With Christmas coming I am telling you about some wonderful books that would make superb gifts for others or even a sneaky treat for yourself.
Recently I wrote about an excellent guide to the wines of Bordeaux and now I would like to recommend something altogether more sumptuous.
I am especially fond of Asian food, to my mind the cuisines of the Far East are some of the most exciting and mouthwatering of all. I find it almost impossible to resist the vibrant colours, fragrant aromas and exotic tastes of Asian food whether from Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Korea, Japan, Sri Lanka or the Indian sub-continent. And yet as a wine lover I often find it very hard to find a wine that goes with such food. It is so very easy to limit myself to a narrow range of wines and styles that I know work with Asian food, that I could well miss many more exciting combinations and experiences.
Wine With Asian Food: New Frontiers in Taste
By Patricia Guy and Edwin Soon
Published by Tide-Mark at $24.95
Also available from Amazon.com as well as Amazon.co.uk and Waterstones in the UK at around £20.99
Partnering Asian food with wine can be tricky and this book starts with an excellent analysis of why. In Europe we often drink wines from a country with food in the style of that country – drinking local with local often works well, Red Burgundy with Boeuf Bourguignon, Sancerre with goat’s cheese or Chianti with a rich pasta ragu. Expanding on the problem Patricia and Edwin tell us that with most Asian meals ‘several dishes are served at the same time and are shared by everyone present‘. This of course is different from the European tradition where there is one dominant dish and means that ‘the wine chosen for such a meal has to be versatile‘.
The other main difference with Asian food, although this is creeping more and more into what we eat over here too, is that the defining characteristic of the meal is not what is cooked, but how it is cooked. As Patricia and Edwin point out, ‘the true flavour of the dish may be determined by the cooking method, the sauce, the use of seasonings or the blending of ingredients. Indeed it may result from combination of any of these elements’.
In a perfect world, as the book points out, ‘when you combine wine with food, you are seeking a balance between these two elements‘. I know from personal experience that for many people this involves simply drinking and eating things that they like. For others, like me, it is a more agonised process of considering the nuances and hoping for a perfect combination.
I can be pretty good at putting food and wine together and achieve some superb matches, but I am the first to point out that this is often as a consequence of inspired guess-work as much as anything else and that is why I am so taken with this book. The authors really have put in a lot of serious experimentation and taken the luck out of the process. There are even experiments that the reader can do. So, in the comfort of their own home they can really get to grips with how wines and food interact and what works with what.
In order to makes sense of the food they have ignored the arbitrary political boundaries and instead studied the flavours in Asian foods to create a sort of sensory map or grid. This divides food up into five basic flavours: Fresh and Herbal, Savoury and Rich, Mild and Spicy and Light Smoky, Spicy & Smoky and Fiery and Sweet.
Similarly, by thinking about flavours, textures and weights of wines they came up with a classification to divide wine into seven categories: 1 – Crisp Juicy Whites and Dry Aromatic Wine, 2 – Juicy Whites, Medium rosés and Light Reds, 3 – Woody Whites and Soft-Tannin Reds, 4 – Light to Medium-Sweet Wines, 5 – Richly Sweet Wines, 6 – Red Wines with Chewy Tannin and 7 – Nutty and Rich Fortified Wines.
These classifications or categorisations are expanded and explained and then the bulk of the book takes the reader through a marvellous array of recipes together with a range of wine recommendations with each one. These are given in a very general way for the experienced food and wine matcher and in a much more specific manner to allow the beginner to get to grips with the system.
The whole book reads well and is clearly the culmination of a great deal of work, by which I mean eating and drinking. It looks lovely and is so richly illustrated with photographs of enticing dishes, bottles and vineyard scenes that reading it is nearly as good as travelling around Asia and experiencing the cuisine. Be warned though, there are lots of recipes together with tempting photographs of the finished dishes, so reading this book can seriously make you hungry.