Much has been written about the Asian palate and its new-found love of embracing high value wine brands.

And often come reports of pairing such high brow drops with soft drinks.

So I was much relieved to recently read Asian Palate, Korean-born Hong Kong-based Jeannie Cho Lee MW’s scoop of the best wine pairings with Cantonese, Shanghainese, Northern Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, Korean, Central Thai, Peranakan, Singaporean, West Indian, Punjabi and South Indian cuisines.

This style of book writing has been a glaring omission from any East Asian sommeliers’ bookshelf and has now systematically detailed how wine styles dovetail into the enjoyment of a wide range of cultural flavours.

Future food lecturing in Asian restaurants about how to select, pair and harmonise our table wines is going to be somewhat easier.

Jeannie unlocks the first aspect of gridlock that Caucasians encounter among the Chinese culture – that of a profound liking for red wine. In fact she underlines the translation of “wine” to mean “putaojiu” or grape alcohol which we would see as brandy or cognac etc, spirit at 40 percent alcohol. Funnily enough Chinese usage does not capture this as grape origin wine either!

A better translation is “honhjiu” or “red alcohol” which explains even more the preference to drink red wine even before the health experts proclaimed the cardiovascular protection from the red grape or its wine.

This author establishes the Asian food building blocks of taste as the five s’s: sweet, sour, salty (the basic tastes) plus spicy and smoky, also suggesting that these are the fundamental s’s challenging each Asian at meal time.

She then goes on to address the four fundamentals of everybody’s taste; sweet, sour, salty, bitter then added that elusive but texture-grabbing sensation of umami (in food technical terms an amino acid -glutamic acid, the ingredient in stocks.) This makes many of us salivate when very hungry as we commence to eat.

As Asian cultures are more likely grab some green tea or a beer as a more familiar digestive or palate soother, some easily recalled suggestions about wine groups to drink from is applaudable, and is provided very clearly in this book.

For each origin cuisine there is a detailed taste Checklist: zero to five in intensity for salt, sweet, bitter, sour, spice, umami and flavour intensity.

Next in the Checklist is the wine taste scale; zero to five in intensity for sweet (sugar), sour (acidity), tannin (drying sensation), body (texture), flavour intensity, and finish (impression).

Jeannie is inviting hosts, chefs, sommeliers or whoever to make two easy but fundamental decisions about how and what wine they serve.

First analyse your food tastes from Asian Palate table, page 26 for Cantonese flavours, all dishes you serve.

Second use some palate dissection of suitable wines, again using Asian Plate table page 26, and “voila” make some decisions about a pairing.

If unsure, I’d suggest choosing two wines, a little diverse from each other, say one red, one white to learn from the process.

For more information ; Asian Palate USD 98 from Asset Publishing HK.

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