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Cheese and wineTorsten Schon

The question

I am from a Korean heritage and my wife comes from a Chinese heritage. When we cook for ourselves, it's always non-Asian fare and we usually have a full-bodied cab, carmenere or syrah etc. However, at times, when our parents come over or we go over there, we eat Korean or Chinese food. Korean food has a lot of spicy dishes. I love it but it doesn't go well with any of the wines I usually drink. Does any wine go with Korean food? I have the same question for Chinese dishes.

The answer

Korean food does tend to present a challenge for wine, which is why most drinkers go for beer, soju or sake. But, as always, it depends on the specific dish.

As you suggest, the main red flag is spice. This often arrives in the form of hot-pepper flakes or chili paste, though seasonings and preparations certainly vary from region to region. Even when the main dish itself is free of hot spice, there is often kimchi to contend with. That's the fermented side dish (or condiment) based on a variety of vegetables, including cabbages and radishes, kicked up by chilis and other aromatic seasonings.

Kimchi can be kryptonite for big reds such as those you favour with non-Asian food. But if you adore full-bodied red wine, I'd suggest zinfandel (the red, not pink, stuff) with meat-based dishes. It's got the jammy fruit to help tame the spice. On the lighter, opposite side, you might entertain a chilled, crisp Beaujolais.

A better general strategy, I think, is to stick to whites with a hint of sweetness and balancing acidity. Alsatian wines based on gewürztraminer, riesling or pinot gris are among the top choices. If nothing else, their ample fruitiness will harmonize with the aromatic seasonings and douse the fire. I'd suggest the same wines for many Chinese dishes – again bearing in mind that I'm making gross generalizations about two vast and varied cuisines. On the drier front, try crisp Austrian gruner-veltliner, another white.

Whatever you serve, I'd suggest keeping it reasonably affordable. The subtleties of expensive Burgundy are doomed to lose the battle against all that deliciously aromatic and vibrant chili, garlic, ginger and soy.

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