If you’re like me, you may have heard of umami, but have no idea what it is. Umami is one of the five tastes that we can detect with our taste buds (the other four are saltiness, sweetness, sourness, and bitterness). It is savory, brothy, and almost meat-like. Foods that are rich in glutamate, an amino acid found in almost all living things, provide the umami taste. Glutamate, a naturally produced amino acid, should not be confused with MSG, which is glutamate mixed with chemicals. Glutamate is actually very nutritious!
Ingredients often associated with Asian cuisine, such as soy/soy sauce, kimchi, or green tea, are great examples of umami. However, foods that we eat on a daily basis have umami, too, such as meats, fish, vegetables, tomatoes, and fermented foods. Often times, if you think something has a savory flavor, it is because the umami receptors on your taste glands are being activated from the glutamate found naturally in the food.
Asian cuisines often have a large amount of umami ingredients. There can be other tastes, but they are often masked by the intensity of the savoriness. Many of these dishes have additional spice components, making a wine pairing very difficult.
One wine that is almost always a guaranteed success with Asian cuisines (spicy or not), is Grüner Veltliner. Grüner Veltliner (grooner felt-leener) is a dry white wine, similar to Riesling. It often has high acidity, but is balanced with many herbaceous and green flavors, such as green bean or white pepper. These herbaceous flavors are what make it such a great pairing when up against dishes such as curry or stir-fry. Wines with savory, or umami flavors go well with foods that have umami flavors.
A great example of this is from my pairing the other day. I made Ambitious Kitchen’s, Thai Peanut Chicken, Edamame & Quinoa Stir-Fry, a dish full of broccoli, peppers, chicken, soy sauce, and edamame. The meal was dressed in a peanut butter and soy sauce, which could not have been more delicious. It coated the rest of the ingredients so that you got a bite of peanut butter in every bite. All of the flavors in the recipe are examples of foods with glutamate, which produce that umami flavor. I added a pinch of cayenne pepper to give a little kick. To quote Dr. GP, “This is one of the best things you’ve ever made!” Not going to lie, it’s pretty scrumptious. I still have yet to be disappointed by a recipe from Ambitious Kitchen.
To go with this tasty dish, I had Schlosskellerei Gobelsburg Kamptal 2015 Grüner Veltliner from Austria. (Thank goodness for living in Germany…I can actually say that whole name!). Both the smell and taste of this wine was Asian pear, lime, and green pepper. The strongest flavor was the lime, which made the wine bright and juicy. The pear and pepper balanced the citrus to keep it from being too sour.
Together, the pairing was delightful. On its own, the wine didn’t impress me all too much. It was okay, but I felt that it didn’t have a voice. Yes, it was bright and juicy, but it lacked something to make it stand out. However, with the food, it became so much louder and had way more character! It’s as if the wine just needed something to build its confidence. The citrusy-lime taste of the wine went well with the peanut butter/soy sauce that the stir-fry was dressed with. No flavor was too strong, but they all blended nicely together. The wine needed those savory components to open up its potential. I give this pairing 4 grapes!
Store: Wegmans ($17.99)