This Wednesday I attended an engaging, exploratory lunch at Buddakan hosted by Wines of Germany and led by my friend Jeannie Cho Lee MW. Jeannie led about 35 New York City wine professionals through four courses paired with wines and enlightened us as to how the Asian Palate approaches the food and wine pairing exercise. Here are some of the take-aways I found most fascinating.

  • Aroma and flavor descriptors are most communicative when changed from Western to Asian references. Jeannie refers to different types of seaweed when communicating about herbaceousness and to fermented flavors, like black bean, soy and oyster sauce, when mentioning minerality.
  • Courses featuring umami flavors pair particularly well with the tertiary aromas of aged wines.
  • Texture plays a very important role in Asian cuisine. Whereas Westerners tend to measure how much acidity is apparent in a wine, Asians tend to focus on how acidity feels on the palate.
  • Aged reds and their creamy textures, from the mellowing of their tannins, make for a good pairing with silken tofu. Older Pinot Noir, or Spätburgunder, is magnificent!
  • The progression of food and wine in a Chinese meal is quite different from that at a Western table. In China, the best wines and the most expensive ingredients come out first, when your palate is the most receptive and the least fatigued.
  • And, finally, Asian fine wine consumers, being excellent students, are often better educated than writers and sommeliers. Many wine writers have been pulled from other desks or have had wine added to their docket, and many sommeliers are quite young and have not had as many opportunities to taste and travel. Hence, consumers tend not to seek out their advice. What a lesson to take to heart in trusting your own palate!