Pairing wınes with Asian food

Some people think pairing wines with sushi and other Asian foods is difficult, but Jacques Scott wine experts Lee Royle, Paul McLaughlin and Sergio Serrano proved that wasn’t the case during a lunch at Karma Restaurant & Lounge. 

Most Asian restaurants serve a lot of sake and beer, partially because many wines do not pair well with the strong and exotic flavours found in the cuisine they serve. 

Although it’s true that some wines aren’t going to taste very good with Asian food, there are other wines – both white and red – that actually pair quite nicely with the cuisine. 

Jacques Scott’s Marketing Manager (Wine) Lee Royle brought four bottles of wine with him to a lunch at Karma Restaurant & Lounge to demonstrate how wine can indeed be the right beverage with Asian food. 

To help him with the experiment, Royle brought along Jacques Scott Retail Division Manager Paul McLaughlin and Senior Sales Representative (Wine) Sergio Serrano. 

The wines chosen by Royle included three whites – Prosecco Superiore di Valdobbiadene (retail price at Jacques Scott: $23.95); S.A. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett ($29.95); Trimbach Gewurztraminer Cuvee des Seigneurs de Ribeaupierre ($44.99) – and one red – 2007 Cuvaison Carneros Pinot Noir ($33.99). 

Karma specialises in sushi, but much of its eclectic menu features Asian flavours and a fusion-style cuisine. 



Karma specialises in sushi, but much of its eclectic menu features Asian flavours and a fusion-style cuisine. 

Karma Executive Chef Aaron Molloy created a menu that had an assortment of Asian flavours, starting with a spicy tuna tartare with pickled watermelon rind and scotch bonnet ginger vinaigrette, sesame crisp and a and some watermelon sorbet on the side.  

Not surprisingly, all of the white wines paired at least decently with the dish. 

“That’s why I chose these whites,” Royle said. “With Asian-style foods, you can’t really go wrong with these.” 

Molloy suggested that we take a bite of the tartare, follow it with a bite of the crisp and then take a small spoon of the sorbet to cool down the spiciness of the dish. When eaten like this, the sorbet at the end had the effect of washing out the flavours of the Gewurztraminer, making it a less successful pairing. However, the Riesling still held its own and was considered by the Jacques Scott experts to be the best overall wine with the dish. 

Next served were Togarashi seared diver sea scallops with sweet pea wasabi puree and apple cider bacon vinaigrette. Again, all of the whites paired reasonably well with the dish, but the Riesling was the best overall pairing. 

“Riesling rocks,” said Royle. 

There are a couple of reasons why Riesling is such a good wine with Asian food, and for Caribbean-style cuisine as well. It generally has a very low alcohol content – the one we tried was only 9.5 per cent alcohol – so when it’s paired with spicy food, it doesn’t seem hot in the mouth. 

Many people think of Riesling as a sweet wine. Although it can be sweet, it can also be quite dry – or medium dry or medium sweet. Sugar is one of the things that balances spiciness on the palate and there are residual sugars left in Riesling. The slight sweetness of the Kabinett Riesling helped counter both the spiciness of the scotch bonnet vinaigrette in the tuna tartare and the sweet pea wasabi puree served with the scallops. The sweetness of Riesling also makes it a good pairing with salty foods. 

The other aspect of Riesling is that is has very high acidity, which is one of the reasons it can age longer than most white wines. Its balance of sweetness and acidity allows Riesling to pair well with some of the food considered tough to pair with, like salads with vinaigrette dressings or any kind of vinegary sauces. 


Pinot Noir 

We moved on to beef for the next course, which meant it was time to move on to red wine. The Cuvaison Pinot Noir was paired with Seared Wagyu ‘Kobe’ tataki with three-peppercorn demi glace and black truffles. High acidity, soft tannins and a relatively low alcohol content makes Pinot Noir generally a food friendly wine. In this case, it helped balance the spiciness of the three-peppercorn demi glace while still standing up to the beef. 

Many Napa Valley Pinot Noirs are made in a fruit-forward style, making them seem almost sweet. However, Pinot Noirs made from grapes grown in the cooler conditions of the Carneros region of southern Napa Valley tend to be less fruity and more earthy, and the Cuvaison definitely had this characteristic.  

“This is a good example of a well balanced California Pinot,” said Royle. “It’s very good with Asian beef.” 



It was on to sushi – assorted sashimi and uramaki – for the next course and it was back to the white wines. Yet again, all three of the whites paired reasonably well with the sushi, although once wasabi and soy sauce were put into the equation, the Gewurtztraminer didn’t pair as well as the other two. Bubbles in general – whether Prosecco, Champagne or some other sparkling white wine – are hard to beat when it comes to pairing with sushi and they even handle soy sauce and wasabi well. The Prosecco Superiore di Valdobbiadene was not surprisingly the best pairing with the sushi. 

Champagne is still king of bubbles, but there are good quality sparkling white wines being produced in many places in the world today. However, what makes Prosecco particularly good with Asian food, especially Asian food with some spicy heat, is that it has a lower alcohol content than most other Champagnes and sparkling white wines. 



Royle was determined to find an Asian dish with which the Gewurtztraminer paired best, so he ordered Karma’s Pad Thai. 

“Gewurtztraminer goes better with noodle dishes, Asian stir fries and Szechuan-style food,” he said. “When you have very aromatic flavours, that’s when Gewurtz comes into the picture.” 

He was right; the Gewurtztraminer paired best with the Pad Thai, although the other whites were also both good pairings. 

For dessert, Karma waiter Francesco Piscopo mixed up a couple flavours – passion fruit and blood orange – of liquid nitrogen ice cream table side. None of the wines were particular suited for the dessert, but McLaughlin noticed the passion fruit ice create had an interesting effect on the taste of the slightly sweet Gewurtztraminer. 

“It goes to dry with passion fruit ice cream,” he said, adding that even with that dry taste, the Gerwurtztraminer’s aromas and taste profile came through. 

McLaughlin said that when it comes to pairing wines with food, the best advice he could give was to experiment. 

“You have to experiment with your wines and your food,” he said. 

The Karma lunch proved to be quite a successful experiment.