Wine pairing secrets revealed at The Venetian Macao
There’s a lot more to pairing – the art of matching wine with food – than meets the taste buds. Wines and dishes can complement or clash against one another in diverse and surprising ways. Pair the right wine with the right dish, and the diner will be rewarded with a whole palette of new flavours and experiences. Pair them incorrectly, however, and the experience of both the wine and the food can be ruined – even when both are delicious when separated.
It is a subject about which Dennis Dungca, lead 1 beverage manager at The Venetian Macao, is passionate.
Pairings are the result of a conversation between the beverage manager, or sommelier, and the chef, Dungca says. “The idea of pairing is to match, to complement one another, not to overpower the other. They should also help each other: the wine enhances the experience of the food, and vice-versa.”
So how does he go about creating a pairing?
“The chef starts by recommending a dish, and chefs can be very opinionated,” Dungca says. “They’ll say, ‘This is my best dish, why not make it the star of the restaurant?’. So I have to start there. If I have a flavour profile in mind, I’ll already be thinking about some candidates for pairings.”
Many meat dishes are easy to pair, he says. “I'll choose a fairly robust wine and ask, ‘What does this food give you? Does it have chilli? Is there green pepper? Is there black pepper?’.”
At Canton at The Venetian Macao, we watch as senior chef Mak Wai-ming prepares sautéed dice wagyu beef served with asparagus and black pepper, and Dungca selects a specific pinot noir: a bottle of Sea Smoke Southing, Santa Rita Hills, California.
“In this case you need to match the intensity of the black pepper; the asparagus;
the bell pepper,” he says. Dungca describes this particular pinot noir as having “what I would describe as a young taste with vegetal notes. That might seem counterintuitive, but it marries well with the black pepper and the black bean.”
Yet there’s extraordinary range even within varietals, and pinots can be employed for different purposes. Over at The Venetian’s Michelin-starred The Golden Peacock, senior chef Justin Paul interprets traditional Indian recipes in a contemporary way. Dungca presents a gloriously aromatic lamb rogan josh, and introduces an organic pinot noir from Otago, New Zealand, which he regards as very special and complex.
"Some pinot noir does not have much body, but this one has just enough body to accompany the deep richness of the rogan josh.”
However, for chicken or fish, he’d look elsewhere. “Perhaps a pinot gris or a Bründlmayer from Austria … we like to educate our guests. It makes the dining experience more memorable and more personal.”
Pairing can also demand more than a passing knowledge of culinary geography. Different areas have their own speciality: at The Venetian Macao’s signature Italian restaurant Portofino, Dungca pairs the linguine fra diavolo – a whole Boston lobster with linguine and spicy tomato sauce – with a bottle of Dolcetto D’Alba from Piedmont in Italy.
“This is a combination of a mild, sweet wine versus the spicy savoury flavours of the tomato and chilli. The dish is characteristic of Liguria [a coastal region of Italy], which typifies Portofino – a restaurant that specialises in seafood dishes.”
Then again, some pairing concepts might seem more straightforward to the layman. For example, if you cook with Chianti, you’re likely on safe ground if you also pair the dish with Chianti – as Dungca suggests with Portofino’s popular guanciotte di manzo brasate al Chianti. “Chianti has a big bold character, with 90 per cent sangiovese grapes, hence the pairing with the beef cheek, which is also
marinated in Chianti,” Dungca says. He adds that, while Chianti is robust enough to be paired with red meat, it can also be paired with medium to heavy sauces.
But are there any broad principles that you can also apply to Asian cuisine?
Dungca says yes. Take, for example, The Venetian Macao’s Canton restaurant, where senior chef Mak Wai-ming prepares his signature crispy chicken dish. Dungca brings out a bottle of 2012 Mirum La Monacesca Verdicchio Matelica, from Marche, Italy.
“This chicken dish takes a lot of preparation and is by its nature very oily. So what the verdicchio does is cut through the oil to cleanse your palate. The acidity and the crispness also provide a good contrast to the dish.” This pairing, in fact, is what Dungca calls “a no-brainer combination”.
Nearby at North, Dungca considers the stir-fried mud crab in Sichuan style with chilli. He selects a 2015 Dr Loosen, Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany. “With Chinese food you need wines that can match the intensity of the flavours,” Dungca says.
What about the North’s famous Beijing-style crispy duck with crêpes? Feeling
emboldened by this point, this author might have plumped for a fresh, clean white – maybe a sauvignon blanc? But instead Dungca opts for a red: a 2014 Framingham Pinot Noir from Marlborough, New Zealand.
“Wine pairing,” he explains, “is like a marriage. You have to be compatible with
your partner, then the combination becomes more than the sum of its parts. The food and the wine create offspring of new flavours.” However, more than that, he says pairing should be an experience. "Maybe the flavour profile will create a new opportunity for the guest.” Even though diners might at first find new combinations challenging, Dungca says that should be embraced.