They say what grows together goes together, and when it comes to wine pairings, this seems to be a safe guideline for French, Italian and Spanish cuisines, however, in the New World the rules are a little bit different and by different we mean -almost- anything goes.
While China’s wine production is increasingly becoming more refined and the options are there for the taking, it might still be a while before your friendly neighbourhood Chinese restaurant has a made in China bottle on its wine list. And -with the exception of daring flavour seekers and hardcore wine geeks- it will probably take even longer before you get home with a few portions of fried rice and a Shanxi Bordeaux-style blend.
So, what to pair Chinese food with? Allow me to borrow a bit of Chinese wisdom before getting technical: “There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same”, the proverb goes. Said that, let’s get some gear to make the climb easier, no matter which route you decide to take:
- Chinese food is a very diverse lot but a common trait among dishes is a remarkable presence of umami, known as the fifth taste. When umami-rich foods are paired with wine, our perception of bitterness and astringency is enhanced. Alcohol is felt more and sweetness and fruit character less.
- Another frequent taste in Chinese dishes is sweetness, and this also makes the bitterness and acidity in a beverage to pop out.
- Hot spiciness, present in many sauces, also increases our sensitivity to bitterness and tannins, and it makes alcohol seem stronger as well.
Said that, wines that are high in tannins are generally a don’t (so Cabernet will stay in the cabinet) and those with a remarkable acidity and subtle fruit are also to be avoided (Sauv Blanc we’re looking at you). Very high levels of alcohol will feel overwhelming and overpowering (so keep that big bold Aussie Shiraz on the bench).
So now that we discussed what NOT to do, here are a few wines and beer styles that work…
The delicate yet intense flavours in Rieslings will stand their ground in front of the acidity-enhancing effect of a syrupy sweet ‘n’ sour sauce and its non-intrusive taste will not overpower delicate shrimp of chicken dishes.
12.5% ABV – €19.45
Available at O’Brien Wines
Floral and delicate, apple blossom and stone fruit make the main character of this elegant, classic Alsatian Riesling.
Ideal with: Spicy chicken dishes, Dim Sum, Moo Shu shrimp, Shrimp salad and sweet chili.
Famous for its low acidity, full body and generosity of fruity and floral characters, Gewurztraminer wines seem to exist to prove that no meal is un-pairable.
Lingenfelder Hare Label Gewürztraminer
12.5% ABV – €12.95 (on offer from €14.95)
Available at O’Brien Wines
Typical aromas of litchi and rose abound in a glass of this beautiful German Gewurz, also complemented by flavours of peach, pineapple and a plump, full body.
Ideal with: Seafood and ginger based dishes, Chop Suey, Pekin Duck, sweet and sour pork.
When in doubt, Prosecco it. Now seriously, the Italian sparkling per excellence is low alcohol and tends to have that touch of sweetness that helps it face the heat. The bubbles also give a nice refreshing touch and act as a palate cleanser in between bites so an off-dry Prosecco will be a good friend for your take-away adventures.
Prosecco Monticella DOCG
11% ABV – €22
Available at Marks & Spencer
A remarkably elegant Prosecco, made from old vines located in the privileged region o Ogliano. White peach and a apple blossom aromas with a mild citrus background as well as a small bit of residual sugar make it versatile and seriously easy to drink.
Ideal with: Dim Sum, spring rolls, seafood dumplings.
When a white wine might seem too subtle but a red would be too much, it’s rosé’s time to shine, and this is a common occurrence when serving Chinese foods.
13% ABV – €11.99
Available at the Celtic Whiskey Shop
Malbec it’s not only about strongly pigmented fruity and tantastic reds, it can be tamed into a raspberry coloured rosé, just like this Uco Valley beauty, with flavours of cranberry and grenadine.
Ideal with: BBQ ribs, Moo Shu pork, lo mein with pork and chicken, egg fried rice with shrimp.
This aromatic white traditionally from the Rias Baixas region in Spain has a moderate acidity so it’s a tricky one to pull off when it comes to Chinese food, but it’s richness of flavour, freshness and minerality make it a good choice for seafood based meals moderately seasoned.
Val do Sosego
12.5% ABV – €16.80 (on offer from €18.45)
Available at the Wines Direct
A textbook Albariño with a very refreshing and lemony character and a beach-evoking minerality, it’s crisp but not as acidic as other Rias Baixas whites.
Ideal with: Kung Pao Chicken, shrimp stir-fry, Szechuan prawns, clam sycee.
A refreshing cold lager is one of the safest choices when it comes to Chinese food and drinks pairing, but when the comfort zone is so nice and cosy, why not embrace it? Lagers are mild flavoured so they will give the spoligt to your dish, although the lively carbonated feeling will help to cut through the richness of the food and make the experience more enjoyable.
4.7% ABV – €1.95 (330 ml bottle)
Available at Asia Market
A Chinese beer made in a global style, this is a classic American style lager, not very complex, but fresh and well balanced. A Thirst-quencher to grab when the spicyness is just too much for wine to handle.
Ideal with: Sichuan hotpot, spicy noodles, Gan guo, Er kuai spicy chicken, tofu based dishes.
A richer, fruitier and fuller bodied beer that will add more to your palate than a lager. Wheat beers or weisse beers, are usually low in alcohol and have a mild acidity and a creamy texture, so they tend to interact very well with hot spices and rich dishes.
O’Hara’s Curim Gold Celtic Wheat Beer
4.3% ABV – €3.49 (500 ml bottle)
Available at Baggott Sreet Wines
An wheat beer created with the Irish palate in mind, it’s not as intense as its German cousins nor as sharp as some American examples, it’s a “goldilocks” beer, beautifully balanced. Fruity, with orange, peaches and a drop of honey on the palate.
Ideal with: Dan dan noodles, chicken with cashews, Pekin duck, sweet and sour pork.
The toasted maltiness of a red ale and its moderate alcohol and low acidity make it another interesting alternative to go with Chinese food. Just mind that this beer tends to have a strong flavour so steamed veggies, delicated seafood dishes and the like will not be ideal.
Galway Bay’s Bay Ale
4.4% ABV – €3.10 (500 ml bottle)
Available at Drinkstore.ie and Galway Bay pubs
An Irish red ale with a lovely balance between hops and malt. Mahogany coloured, medium bodied and smooth, it has plenty of caramel aromas as well as a nutty and dried fruit character.
Ideal with: BBQ ribs, hot and sour soup, stir fry beef, sesame chicken.
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.