I’ve written before about pairing wine with Chinese food - and so have some of my contributors but here’s a slightly different way of going about it that may help you decide which bottle to choose and make your pairings more successful. It involves deciding which flavours are predominant in a dish or selection of dishes.
Of course dishes of different types tend to be put on the table at the same time but they tend to be grouped together. You rarely find a delicate seafood dish served alongside a stir fry of beef in black bean sauce, for example, so it makes sense, as it does for a Western meal, to open more than one bottle. Be guided by the most intensely flavoured dish you’ve cooked or ordered - this is the one that’s going to dominate any wine that you’re drinking.
Delicate seafood flavours, typical of Cantonese cuisine as in steamed dim sum, scallops, steamed whole fish: Minerally Sauvignon Blanc e.g. Sancerre, young Chablis and other young white burgundy, dry German or Austrian Riesling, Champagne
Deep fried dim sum and other snacks: sparkling wine.
Spicy noodles: Viognier
Sweet and sour dishes: Fruity rosé e.g. Merlot-based Bordeaux, Australian and Chilean rosés, Australian Semillon-Chardonnay blends
Duck dishes such as crispy duck with pancakes: New World Pinot Noir, Merlot and Merlot blends
Dishes in which ginger is a dominant note e.g. crab or lobster with ginger: Gewürztraminer
Black bean sauce: Rich, velvety but not too tannic reds e.g. Chilean or other ripe New World Cabernet, fruity Zinfandel
Barbecued dishes such as spare ribs: As above
Rich braised dishes, hotpots: More tannic reds such as Syrah or blends of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre
Hot, fiery dishes typical of Szechuan cuisine: Wines with a touch of sweetness especially Alsace Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer - even sweet wine - see Margaret Rand’s article on Tokaji
For further reading:
Heavenly Match: wine meets Chinese cuisine by Lau Chin Sun published by Moët Hennessy Diageo Hong Kong. Some interesting insights although all the wines are from the Moet Hennessy portfolio.
Wine with Asian Food: new frontiers in taste. Patricia Guy and Edwin Soon. 2007 Tide-Mark Press . A more comprehensively thought-out Pan-Asian approach with Old World and New World recommendations. Some intriguing suggestions e.g. Rioja Gran Reserva or Grange with stir-fried beef and peppers but an odd bias in favour of Italian wines (Guy lives in Italy)