Dumplings and wine pairing – at a glance
- Champagne works particularly well with fried dumplings, or when serving with vinegar
- Think of ripe Chardonnays, or fruity rosés to go with your dumpling fillings
- The stronger the filling flavour, the harder to pair with a wine
- Avoid heavy, tannic reds
The history of ‘Jiaozi’
The history of the Chinese dumplings (or Jiaozi 饺子 in Chinese) can be traced back to the Eastern Han dynasty (25–220 AD) when legendary physician, the ‘Saint of Medicine’ Zhang Zhongjing treated his patients with lamb and warming herbs wrapped in a thin layer of dough, shaped like human ears.
Archaeologists even found some seriously old dumplings dated back to the Tang Dynasty over a thousand years ago in the Turpan Basin of Xinjiang, northwest China. They look almost exactly like the dumplings we enjoy today.
It’s a well-kept tradition, especially in Northern China, for families to gather and make dumplings on the eve of the Chinese New Year. The whole family, young or old, will work together while chatting, getting their hands dirty rolling out dough wrappers, mixing their home recipe of stuffings and carefully squeezing those little packages of flavours into the fat-bellied ear shape.
The classic flavours of dumplings
When speaking of dumplings (or in Chinese ‘Jiaozi’), it always encompasses a variety of fillings and flavours.
The possibility is literally endless; although the classic stuffings, which you tend to find in the frozen corner of Chinese supermarkets, usually involves meat (most commonly pork) or seafood with a range of vegetables, such as chives, fennel, Chinese cabbage or green onion.
For vegetarian choices, egg and chives are at the top of my list. The smart combinations of carrots, different mushrooms, leaf vegetables and tofu are also colourful and tasty.
Away from its home, there are also more localised, innovative dumplings that involve Miso, Kimchi, Hoisin duck, BBQ Beef or indeed, cheese in the filling – but why not?
Pairing dumplings with wine
‘If you want to pair your dumplings with wine, it’s better to choose light-flavoured fillings,’ said Jennifer Doherty MW, head of buying and education at Summergate Fine Wines & Spirits.
‘The classic garlic, chive and pork dumplings, for example, are difficult to pair with wines due to their overpowering flavours,’ said the MW, who grew up in a traditional Chinese household in Canada. Other strong-taste dumplings may include beef and tomato or lamb and carrot.
Those with obvious spiciness or sweetness, meanwhile, can also be tricky to pair with wine, as they may enhance the alcohol burn or acidity.
‘Pork and cabbage, Sanxian (pork, prawn and eggs) and mushroom dumplings, on the other hand, are more delicate.’
The mild-flavoured chicken and mushroom dumplings or savoury vegetarian stuffings are also safe choices for wine.
‘I would pick a light and delicate white wine to go with something like pork and cabbage – I don’t think you want a red wine. Try a wine that’s got a little oak on it with good acidity – I’d go for a nice Bourgogne Chardonnay, maybe a Mâcon.’
‘Personally, I love Rieslings, so I’d try a Kabinett—with refreshing acidity and a little bit of residual sugar, to pair with it.’
What about the sauce?
Classic sauces to serve with dumplings can include a mixture of soy sauce, Jiaozi vinegar, sesame oil, garlic and spice.
‘This is the benefit of making your own sauce,’ said Doherty. ‘You can adjust the levels of salt, sourness, and give it a little bit of roundness to achieve a nice balance.
‘It shouldn’t be too difficult for you to find a pairing wine if you prefer a more savoury sauce.
‘But if you prefer only vinegar as the sauce, finding a wine match will be more difficult, so try something with high acidity; Champagne could be a good option here.’
How are your dumplings cooked?
You may be asked whether you’d like your dumpling fried or boiled in a Chinese restaurant (although you are more likely to find fried dumplings in Japanese restaurants). You can also have your dumplings steamed in a dim-sum style.
If your dumplings are steamed or boiled, the skin turns soft while retaining the clean, doughy mouthfeel. Flavours of the filling tend to drop a little if dumplings are boiled in water, so good wines to choose could be a creamy aged Champagne, a ripe New World Chardonnay or a fruit-forward Grenache or Zinfandel-based rosé , especially when the dish is served warm.
Fiona Beckett also recommends Blanc de Blancs Champagne or a fino Sherry with dim sum, in her guide to wine and Chinese food pairing.
Avoid big, heavy red wines as they would most certainly overpower the flavours, and tannins don’t tend to work well with the soft and sticky doughy skin.
A touch of residual sugar in the wine, however, can work well, especially with a meaty filling and seasoned with savoury, umami-rich soy sauce and Shaoxing wine.
Fried dumplings tend to pair better with wine, as the skin gets crisper; a bit of burn on the bottom adds even more to the texture. If done properly, the filling should remain soft inside.
As fried dumplings absorb some oil in the cooking, a chilled bottle of NV Champagne or dry English sparkling make a good match with fried dumplings, served cold or hot.