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MWs vs MS Taste-off: Wine with Asian food

Will the Masters of Wine or the Master Sommeliers emerge victorious in this taste-off to match the best wine with a selection of pan-Asian dishes? Find out below.

Taste-off: Wine with Asian food

A competition organised by Wine Australia sought to define once and for all who was better at wine and food matching – Masters of Wine or Master Sommeliers. See the results of round 2 below.

Final score

Dish one

Ceviche of sea bream, coriander, lime, pistachio and chilli dressing

Chef Roger Jones said: ‘This is a real challenge – it’s an intense dish combining things you never want to have to match with wine: chilli, lime, coriander and raw fish.’

The wines

As with other rounds, neither Master of Wine nor Master Sommelier knew of the other’s wine choice before the taste-off. So while it was a surprise in one of the Classic British pairings that wines from the same region were selected, it was almost unbelievable that the two experts here nominated wines from the same producer for this match.

Justin Knock MW

Kooyong Estate, Clonale Chardonnay, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria 2014

£102.60 x6 bottles Corking Wines (UK)

‘It’s pure coincidence, but it proves the quality of Kooyong Estate’s wines,’ said Justin Knock MW of merchant Philglas & Swiggot.

‘For me there are two paths when you think about food and wine matching: first, do you find something that will yield to the food and complement the flavours or do you find something to challenge and contrast the food. Here I first looked at Riesling and Semillon as possible matches but their acidity was too strong

‘Then I thought of this cool-climate Chardonnay which is almost like Chablis with its lime and grapefruit flavours and saline edge, but is always made in a softer style. Its elegance gives way to the powerful flavours in the dish and works really well.’

Xavier Rousset MS

Kooyong Estate, Beurrot Pinot Gris, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria 2014

£19.30 Exel Wines (UK)

Xavier Rousset MS, founder of the 28°50° group and Michelin-starred Texture, said he also first considered Riesling. ‘But on tasting the dish I realised that it would provide too much acidity. So therefore the important thing was to match the spiciness in the dish and find a wine with the right fleshy weight to balance.

‘Pinot Gris has the spiciness, richness and the weight – a Pinot Grigio would be too light – plus there is no oak, which I think would be a bit intrusive here.’

Audience Verdict: Pinot Gris

A solid victory for the Pinot Gris, with about 70% of the vote.

Dish two

Curried monkfish cutlet with minted yoghurt

Roger Jones said: ‘I tried to choose ingredients that would be hard to match but that we all encounter regularly in meals out and at home.’

The wines

Justin Knock MW

McGuigan, Shortlist Semillon, Hunter Valley, NSW 2007

£15 Australian Vintage

‘This was tough – there was so much going on,’ said Knock. ‘In these cases, you need to pick one element of the dish and focus on a match with that; I picked the curry.

‘For my wine, I chose aged Hunter Valley Semillon because with maturity it develops a toastiness and steely minerality – like hot train tracks – that I thought would work well here, especially from an extreme vintage like 2007. Plus Semillon always offers a lovely lime creaminess that works well with the yoghurt.’

When asked whether he thought his modestly priced wine would suffer as a match in comparison to the premium Chardonnay, Knock said cost wasn’t an issue in good food and wine matching. ‘Who cares what it cost. You just want the best match, don’t you? And actually it’s often the mid-tier, less ambitious and expensive wines that work best with food because their oak and alcohols are more moderate.’

Xavier Rousset MS

Vasse Felix, Heytesbury Chardonnay, Margaret River, Western Australia 2014

£36 Negociants UK

Rousset was not ashamed to say that, despite his blind-tasting skills as a Master Sommelier, he has been fooled by his wine choice in the past. ’I thought it was from Burgundy,’ he said. ‘It’s very elegant and, like so many Australian Chardonnays today, so far removed from the preconceptions people have about overoaked, alcoholic fruit bombs. I love it!

‘It’s got the minerality, the acidity and the freshness as well as a creaminess that to me is perfect with the weighty monkfish. Texture is a very important part of food and wine matching – almost more than the flavour. Think of the weight of your wine and the food.’

Rousset agreed that price should not be a concern, though said: ‘For a sophisticated dish you need a sophisticated wine. But that doesn’t mean more expensive.’

Audience Verdict: Chardonnay

An overwhelming win for the Chardonnay.

Dish three

Quail poached in Chinese spices with PX caramel and cucumber consommé

Roger Jones said, ‘This is a classic Chinese technique where you leave the quail overnight in the stock to absorb all the flavours and then serve it chilled. Quail can be dry but this is a great way to keep it moist and I’ve added an extra level of difficulty by adding cucumber, which is very tricky to match. I’m glad I don’t have to choose a wine!’

The wines

Justin Knock MW

Spinifex, Papillon Grenache-Cinsault, Barossa Valley, South Australia 2014

£22 Carte Blanche

‘Pinot Noir was my first thought here,’ said Knock, ‘but the PX in the sauce gives a lot of sweetness, so I thought I needed a grape with more fruit ripeness.

‘Grenache does that and Spinifex is a great producer, making intellectual, elegant wines that are very fresh. This example has no new oak, so it’s all pure, sweet fruit with great acidity that perfectly cuts through the meat. It’s a similar weight to a Pinot Noir, but I think the Grenache flavours work much better with the PX, with the Cinsault to tighten things up.’

Xavier Rousset MS

Paringa Estate, Pinot Noir, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria 2010

£37.50 Hallowed Ground (UK), A$68.80 Cellar Link (Australia)

For Rousset, the key was to find a ‘juicy’ wine, as quail meat can often be dry. ‘This Pinot has all the complexity of age plus the ripe, sweet fruit to do the job,’ he said.

‘The cucumber consommé was the difficult element, but here I thought its fresh leafiness would work well with the green autumnal note that Pinot Noir characteristically has.’ ‘You could easily have chosen a white wine for this dish too – maybe a Marsanne-Roussanne blend or a Pinot Gris.’

The verdict: Grenache-Cinsalt

A close battle, with the Grenache-Cinsault emerging triumphant.

Updated on 29/02/2016 after the third verdict wrongly stated that the Pinot Noir won.

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