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March 21, 2013

Guest Post: Appreciating Wine

About the guest writer:

Farrell Tan, Founding Director, Orchan Consulting Asia

Farrell Tan

Farrell Tan is the co-founder of Orchan Consulting Asia, a full service public relations agency located in Kuala Lumpur. Having been in the marketing communications sector for the last 14 years, he considers public relations his calling, and has spent the better half of his career refining his skills to become a ‘well-rounded PR practitioner’.

Knowing your wines

When I received a message from Sue Lynn a few months back asking if I would contribute to her blog, I was too swamped with work to think of a topic, let alone to sit down and write. Fast forward a few months, I received a cute follow up message asking if I’d consider doing it now. Since my schedule had a lightened a tad bit, I thought ‘why not?’, and quickly said yes … until I realised that I had little clue as to what I’d like to write about!

So what does a PR practitioner do? He brainstorms with his colleagues, and yes, that took us a short while, before a unanimous decision deciding on topic that he/all figures is relevant, and also close to his heart: wine. Well, appreciating wine, that is. You see, the thing about wine, that I’ve come to realise over the years is that it’s extremely subjective, and that you, and only you, should be the one to decide if a bottle of wine is indeed ‘good wine’.

I used to spend hours (and I mean HOURS) deciding if a bottle of wine is right for the occasion. It would get worse when I get invited to a friend’s place, and receive the dreaded ‘bring a nice bottle of wine’ response when asked if I should bring anything. I’d then call up my slightly more knowledgeable friends, sometimes in a panic, to seek advice so as to not to embarrass myself. The thing I realised (much, much later on) is that you’re never going to get it 100% right, simply because wine is truly a matter of preference. That said, it doesn’t mean that you can’t cover your bases and get MOST of it right…

Just like adding milk into coffee will change its texture and taste, food when interacting with wine will affect its flavour (tannin, acidity, and sweetness). In fact, different ingredients and preparation methods will bring out different taste sensations with the same bottle of wine. Honestly, there are thousands of books offering rules and guidelines on food and wine pairings. For example, “red with meat; white with fish” or “full-bodied red with heavy dish; fruity white with lighter dish”. These books are great to read. But for those cannot sit through 10 pages, I’d like offer a quick and easy version.

Pairing wines with different cuisine

There is really one universal food and wine pairing rule: A good pairing is when the food and wine do not overshadow each other. Each of us has different taste preference. Some prefer complementary pairings – delicate dish with delicate wines. Others would prefer contrasting flavors – for example, a sweet wine to make a salty dish stronger. Thus the universal pairing principle: wine and food can complement or contract each other, as long as they do not mask each other’s unique flavour and characteristics.

I learned when pairing food, you are really complementing or contrasting four elements: weight, flavor intensity, taste, and smell. The way the dish is prepared and cooked will affect these elements. For example, the body/weight and the flavour intensity of chicken rendang or even bak kut teh is different from that of say, porridge, or chicken noodle soup. Or the smell/aroma of tom yum soup versus that of mushroom soup. When you factor in the final bit, which is taste (which could range from sweet, spicy, acidic, sour, bitter, or the inclusion of different spices), you should be able to derive the almost-perfect bottle of wine to accompany your meal.

Being a food lover, and being exposed to different types of cuisine, I have constructed a wine list in my head (yes, on top of my many PR-related to-do lists) on the type of food that I enjoy, with the almost-perfect bottle of wine.

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Say I’m the mood for Western. I look at the items I’m about to eat, and I then de-construct accordingly. Assuming that I feel like having chicken e.g. grilled chicken, or Chicken Maryland, I’ll pair it with a Chardonnay, which I know goes well with any chicken dish. If I feel like salad, I’ll pair it a herby white, such as a Sauvignon Blanc or even a Pinot Blanc.

When I feel like loading up on my protein without sacrificing my diet, I’ll have steamed or grilled fish and pair it with light medium bodied wine such as a Pinot Grigio; days when I’m carbo-loading, I’ll have a Chianti or Pinot Blanc with my (red sauce) pasta, or a Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay with my white sauce pasta – which is most likely, thick, creamy, sinful carbonara with lots and lots of (real) ham… drool.

Whilst I’m not a big meat eater, I do enjoy a good steak every now and then. Assuming that I’m having it at one of my Client’s restaurants in Pavilion or KLCC — that serve really good Wagyu beef — I’ll make sure that I have a bottle of my favourite Cabernet or a Bordeaux red to make every single morsel a tad bit juicier. If they run out of both, I’ll simply replace it with another full-bodied red, which I know goes well with red meat.

On days when I’m in touch with my roots, I’ll have a Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc or a Pinot Noir and pair it with my favourite Yong Chow fried rice and sweet & sour pork, or Hokkein mee with a side of oyster sauce kalian; and on days when I’m in touch with my Indian side (I’m apparently 1.25% Indian, go figure), I’ll have a Chardonnay with my garlic naan and tandoori, or my Fierce mutton briyani or banana leaf rice.

On weekends, when I usually crave Japanese or Thai, I’ll make sure to bring along my favourite bottle of Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling — if I’m having the former; a Chardonnay to balance the heat and acidity of the latter.

Oh, and one thing I did learn early on, yet I still see people doing, is putting ice cubes in red wine. What a NO-NO! That should be the first thing to learn about wine – never dilute!

I hope that this has inspired you to trust your palate and instincts a bit better. And in case you’re wondering why I didn’t include more ‘obscure’ Malaysian dishes into the list of Asian cuisine, it is because it is something that I’m still learning and discovering. Once I can safely tell you how to pair tempoyak or cincalok with a red, or durian cendol or tau fu fah with a white, I’ll write another blog post. But until then, happy experimenting!

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I know of many people like Farrell, who love experimenting with wine pairings. I’ve been invited to several wine pairing dinners over the past 3-4 years — some great, some not so great. You won’t always get the perfect match; but after a few tries, you’ll more or less get it right. I still think the best wine pairing dinner I had to date is at Mezze — Sancerre wines from Fournier Winery and delectable French dishes by Baptiste Fournier.

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