15 is the new 10: scenes from an Asian wine pairing, thinking outside the Bento box

Last night, for the second year in a row, I served as sommelier and speaker at Saheli’s annual benefit in Austin, “Discovering Asian Food through Wine.”

SAHELI is a nonprofit organization based in Austin, Texas, that provides assistance to Asian and other immigrant families dealing with domestic violence, sexual assault and trafficking.

This year, Tracie P was able to join me and we had a blast pouring and talking about wine, admiring the many ladies dressed in traditional Asian garb, and tasting the FANTASTIC Asian dishes paired with European and North American wines.

Roughly 150 persons attended the event and it was amazing to see the sea of colors and patterns formed by the tasting plates all lined up for the guests to sample.

The organizers had asked me to select wines at a median $15 price. We were very fortunate to find a great price on the JJ Prüm 2007 Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Spätlese, a no-brainer pairing for the tart and often intensely spicy flavors of Asian cuisine. What a fantastic food wine…

The wine that impressed me the most was the Planeta 2008 Cerasuolo di Vittoria. I’m not generally a fan of Planeta. I mean, who needs another buttery Chardonnay or oaky Merlot from Sicily? But then a few years ago my friend Marco Barat insisted that I taste it with him. I discovered that this wine is true to its appellation and deliciously well priced (around $15). When done right, Cerasuolo di Vittoria is one of those wines that always wows the first-time taster. It was great to watch the guests ooo and aaa over its bright fruit nose and gritty earth. It went great with the Kibbeh (below).

I also loved how we were able to put together a fun flight of wines using the $15 rule: by taking advantage of a mixed case discount, looking for special value, and balancing the higher priced with the lower, I was able to deliver the goods.

When people ask me buying tips, I always tell them: 1) buy from an independent retailer and get to know your merchant well (so that the seller knows your palate and will alert you to special pricing; 2) always take advantage of case discounts (I rarely buy just one bottle of wine); 3) once you establish your budget for wine, use an average per bottle cost so that you have a variety of wines (for drinking every day, for Saturday night dinner, and for special occasions).

And remember: 15 is the new 10!

On the subject of pairing Asian cuisine and European wine, check out Lyle’s hot-off-the-presses post on the new Lotus of Siam in NYC (I’ve only been to the one in Vegas when my band NN+ has played there and am dying to get to the new one in the City).

I also led a private tasting this week at the elite River Oaks Country Club in Houston. But price wasn’t an issue there! The night ended with 03 Sassicaia and 06 Ornellaia… not really my speed but one of those professional hardships I was forced to endure…