Experiment when choosing wines for Chinese dishes

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I’ve been asked a lot of late about pairing wine with Chinese food. It is an interesting question.

Let us start with the obvious caveat that taste is subjective and so personal preferences should not be presumed inadequate by any opinion expressed by a wine critic or wine sommelier. If you like this or that wine with this or that dish, then it’s a good pairing for you. Traditional European style wine culture in China did not proceed apace with the various regional cuisines.


By contrast, European food and European wine evolved fundamentally in tandem over millennia, with a basic, natural or even organic symbiosis providing for mutual enhancement of both wine and food. In much of Asia, by contrast, alcohol tended to be far more grain based, rather than fruit based — with little specific wine grape cultivation. Consequently, most Asian cuisines simply evolved without wine, by and large, and don’t necessarily pair in any natural or organic sense with European wines.

Among wine professionals, the general rule of thumb when pairing wines with Asian food is — for white wines — to think in terms of the classic German/Alsatian varietals like Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. There are plenty with preferences for specifically German or Alsatian wines, but really it’s the varietals and the style, more than the provenance in this regard. It depends a little bit on the specific cuisines involved, but the key is the balance of acidity to sweetness and the wine’s body or weight in the mouth. There is also a body of opinion in favor of a range of Loire Valley-styled Chenin Blanc wines.

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When it comes to red wines, the general notion is to look for bold New World wine flavors with lots of ripe fruit and restrained acidity, such as New World-styled Cab, Shiraz/Syrah and Malbec. These are, however, all just rules of thumb.

When in doubt, stick to beer or whisky … or risk some experimentation; you might just discover some great combos!


Here are a few options to consider: Hagafen Cellars, Dry White Riesling, Coombsville Napa Valley, Rancho Weiruszowsky Vineyard, 2014 ($24) — this light, bright, bracing, dry Riesling is superb with a nose of lychee, peach, lemon zest and touch of ginger heavy allspice, following through on the palate to flavors of under-ripe white peach, grapefruit, and Meyer lemon. Clean, vibrant, and refreshing throughout. Mevushal.

The Abarbanel, Old Vine Riesling, Batch 66, Vin D’Alsace, France, 2012 ($19) — this lovely if slightly restrained wine offers classic citrus-flint and floral aromatics followed on the palate with the fresh, racy tang of citrus, spice, and herbs, with enough of the acidity and nerve one associates with Alsace to keep it vivacious, and food friendly. Mevushal.

Yarden Gewurztraminer 2014 ($25) — this enjoyable, aromatic, off-dry, medium-bodied wine offers an exotic lychee, honeysuckle and spice profile with apricot and green apple and solid acidity, with just enough residual sweetness to embrace some spicy foods.

Herzog Selections, Vouvray, Moelleux, Loire Valley, France, 2012 ($15) — This crisp, semi-sweet, floral wine offers inviting flavors of apple, apricot and green fig, with just enough acidity to keep the sweetness in check, while remaining sweet enough to pair nicely with spicy Chinese or Indian dishes. A (not too) simple and enjoyable pleasure. Mevushal.

Shiloh, Shiraz Secret Reserve, Judean Hills, Israel, 2010 ($39) — Offering some intense aromatics and flavors of spice, and ripe dark stone and red berry fruits, some eucalyptus notes, coffee, vanilla, and herbs, all with a good balancing acidity and firm tannins, and a slightly sweet, alcoholic finish; should stand up equally well to hearty stews, grilled meats, and mildly spicy meaty foods.

As for liquor, one can almost never go wrong with Johnnie Walker Black Label Old Scotch Whisky (40 percent abv; $35) — “Johnnie Black” as it is affectionately known the world over, is a complex, 12-year-old blend of 40 or so grain and malt whiskies, offering a fine balance of the smoky West Coast style with lighter Speyside malts, with the middle gap filled — it is widely thought — with Highland malts matured in sherry casks The result is a beautifully blended, balanced, elegant whisky with some real ponderous depth and heft to it.

L’Chaim!

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