Planning to join in on Chinese New Year celebrations? Decanter restaurant critic Fiona Beckett gives tips for pairing wines with popular Chinese dishes, from a Western perspective. You can also read about matching wines with some more traditional Chinese cuisine on our sister site, DecanterChina.com.
What to drink on any given occasion depends where you come from so we in Europe and the US have a different perception of the kind of wines to pair with Chinese food to people living in China.
Most of us believe that it is aromatic white wines such as Riesling and Gewürztraminer that suit Chinese food best but it depends what time of Chinese food – and dish – you’re talking about.
Gewürztraminer for example can be great with duck but can easily overpower a delicate dish of scallops. Dry riesling is a good match with Cantonese food but is generally less successful with fiery Sichuanese dishes which pair better with an off-dry style.
Full-bodied tannic red wines are rarely seen as an ideal match for Chinese dishes in the west whereas to many Chinese people they can not only honour a valued guest but pleasurably enhance the sensation of spiciness on the palate.
Just to complicate matters it depends who’s cooking your food – there’s a world of difference between a top end Chinese restaurant and a street food-style delivery from a takeaway service such as Deliveroo or UberEATS.
So here’s what I generally drink myself:
With dim sum: sparkling wine, preferably blanc de blancs Champagne or a chilled fino Sherry.
With anglicised sweet and sour dishes: a aromatic white blend such as Hugel’s Gentil or TWR’s Toru from Marlborough, New Zealand. Torrontes also works well with a wide range of dishes.
With hotter Sichuanese-style dishes: a bold off-dry rosé (a pale Provençal pink doesn’t quite cut the mustard) or off-dry Riesling such as Jeffrey Grosset’s Alea.
With crispy duck and pancakes: a good fruity Pinot Noir from, say, Oregon or the Sonoma coast or a ‘cru’ Beaujolais.
And if I wanted a heartier red I’d go for a fleshy young Merlot or a GSM (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre) blend rather than a Cabernet Sauvignon.
For more of Fiona’a recommendations visit her website matchingfoodandwine.com