THE SEAFOOD COMPANION
Pairing Wine with Local Seafood
The glib answer to the question of which wine to serve with seafood is, of course, a crisp, dry white. While that might suffice for a plate of raw oysters or a bowl of braised mussels, it is much too narrow to accommodate the rich and complex flavours of Singapore’s specialities. The true flavour of these multi-textured dishes—whatever the main ingredient—is determined by the cooking method (stewing, stir-frying, barbecuing), the sauce (from curries to sweet and sour) and the blend of seasonings that result in an intriguing overlap of bold taste sensations. Let’s take a closer look at the dishes for which Singapore is famous and the wines that will enhance the pleasure of eating them.
Two recipes that often vie for the title of Singapore’s national dish are chilli crab and black pepper crab. Both are said to have first appeared on restaurant menus in the 1950s. Now considered staples of local cuisine, they each have devoted fans who will happily argue over which is better. There is a lot to discuss on this theme because, although the main ingredient is the same, the flavour, textures and aromas are very different indeed.
With chilli crab, the crabs are stir-fried in a dense, pungent, sweet and savoury sauce, which leaves the crabmeat tender and succulent. Lightly sweet whites made from such varieties as Gewurztraminer, Chenin Blanc, Muscat or Riesling echo and enhance the rich spiciness of the sauce and cleanse the palate for the next delicious mouthful. If you prefer reds, pick one that is fruit-driven and juicy, such as wines made from Grenache, Gamay (the grape used in Beaujolais) or Lambrusco.
Black pepper crab, on the other hand, is stir-fried with crushed black peppercorns. As it is not cooked in a sauce, its texture is drier, and stir-frying adds a smoky element to the sweet fleshiness of the crab. A medium-bodied, fruity red or rosé is an excellent foil for the peppercorns, while the mellow texture of the wine echoes that of the crab. A sparkling rosé is a stylish choice. Its effervescence creates a tingling sensation on the palate, and its colour pleases the eye.
Two prawn-based dishes are also at the top of the list of Singapore favourites: butter prawns and assam prawns. Highly aromatic curry leaves make butter prawns a very fragrant dish, while the coconut milk helps create a silky
texture on the palate. A good match can be made with a juicy, medium-bodied white. Try unoaked wines made from Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Colombard, Semillon, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Grigio or Vermentino.
With assam prawns, it is the potent and pungent tamarind in which the prawns are marinated and fried that determines the choice of wine. This multi-flavoured and textured dish calls for a supple, fragrant wine with a touch of sweetness and zippy acidity. But beware: a wine that is too sweet will accentuate the tamarind’s sourness.
A demi-sec Vouvray (Chenin Blanc is the grape variety) is an excellent partner. Its mellow sweetness combines with the chilli to create a lush, rounded sensation in the mouth, while its crispness sets off the nutty, almondlike flavour of the candlenuts.
Recipes for tender, delicately flavoured Chinese-style braised abalone often include a small amount of pork as well as chicken stock. These ingredients impact upon the flavour of the final dish, as does the zingy taste of ginger. Choose a lightly effervescent dry-ish Lambrusco. With its mellow fruitiness and creamy mouthfeel, this wine enriches the food’s overall texture and flavour.
Sambal stingray is barbecued and covered in sambal sauce, a thick blend of spices based on chillies, combined with lime juice or vinegar. Once again, it is the sauce, with its sweet, savoury, nutty, smoky flavour, that sets the tone for a wine pairing. In this case, you can make a successful match with off-dry whites. The rich flavour of these wines enfolds and subdues the spicy element in the food. For instance, a Muscat/Moscato or a Riesling Spatlese would work well. For those who relish the fiery heat of chilli, try a demi-sec sparkling wine. The effervescence of such sparklers creates a lively tingle on the palate that echoes the sensation of the chilli. If you want a red, go for a cold (and I mean really cold) Beaujolais or Dolcetto.
Egg dishes can be tricky. This is due to the fact that the unctuous texture and vaguely buttery, savoury flavour of eggs can sometimes create a metallic note on the palate when paired with wines. But do not despair. A time-tested match is readily available in sparkling wine.
In the case of an oyster omelette, a crémant-style sparkler would be ideal. The term ‘crémant’ indicates a sparkling wine that has a lower internal pressure in the bottle: this means the wine will be frothier and have a more mouth-filling sensation, rendering it softer and seemingly more fruity. The effervescence in the sparkling wine will brighten the flavour, while its acidity cuts through the oiliness of the eggs, refreshing the palate and balancing the flavours of the oysters. Also, its creamy texture echoes that of the fluffy omelette.
FOOD COURT TIPPLES
But which one wine should you and your friends decide on when you meet up at the food court and order different items?
First, let’s make clear the two categories to avoid: high tannin reds and oaky whites. Tannin is usually perceived as having an astringent mouthfeel and a slightly bitter flavour that often collides rather than combines with spices. Tannins are found in the skins of certain grape varieties (such as Cabernet Sauvignon) and in the oak staves used to produce barrels. It is best to pass on heavily oaked Chardonnays and powerful Cabs.
Instead, choose a crisp, fruity rosé—either still or sparkling. It is a safe bet for a flavour match with a wide variety of foods and it provides a bit of pleasure for the eye with its lively, appealing colour. So, sip your chilled glass of rosé and revel in the rich, heady flavours of Singapore.
Below There is a wine for every dish and occasion Opposite page Sparkling wines cut through the oiliness while balancing the oyster’s distinct flavours