Remember when the food-wine pairing gurus would automatically say Riesling or Gewurztraminer when asked what wine to pair with Asian food? It didn’t matter what dish, or even which culture or cuisine. Asian = spicy, and therefore the wine should be sweet, or at least a little sweet.
There’s some logic to that. Sweetness in the wine helps tame the heat of spicy dishes, while the heat dries the wine a bit, making it taste less sweet. But of course, not all Asian dishes or even all cuisines are spicy, and many of them can be impressively complex. The key to me is fruity and fun.
There’s always fun at my house when my mother-in-law makes her Sweet & Sour Chicken. Bonnie Benwick, the interim food editor at The Washington Post thought so too, when she tasted it, and invited herself back for a cooking lesson. You can read Bonnie’s account and my MIL’s recipe, on the Post’s All We Can Eat blog. Bonnie calls it “The Best Sweet & Sour Chicken. Period.” You won’t hear me disagreeing.
And although this dish isn’t spicy, a Riesling would be the ideal choice to match the sweetness in the sauce. Think fruity and slightly off-dry, such as the Sawtooth 2011 Riesling from Idaho’s Snake River Valley ($14). It’s bright and fruity, much like the dish, with nice acidity to balance the barely perceptible residual sugar. This winery also makes a red blend called Skyline Red ($14) that would make a suitable alternative as it’s light and fruity, with some mineral earthiness but little or no oak influence.
Recently I exclaimed at the dinner table, “Taiwanese mother-in-law — everyone should have one!” My 12-year-old daughter blurted out, “There aren’t enough old ladies in Taiwan!” I got lucky.