Chinese cuisine is loved worldwide for its exotic flavors and because many meals are pretty easy to cook. What’s not so easy is pairing Chinese food and wine. Nevertheless, it’s possible, and with the right wine, your dinner will be even better. In this article, we will discuss the best combinations of wine and Chinese food.
How to Pair Chinese Food and Wine
Chinese food is incredibly flavorful, and it’s not unusual that a single dish combines a wide variety of aromas. For wine lovers, these flavor profiles create a problem, though. Finding the right wine for a Chinese meal can be difficult. With the following rules, you can narrow down the perfect match:
- Typically, Chinese food is relatively light and thus an excellent match for white wines. Red wines only work with a few bolder dishes that feature ingredients with intense intrinsic flavors. That’s true, for instance, for duck. In any case, you should avoid bold reds.
- High-tannin wines clash with acidic meals. As many Chinese meals showcase sour notes, you should better go for low-tannin wines.
- Many dishes feature a wide variety of flavors, ranging from sweet to sour to salty to spicy. These meals work best with well-balanced wines that offer subtle sweetness.
- Meats like chicken or pork are often fried (and in some cases breaded) in Chinese cuisine. If that’s the case, you need high acidity in your wine. Otherwise, it can’t stand up to the meat.
- Very spicy meals are great with sparkling wines because the bubbles help clean the palate and reduce the heat.
With these rules in mind, let’s discuss some of the most popular Chinese dishes and the best wines to enjoy with them.
Chow Mein and Wine
Chow Mein might be one of the most simple Chinese dishes. Actually, it’s not an original Chinese dish but an American adaptation. The original is called “Chǎomiàn” and is made from soft noodles and several vegetables. In many cases, it comes with some type of protein, such as chicken or tofu. The US variation called Chow Mein is typically made from stir-fried pasta that is more crunchy than soft Chinese noodles.
Although the ingredients typically are lean and light, the frying makes Chow Mein an oily dish. It can be hot or mild, depending on the spices used to season it. You can also expect salty notes from soy sauce.
Sparkling wine lovers can enjoy their Chow Mein with Prosecco. Especially if the dish is very spicy, the sparkler’s bubbles are great for balancing flavors. Here are some bottles to try:
Shrimp Fried Rice and Wine
Fried rice undergoes a similar cooking process as Chow Mein. The rice and various vegetables such as cabbage, carrots, and peas are egg-fried and seasoned with soy sauce and several spices like ginger or chili. Fried shrimps add crunchiness to the meal.
The final dish is salty, spicy, and crunchy, with various aromas from the vegetables. A great wine to accompany these flavors is Gewürztraminer. In particular, the dry and off-dry styles from the Alsace region in France are good choices. They add delicious notes of tropical fruits and spices to the flavor mix. Here is a selection of bottles:
Peking Duck and WineWhen talking about Chinese food, Peking Duck is one of the first dishes that comes to mind. The Chinese know the recipe for more than 700 years, making it one of the oldest meals of their cuisine. Duck breast is the essential ingredient. It gets cooked until its skin is golden-colored and crispy. Typical side dishes are steamed spring pancakes and various vegetables to fill them, and at least one of two sauces: Salty hoisin sauce or fruity plum sauce. A medium-bodied red with intense fruity aromas is the optimal match for Peking Duck. It shouldn’t be too strong in tannins, though; otherwise, it could overpower the meal. French Pinot Noir or Spanish Garnacha wines have the right characteristics. Their red fruit flavors are superb with the crispy duck meat and match both the hoisin and the plum sauce.
