In January, I wrote an article about pairing wine with Indian food. Today let’s pair wine with Chinese food. Now I know there are many styles of Chinese food, from sweet Cantonese to spicy Szechuan to hot and sour Hunan.
Given all the different styles of Chinese food, is it possible to take a one-size-fits-all approach to wine pairing? Not really. It’s important to take into account the different spices and the weight of the food.
When I eat Chinese food, I usually eat spicy or hot and sour dishes. So I tend towards wines that have a healthy dose of acidity, sometimes coupled with some sweetness. If I’m looking for pure acidity, I go with Sauvignon Blanc. If I’m looking for acidity with with sweetness, I choose off-dry Riesling, Gewurztraminer or Sparkling Wine.
Recommendations for Pairing Wine with Chinese Food
While my sophomoric approach to pairing wine with Chinese food works well for me, I decided that it would be fun to see what the experts have to say. So I turned to food and wine writer Fiona Beckett and Cooking Light for their advice. Here is a complication of their recommendations:
- Dim sum – Sparkling wine
- Spicy noodles – Viognier
- Sweet and sour dishes – Rosé, Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, Pinot Gris
- Dishes with ginger, mango or coconut – Gewurztraminer
- Spicy Szechuan dishes – Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, off-dry Riesling and even something sweeter like a Hungarian Tokaji
- Delicate seafood dishes such as steamed whole fish – Sauvignon Blanc (minerally, rather than grassy or herbaceous), Riesling, Sparkling Wine
- Duck dishes – Pinot Noir, Merlot, Shiraz, Gewurztraminer
- Dishes with black bean sauce – Fruity Zinfandel
- Rich braised dishes and hotpots – Syrah, Mourvèdre
- Fried rice – Gewurztraminer
- Vegetable lo mein (with oily noodles) – Sparkling Wine, Sauvignon Blanc
American vs. Chinese Pairing
MatchingFoodandWine.com recommends treating a Chinese meal like any Western meal, serving “a lighter wine with the lighter dishes and a more robust one with more robust dishes.” Surprisingly, from what I read, this is not very often what is done in China. China has a real love for Bordeaux wines as explained in this MatchingFoodandWine article. “The Chinese who are paying stratospheric prices for first and second growths … don’t turn to riesling and other aromatic and off-dry whites for a reason. The most common explanation is that it’s not a question of taste but of face. Bordeaux labels impress.” And it’s not just about showing off. Wine is used in China to send a clear message about how important the guest is to the host.
So if you’re in China, don’t be surprised if you are served a beautiful big, bad Bordeaux with your meal.
I would love to hear your thoughts about pairing wine with Chinese food.