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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Making wine flexible and fun

By Dennis Khng

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Saigon’s food and beverage scene has been undergoing many changes over the last few years, but one trend has been steadily growing—the interest in wines

From District 1 to District 7, you see more wine bars, wine shops and a greater selection of wines in restaurants, especially Western wines. If you’re starting to dip your feet in this area, it is without a doubt exciting! But it can also be difficult.

So many new names to remember, and in so many languages! Add to that the sheer variety of wine grapes and wine styles. Frankly, where do you start?

Wine pairing
I have been exploring wine country, so to speak, for years, and one of the first things newbies always ask is: What wine goes with what food?

Most will think wine only goes with Western food. And perhaps that is why wine is mainly available in Western restaurants in this city. Truth is, wine can go with almost any kind of cuisine. It matches Chinese Dim Sum, it lifts Mexican Burritos and goes wonderfully with Vietnamese Banh Mi.

Yes, there are wines that are multi-layered, complex, and highly structured. And, indeed, best enjoyed with more sophisticated dishes. But today’s sheer variety of wines, viticultural styles and production techniques have made wines a flexible and fun, but always elegant companion to your meal of the moment.

Here are five wine pairing ideas for you to check out. They are all paired with everyday Vietnamese dishes.

Goi Cuon—Vietnamese fresh spring rolls. Au naturel. One of my favorite dishes. You could have a party with this as appetizers. Select a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. The green and grassy taste of the wine, with its mineral-after-taste, will go superbly with the vegetables, prawns and delicate rice paper. The usual dips, such as fish or peanut sauce, are not so strong that they overpower the refreshing style of this white wine.

Bun Bo Hue—This delicious beef rice noodle dish from Hue, Central Vietnam, is now found everywhere in Saigon and is characterized by its rich, thick, slightly sourish and spicy broth, derived from beef bones, beef shank, and lemongrass, among other ingredients. Try an Australian Shiraz with this. Its spicy flavor notes will complement perfectly the spicy broth, while the fruit-forward, mildly sweet style of this red wine will pair well with the subtle sweetness in the broth.

Bo Kho—Vietnamese beef stew. This hearty dish begs for a hearty wine. I recommend a Côtes du Rhône, Red. The rich spiciness of this signature red wine from the Rhone Valley, France, comes with meaty tannins (giving that dryness on your tongue and gums) which will help digest the sumptuous beef and tendons.

Pho Ga—Vietnamese chicken soup noodles. Originating from Hanoi, but found throughout Vietnam these days, try this fantastic anytime-dish with an Italian Pinot Grigio. I love the way Vietnamese do their chicken noodles. They add lots of flavorful chicken meat, some on the bone, with skin, and sometimes, other chicken parts. It makes for a slightly oily, light soup, which the oiliness of the Pinot Grigio will support. The medium tannins of this white wine will work through the oils, too, and match the chicken and pho.

Com chien hai san—Vietnamese seafood fried rice. A staple in many local, street-side Saigonese restaurants, and one of my favorites. Choose a Spanish Albarino. From the seacoast of Rias Baixas in Galicia Province, Northwestern Spain, this stellar White has a saltiness which will harmonize with the salty flavors from the seafood and garlic. Overlaying that is its lovely creaminess, and long but rounded tannic aftertaste. This will complement the richness of the dish and add a nice balance to the meal.

All this talk about food and wine is already making me hungry!

In selecting your wines, the standard rule of thumb is to go with wines that match the taste of your food. And so—spicy food, spicy wine. Both food and wine should not overpower each other, but rather complement to create a simply delicious experience. Truth is, food and wine pairing is not an exact science, but more an art derived from experience and experimentation.

So go ahead and try that bottle with your own unique pairings. Just do it.

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