Skip to Content

Wines to pair with your bak chor mee, nasi biryani and durian

by October 27, 2016 General

An international wine expert specially flown in for Cold Storage International Wine Fair shares about his wine with a shopper. — Picture courtesy of Cold Storage An international wine expert specially flown in for Cold Storage International Wine Fair shares about his wine with a shopper. — Picture courtesy of Cold Storage

SINGAPORE, Oct 28 — Pairing Asian hawker food with a glass of wine might sound a tad unconventional, but according to the experts at this year’s Cold Storage International Wine Fair, it is completely possible if you give it a try (and ignore the fact that you are downing something fancy while eating a S$3/RM9 meal).

The best way to pair wines with Asian food boils down to deciding if you want the wine to complement the dish or vice versa, they said.

This, said Roderic Proniewski, director of Asia Wine Network and Caviro brand ambassador for South-east Asia, is to ensure that one complements instead of overshadowing the other. 

“If wine is your priority, then you should choose a more expressive and intense wine,” he explained.

For bolder and complex flavours most commonly found in dishes such as nasi biryani, laksa and babi ponteh, Proniewski recommends going for either a “crisp or round wine (good body, but not overly tannic)”. 

“In most cases, a white or lighter red on the fruity side will handle the extreme flavours better; I would recommend mainly non-tannic reds.”

That said, it helps to have an open mind, shared Alvin Sivam, a certified specialist of wine representing Robert Oatley Vineyards at the fair, which will run until Sunday.

He pointed out that one could also choose to simply balance the oiliness of the food with highly acidic wine. 

But to tackle difficult flavours, such as the decidedly spicy, sour or fermented ones, it helps to start with determining the base ingredient. 

“For example, belachan is made of shrimp, so you would think of it from a seafood perspective; and if you know the base is seafood, you work towards a nice white Chardonnay,” he continued.

Then you move on to the sauces, which can be light, creamy or heavy. 

“For instance, laksa is spicy with a creamy texture, bak kut teh is light because it is water-based, but it also has a lot of spices,” Sivam shared.

Sometimes, though, it may be as simple as finding the right bubbly for the job. 

Mumm Champagne brand ambassador Marie Deloffre said a champagne made with a high percentage of pinot noir should pair well with the complexity of such foods. But always start with identifying the strongest flavour in the dish and try to match or complement it. 

“This is especially important with local foods that are usually explosions of flavours and what makes them difficult to pair with in the first place,” Deloffre added.

That being said, she reaffirmed that the first rule of food and wine pairing is to never ever take it too seriously. 

“While there are general guidelines of wine pairing, there have been just as many occasions where those rules were refuted and amazing pairing combinations were discovered; combinations that would have never happened if we followed the rulebook religiously.”

What about a problematic but hugely popular fruit like durian? 

“With the rich, creamy, bitter durian, a round fresh and fruity red such as a (sparkling) Lambrusco is a great match,” said Proniewski, while Deloffre recommended a fruity wine, before declaring she prefers the durians “neat”.

Here are a few more wine recommendations to have with your favourite local foods.

Bak Chor Mee

Deloffre recommends a Mumm rose. 

“The pinot base with creamy red fruits and roses on the nose, makes it a natural match in strength to the bak chor mee’s flavours. Earthiness from the pinot noir matches the stewed mushrooms and rustic flavors in the dish as well. The fine mousse helps to cleanse the palate of the slight grease and vinegar in the sauce.”

Sivam recommends a Robert Oatley Signature Series Chardonnay. 

“The Chardonnay is lightly oaked with a long fine acidity … The wine goes well with the fishballs and the fine acidity balances out the spiced noodles.”

Char Kway Teow 

Deloffre recommends a Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc. 

“This dish would do best with a well-balanced white wine, fruity yet with fresh acidity. My suggestion will be a New Zealand sauvignon blanc. The wine is lightweight, juicy and refreshing, with flavours of lime and passionfruit with hints of minerality to match the oceanic flavours (cockles). The wine also has sufficient acidity to help cut through the oiliness while being not too complex and congesting the plethora of flavours that already exist in the dish.”

Proniewski recommends a Leonardo Brunello Di Montalcino. 

“The rich (red) wine will match the rich food.”

Sivam recommends the Robert Oatley Signature Series Sauvignon Blanc. 

“The Sauvignon Blanc is light, crisp and citrusy, so it cuts through the oiliness and fattiness of the dish. The wine also brings out the ‘char’ or ‘wok hei’ on the aftertaste.”


Proniewski recommends a Leonardo Prosecco. 

“The fresh and bubbly notes of the wine pair well with the coconut and spice.”

Sivam recommends a Robert Oatley Chardonnay Finisterre. 

“Laksa is spicy and the coconut milk provides the richness and ‘lemak’ in it. This chardonnay has ample texture of buttery and creamy notes, so it complements the laksa gravy well and the underlying citrus blossom balances the spiciness.”

Fish head curry 

Sivam recommends a Hancock & Hancock Shiraz Grenache. 

“Shiraz brings out the peppery spices of the curry, while the grenache gives more lightness and brightness, which does not overpower the fish.”

Proniewski recommends Romio Pinot Grigio. 

“The crispiness of the wine enhances the flavour of the fish.”

Nasi biryani 

Sivam recommends a Robert Oatley Signature Series Shiraz. 

“Shiraz has blueberries and hints of spices which complement the spices in the biryani. When paired with lamb or beef biryani, the fleshy texture and the soft tannins match perfectly.”

Proniewski recommends a Leonardo Chianti Riserva. 

“The complexity of the wine complements the complexity of the dish.” — TODAY

* The Cold Storage International Wine Fair is on until Oct 30 at Plaza Singapura, Main Atrium, Level One.