By The Glass


Wednesday, August 15, 2001

Pairing wine with
sweet dishes is a challenge

When it comes to wines, most people prefer dry. Because of this, one of our biggest challenges is pairing wines with dishes that have sweetness in the preparation.

Consider these two schools of thought: Look to complement sweetness with a wine that is as sweet as the dish. Or look to contrast the dish's sweetness with a dry selection. In both cases, we have had eye-opening experiences that were terrific.

It is important to note that you will not please everyone. The point is to consider the wide range of possibilities. After all, the proof in the pudding is in the tasting.

Sweetness could take the form of fruits (salsas, purées) or various forms of sugars used to sweeten sauces.

For these, we recommend dry wines that:

>> display youthful, fruit-driven character (from recent vintages)

>> have moderate or no oak character

>> have moderate to low alcohol levels (especially for spicy dishes)

>> for red wines, select softer, more supple styles.

As for sweet wines, in addition to the characteristics mentioned above, the perceived sweetness level of the wine should be close to or sweeter than that of the dish.

A few examples to consider:

Sashimi with Ponzu Sauce: The sweetness in this dish is in the ponzu sauce, mainly from the mirin. Consider a very youthful, dry, fruit-driven rosé (2000 vintage), light in body (low alcohol -- 10-to-11 percent) with good, crisp acidity, and minimal, if any, oakiness. As for a sweet selection, I always have a hankering for well-made, slightly sweet German Rieslings. They balance sweet and tartness, and enough flavor to cope with the sashimi and ponzu. I prefer selections from the northern areas around the Saar and Mosel Rivers.

Hoisin Barbecue Chicken: Hoisin sauce tends to be sweet, salty and pungent, varying in spiciness. For an appropriate dry selection, consider a semi-sparkling (fizzy), fruit-driven, red wine from Italy, Lambrusco. Make sure you serve it well-chilled. As for a sweet selection, again I recommend a Riesling, of the Spatlese or Auslese levels. The wine's sweetness will deliciously offset the hoisin's boldness, saltiness and sweetness. Try a Rhine-borne wine, because its earthy character would be better tuned in with the earthiness of hoisin.

Next time you're at your favorite wine shop, ask for wines like these or of similar styles, and check out the pairings yourself. Because everyone has an opinion, pairing wine and food can provide terrific table conversation. Isn't that what makes wine fun ?

Mark Shishido is manager for
Alan Wong's Restaurants.

This column is a weekly lesson in wine
pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals.
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