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The mix-and-match of contrasting flavours, spices and sauces that characterises Philippine cuisine can make wine pairing a challenge, especially for the more complicated dishes. What often works is to focus on the main flavour of a dish, and choose a wine that provides either balance or contrast to that flavour.
If a dish is predominantly salty or spicy, a fruity white wine such as a Gewürztraminer or late-harvest Riesling will provide a pleasant contrast. For a hearty Philippine stew such as adobo or mechado where meat flavours are to the fore, try a robust red wine such as a Shiraz or Malbec. A fatty dish such as lechón (roast suckling pig) or crispy pata (deep-fried pork knuckles) needs a wine with refreshing acidity.
To make patita, the junior version of pata, leg of suckling pig is simmered in water with mirepoix until the meat is tender. After being cooled and air-dried, it is deep-fried in corn oil until it is heated through and the skin becomes a crispy golden brown. It is usually served with atsara, or pickled vegetables, and dipped in a sauce made from vinegar, soy sauce, chillies and garlic.
Chandon Brut provides the refreshing acidity to cut through the oil and strong flavours of patita, as well as a soft, generous palate and a crisp finish. A Chardonnay-led méthode traditionelle sparkling wine, it's straw-yellow in colour with flashes of green and a fine, persistent bead.
It has a bright and fresh fruit bouquet of citrus blossom, subtle pear and white nectarine, combined with savoury characters of roast nuts and delicate spices. The entry is soft with fruit characters, creamy mid-palate offering nougat and nectarines extending to a lingering but crisp brut finish.
Kare kare is a comfort food that Filipinos like to serve during large family gatherings. It's a time-consuming dish to make, as it involves many ingredients. Traditionally, kare kare is a concoction of pork tripe and innards, meaty pork knuckles, heart of banana, string beans and pak choi, with peanut sauce poured over the mixture.
The dish is completed by adding shrimp paste and served with rice. In the version served at Manila 's renowned Bistro Filipino, Angus beef is slow-roasted for four to five hours, served on a bed of turmeric rice and topped with heart of banana, leafy pak choi and mango chutney, with the peanut sauce and shrimp paste on the side.
The dish envelops the taste buds with a whole spectrum of flavours - creamy and sweet, salty and spicy - while the peanut sauce adds a touch of oiliness. A wine like Cape Mentelle Cabernet Merlot balances the richness of the dish and helps cleanse the palate, and serving it slightly chilled emphasises the acidity and tannins, and brings crispness to the fruit flavours.
In this wine, the rich Cabernet helps to frame the soft, plummy Merlot. Dark cherry in appearance, it comes with aromas of aromas of redcurrant, dried tobacco leaf, plum, vanilla and mocha, with hints of lavender lying underneath.
These aromas merge with a concentrated, medium- to full-bodied palate led by ripe cherries, redcurrants, blackberries and dark plums, developing to sweet paprika and dark chocolate. Generous texture and fruit weight are complemented by savoury oak, creating a long, even palate with fine, delicate tannins created by basket-pressing of the grapes.
For a special version of patita, visit Manila's Cirkulo Restaurant, which also boasts a range of tapas, sangria - and a fun approach to dining. That unique kare kare is on offer at the capital's Bistro Filipino, which presents a high-end, modern version of Philippine cuisine that still preserves the traditional flavours.
Thanks to Alfredo Z Pio de Roda III for his help with the food and wine pairings. A director of the Philippine Branch of the International Wine & Food Society, he also writes regular articles on wine for upscale Philippine lifestyle publication Metro Society.