As the Mid-Autumn Festival rolls around, we once again consider the mooncake: dense, sweet and almost threateningly rich. While the traditional treats are usually had with Chinese tea to refresh the palate, hotels are increasing selling their offerings with a boozy beverage companion.
For Marriott Tang Plaza’s Chinese restaurant Wan Hao, it’s a baked confection that includes red date paste, salted egg and Bayonne ham. It’s pairing this with a sweet wine to stand up to all those flavours – a 2015 First Growth Sauternes from Chateau Rieussec that bursts with pineapple, honey and beeswax.
Champagne also seems to be a popular pairing choice this year as the dry, acidic bubbly cuts through the richness of mooncakes. Cantonese restaurant Madame Fan marries a bottle of Louis Roederer’s Brut Premier with your choice of flavours in its mooncake box set.
Meanwhile, The Fullerton Hotel Singapore pairs its low-sugar baked mooncakes with the Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label – a crowd-pleasing bubbly proffering generous depth.
Sip and Savour
We enlist the help of sommeliers Gerald Lu and Tok Yui Shuen of wine bar Praelum to suggest other pairings for some of the most popular mooncake flavours around.
Snowskin with fruit-based fillings
Citrus, berry, or other fruit-flavoured snowskin mooncakes will do well with the fruit-forward sweetness of late-harvest wines. Try a vendange tardive (late harvest) gewurztraminer or pinot gris.
The intensity and complexity of durians require something similarly powerful to stand up to this king of fruits. A botrytis sweet wine would have the necessary character – honey, beeswax and dried fruits. Try an aged, high quality sweet riesling – the petrol-like notes of the wine will play off durian’s funkier flavours.
Baked mooncakes tend to be rich, even more so with salted egg yolks. Try a recioto (the sweet cousin of amarone) from Italy or a even a vin doux naturel, a French fortified wine. Both have darker, richer flavours, and, in the case of the vin doux naturel, an “oxidative profile” that adds a nice dimension to the classics.
Gula Melaka, Coconut, Pandan
Locally inspired flavours tend to have similar profiles. Whether it’s ondeh ondeh or kaya – very popular options this year – these mooncakes tend to include coconut and deeper, slightly savoury flavours that are a complementary match with intensely sweet, chocolatey pedro ximenez sherry.
(RELATED: The most luxurious mooncakes this season)
For something a little more adventurous, try wines in the dry part of the sweetness spectrum. While it’s not a conventional idea, the lotus paste that makes up the core of the cake has a rich texture, and can balance well with both body and acidity in wines. Salted egg yolks — commonly found in baked mooncakes — have a savoury element that can help with softening tannins, while making wines taste fruitier. Dry pairing suggestions courtesy of Sam Stephens, SEA wine ambassador for Treasury Wines.
Also known as wu ren, these baked mooncakes are have some combination of nuts and seeds including pumpkin seeds, walnuts, sesame, and pine nuts. They also sometimes feature aromatics like tangerine peel. Pair these with a Cabernet Sauvignon or even an oaked Chardonnay — the nuts will soften the Cab’s tannins, and bring out the vanilla and toasty notes of the Chardonnay.
Try: Wolf Blass Gold Label Cabernet Sauvignon
Baked mooncake with salted egg yolk
Pair this perennial favourite with a warm-weather Chardonnay — the savoury yolk and creamy lotus paste helps highlight the ripe stone fruit and tropical notes in the Chardonnay, and also softens the acidity in the wine.
Try: Beringer Napa Valley Chardonnay
Mooncakes with bak kwa
A couple of places are combining snacks from two different festivals this year — resulting in the bak kwa mooncake, a savoury, meaty creation that actually demands wine. Have with a spicy, robust Shiraz to bring out the pepper, rich black fruits, and vanilla.
Try: Penfolds BIN 28 Kalimna Shiraz