By The Glass
Filipino food demands wine with good acidity
ALTHOUGH I am Filipino and was raised on some of the best Filipino food around, I can understand why it's not considered haute cuisine. The food does not have a tremendous amount of delicacy, nor is the preparation complex, as is true with many other ethnic cuisines.
What Filipino food does offer is a host of strong flavors, mainly from salty fish-based sauces especially bagoong and patis. It also offers plenty of fresh ingredients and simple yet heart-warming flavors.
And yes, many people have asked me what wine is best to drink with these foods.
Here are several classic dishes and the wines, I've found to go with them:
» Adobo comes in so many forms: Pork, chicken and even squid are prepared in this soy sauce and vinegar style. The exact formula depends on which town in the Philippines you come from. My mom uses bay leaves, garlic and whole peppercorns. Others add ginger. But the main flavors are the salty soy and tangy vinegar, which is the antithesis to wine.
Vinegar's high acidity requires a wine to match. Italian sangiovese has a bright acidity that pairs nicely. My recommendation is the 2002 Fattoria di Felsina Chianti Classico ($19) from one of the most highly regarded houses in all Chianti. It is 100 percent sangiovese, unlike most blended versions, and it sings with vibrant ripe cherries and savory, herbal notes that lead to a supremely elegant and stately textured palate.
» Pansit also comes in many different forms, dependent on type of noodle and many added ingredients. My favorite is made with chicken, mushrooms, carrots, cabbage and wood-ear fungus. This dish has an oily texture, with a slight earthiness. A lightly oaked chardonnay does best. Try the 2003 Robert-Denogent Pouilly Fuisse La Croix ($27). This old-vine chardonnay packs a wonderfully intense flavor with bright, almost tropical fruit, essences. Its touch of oak matches up to the texture of the noodles, but is not overpowering. It also offers a light earthiness that melds with the mushroom and wood-ear.
» Now for the hearty, not heart-healthy, portion of the Filipino table -- lechon. This fried or roasted belly meat is often dipped into bagoong sauce for added saltiness and flavor. It is crunchy and rich, so it requires a tremendously rich wine. I like it with grenache, a richly textured red with a succulent mouthfeel. I suggest the 2004 Betts & Scholl Grenache ($25) from the Barossa Valley in South Australia. This berry-scented, old-vine grenache is loaded with fruit, but is amazingly lithe. It cuts through the fattiness of the lechon with its tannin and texture.
» And what Filipino table would be complete without a huge pot of stewed vegetables in a bagoong or patis-based broth? Some call it pinakbet, other call it sari-sari. It may include okra, eggplant, bittermelon, wing beans, string beans and more, all cooked in the broth with some lechon added for flavor. The saltiness of the broth and the bitterness of the vegetables calls for a dry riesling. Try the 2004 Pike's Riesling ($20) from Clare Valley, South Australia. It has a beautifully pungent aroma of tropical citrus and flowers, with acidity and balance to harmonize with the fishy, salty sauce of the dish.
I was once asked what I would like to eat in heaven. My answer: My mom's pinakbet and rice. I'll take the food for the soul and the best bottle of riesling heaven has to offer. Now that's haute cuisine.
Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier and wine educator with Southern Wine & Spirits.
This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org