Filipino food, like its Asian counterparts is rich in condiments, and this makes it one of the toughest pairing for wine. Heavy usage of soy sauce, fish sauce “patis,” salt, vinegar, mono sodium glutamate, and other spices, make it hard for even the most renowned wines like the Chateau Margaux, Vega Secilia, Sassicaia, Opus One, and Henschke Hill of Grace to pair with. In fact, these top notched wines may actually taste terrible with some of the more popular Asian dishes like Thai Curry, Filipino Adobo and Indonesian Sate, and such a crime if that should happen.
Without trying to downgrade local dishes, because they are indeed tasty, the use of all these condiments and thick salty sauces, makes it tough for these foods to be paired with serious full-bodied reds. Instead, the more fruity, semi-dry to sweet, and the easy-style, so called “unsophisticated” wines, are the ones that are more fit for our cuisine. Or admittedly more on beer and soft drink, as demonstrated by our country’s huge consumption of these two types of beverages during meals.
But do not despair, there are wines that pair well with Filipino dishes following simple guidelines. Generally, Filipino dishes are relatively greasy (oily), very sauce-oriented, salty, and with strong flavors. Filipino dishes are not really heavy or full in texture (like steaks), with meats normally in small cut sizes, but rely on heavy sauces that somehow add more weight to the dishes itself. And since local dishes are customarily taken with rice, the sauces are intentionally made very thick and flavorful. Below are some food & wine pairings for popular local dishes.
Beef Steak Tagalog with Oaked Chardonnay
The wine mirrors the citrus flavor of Calamansi (Philippine Lemon), the onions also does well with the wine elements, and with the oak aging, the wine body will be fuller, and can go well with beef.
Adobo (pork, chicken or combination) with Chenin Blanc from South Africa
The wine is light, fresh, fruity and sweet, and complements the zesty Adobo sauce; Adobo with too much vinegar may cause slight incompatibility.
Lechon with White Zinfandel or Anjou Rosé
Both these pink/rosé wines are light, sweet, very juicy, and not high in alcohol — the crispness of the Lechon skin, the tenderness of the meat and the sweet spiced Lechon sauce are perfect match for these wines.
Pusit (Adobo or grilled “inihaw”) with Chilean Sauvignon Blanc
This style Sauvignon Blanc can be dry or semi-dry, with crisp acids, nice herbaceous elements that is great with squid texture and taste, even when done Adobo style with its black ink.
Bicol Express with Gewurztraminer from Alsace or simply Traminer from Australia
Gewurz means “spicy” in German, so the spicy nose is a constant element of this wine, making it a good pair for spicy dishes like this Bicolano staple; the Alsacian version of the Gewurztraminer is dry, medium bodied, but with a signature spicy nose, and enough acid backbone to mirror the dish’s spiciness; while the Australian Traminer tends to be sweeter, lighter and aromatic, and this wine offers a good counterpoint to the Bicol delicacy.
Caldereta (Beef Baka or Lamb Kambing) with a medium bodied Beaujolais like a Beaujolais Village or any of the Cru Beaujolais
The wine is floral, dry, with negligible tannins, and good acid backbone that can complement the potpourri of flavors that Caldereta’s thick sauce offers; heavy reds with high tannins will do horribly with the saltiness of the sauce.
Liempo with a medium bodied Merlot or a semi-dry Riesling
These are two wines that can pair well with this grilled pork of fats and oil (we love this manly meat!); the medium bodied Merlot, with friendly tannins can tone down the fats, and its earthy and berry flavors can add extra zest to the well seasoned Liempo; or a semi-dry to sweet Riesling, that offers good counterpoint to the Liempo flavors.
Camaron Rebosado with Spanish Verdejo from Rueda and traditional Cava (Spanish sparkling wine)
Both Spanish wines are great complements to this deep fried flour covered shrimp dish. The Verdejo with good body and great acid structure gives the Camaron Rebosado a nice tropical fruit- like zestiness that can forego the use of ketchup or other sauces, while the Cava, made from traditional varietals of Macabeo, Parellada and Xarello offers a refreshingly fizzy, and dry crisp balance on this oily dish. It is no coincidence that this dish is also of Spanish influence.
Do remember that these wine-pairings are mere suggestions, and are certainly subjective to our respective taste buds. I also note that most of these dishes are prone to interpretations of the chef or cook in charge, so certainly the ingredients as well as its final taste will vary. Same can be said of the wines, which I stated in varietals and some by region, and may vary too from brand to brand, and winery to winery. The good news is none of the wines I suggested are expensive, and therefore can be paired at less economic risk with your favorite Filipino fares.
Editor’s Note: This article is an edited version of the original piece published in Hospitality News Philippines’ February 10, 2014 issue.