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Jeannie Cho Lee’s Top 7 Tips on Pairing Wine with Malaysian Food

Asian Master of Wine Jeannie Cho Lee hares with us her top tips on pairing wine with Malaysia’s diverse culinary flavours

by / Published: 16 Dec 2014

Jeannie Cho Lee’s Top 7 Tips on Pairing Wine with Malaysian Food
We recently sat in on an exclusive Lucaris Master of Wine Seminar in Kuala Lumpur where we had the chance to chat with Jeannie Cho Lee, the first Asian Master of Wine and author of ‘Asian Palate’, which explores wine and complex Asian food pairings. 
 
Having previously lived in Kuala Lumpur back in the 1990s (Bangsar to be exact!), the South Korean-born, Hong Kong-based wine consultant to Singapore Airlines shares with us her top tips on pairing wine with Malaysia’s diverse culinary flavours. 
 
Here are Jeannie’s top wine pairing tips:
 
#1  IGNORE THE CLASSIC COMBINATIONS
The typical red/meat and white/fish rule does not work due to the varying condiments used in Malaysian dishes.
 
For instance, belacan, sambal and tamarind can easily overpower a wine. Choose a wine to work with the strong flavours present in the dish instead of matching it with the type of meat used. 
 
 
#2 GO FOR GREAT ACIDITY & A REFRESHING CHARACTER
Choose a wine that is high in acidity and refreshing to cleanse the palate so you can enjoy another mouthful of beef rendang or nasi lemak instead of letting the spices sit and fight for attention with the wine. 
 
Jeannie suggests: beef rendang and acar with cabernet sauvignon
 
 
#3  BEWARE THE TANNINS
Chilli + soy sauce + tannins = no
 
Tannins in a wine will prolong the taste of chilli in a dish. Put the two together and they will simply exaggerate each other, leaving you overwhelmed. Soy sauce and tannins are also a big no-no. 
 
Jeannie suggests: Seafood/vegetable curry and pinot noir
 
 
#4  MATCH & CONTRAST
Opt to match quality with quality, intensity with intensity, or seek contrasting combinations. Match quality ingredients with high end wines, or an intensely flavoured dish with a bold wine.
 
Alternatively, seek to contrast: serve a light wine with an intense dish or a full wine with a humble dish. 
 
Jeannie suggests:  Fish assam and Riesling
 
 
#5 THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE LEADER
However, having said that, there can only be one leader. If you have to choose between highlighting the dish or the wine, let the wine lead. If you enjoy the wine, use less chilli in the dish. 
 
 
#6  WORK IN PROGRESS
Achieving a perfect pairing is always a work in progress. Before the course, taste the wine on its own to test and understand the integrity of the wine.
 
Curry is always challenging
 
There will always be issues pairing with sambal as the taste varies according to the cook (e.g. sweeter/spicier) and the amount of the chilli paste used in the dish. 
 
Don’t be afraid to play around. The success of pairing with dishes that use fish sauce and other fermented ingredients depends on the amount used in the dish. 
 
 
#7  LASTLY, HAVE A GO-TO WINE
You can’t go wrong with champagne, for the number one reason that it is expensive!
 
A fail-safe go-to wine to bring to a Malaysian-style potluck party would be chardonnay or rosé. An oak aged chardonnay and coconut milk is a winning combination.
 
Though sparkling wine may be a no-brainer, it is interesting to note that people in China are not too fond of the bubbles as it is said to have bad chi and is deemed to be too acidic. 
 
Jeannie suggests: Nasi lemak and chardonnay
 
 
BONUS:
We asked the same question to Cape Mentelle Vineyard’s Estate Director Cameron Murphy and Cloudy Bay’s viticulturist Jim White for their opinion on the best go-to wine.
 
Their answer? While they both agree with Jeannie’s suggestions, they add that the best wine to bring to a party is a wine that you enjoy drinking. Very cheeky!
 
 
Discovered the ultimate wine pairing with your favourite Malaysian dish? Share your thoughts with us by leaving a comment below!
 

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