Abalone isn't for everyone, and many food-lovers are put off by badly cooked versions, which makes the shellfish rubbery. It takes years for the shellfish to grow to legal size, and the price of harvesting them is high because they live in deep, freezing and often shark-infested waters. Despite the price, they're highly prized. The flavour is more complex than one-dimensional oysters; large scallops have similar flavour notes, but none of the abalone's depth. The traditional method of braising the dried abalone is time-consuming and uses a heavy reduction of rich stock made from chicken and Yunnan ham. The result is plenty of supporting base notes to integrate the shellfish richness, and lots of texture to carry the flavours and give longevity in the mouth. The best wine needs plenty of deep fruit and varied, complex fruity notes. Excess tannins destroy the fine texture.
Louis Latour Beaune Premier Cru 2002, Burgundy, France
The Maison Louis Latour covers pretty much every appellation in Burgundy. They have single-handedly revived some of the less fashionable areas. Beaune is one such location, although it's the geographical heart of Burgundy - the illustrious wines have often come from other vineyards. This is an elegant match with Chinese braised abalone. The perfumed fruit lifts the general solid heady notes of the shellfish. There's plenty of fruit depth to sit along side the intensely rich braising sauce. The combination of the wine's crispy acid and caressing tannins massage the abalone and all its complex flavours. This combination can be too intense for some, but heavenly for others.
Available for HK$681 from Remy (tel: 2891 8121)
Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir 2004, Marlborough, New Zealand
The complex nature of this wine makes it a wonderful partner with abalone. The wine isn't forcefully fruity. It's elegant, deep and understated. It pairs well with abalone because of the focused fruit complexity and balanced, natural acidity. The abalone needs deep, supporting flavours and the more complex, the better the layering effect. The Cloudy Bay pinot delivers some notes of French oak spice wrapped in an easy-to-understand core. The abalone sweetness and succulence is compatible with the wine, while the natural acidity integrates all the savoury components with a distinct highlight and link with the braising sauce.
Available for HK$398 from Moet Hennessy Diageo (tel: 2976 1888)
Calera Pinot Noir 2003, Central Coast, California
Calera pinot noir has one of the most informative back labels in the business - and this attention to detail goes some way to explaining the quality of the wine. The first striking thing about this Calera is how complexly fruity it is. There are many flavour notes, all structured harmoniously and in good proportion. Oak is used as the supporting platform - it doesn't dominate. A perfect match with Chinese braised abalone, the complex flavour notes mingle happily, while the drink's slightly glycerol texture glides and slides between the shellfish, adding to its succulence. Serve the Calera cool to the touch to bring out the best aromatics.
Available for HK$322 from Golden Gates Wines
(tel: 2891 8121)