A Match Made in Paradise

Pairing Wine with Local Cuisine



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Hawaiian cuisine is a fusion of East meets West. Multiethnic immigrants from Europe to the South Pacific have, over the years, relocated to the isolated island chain, bringing with them their unique culinary staples that have been unified to form the modern menu of Hawaiian gastronomy. Pairing wine with the diverse local island fare can prove complicated when presented with plates that can include Japanese sweet and sour sauces, Cantonese stir fry or Korean bibimbab (mixed rice with seasoned vegetables).

The main objective when rationalizing a wine selection should be based around the pairing of the synergy of the senses; simply put: “the food makes the wine taste better, and the wine makes the food taste better.”  The discussion of red wine versus white wine is associated with their edible counterparts, meats and chicken and fish, respectively. Classically, full-bodied reds, rich in acidity and tannin are best paired with hearty entrees and seasonings; while dry, crisp, palette-cleansing whites work best with vegetables, mild cheeses and most seafood. While some experts say that rules are meant to be broken, and ultimately, the signature of each wine should be its determining factor, the timeless tip holds as a steadfast model when initially choosing a complementary mate for your meal.

Another suggestion in wine pairing emphasizes terroir, a French term used to indicate the geographic origin of the food or drink. For example, a creamy Gorgonzola dolce cheese pairs beautifully with a Valpolicella from the Veneto region of Italy.  In order to enhance any Hawaiian meal with the appropriate wine (regardless of terroir), you must first take into consideration the body and structure of the food compared with the body and structure of the wine: What cut of meat or fish is being served? What type of sauce dominates the flavor of the meal?

Once the food structure is determined, then take a closer inspection of the preparation. For instance, if you are choosing a meal that emphasizes the fullness of dishes prepared with garlic, rosemary, curry or stronger spices, a full-bodied wine is recommended, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel or a Malbec from Argentina. Lighter fares such as salads, white fishes and quiches pair better with a lighter structured, light-bodied wine, a Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio or Pinto Gris for example.

To further enhance your dinning experience, avoid choosing a wine that heavily contrasts with the meal. People often attempt to differ the flavors of a spicy meal with a milder, light-bodied wine, which for all intent and purpose, is difficult to do and often leads to a disappointing comparison of flavors, as the food or wine will overwhelm each other. The optimal approach is to aim for balance.  If the food is multi-layered or complex select a simpler wine that enhances the flavors of the meal, not overpowers. Treat the wine and food as one, scaling both from light to full bodied.

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