules of thumb — whites with white meats, reds with red meats — that have spiralled into how-to bibles brimming with charts, classifications and materials impossible to be leisurely read, let alone grasp.

“Wine-food pairing is like marriage: It should be in harmony with each other,” says Lamba. “Sure, there are certain no-nos in the book, like pairing together spicy food with high-acid wine, which may increase the alcohol burn of wine and heighten the perception of bitterness. But if it works for you, go ahead. There’s no binding rule book.”

In food and wine pairings, preference and desire can eschew guidelines. And it’s by being open to experience that you can gradually achieve ease in picking suitable pairings. Akin to how putting in hours in the kitchen primes home cooks to conquer an initially rigorous obedience to recipes, a regular exercise of matching wine with your food can help overcome hesitation and develop an instinct of what works.

The act of pairing is, ultimately, an exploration. The inevitability of failing shouldn’t be a deterrent — even unfavourable couplings would have something to teach.

“Taste is very subjective, that’s what I tell people,” Lamba posits. “Often, it’s based on upbringing and childhood memories. There may be certain food or flavour profiles that are on the back of your head that may come out to you when you sniff your nose in a wine. Every palate is different.”

Here, the wine connoisseur shares his take on classic wine- and sake-food pairings.

Red wine

“Red wine is a classic dinner wine. To keep it simple, it can be paired with all your red meats, like steaks or burgers,” advises Lamba.

Suggested bottle: Robert Mondavi Maestro

“This is made for those who love heavy reds. It’s a 2014 Bordeaux blend made from the best site of Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa Valley. You can actually age this wine up to seven to 10 years, because the Cabernet Sauvignon has that ability to age, and the Bordeaux keeps the wine alive, helps it age better.”

Best paired with: “This will be the perfect wine for game meat. Wild meats like venison and wild boar, or beef steak and lamb rack, stuffed meat perhaps. These types of meat are tough, and this Mondavi blend helps break down the protein in the meats. The idea is to ease the meat to the palate.”

White wine

“Chicken, fish, all these white meats can be easily paired with white wines,” says Lamba.

Suggested bottle: Pessac Leognan de Carbonnieux

“Sometime in the 12th century, monks used to stir the blends in this winery’s chateau [Château Carbonnieux] in Pessac-Leognan, which is located in the south of the city of Bordeaux. And this bottle’s Sauvignon Blanc activates the acidity to the wine. It has wonderful notes: you get a bit of passion fruit, lime, a bit of citrus — basically, a very refreshing wine. These guys have been making it for more than a century, they know what they’re doing.”

Best paired with: “This is a very, very classic Bordeaux white wine that should be paired with flavours that are close to the blend: seafood, foie gras, and maybe some lemon tart dessert.”

Champagne

“If you look at it, champagne is white wine, but lighter,” explains Lamba. “It’s fairly easy: Anything that goes with white wine would go along with champagne. There are certain classic pairings like champagne and oysters, or champagne and certain cheeses.”

Suggested bottle: Champagne Cuvée Carbon Rose

“The Champagne Carbon is relatively new to the market. Its mother champagne house is Champagne Devavry and it is an official partner of Formula 1. This particular rose champagne is a Grand Cru blend — the highest classification level of champagne — of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. It’s all about red berries: raspberries, strawberries, cherries. On the palate, it’s crisp and creamy.”

Best paired with: “Rose champagne goes great with oysters, salmon and cold cuts.”

Dessert Wine

“Sweet wines usually come towards the end of a meal,” says Lamba. “With dessert and wine pairing, the level of sweetness of the wine should not overpower the food, nor should the dessert be sweeter than the wine. Make sure that their sugar intensity is on par.”

Suggested bottle: Marchesi Antinori Prunotto Moscato D'Asti DOCG

“Moscato is particularly popular in the market among female drinkers. The secret of a good Moscato lies within the balance of its acidity and sugar levels. This blend comes from Northern Italy. It’s a fruit-forward wine that’s both sweet and flat. And its balance is amazing. On the nose, it’s musky with a hint of hawthorn and acacia honey. On the palate, it’s dense and elegant.”

Best paired with: “With dessert wines like Moscato, make sure you enjoy it with a dessert. This Italian Moscato is excellent with fruits like strawberries and peaches, as well as cookies, sweet biscuits or other types of dry pastry.”

Sake

“There’s a whole different approach when pairing sake. It all comes down to the level of sweetness of the sake, which is the SMV (Sake Metre Value, with -15 being the sweetest and +15, the dryest), as well as the assembly, texture, and rice grain polishing,” says Lamba.

Suggested bottle: Chiyomusubi Goriki 40 Junmai Daiginjo

“This is not a sweet and sour sake. Brewed from a type of flavourful sake rice called Goriki, this sake is rich in umami. As a +1 sake, its acidity level is not as much as the white wine, but it does have that flavour complexity. The scent recalls of chocolate-laced cherries and caramel.”

Best paired with: “Not just with Japanese food, you can match +1 sakes with a lot of dishes, especially and maybe surprisingly: French food. All the sauces in the dishes — hints of red and white wine — will go well with this. I recommend serving this lightly chilled, but that’s another debate of its own.”

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