Food and wine pairing can feel daunting at the best of times. That’s before we even mention Chinese food.
Not only is this one of the world’s most diverse cuisines, it is one that has been called “impossible” to pair it with wine. Well, it’s not. We’ve gathered some tips and guidance on how to nail it and impress any of your guests or dinner table companions.
First off, some general tips. For starters, in a typical lazy susan family-style setting it is important to pick out dishes that feel like the “main”, figuring out whether the meal will be more seafood-focused or meat-heavy. Generally, we would recommend a duck-focused meal to be paired with a Pinot Noir, for example. For heavier meats a younger Merlot or Syrah might be better suited.
Beyond that, here are some general rules for pairing a bottle of the good stuff with some of China’s great cuisines.
Some like it hot
Gong bao ji ding, a classic dish wth roots in Sichuan
When we think of spicy Chinese foods, its often the fiery dishes of Sichuan that come to mind. These dishes need a wine that can complement and stand up to their unique, intense spiciness. If you’re reaching for the red, that’ll be one that is relatively low in tannins – in some cases, a Pinot Noir can work nicely.
Other than that you’re going for relatively robust white wines like Grüner Veltliner or a crisp, relatively sweet Riesling. All of these wines really can cut through the spiciness while enhancing the complex flavor profile. That generally goes for the spicy, red chili-laced yet drier dishes of Hunan, too.
Cantonese favorite and world-wide brunch staple, dim sum
Cantonese is actually one of the easier cuisines of China to pair with a bottle. It is known as one of China’s sweeter regional cuisines, but the flavors are also generally clean and light. The sweeter flavor profiles lends themselves to aromatic, light wines – a dry Riesling is often the go-to of those in the know. If you want something a bit richer, Chardonnay and white Bordeaux wines in general often have the oaky body to cut through the crisp flavors in a very pleasant way.
Pass the salt
Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang
Xiao long bao
When we talk about salty flavors in Chinese food – and this is a bit of a generalization – we’re often really talking about the use of soy sauce. The cuisines of Shanghai, Suzhou and Ningbo are known for their heavy use of the stuff (often used in the preparation of bountiful coastal seafood).
These cuisines often feature more meaty, heavy elements too – think fatty pork belly (dongpo rou), deep-fried pork cutlets (jiu pai) or even the rendered soup in some rich soup dumplings (xiao long bao). which is much richer, a red Bordeaux is more appropriate. This can really complement to heavier meaty flavors.
We’ll leave it up to you to experiment and blaze a trail. But at least now you know that it is more than possible to pair your favorite wines with the delicious dishes that we enjoy in China every day!
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