They say the world keeps getting smaller. If you want to get from Delhi to London, or from Sydney to Siena, nowadays you don’t need to do much more than book a flight - you can be at your destination within 24 hours, no matter where on the planet it may be.
This speed of movement is something that would have been utterly inconceivable to our ancestors. But people have always traveled, and cultures have always merged together, bringing the best bits of faraway lands closer to home.
This coming together of people and places has had no greater impact than at the dining table; the foods we eat and the wines we fill our glasses with is the glorious result of generations of exploration and migration, a celebration of all life has to offer.
Walk down any high street in London today, and you’ll never be more than a hundred metres from an Indian restaurant: an homage to the Victorian obsession with spices and the times of the Raj.
Now, in the twenty-first century, every major city centre in the world comes complete with Italian trattorias, Greek tavernas, sushi joints and kimchi bars. Our palates are expanding with our horizons, and this truly is an exciting time to be alive.
For us wine lovers, this expansion of gastronomic possibilities poses some very serious questions. Which wines pair with the new, exotic, spicy and powerful flavours which come in new waves of fashion every year?
We are more than familiar now with the cuisines of the Old World, of Parisian street food and Tuscan rustic cooking, and we know how to pair wines with the classics - whole libraries have been written on the subject, should we need to brush up on our traditional wine matches.
But how do establish great pairings for less familiar flavours, for dishes which come from lands where there is no tradition of winemaking or wine drinking?
Here’s a brief starter for you, based on three famous foods from Asia. From these, you can think about further pairings, basing them on similar flavour profiles.
Go forth, and discover the world through wine!
1. Wine Pairings for Sushi
Apart from affordable cars, micro-technology, and very strange cartoons, sushi is probably Japan’s greatest contribution to the world.
Why do we love it so much? It’s fast, it’s fresh, it’s completely delicious and brilliantly varied, and they say that the key ingredients of pickled rice, raw fish and seaweed all come together to form one of the healthiest diets there is.
If you combine the life-lengthening properties of this wonderful food with the antioxidant cleansing properties of a good bottle of wine… well, maybe you’ll still be nifty with your chopsticks in the next century.
The Japanese wine industry is actually a well established one, and we’re beginning to see bottles of grape-based Japanese wine in some of the bolder wine stores nowadays. I think it will still be a few years before they’re commonplace, however.
You can find some great wines for pairing with sushi at any good wine shop, though - you need to look out for those wines which are delicate enough to allow the subtle notes of the sushi to come through, while still being fresh, acidic and muscular enough to take on the soy, wasabi and ginger which every good sushi dish needs. For me, the answer to this riddle comes in the form of a Pinot Blanc.
If you want the best for your sushi supper, look no further than the beautiful wines of Alto Adige, an alpine region of northern Italy where the best Pinot Blanc wines have all the freshness and delightful minerality of a mountain stream.
Perfect for cleansing your palate between mouthfuls of fragrant Japanese fare, and full of gentle, soft white fruit tones which will bring out the lighter flavours of the fish and rice. Delicious!
2. Classic Indian Curries and Wine
Very few global cuisines have had anywhere near the impact that India has had on the western world. Indian food was originally brought to England by colonial civil servants in the early 19th century, and almost immediately, a whole nation was hooked on the spicy, fiery, aromatic flavours of the subcontinent.
The Anglo-Indian cuisine was born; combining rich, spicy and buttery gravies with meat and veg - a version of India’s food fit for western palates - and it was this version of India’s culinary style which most of the world went on to imitate.
Despite its prevalence, Indian food is notoriously difficult to pair wines with (a good cold lager and a hot curry is pretty hard to beat, to be honest). However, if you look at some of the standard, globally-popular curries out there, it definitely can be done to great effect.
Butter Chicken and Chicken Tikka Masala bring together tomato-rich, creamy sauces with spiced meat. These dishes are both crying out for a good Sauvignon Blanc; clean, full-bodied and acidic, ready to clean your palate and keep you reaching for more.
I’d even risk a Beaujolais here, for that tomato balance, or a bottle of off-dry Riesling if your curry is on the sweeter side, enriched with ground almonds and coconut. When it comes to classic Indian curries, be bold and experiment - no matter what people say, there are some brilliant pairings to be found.
3. Thai Curries and Wine
Thai food became globally popular around twenty years ago, taking the world by storm. For a while, it was the fashionista’s choice of cuisine, and it’s easy to see why. The Thai philosophy of cuisine is one which is all about balance.
It takes savoury, sweet, spicy and bitter flavours, and makes them dance together on your tongue, working in harmony and becoming far more than the sum of their parts. Indeed, they say that Thailand is one of the only places on earth where it is impossible to eat badly.
This balancing act of flavour profiles makes Thai food really quite hard to pair with wine. Interestingly, wine drinking in Thailand is on the up and up (although the domestic wine industry still has a long way to go) and cities like Bangkok are awash with talented sommeliers, so every day people are exploring new combinations.
Thai food is all about subtle, complementary flavours, underset by a deep chilli heat, and the trick to pairing wine with Thai food like green curry, fish curries and coconut-based dishes is to focus on the aromatic, floral nature of the food, and seek out floral wines.
For fishy Thai dishes, Viognier is my wine of choice. The slightly oily, floral wonders of a good Viognier are often set off by beautiful flavours of exotic fruits like lychee, which is just gorgeous alongside Thai crab, lobster and squid dishes. For the red and green curries, try Gewurztraminer or Pinot Gris - they really do the trick!
Now that you already know which wines pair best with these exotic cuisines, it's time to find out if these wines perfectly suit your personal taste! Put your palate to the test and discover wines that you will love! Take our quiz below to find out your top 3 wine types.