How to Pair Wine and Chinese Food

By Ray Isle Posted September 26, 2012
Courtesy of Kobrand.

Courtesy of Kobrand.

Wine and Chinese food tends to promote a strange response among wine writers, which can be summed up as “pair Chinese food with off-dry Riesling. Or Gewürztraminer.” Well, fine, but isn’t that sort of like saying “pair French food with white Burgundy” or “pair Italian food with a red wine?” Last I heard, Chinese cuisine had enormous regional variety and a culinary tradition that extends back, oh, a few thousand years or so (in 2005, archeologists discovered the remains of some 4,000 year old noodles near the Yellow River; that's some mighty old noodles). Now, Americanized Chinese food, that’s a more recent invention—safe to say the folks who made those noodles four millennia ago weren’t chowing down on plates of General Tso’s Chicken, too. But regardless, here are some pairing suggestions for dishes from both the traditional and not-so realms.

Sweet & Sour Pork. Originally Cantonese, now sort of everywhere-universal, this dish of deep fried pork pieces in a glutinous sugar/soy/vinegar sauce can work well with something that’s full of good acidity and ever so faintly sweet—and that has bubbles, which scrub the tongue of all that sticky sauce. Caposaldo Prosecco ($14) would be a fun choice.

Steamed Whole Fish with Ginger and Scallion. Aromatic and delicious, and fairly delicately flavored (if you use a white-fleshed fish like tilapia or sea bass), this is a classic Cantonese dish. Go for an aromatic unoaked white with some body, for instance Pine Ridge’s 2010 Chenin Blanc-Viognier ($14).

Peking Duck. Crispy duck skin, luscious roasted duck meat, hoisin sauce—it’s hard to think of a more Pinot Noir-friendly dish. The 2009 Brancott Pinot Noir ($13) from New Zealand, balances fruit and spice effectively.

Hot & Sour Soup. Hot & sour soup in its takeout form gets its hotness from white pepper and its sourness from vinegar, which is the tricky pairing part here. Tart dishes—vinaigrette on a salad is another example—tend to do best with tart wines; they kill softer ones. Try a dry (not sweet) Riesling like the 2009 Dr. Loosen Red Slate ($15) from Germany.

Kung Pao Chicken. Most renditions in the U.S. of this chicken-with-peanuts-and-peppers dish are mildly spicy; head to a place that serves authentic Sichuan cuisine, though, and the heat level goes up (plus there’s that bizarre numbing sensation from the Sichuan peppercorns that will be in there, too). For the everyday take-out versions, a moderately oaky Chardonnay is a nice complement (like the 2009 Bogle California Chardonnay ($10)). For more traditional versions, go with an—you guessed it—off-dry Riesling (like the 2010 Charles Smith Kung Fu Girl ($14)).

Salted Baked Duck Tongue. Actually, tongues, plural: you get about fifteen or so on a plate. I had them in Nanjing at one point. They’re crisp and salty, a tiny wisp of meat clinging to a tiny flexible bone. Not nearly as bizarre as they sound, and ideal with Champagne, which works great with most fried, salty foods (Champagne and French fries, for instance). And just go all out—I mean, you’re already eating duck tongues, so why not? 2002 Dom Perignon ($150).

Related: More Chinese Food Pairing Ideas
Asian Beer Pairings
Fast Chinese Recipes

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