Do the French, Germans, Spanish, Italians, Dutch, Austrians, Belgians, Swiss, Swedes, Finns, Norwegians, Hungarians and Romanians all like the same food and have the same taste for wine? Those are not even all the 47 nationalities in Europe.
That being the case, why would Chinese, Indians, Indonesians, Japanese, Koreans, Mongolians, Singaporeans, Malaysians, Thais, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians, Sri Lankans and Pakistanis have a common palate for wine? Not to mention that Asia, with about 4.4 billion people, comprises 60% of the world’s population.
Like countries and cultures in Europe, most times we don’t even get along with our neighbours let alone share their taste in wine and food.
It’s too presumptuous to simplify things. Scratch a little under the surface and you will find that simplification is usually without any foundation or if there is one, that it is built of straw and toothpicks, liable to collapse with just a puff of common sense.
There is no ‘Chinese Palate’
Even China, with ‘just’ 1.35 billion people, does not have a so-called ‘Chinese palate’ that sees everyone sharing the same taste in wine and food.
In fact, China has the most diverse cuisine in the world. Just to name the ‘Eight Great Cuisines’, these are Yue (Guangdong), Huaiyang (Jiangsu), Lu (Shandong), Chuan (Sichuan), Xiang (Hunan), Zhe (Zhejiang), Min (Fujian) and Hui (Anhui). And there are another 14 provinces which, although they certainly have their own specialities, are not even named amongst those eight culinary traditions.
Apart from short-changing the other 14 provinces by enumerating just eight provincial cuisines, the simplification also does not take into account the fact that every province has several culinary styles within that one province. In Guangdong, for example, there are also the delicious Chaozhou and Kejia cuisines.
This column is too short to go into a more detailed elaboration of Chinese cuisine. If you wish to discover more of the dishes and their wine pairings, may I refer you to my Chinese/English bi-lingual complimentary e-book at www.108chinesepairings.com.
Tannins Must be Resolved and Evolved
When pairing red wine with food the Number One criterion is the state of the tannins.
Whether Chinese, French or any other cuisine, they share one common characteristic: they do not like young, fierce, raging, angry tannins.
So, for example, if you were to now pour Chateau Latour 2010 or Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino 2010 with, say, Xinjiang Roast Leg of lamb or Gigot d’Agneau, those otherwise great wines will not be ready for the delicious dishes. The pairing is spot-on but the timing is off by about 20 years.
You will be much better off drinking Chateau Beaumont Haut-Medoc 2005 or Villa Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva 2005 because the tannins have softened. The fruit has also entered into the secondary/tertiary stage and there are now whiffs of sandalwood, leather and autumn leaves accompanying the complex red/blue fruits. The tannins having been tamed by time, the overall sensation is a texturally smooth wine with intense long fruit. And not forgetting how fresh the Bordeaux and Tuscan reds are at 10 years young.
Smoothness is a texture desired not for itself but rather because it announces that the wine is ready. If, on the other hand, the tannins are still edgy and sticking out all over the place, the exuberant structure does nothing for food. Nor, for that matter, the drinker.
One place that exemplifies – and amplifies – the situation best is in Bordeaux, each spring, when journalists and wine merchants from around the world descend on the city to taste the preceding harvest otherwise known as the futures or en primeurs tasting.
At only six months, the wine are practically new borns. Sure we have to assess the tannins in relation to the overall balance and quality of the wine. In that sense, kissing the butt of raw tannins is part of the brief. But which journalist in his right mind would say, ‘Pour me another glass because I need to experience the puckering sensation of those bazooka tannins again’. Unless, of course, if you were a masochist.
Caressing Hands of Time
It’s not only wine that is at stake because whisky, cognac and armagnac producers also like their spirits smoothened by the caressing hands of time. Without, of course, sacrificing the rich intensity of their flavours and distinctive personalities.
Returning home to Singapore on Air France on my most recent trip, I popped into their lounge in Roissy Charles de Gaulle and was struck by the smooth yet intense spirits being offered: Cognac Tesseron X.O., Chateau du Tariquet Armagnac 12 Years Old and Glenlivet Single Malt 12 Years Old.
Apart from the tannins, those eaux de vie are, of course, also higher in alcohol than wine. They are 40%, 48% and 40% respectively. But just like wine, they too need time (and exposure to the wind and atmosphere of their respective environments) to soften and smoothen the rough edges of youth.
When that happens, what was originally a piece of coarse linen becomes a fabric of feathery silk or velvet as smooth as the face of the moon.