Leading up to this year’s Chinese New Year celebrations I received many questions about what wines pair best with Chinese food. As you can imagine, many dishes from this rich and flavourful cuisine won’t find a good pairing, but a handful result in some surprisingly delicious combinations!

Firstly, let’s get to back to the fundamentals of food and wine pairing, in particular the body of flavour. Think about body as being how ‘robust’ a flavour is. The wine’s body comes from the characteristics of a specific grape variety, which is further influenced by the wine-making process. For example, a Pinot Noir is typically light bodied, but if you age it in an oak barrel, this external influence will give the wine some additional body. The same goes for food, of course. A classic wonton soup will be simply-flavoured and light bodied, whilst a spring roll will have a medium body and a tasty plate of kung pao chicken, that will have a very full body indeed.

When thinking of pairings, therefore, you need to try to match similar body types to get a good balance, so that one does not overpower the other, so you can find harmony of flavours — or indeed a synergy, where together they bring about something new. In my pairings, I’m starting with the wines, which will then inspire some ideas on what dishes will pair well.

The first wine is the THORN-CLARKE Sandpiper Riesling 2022. This fine white wine has high acidity with lots of minerality, coming form the cool climate region of Eden Valley, Australia. As such, it has a saltiness, a fresh acidity and some fruity components. This would pair well with a delicate Cantonese dish, something like steamed fish, scallops or steamed dim sum. Other wines that may suit would be Brut Champagne or sparkling wine, a Sauvignon Blanc, un-oaked Chardonnay, famous Trocken German Rielsing… something with a higher acidity in comparison to the food. With my fried dim sum, I’m sipping on Piccini Prosecco, the acidity and bubbles cuts through the oiliness, giving a savoury balance of the fruit and acidity.

Now, the Chinese love their ginger, which is a tough ingredient to pair with actually. Whether you’re enjoying a plate of ginger chicken, or steamed crab in a delicious ginger sauce, I suggested pairing with the Schieferkopf Trocken-Sec Gewurztraminer 2021 from the Pfalz region in Germany. It’s aroma is perfumed with fresh lychee, peach, orange blossom, with an off-dry style which helps to reduce the hits of spiciness of this rhizome root.

Speaking of spice… the Enrico Serafino Erianthe Moscato D’Asti DOCG 2021, with its characteristic of sweet and aromatic flavours with hints of rose, citrus and sage typical of the Muscat grape, make for great pairings with the typically spicy Szechuan cuisine. You can of course go a little sweeter with your wine to balance a spicy dish.

A Pinot Noir could be the easiest pairing perfect for duck, poultry, medium intensity flavour of dishes. I tried two! The Santa Rita 120 Pinot Noir has a bucket of berries balanced with a touch of vanilla and a hint of leather, medium-bodied with good depth, soft tannins and an inviting finish. My second was the Domain Drouhin Oregon Cloudline Pinot Noir 2022, with a bright garnet, medium body, bright acidity, and excellent balance. Aromatics include red cherries, cranberries, with various dark fruits with a touch of vanilla. 

Rich braised dishes need bolder wines, like the La Boheme Syrah Gamay, displaying a combination of dark and red fruit, bunch of blueberries, with lots of spices, fresh cut violets, dry herb, earth and forest floor. Could be balanced as well with black bean sauce and a BBQ dish. 

For Chinese pairing, focus on the sauce instead of the protein, and balance tannin in wines with fat in food, the fat will reduce the tannin. A Rosé would thus make for an interesting pairing with a sweet and sour sauce. 

It was so much fun to pair Chinese food with wine, and a great exercise for anyone to test their pairing abilities. There’s no need to wait for the next Chinese New Year, grab a bottle and hit your closest Chinese restaurant. ‘Gon Bui!’ 

WSET Certified Educator / Head of Hatten Education Center

Follow @widyasworldofwines where Widya shares her tasting notes for those interested to learn more through her videos.

Ni Nyoman Kertawidyawati

Ni Nyoman Kertawidyawati

WSET Certified Educator / Head of Hatten Education Center Check www.kertawidyawati.id as Widya just recently launched the fun education card deck for easy and fun learning.