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Peking Duck with Spring Pancakes, Vegetables, and Sauces
Szechuan Chicken and WineAnother staple Chinese food is Szechuan Chicken. It comes from the Sichuan region in Southwest China. Its main ingredient is obviously chicken coated in cornstarch and pan-fried until it’s golden and crisp. It goes together with vegetables such as onions, green and red bell peppers, carrots, or broccoli. Dried red chilis and Sichuan peppercorns give the dish an intense spicy heat. And a brown sauce made from hoisin sauce, sesame oil, and soy sauce adds salty and subtle sweet notes. Typically, Szechuan Chicken comes with steamed rice. The dish features a wide variety of flavors, including sweet, salty, and spicy notes. To stand up to this flavor profile, an off-dry German Riesling is a great choice. In particular, Spätlese wines are worth trying. Their sweetness is a great counterplayer for the chicken’s heat. And their mineral and fruity notes fit in perfectly into the meal’s flavor profile. If you’re not into sweet wines, go for a Gewürztraminer (see the pairings for Shrimp Fried Rice). It might be less effective in dealing with the spices, but its aromatic aromas are great add-ons to the meal. Again, sparklers are even better to tone down the heat than still wines. Sweet Asti works as well as dry Champagne.
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Spring Rolls and WineSpring rolls are among the most iconic Chinese foods. These small, cylindrical pastries are filled with vegetables such as onions, carrots, cabbage, and soy sprouts. Optionally some chefs add meat. In addition, the rolls contain a sauce that’s either sweet or savory. After pan-frying or deep-frying, they are very crispy but yet light and delicate in taste. Pair your spring rolls with a dry white wine such as Pinot Grigio or Grüner Veltliner. These wines are not too bold so that they won’t overpower the spring rolls. Nevertheless, they have a good level of acidity to cut through the crispy pastry. Besides, their herbal notes complement the roll’s fresh ingredients deliciously.
Sparkling wine lovers can go for a Spanish Cava wine. The dry sparkler’s bubbles are excellent for cutting through the crispy dough as well as for dealing with savory or spicy sauces. Check these out:
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Chicken Sweet and Sour and Wine
Sweet and sour sauce is a delicious combination of various flavors. Sweet and sour chicken is the most common preparation, and often the chicken is breaded and fried. But you might also come across sweet and sour pork, meatballs, or seafood.
In any case, the sauce is the exciting part of the dish. The ingredients that are responsible for its sweetness are sugar or syrup. In some cases, chefs also use sweet fruits like pineapples or plums to enhance the sweet notes. On the other hand, the sourness comes from rice vinegar. Many sweet and sour sauces also feature salty notes from soy sauce or spiciness from chili or garlic.
The best wine pairing for sweet and sour dishes is a young white wine. It needs plenty of acidity to deal with the breaded meat. German Riesling is a safe choice. Make sure to pick a dry wine, though, for instance:
Chenin Blanc wine from the Vouvray appellation in France is another great match for sweet and sour chicken. In addition to their acidity, they often have notes of citrus and tropical fruits that complement the sauce perfectly. These wines are worth trying:
- Domaine Huet Vouvray Sec Le Haut Lieu 2019
- Marc Bredif Vouvray 2018
- Domaine Huet Vouvray Le Mont Moelleux 2018
Kung Pao Chicken and Wine
Here is one more excellent Chinese chicken dish: Kung Pao chicken (also: Gong Bao). Like Szechuan chicken, the dish comes from the Southwest of China. Logically, the two meals share some similarities. The chicken breast is cut into cubes first and marinated with a mix of cornstarch, rice vinegar, and soy sauce. Then, the chef fries the chicken until it’s golden-colored and crispy.
The sauce is what makes Kung Pao chicken unique. Made from soy sauce, hoisin sauce, sugar, and black vinegar, it combines sour, sweet, salty, and spicy aromas. In combination with peanuts, ginger, garlic, and vegetables like bell peppers, dried chilies, and onions, this sauce causes a flavor explosion in your mouth.
Unfortunately, this variety of aromas make chicken Kung Pao challenging to match with wine. Nevertheless, you can find some outstanding wine pairings. The best might be off-dry Pinot Gris from Alsace. With its elegant sweetness, delicate fruit aromas, and high acidity, it gently balances the meal’s flavors.
- Gustave Lorentz Reserve Pinot Gris 2019
- Leon Beyer Pinot Gris 2016
- Albert Boxler Pinot Gris Sommerberg Wibtal 2016
While finding the proper wine for Chinese food isn’t easy, the right pairings are fantastic culinary experiences. With the details from this article, you are ready to find them. Which Chinese food and wine pairing will be your favorite?