Top 5 wines to pair with Chinese food
Salty, sweet, sharp, spiced, succulent; Chinese cuisine can be everything all at once. It’s also a massive disservice to talk about it like it’s a singular thing; when we’re sitting down for a feast are we talking Anhui, Cantonese, Fujian, Hunan, Jiangsu, Shandong, Szechuan or Zhejiang on offer?
So where to start with the wines then? Like all pairings, there’s never going to be a one-size-fits-all; the great news is that means that there’s all the more reason to open up a range of bottles and discover the wine that works best for you and whoever you’re dining with.
That said, here’s what we’d be taking if you invited us along. Gānbēi!
What can we say that’s not already been said about riesling? It’s one of the most versatile wines for pairing, and really earns its stripes here. Riesling comes in a range of styles - from crisp, green fruited and bone dry, to riper, sweeter styles you can sip with dessert. Our tip here is to opt for either a dry or an off-dry bottle (Kabinett or Spätlese if you’re looking at a German riesling). The natural acidity of the wine will make a match with any fat in the dishes you’ll be eating, and the touch of residual sugar in a off-dry wine will help you tackle any sichuan-style spice that’s causing you to sweat. A real all-rounder.
Gamay (particularly from Beaujolais) loves chicken and lighter cuts like pork, and can toe that fine line (or yoyo) between mouthfuls of a dish that’s sometimes sweet, sometimes sour. Often fruit forward and high in acidity, it’s perfect for feasting and light enough not to dominate conversation between sips. Crisp and chatty, it can even be chilled down if you’re feeling the heat.
“Umami” is that classic tasting descriptor for Chinese cuisine - the fifth taste that we’ll broadly chalk up as “savoury” - a kind of mushroom, vegetable bouillon sense of something. So what do you pair with the indescribable? When in doubt, trust the classics. The earthy notes of quality pinot noir (even with a bit of bottle age) will put an arm round umami-centric dishes (e.g. with ingredients like fish sauce, soy sauce, oyster sauce, mushroom or black bean), with enough fruit character to say “Nǐ hǎo” as you take a sip.
Bordeaux blends and Chinese cuisine are now classic compadres, but we tend to favour merlot-dominant blends, or even merlot straight up by itself. Merlot’s characteristic plum fruit character means it’s a winner when it comes to dishes like Peking Duck, and it’s got just enough tannin to match against your more generous black-bean sauce centred fare.
Perfect for when you’re tackling fried foods like a crispy spring onion pancake, spring rolls or fried dimmies. The acidity in your glass of bubbles will help cut through all that greasy goodness to leave your palate refreshed and ready to take on that next mouthful… and the one after that too.
Still can't decide? Grab a mixed case and taste test a selection for yourself.