Pairing Wine with Chinese Food
In celebration of Chinese New Year I've been taking a look at which wines pair best with Chinese food - and I'm talking about Chinese food that we tend to see in Chinese restaurants here in the UK rather than in China itself.
Traditionally as a nation we Brits tend to veer towards crisp white wines when eating Chinese food perhaps thinking that it will quench our thirst as we eat but lighter wines can be swamped by the numerous, complex flavours. Sometimes a heavier more complex white wine is required to face up to the complexity and there is no reason why we shouldn't have red wines but bear in mind that red wines with higher tannins such as some French Cabernet Sauvignons, will clash with salty food, spicy flavours, vinegary sauces and fatty meat all of which feature in Chinese cuisine. So choose carefully.
If you are serving one specific Chinese dish, my first suggestion as per my general guidelines for matching food and wine is to look at the most dominant ingredient in the dish (usually the sauce) and aim to balance its weight or richness with the body of the wine:
Wine for lighter Chinese dishes
- Dim Sum, scallops, steamed fish and vegetable dishes (without heavy sauces): dry sparkling wine or champagne is one of the best pairings but if you prefer not to open the bubbles, look at serving a Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé or a Chablis, all of which lean more to the mineral end of the flavour spectrum rather than the fruity or herbaceous flavours of say a New World Sauvignon Blanc which could overpower lighter dishes
Wine for Sweet & Sour dishes
The classic combination with an off-dry Riesling really does work. Remember one of our other guidelines, sweet food should always be served with wine that is sweeter. You could also try a beautiful sparkling Moscato d'Asti which is slightly sweet but also refreshing given its high acidity. But if you really don't want to go down the off-dry route look at an aromatic dry white such as an Austrian Grüner Veltliner, a Pinot Gris or a fruity rosé rather than crisp dry white wines which would clash with the vinegar in the sweet and sour sauce
Wine for crispy duck & other duck dishes
- a New World Pinot Noir or Merlot will complement duck perfectly and generally will have sufficient body to match the plum sauce. More delicate Pinot Noirs like Burgundy however whilst usually a great match for duck may be overpowered by the sauce. If you prefer to stick to white wine however try the off-dry Riesling or something with a bit of body like the lovely Reyneke Chenin Blanc which is served at Hakkasan in Hanway Place
Wine for strong flavours in Chinese food
- Ginger - again I would suggest the off-dry Riesling or an aromatic dry white such as an Austrian Grüner Veltliner, a Pinot Gris or a Chenin Blanc to cope with the particularly strong flavour of ginger
- Satay (not originally Chinese I know but it features on a lot of Chinese menus these days) also needs strong flavoured wine. A Sémillon would go particularly well with the nutty flavours.
- Whilst heavier red wines can balance stronger sauces such as black bean sauce or dishes such as barbecued spare ribs with sticky sauce, don't chose a red wine with too much tannin. Stick to a fruitier red like a Merlot (as long as it's low in tannins), a Syrah or Syrah blend from the New World such as this beautiful Chilean Syrah blend.
Wine for hot & spicy Chinese dishes
- very hot spicy foods can dull the taste buds and heat up the body so spicy, slightly sweet wines with good acidity are required. Off-dry Riesling or the sparkling Moscato d'Asti would be ideal. The heat in the food reduces the wine's sweetness, the acidity tones down the heat of the food and the weight of the wine balances well with the spicy flavours.
Fail-safe wines to match most Chinese food
Of course there are many different types of cuisine under the umbrella of Chinese food - spicy Sichuan, more delicate Cantonese and hot Hunan to name just a few - and it is difficult to make generalisations about the types of wine to drink with it. However if the range of foods being served for your Chinese New Year feast is wide or you just want to make life easy, these are my five fail-safe options:
- a sparkling fruity rosé like Domaine Thibert's Crémant de Bourgogne
- a non-vintage champagne like my long-time favourite, de Castellane Brut
- Reyneke Chenin Blanc as it has the body, aromatics and acidity to deal with richer dishes
- (don't dismiss this one automatically as it really does go well) an off-dry Riesling like Andreas Bender's Dajoar Zenit Riesling and
- for the red wine option a fruity number like Château Moya's Merlot blend
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