Pairing With Chinese Foods

Oct 1, 2005
2005 / October 2005

It’s a common question: Does wine complement Chinese foods? If so, which wines are best? A group of us gathered recently in New York City’s Chinatown to find the answers. Eileen Yin-Fei Lo, author of nine Chinese cookbooks, created the menu. The rest of us brought the bottles. And for four hours, we tasted our way through nine courses and 13 wines.

The first match was a snap. Four dumplings — pork siu mai, vegetarian dumplings, spring rolls and soup buns — paired easily with Moët & Chandon champagne. We agreed on the second match as well: barbecued pork and duck with Chablis Premier Cru Montmains 2003, from Drouhin. And the best companion to spicy steamed oysters with ginger and scallions, we agreed, was the 2000 pinot gris from Oregon’s Eyrie Vineyards.

But by the fourth course — clams with black beans — we were divided. Some chose Dr. Konstantin Frank’s 2001 Dry Riesling Reserve, while others preferred the light sweetness of Frank’s semidry riesling. We did not try to find a wine to complement double-boiled hairy melon soup.

On to chicken crusted with garlic, ginger and scallion. Here, the semidry riesling won the most votes, but I preferred an elegant Oregon pinot noir — firm enough to tackle the spice, soft enough not to fight it. With the seventh course, a zingy orange-flavored beef, a fuller-bodied pinot noir — the 2001 from Syren, in New Zealand — won approval.

With striped bass steamed with ginger and scallion, we favored the Oregon pinot noir and pinot gris. Yet for the zesty final course, yuk see chau mein (shrimp, pork and vegetables atop fried noodles), it was back to Syren’s pinot noir.

What did we learn? Brut champagne is a great friend to many Chinese dishes. Reds no more tannic than pinot noir are a good bet with Chinese veal and beef dishes. Whites should have character and fruit, but not be overly sweet. What didn’t work for us were heavily oaked chardonnay and big reds, such as two bordeaux we tried and dismissed.

Still, we feel there are thousands of other potential combinations, so we’re ready and willing to try this experiment again.

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