Wines to drink with Chinese food
Author: Demetri Walters MW
Chinese food is such a broad subject as it includes cuisines from many regions, each of which may have a completely different food culture from a neighbouring region. For example, in Sichuan Province, each county has its own regional cuisine. We’ve based our short-list of dishes based on the Chinese food most readily available in the UK.
Spring rolls: Chinese New Year, or “Spring Festival”, is considered the beginning of spring. A Chinese take-away staple, spring rolls are a popular dish for Chinese New Year. Deep fried rolls filled with vegetables, meat or a mixture of both, need something refreshing to clean the palate after each bite. Maybe fruitier Prosecco goes better with the vegetarian spring rolls, while Champagne or English sparkling wine (with its good acidity) pairs better with the meat dishes. The same applies to any fried dishes (eg crispy skin chicken, salt and pepper squid).
Our suggestion: Nyetimber, Classic Cuvée, Sparkling, England
Lightly seasoned seafood dishes: Alongside anything of this ilk – from seafood-based dim sum (har kow, scallop dumplings, etc) to steamed fish or simple stir-fried razor clams – light white wines with good acidity and minerality always work well. Try Muscadet, Aligoté, Chablis (or other leaner and unoaked Chardonnay), Albariño, lighter Grüner-Veltliners or Bacchus
Richer dishes: Dishes that are richer and stronger in flavour/seasoning, but not so much in soy sauce – so anything like lobster with ginger and spring onion, stir-fried prawns with chives, sautéed chicken with cashew nuts, etc – will call for a fuller-bodied wine. Vintage Champagne and nice white Burgundy would be good for finer ingredients.
Our suggestion: 2016 Mâcon la Roche Vineuse, Les Cras, Olivier Merlin, Burgundy
Peking or Cantonese-style roast duck: This is a Pinot Noir dish, stereotypically. That said, an off-dry Riesling Spätlese would withstand the powerful flavours of the duck and plum sauce, while the delicate sweetness of the wine would mellow the attack of the spring onion, and bright acidity makes such dishes seems lighter and more vibrant. Our pick is, as it happens, dry – but fruity enough to work.
Our suggestion: 2016 Schiefer Riesling, Van Volxem, Mosel, Germany
Dishes cooked in soy sauce, bean sauce, oyster sauce and black pepper sauce: Whether the main ingredient is meat, seafood or tofu, a red wine with a lower level of tannins generally outperforms a white wine. Generic red Burgundy and fruitier Beaujolais pair nicely with stir-fried clam in black bean sauce, while Beaujolais Crus, Rhône blends, aged Riojas and riper Zinfandels are delicious with sautéed beef tenderloin in black pepper sauce.
Our suggestion: Bedrock Wine Co., The Whole Shebang, Cuvée XI, California, USA
Braised meat in brown sauce: A dish like this calls for full-bodied reds. The richness of the meat will complement any firm tannins: Barolo or Barbaresco, Bordeaux, firmer New World Cabernet Sauvignons, most Shiraz, Malbec, Pinotage, Bandol… the list is a long one.
Our suggestion: 2014 Berry Bros. & Rudd Barolo by Giovanni Rosso, Piedmont
Sichuan food (hot and spicy): Gewürztraminer and off-dry Riesling are the stereotypical choices of wine to marry the flavours of these dishes. Meanwhile, Sichuan food can be quite oily and salty. Try a lighter-bodied dry wine of any colour but with good acidity and, if red, with supple tannins.
Our suggestion: 2015 Moulin à Vent, La Roche, Thibault Liger-Belair, Beaujolais
Desserts: Traditionally, the Chinese do not eat dessert at the end of a meal. Off-dry or medium sweet Gewürztraminer would go well with a platter of tropical fruit, as would Moscato d’Asti or something of equally vivid character. The very popular nian gao (Chinese New Year’s cake) is made of sticky rice. Different areas serve nian gao in different ways. Tokaji Aszú, Riesling Auslesen and Sauternes are delicious with deep-fried nian gao coated in granulated sugar. Oxidative wines such as Vin Santo, Commandaria and Tawny Port will be unconventional though delicious alternatives for nian gao flavoured with date purée or sweet red bean paste.
Our suggestion: 2001 Ch. de Rayne-Vigneau, Sauternes, Bordeaux