Erik Neilson on January 30, 2017 0 Comments Chinese food tends to get a bad rap for a number of reasons, chief among them being the fact that most people are only familiar with Americanized versions of the many cuisines of China. The fact is, Chinese food is not only inherently healthy and nutritious, but also extremely complex, layered with incredible flavors that are difficult to pin down. Because of this, real, traditional Chinese food happens to be notoriously difficult to pair with wine. Even the best sommeliers often find themselves stumped, as Chinese food can be so assertive as to cause even the sturdiest wines to flop. So, how can one properly pair wine with traditional Chinese cuisine? There are some guidelines to follow that can help, and from there, don’t hesitate to branch out and try your own combinations. 1. Zha Jiang Mian and Sauvignon Blanc Zha Jiang Mian — also commonly referred to as “Beijing Fried Sauce Noodles” — is an inherently hearty dish bolstered by a healthy dose of soy and fermented minced pork. The richness of the dish can be quite difficult to offset, requiring a wine that brings both assertive, racy acidity and creamy balance to the table. Sauvignon Blanc is the perfect grape to stand up to the task, offering up a tanginess that will balance the richness of the Zha Jiang Mian noodles without spoiling the intentions of the dish. When choosing a Sauvignon Blanc to pair with Chinese cuisine, there are a number of different routes that one can take. For sheer balance, it’s difficult to beat the Sauvignon Blanc found in Marlborough, New Zealand, and Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc is an excellent choice. Tangy and citrusy with refreshing lemony characteristics, Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc is crisp, clean and noted for its long, grassy finish. Alongside just about any rich noodle dish, this wine will shine to its true potential. 2. Roast Duck Noodle Soup and Bordeaux One of the more common street vendor items found throughout China is roast duck noodle soup, which can be as comforting and warming as it is complex and rich in flavor. Many iterations can also be rather spicy, calling for a wine that can stand up to the heat without falling apart or changing the nature of the food itself. Bordeaux comes to mind, with its notes of blackberries, pepper and spice — all characteristics that work beautifully with duck. Cabernet Franc can also be a great option as far as single-varietals go, but a Bordeaux blend will typically be sturdier. Rather than recommending an expensive Bordeaux blend that should be drunk on its own and without the competition of strong flavors, it’s best to stick to a relatively reasonable, drinkable wine like La Croix de Bordeaux. It’s got just enough spice to tame the duck, and at the end of the meal, you won’t feel as if you’ve wasted a standout wine in an assertive food pairing. 3. Mapo Tofu and Gewürztraminer There are few dishes that define the Sichuan Chinese cuisine quite like Mapo Tofu, the stewed sauce of tofu, ground pork and fiery chilies that is a household staple in the province. The heat of this dish can be overwhelming at times, requiring a wine that carries with it not only a great deal of acidity, but also some faint sweetness as well. Gewürztraminer is the best solution in most cases, as it will stand up nicely to the Mapo Tofu without getting in the way of the flavor associated with Sichuan chili peppers. Gewürztraminer may have originated in France, but there are some incredibly poised versions of this wine coming out of other regions, including Canada. Malivoire Gewürztraminer is a great example of Canadian Gewürztraminer, carrying notes of lychee fruit and citrus in a ripe, lusciously textured wine that approaches near-perfect levels of acidity. It’s practically built to be drunk alongside a fiery bowl of Mapo Tofu, and at under $20/bottle, it’s a reasonable offering that shouldn’t be overlooked. 4. Cantonese Roast Pork and Gamay Roast pork is a hallmark dish in the Canton province of China, as are roasted meats of all kinds. There’s something distinct about the complex amalgamation of sweet, savory and salty that is usually found in most versions of Cantonese roast pork — it’s intoxicating to say the least. Depending upon the preparation, however, Cantonese roast pork can be cloying in flavor, requiring a wine that is both deep in flavor and almost sour in its acidity. Gamay, then, would be the perfect pairing for any dish that fits this context. Eldridge Estate Gamay from Port Phillip, Australia would make a wonderful pairing with Cantonese roast pork. It’s arguably one of Australia’s finest variations on Gamay wine, with a lush medium body that stands up to any plate of meat with ease. Sharp and slightly sour, there are notes of cherries, bubblegum and light herbs. It’s tailor-fit for food that walks the line of sweet and savory, and at under $30, it’s rather approachable, too. 5. Cumin Lamb and Nebbiolo Cumin lamb is one of the most savory dishes found in China, and there are plenty different variations on how it can be made. In the end, however, it’s spicy, but not necessarily in a “hot” way — think deep, dark spice that’s so complex it can take an entire meal to fully wrap one’s head around. Cumin lamb matches up perfectly with a bottle of Nebbiolo, which brings with it dusty flavors of tannic dried fruits and oaky vanilla characteristics from the aging process. Most people look to Italy for Nebbiolo, but there are actually some excellent Nebbiolo wines coming out of South Africa. Steenberg Nebbiolo fits the bill perfectly and will pair with cumin lamb like few other wines, bringing to the table flavors of forest floor, red currants, fruit cake and dried herbs. Its subtle smoky qualities really come out in the finish, which lingers on the palate seemingly forever. So, there you have it — pairing wines with Chinese food isn’t impossible. Take care in the bottles you choose, and you’re bound to stumble upon plenty of other stellar pairings with some experimentation.