Sun, 13 Mar 2005

Perfect wines to match your dining menus

Sudibyo M. Wiradji, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

When food is served with wine, the authentic taste of dishes can be more tantalizing. This might explain why wine is always a part of fine dining.

In Indonesia, wine as a social drink is popular in executive circles. The alcoholic beverage included on fine dining menus serves as a prestigious way of providing business entertainment.

"Many Indonesian business people keep up with business entertainment trends due to their interactions with their overseas business partners, such as those from Singapore or Hong Kong, " said William Wongso, an Indonesian culinary expert.

However, choosing the wine to match your dining menus is a difficult task due to the wide selection of wines available. Therefore, some knowledge about the rules for combining food and wine is necessary.

There are some classical rules about what kinds of wines go with a particular cuisine.

One common rule for agreeable food-wine combination is that red wines go with red meats, while white wines go with seafood. However, such rules are often broken.

One should avoid any possible dissonance between the food and wine. For example, an exceptional wine stands out much better when accompanied by a not so sophisticated dish that will bring out the wine's superb qualities.

To find the right wines for food, one should try to balance the weight of both, the article said. For example, heavy dishes and those with a strong taste, such as red meat should be enjoyed with an equally heavy wine. "In most cases, this means red wines but some full-bodied whites could equally be a suitable alternative."

Dry wines can cause unpleasant sour or even bitter tastes if served with desserts. Generally, desserts are best served with wines that are at least comparably sweet, if not sweeter.

Wines with high acidity go best with heavy, fatty dishes. This is because the high fat content negates the impact of the acid.

Wines made from grape varieties that contain a lot of tannins, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, are excellent matches for red meats and other protein-rich foods. On the other hand, high- tannin wines acquire an unpleasant metallic taste if combined with fish and other seafood. Or they could leave a very bitter taste when combined with salty dishes.

However, one should not be blinded by the rules, but rather keep an open mind and be ready to experiment.

Customarily, combining wines with foods for fine dining refers to the cuisines from countries where wines are produced, such as France, Italy and other European countries. However, there are particular kinds of wines that can be matched with cuisines of non-wine producing countries.

"For example, champagne or red wines that are not full-bodied complement Chinese food well. And Indonesian hot and spicy foods go best with a glass of white wine that is not too dry, and rather sweet and fruity," William Wongso said.

If you wish to entertain your guests with fine food but are afraid you do not have an adequate knowledge of food and wine, you should not worry, as chefs in restaurants in almost all star- rated hotels in town, such as Shangri-La Hotel Jakarta, Grand Hyatt Hotel Jakarta, InterContinental MidPlaza and Borobudur Hotel Jakarta, will be ready to assist you.

The kinds of wine and food served for a fine dining experience will depend on your budget. But the cost of a bottle of wine depends on the brand, year, and quality. The price range at most star hotels is from Rp 300,000 (about US$32) to Rp 6.5 million (about US$700) per bottle.

Fine dining restaurants at most star-rated hotels provide lists of wines by the glass or by bottle. Customarily, when wines are served along with food, a special glass is used.

"You don't need a lot of wine to enjoy a fine meal," said Shangri-La Hotel Jakarta's director of communication Ratna Sjamsiar. "Just a sip with the right food is all it takes."

To encourage customers to appreciate wines and learn more about them, several star-rated hotels have launched programs dedicated to wines, including wine tastings and free samples of new products.

The programs allow customers to learn about different aspects of wine, such as color, flavor, aroma, texture, taste and background in terms of history, vintage, and the geographical condition of the area where the grapes were grown.

"Knowledge about wine will help them find the perfect wine to go with their food," said Shangri-La Hotel Jakarta's Ratna Sjamsiar.

At Bacchus, a wine bar at the InterContinental MidPlaza Hotel Jakarta on Jl. Sudirman, runs a wine tasting program called Wine Tray. Held regularly, five different wines are offered for tasting.

The Bacchus also allows female customers to try new wines before the product is included on the bar's wine list. This program is held once every three months.

The Bacchus provides a vast selection of red and white wines from over 150 regions. High quality French wines include Chateau Margaux 1982, 1997 and 1999, Chateau Cheval Blanc 1982 and Chateau Mouton d'Rothchild 1982 and 1997.

Like InterContinental Mid Plaza Hotel Jakarta, Shangri-La Hotel Jakarta and Grand Hyatt also provide a vast selection of wines.

"We have an extensive selection, from most wine producing regions of the world. Our focus is on French and Australian wines, ranging from the reasonably priced every day drinking brands, to premium Chateaus from France," said Shangri-La Hotel Jakarta's assistant F&B director Andrew Jansson.