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.


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

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