When east meets west

The Ballad of East and West is a poem by Rudyard Kipling, first published in 1889. Its first line is often quoted, “Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.” The ‘twain’ finally met at the home of Pete and Nancy Toppan as they hosted the Wine Stewards to experience an evening of Asian food and wine pairing. Pairing wine with Asian cuisine frequently resembles a gamble. The many layers of ingredients and flavors featured in one dish and the serving of multiple dishes can make pairing wine with Asian food complicated and risky. The trick to matching wine with Asian-style cooking is to start with the premise that one needs wines which will emphasize a balance, as opposed to a sheer power of taste sensations. This is why the classic “power” wines of the world—made from grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay—are not easily matched with Asian foods. The best wines for Asian foods are those with moderate levels of alcohol, softer tannin, crisper acidity and sometimes (but not always) a judicious amount of residual sugar. It is a question of harmony and balance within the context of hot, sour, salty and sweet food sensations. German-style Rieslings, with sweetness balanced by acidity, are usually the first wines cited for Asian foods. Other white wines that complement Asian cuisine are dry Roses, Sauvignon Blanc and White Burgundies. The jammy, spiced aromas and flavors of first-rate California Zinfandels, are a sensible choice with meats coated in sweet or spicy marinades. Syrahs, Pinot Noir and Rhone reds, along with round Italian reds, complete the listing of reds suitable for Asian food pairing. Given this information in advance, the Wine Stewards feasted on a memorable feast of garlic shrimp, sweet and sour soup, egg rolls, Asian green salad, Mandarin orange teriyaki chicken with stir-fry vegetables, Yakisoba noodles, Kati rolls and fortune cookies. All were served with appropriate wines. The outcome was an enjoyable evening of wine education and good times.