Book Review: Wine Book of the Year (Asia) & Best Wine e-Book

Recommending wine books is not easy. Unless you're obsessed with wine it's difficult enough to hold most people's attention on a wine article let alone an entire book devoted to the subject. Wine books do of course come in many forms, some coffee table-formatted with evocative pictures. Nothing wrong in that, and frankly my personal preference. As with cookbooks, I like to be able to visualize the dish, and there is nothing more evocative than vineyard pictures, moreover excellent photography.

CH'NG Poh Tiong's '108 Great Chinese Dishes Paired' is certainly visually enticing and goes one step further by incorporating food as much as it does wine. Indeed you could say it is more of a food book than wine and in essence centred on Chinese cuisine and the evolving frontier of enjoying wines with Asian food.

CH'NG declares that this book is “Unashamedly catering to the mainland Chinese market”, as the emblazoned red cover and auspicious number 108 affirms. He also believes the average or new wine consumer in China is not going to be stimulated by reading pages and pages on wine, rather will be attracted by both the vivid pictures and assimilation of well-known Chinese dishes.

It is clearly good logic and in my opinion, there is no one more qualified in Asia to define the evolution of the Mainland Chinese palate and acculturation to the wide world of wine than CH'NG.

“The Chinese do not eat to live. We live to eat. Food is not just life to us. It is our very soul. And, as we had, practically from the very beginning, imbibed in alcohol while we feasted, drinking therefore is our soul mate”.

This paragraph from CH'NG in the introduction encapsulates the Chinese philosophy on food perfectly moreover that they have been drinking wine for a millennia and the potential of the Chinese market in terms of consumption of wines from around the world (presently 90 percent of wine consumed in China is locally made) is enormous, if not mindboggling.

While the evidence of Chinese enthusiasm with big brand wines and elitism (no other bottle captures Chinese imagination more than Château Lafite Rothschild), such sweeping generalizations do not epitomize the wider, evolving market or the fact that sophistication already exists in both Chinese cuisine and its compatibility with wine.

What I personally like about '108 Great Chinese Dishes Paired' is the concise focus on specific Chinese dishes and that the wine pairing is sufficiently broad for experimentation, yet succinct in the very suggestive wine bottle shots. Equally the way CH'NG has painstakingly researched each dish, both in its history, provenance and cooking technique and flavours is excellent, so much so, I would suggest this book is invaluable to anyone and anywhere, who is looking to become more familiar and appreciate Chinese cuisine.

I am sure there will be grumbling from some quarters; those whose wine label does not adorn the pages and wine and food 'experts' seeking to intellectualize the subject, along with the the unfailing innate nature to criticize. However, I believe this is a genuine attempt to address arguably the world's most burgeoning, fast-evolving and exciting wine consumer market and a 'great leap forward' in encouraging and enticing the Chinese palate on a path of discovery. Moreover, '108 Great Chinese Dishes Paired' is the benchmark reference for all of us wanting to learn more of this fascinating cuisine and culture.

There is of course the most obvious and inimitable aspect of the book and that it is published in both Mandarin and English, yet above all this and most commendably, the entire book is available online free through the www.108chinesepairings.com, which I can only say is an act of true altruism beyond the call of vinous duty and I can only applaud CH'NG in his generosity, or is it perhaps vision.

Ch'ng told me that the philosophy of sharing the contents of this book over the internet entirely free is all about spreading the message, and there are those who will always prefer to buy a hard-copy over the new frontier of the World Wide Web. I concur, the tactile nature of a book is still irreplaceable, particularly when giving as a gift or sitting back in a chair with it by oneself.

Equally, I think the e-book it is a very smart move and I would not be surprised if this evolves to fully integrated web-version complete with apps that should have a more commercial aspect. I sense this might be the next step with Ch'ng revealing he is already working on an update version of the book and only logical that the online version becomes the main foundation of further publications.

Ch'ng Poh Tiong has been pairing wine with Chinese cuisine since he starting drinking wine nearly 40 years ago, his paternal and maternal ancestral homes being Fujian and Guangdong respectively. A lawyer by training, Poh Tiong has been writing on wine since 1998 and continuously for the Lianhe Zaobao, Singapore's largest Chinese newspaper. He also writes a quarterly column for the UK Decanter magazine.

Ch'ng is the publisher of The Wine Review, established in 1991, the oldest wine publication in Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and China, along with the world's first "Guide to Bordeaux in Chinese", since 2000. This incorporates www.chinesebordeauxguide.com, the world's first bi-lingual Chinese/English website on Bordeaux wine.

He is also the founder of the International Congress of Chinese Cuisine & Wine, the inaugural congress of which was held in Beijing in 2008; Singapore in 2009; and, is scheduled for Hong Kong in November 2010 (www.icccw.com).

'108 Great Chinese Dishes Paired' is self-published and can be purchased online through www.108chinesepairings.com It is also available in many bookshops and good wine retailers, http://www.108chinesepairings.com/wheretobuy.php