During my Wine Pairing Chinese Banquet I challenged a few friends in the wine business to find wines that would complement Chinese food. We ended up with 20 bottles of wine, including one corked, paired towards all ten items on the menu. Many of the selections were rather unconventional but really worked quite well. With each course we compared the merits of each selected wine and even attempted impromptu pairings. There were a few disappointments but most were overwhelmingly successful.
One of my guest’s observations was very interesting. He pointed out the necessity of pairing the flavors of the dish rather than simply the ingredients in Chinese food. Emmanuel Dupuy d’Angeac, who owns AOC Fine Wines with stores in Greenwich, CT and Paterson, NY, feels that the difficulty of pairing wine and Chinese food lies in the complexity of the flavors. A European meal is easier he contends, it is almost always about the flavor of the fish or the meat. But what do you do when accompanying spices and herbs dominate the dish? How do you pair Tea Smoked Duck for example? The duck flavor disappears behind the smoky tea flavor. Emmanuel said “The duck is only a vehicle to bring new flavors to you. I chose a German Pinot, which was a horrible idea. I focused on the duck when I should have focused on the tea smoked. You need something complex and subtle.”
The two major disappointments as it turned out were red wines selected for the lamb and the duck. Both of the dishes had very strong flavors and my guests did try to match the ingredients rather than the flavors. The Chateau de Saurs Reserve Eliezer Gaillac as it turned out could not stand up to the leek’s flavor in spite of its brightly fruity taste. It should be noted that the leeks in the lamb dish were added at the very end of the stir-fry process and still retained a very strong garlicky grassy taste. In the case of the tea-smoked duck, as mentioned earlier, the smoky flavor clashed with the dark oaky taste of the Oberbergen Pinot Noir Reserve.
There were some spectacular pairings. For example Chris Johnson brought a 2005 Nahe Spatlese to accompany the appetizers. I served a varietiy of cold dishes and all of them contained subtle sweet and vinegary flavors, along with the fragrance of toasted sesame oil. The slightly sweet fruity yet nutty flavor of this Riesling and Traminer blend was perfect for matching this course.
One surprising pairing that I liked very much was brought by Nobu Otsu of The Winery in Harlem: a La Gitana Manzanilla Sherry, which was paired with the Str-fried Conch in Wine Lees Sauce (pictured above). The beautiful sherry flavor really enhanced the sauce in this dish. Both Chinese wine lees and sherry have similar caramel flavors that complement each other.
But the one single pairing that completely wowed everyone at the table was the Murai Family Nigori Genshu Sake for the dessert. Chris Johnson brought this sake, and befitting of his reputation as the master sake expert this pairing was absolutely magnificent.
This wine pairing dinner was one of the most memorable events I’ve organized for a long time. The entire banquet lasted almost seven hours. In the wee hours of the morning after ten people finished twenty bottles of wine we decided that pairing wines with Chinese food could be intoxicating. Matching complex foods with equally complex wines is difficult but not impossible. Why don’t you come up with suggestions on how to pair the menu I created?