What to Pair with Chinese Food?
Over here in the United States, we have had a problem in the past when it came to pairing wine with certain types of food. For the longest time those of us who liked spicy flavors with dishes that weren’t rich in cheeses and creams, had typically gravitated towards beer. Whether it was Tex-Mex (Mexican/American border food such as char-grilled beef with avocados and spicy salsas made from various local peppers, server with wheat flour tortillas), or the contrasting flavors of Vietnamese dishes (how does one marry lemongrass, coconut milk, cilantro and powerful chilies with a wine?), we all for many years would reach for a cold bottle of beer before we even thought about a wine for it all.
Then came Riesling.
Arguably the most adaptable grape of all the wine making varietals, Riesling can run lean and mineral, with tart, citric fruit (as can be found in Oregon, for example), to thick and honey-like with heavy tropical fruits and beautiful floral aromas - like one can find in a German late harvest Riesling. It is just this kind of flexibility in the growing and making of Riesling that lends itself so well to a variety of foods. Szechuan works wonderfully with Riesling as the heat of the cooking and the refreshing cool fruit of the wine balance each other out on the palate. But what about less seasoned dishes such as those done in a more traditional Cantonese style, or Shanghai? White wines that are dryer, less heavy than the sweeter Rieslings are probably best here, such as a good crisp Sauvignon Blanc or a Chardonnay that is finished in stainless steel versus oak. But when the dishes call for shellfish, you want to go back to a buttery Chardonnay, or a Graves Blanc that was finished in oak, as these flavors tend to marry well with the higher fat content of shellfish.
Take care to consider what types of vegetables you will be serving with the main dishes. Anyone who has tried to match wine with asparagus or onions knows this too well.
But what about red wines? There are plenty of dishes using fowl (duck being the most famous) and beef that can be a bit rich, but not by French cuisine standards. To me the one red wine that comes to mind is Pinot Noir. A lot like the Riesling, Pinot can be grown and vinified to be either a light strawberry tasting wine or a heavy coffee and bay leaf, almost tobacco infused wine, the latter being what I want in my glass anytime duck, pheasant, or any game bird is served. However, the preparation of the meat (tea-smoked or fried?) will influence the food as well as your wine. So take care when matching wine and food to consider all the ingredients, the cooking methods, as well as the final, composite flavors. Only then will you be able to find the right wine and the right dish, but when you do, it is an unforgettable experience.
In actuality, like all things regarding wine, taste is subjective. If you like it, then it works for you. If you don’t, then try something else. It’s really that simple. A little trial and error, some rough ideas, such as these we’ve just considered, and an open mind will help you to find the best wine that is suited to your particular type of cuisine.