Pairing Wine with Chinese Food: Challenging the Experts

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Wine Pairing with Chinese Food

Have you ever wondered why the wine lists in your average Chinese restaurants are so limited or non-existent? One would think that with a cuisine so wide-ranging and creative, there would be a sophisticated wine culture accompanying Chinese food. Well, there is. It’s just not the same wine we know of. When mentioning “wine” to a Chinese you need to differentiate between the indigenous “grain-based wine” made from rice, sorghum or barley and the imported European “grape-based wine.” But it doesn’t mean grape wine is not fitting for Chinese food.

Seen as a novel foreign introduction, the Chinese are at a loss as to what to make of “grape” wine. Local wines produced by newly established vineyards are sold in the market bundled with a bottle of Coca Cola or Sprite. It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “mixed drink”. I heard a story of a Red Army general who opened two cases of champagne half an hour before a banquet because he had heard that wine needed to breath. The place where Chinese food meets wine can be hazardous.

Nevertheless pairing wine with Chinese food can be both challenging and rewarding. I decided to challenge my friends in the wine business a few months ago and arranged a 10-course banquet for them to come up with wine pairing. I asked each of them to pair wines to four courses of their choosing. The menu included items typical of a Chinese banquet with seafood, fowl, meats, vegetables, soup and starch. I also explained the spices and cooking methods used for each dish. The result of this exercise was quite remarkable. In addition to the usual suspects of the grape wine varieties, one guest brought three bottles of sake as well. In all there were twenty bottles of wine. Here is the menu along with the suggested wines brought by my guests.

  • 穀雨品酒宴
    Wine Pairing Chinese Banquet

    • 四色小涼菜
      Assorted Cold Appetizers
    • 香芒拌海蜇 Jellyfish Salad with Mango
      涼拌手撕雞 Chicken Salad with Chinese Vinegar Dressing
      芥末蝦沙拉 Shrimp Salad in Mustard Mayonnaise
      皮蛋拌豆腐 Preserved Eggs with Silken Tofu
    • Ombra Rose di Pinot Brut NV
      Nahe Spatlese 2005
    • 蔥爆羊肉片
      Stir-fried Lamb with Leeks
    • Catherine & Pierre Breton Franc de Pied 2006
      Chateau de Saurs Reserve Eliezer 2002
    • 淡糟香螺片
      Stir-fried Conch with Chinese Wine Lees Sauce
    • Jacques Puffeney Savagnin Arbois 2002
      Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana Manzanilla Sherry NV
      Shaoxing Huadiao Wine (5 years old)
    • 挾飽紅燒肉
      Red Cooked Meat with Steamed Buns
    • Kasumi Tsuru (Yamahai style sake)
      Mara Barbera d’Alba 2005
    • 菊花田雞湯
      Chrysanthemum Frog Soup
    • Domaine Mosse Anjou Cuvee Rene’s Chard 2005
      Kasumi Tsuru (Yamahai style sake)
    • 漳茶鴨兩吃
      East West Tea Smoked Duck
    • Markowitsch Carnuntum 2006
      Oberbergen Pinot Noir Reserve 2005
      Santa Maddalena Pinot Nero Reserva Alto Adige 2005
      Jacques Puffeney Savagnin Arbois 2002
    • 芥菜炒雙鮮
      Mustard Greens with Crabmeat and Shrimp
    • Luc Choblet Muscadet Cotes de Grandlieu 2006
      Scarbolo Tocai Friulano 2006
    • 糖醋松子魚
      Sweet and Sour Red Snapper with Pine Nuts
    • Lili by Xavier Vin dePays de Vaucluse 2005
      Heidi Schrock Muscat 2005
      Scarbolo Tocai Friulano 2006
    • 鹹魚香炒飯
      Salted Fish Fried Rice
    • Scarbolo Tocai Friulano 2006
    • 椰汁西米露
      Tapioca Pearls in Coconut Milk
    • Murai Family Nigori Genshu Sake

Needless to say the banquet was full of discussions, friendly debates and discoveries. In the next few posts I will be sharing with you some of the reactions from the experts. So stay tuned. In the meantime tell me what you think of the pairings?

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7 Comments

  1. Posted July 26, 2008 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    This is pretty damn cool. I’m loving the unusual pairings.
    I’d like to see more reds, and more wines in general, but the choice of wine is so varied and austere and really fantastic!
    The choice of wines with the Conch and Lees sauce is really something. I guess you’d have to be a little far out with your wine choice- mainly oxidized wines- since the Chinese wine sauce might be hard to pair with, as it already has it’s own prominent wine flavor.

    Red Cook, would you consider doing a joint blog post with me sometime, where you come up with a three dishes and I pair them with wine on my blog, vindelatable.blogspot.com. I’ve been wondering this for a bit, because I’d like to learn more about pairing wine with Chinese food, and a practical spree like that would be educational, and delicious…… But the dishes might have to be catered to a much less experienced Chinese cook!

  2. Posted July 26, 2008 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    Kirstin, I’d love to do a joint post with you. Let’s discuss. Maybe we can end this series (when I get to it) by our joint post.

    Yes, we did not have too many reds with our pairings. In our discussion we did feel that reds are very difficult to match with Chinese food. The strong flavor and spiciness of Chinese cooking often clashes with reds.

  3. Posted July 26, 2008 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    I’ve seen the red wine/coke bundle when travelling in Shanghai last year. hehe. There was lots and lots of luxurious Bordeaux available in stores too, i was surprised.

    It’s fascinating to see what experts have to say about matching wines with chinese food.Great idea, I can’t wait to read more! Love the scarbolo tocai friulano.

  4. Posted July 26, 2008 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    I almost always go with light, crisp whites when drinking wine with Chinese food at all. Because of the strong spicy, sour, salty flavors all present in the same meal, I would just go with beer or a mixed drink. A lot of people here eat Peking duck with Chinese red wines, which seems like such a waste because local wines taste like sludge 98% of the time.

  5. Chris Johnson
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Kian,

    Dont forget we also had the Cabernet Franc from Pierre Breton, an organic wne from the Loire Valley which paired very well because of its full bodied flavors balanced with fruit that helped it stand up to the spice.

  6. Posted October 20, 2008 at 2:49 am | Permalink

    Hey Kian:
    My friend Lia just issued a call to her Asian food blogger friends about Asian food and wine pairings. I shared my short list and pointed her in your direction. She has a great following, hope you enjoy it and share with her readers your knowledge!
    Jackie

  7. swirlingnotions
    Posted October 20, 2008 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    Jackie, thanks for pointing me to Kian . . . Kian, what fun to find your blog! I love this entry . . . I just wish I’d been there for the banquet!

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