Sunday 17 November 2013

Outside-the-box wine/food pairing

What a memorable dinner: pairing Chinese food with a whole range of Lustau sherries, from Manzanilla to PX (Pedro Ximénez)!

Sherry, long viewed as an out-of-fashion drink for old ladies, is making a comeback. Trendy sherry bars frequented by equally fashionable young consumers are sprouting in London, and sherry cocktails are gaining in popularity.

But it's not just an aperitif or dessert wine. Sherry is in fact popular with food, especially tapas in Spain, and rightly so. The 'discovery' of how well it pairs with Chinese cuisine is good news for winos and foodies alike. Most Chinese food is robust and its intense flavours can kill even some of the boldest red wines. Pairing wines with dishes perceived to be lighter, like seafood or chicken, can also sometimes be tricky. Sherry, on the other hand, is highly versatile, thanks to its many styles (see below). The fino style is light on the palate but its 15-16% alcohol balances well with deep fried dishes. Its savoury and tangy aromas compliment the food, unlike some very fruity wines whose opulent fruit actually clashes with it. The heavier oloroso style, 18-20% alcohol, is weighty enough to stand up to heavily braised dishes, while its sweeter style is perfect with the generally sweeter Shanghainese cuisine.

This reminded me of the port and food pairing experience. Like sherry, port is a sweet fortified wine but supported by high acidity. It stands up well against the powerful fatty Northern Chinese cuisine. Indeed, a tawny port is a fine complement to hairy crab. Ingnacio López de Carrizosa, the Export Director of Lustau, reckons the Amontillado style sherry, with its oxidised aromas not dissimilar to Chinese yellow wine, is also a perfect pairing with hairy crab, and I couldn’t agree more. Both the port and the sherry have a similar intensity to the crab. It is then up to the diner whether they prefer the sweeter tawny or the drier Amontillado. By the way, there is also a sweeter style Amontillado.

Thanks to Chef Tsang at Ming Court and Zachary the wine guy (Zachary left Langham Place already at the time of writing), the evening meal was creative yet true to its origins (ie. Chinese). My favourite pairings were:

Lustau Puerto Fino Sherry Reserva with deep fried scallops and crab meat. OK, this was slightly westernised as the crab meat was mixed with cheese, but still it was delicious. The wine was dancing on the palate after the food rather than being overpowered by it.

Lustau Dry Amontillado Los Arcos Reserva with crisp baby pigeon. Although I felt sorry for the tiny pigeon, its tender yet powerful flavour was the perfect complement to the nutty and smoky Amontillado.

Lustau VORS 30 year old Palo Cortado with beef fried rice and black truffle. The intense truffle provided a nice contrast against the sweet-bitterness of the wine.

So next time don’t be afraid to experiment with innovative food and wine matching ideas. From champagne to fortified wine, there is always a dish (or more) to match!

Lustau wine is available from ASC Fine Wines.

For those who are not familiar with the different styles of sherry, here is an overview:

Fino: Biological maturation with a layer of yeast on top called 'flor', which prevents the wine from oxidising, results in unique acetaldehyde aromas (tangy, salty, herby) at about 15% alcohol. Pale colour, fresh and does not improve in bottle (so consume as soon as possible).

Manzanilla: Fino sherry matured in the town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, close to the Atlantic Ocean. The flor is thicker. It has a more intense tangy seaweed aroma and a more linear and lighter palate.

Oloroso: Oxidation maturation, ie. through contact with air. No flor layer. Brown colour with aromas of toffee, walnuts, prunes and spices. 18-20% alcohol. Can be dry or sweet.

Amontillado: Starts its life as Fino but is deliberately refortified to kill the flor and then continues to mature by oxidation, like Oloroso. Delicate aromas of both fino and oloroso. Can be dry or sweet.

Palo Cortado: Similar to Amontillado but the flor dies naturally rather than being killed deliberately. Similar characteristics to Amontillado but heavier as it is usually aged for a much longer time. A rare wine.

Pedro Ximénez: Opaque brown colour, intensely rich and sweet with 400-500 g/l sugar. Toffee, rancio, raisin, liquorice aromas.

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