Pairings | Oolong
Which wines and beers match best with Chinese food
With Chinese new year coming up this weekend you may be planning a trip to a Chinese restaurant or planning a Chinese meal at home. But which wine to serve?
I’ve talked to Chinese chefs and food writers about their own personal preferences and you’d be surprised how many of them reach for a full bodied red rather than the floral whites that are usually recommended. My own personal failsafe recommendation if you want to pick just one wine is a fruity rosé - the Merlot based ones from Bordeaux such as Château de Sours are perfect.
Better still treat a Chinese meal like any Western meal and serve a lighter wine with the lighter dishes and a more robust one with more robust dishes such as glazed ribs or dishes in black bean sauce
- Delicate dishes such as dim sum and steamed or stir-fried vegetable dishes
Champagne or sparkling wine is the ideal answer with dim sum - both the steamed and deep fried variety, especially when stuffed with shellfish. It also goes well with lighter stir fries and steamed fish and vegetable and with the more delicate flavours of Cantonese food.
A clean minerally citrussy Sauvignon Blanc (rather than a grassy, herbaceous one is also a good match with seafood - just as it is in other cuisines - and dry Rieslings such as those from Germany, Austria and Alsace work well with these kinds of dishes too.
- Sweet-sour dishes
This is where off-dry wines score best and why fruity rosé works so well. Even those who don’t like White Zinfandel concede that it’s in its natural element with these types of dishes. Aromatic whites such as Riesling, Pinot Gris and Austrian Grüner Veltliner are good matches as is Argentinian Torrontes. And if you’re feeling extravagant ‘rich’ Champagnes like Roederer’s and Veuve Clicquot’s also handle sweetness well.
The wine-friendliest dish of all in the Chinese repertoire, fabulous with lighter reds such as Beaujolais (or the very similar Australian Tarrango) and Pinot Noir as well as more intensely flavoured Merlots (including Merlot-dominated blends from Bordeaux) and lush Australian Shiraz. (The latter two wines benefit from a couple of years of bottle age to mellow the tannins)
Duck is also in my view the best partner for Gewürztraminer which can overwhelm some of the more delicate elements of a typical Chinese meal.
- Powerful dishes with sticky sauces
Such as glazed ribs or crab in black bean sauce. Here fruity reds again come into play. When leading Chinese Food writer Ken Hom introduced a range of varietal wines to go with Chinese food a couple of years ago he picked a Mourvèdre and a Grenache, both big wines but without excessive tannins. Ripe fruity reds certainly tend to deal best with the hotter, spicier dishes like Szechuan beef
If you prefer a white wine consultant and MW Peter McCombie who has worked with a number of oriental restaurants favours rich waxy Pinot Gris from Alsace, Oregon or New Zealand which he has found works with tricky-to-match customers such as eel and black beans. He put together the list at London’s fashionable Bar Shu
Another Chinese restaurant where the wine list is exceptionally well thought out is Hakkasan where buyer Christine Parkinson pairs all the wines she considers with food before she puts them on her list
Which beers match best
I haven’t done as much research on beer as I have on wine with Chinese food but I’ve found that light wheat beers such as witbiers and Bavarian weissbiers generally work well with Chinese-style snacks such as prawn dumplings and spring rolls and can also handle sweet and sour flavours.
Belgian ‘brune’ beers like Leffe Brune are a good match for duck with hoisin sauce. Dishes like glazed ribs or beef in black bean sauce also pair well with brown ales and Belgian triple beers.
And what about tea?
The Chinese drink tea all day long, just as we would drink water says Edward Eisler of specialist importers Jing Tea and that obviously includes meals too. With lighter foods he recommends a green tea like Dragonwell or jasmine tea like Jasmine Silver Needle. Fried or heavier foods go well with aged teas like Puerh while rich and sticky dishes like ribs benefit from a dark high-fired Oolong tea such as Great Red Cloak.
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