Chinese New Year Wine Pairings

What to drink with a new-year feast


The Chinese are discovering wine. And just in time.

We’ve always had a love affair with Chinese food here in NYC; after all, who else delivers at 3 in the morning with a foot of fresh, wet snow on the ground! But of course, there is NYC Chinese restaurant food and then there is Chinese food.

With Chinese New Year upon us on February 3 (ushering in the Year of the Rabbit), and the growth of China as an important cultural reference in many communities, it’s a perfect time to think a bit about Chinese food and how pairing wines with these dishes can play an increasingly important role in our culinary landscape.

The Chinese seem to have a particular affinity for Bordeaux, and while that would not be my first choice to pair with many Chinese dishes, the pantheon of Chinese cuisine is broad and wide, and there is a great match for almost every wine. The trick is in teasing out the elements that work well together!

Bordeaux

The Chinese love the good things in life and in the world of wine nothing symbolizes that more than Classed Growth Bordeaux. While the rigid, tannic nature of Bordeaux doesn’t pair well with many of the basic elements of Chinese cuisine, there are several dishes that really do have synergy with Bordeaux. Tea-smoked duck, for example, is a dish I have frequently paired with Bordeaux to great success. In the spirit of Chinese New Year, you might want to serve a nice duck preparation with Bordeaux to your Chinese friends, though remember to leave the head and feet on for New Year’s!

For more about a Chinese New Year Menu, see our article A Chinese New Year Feast on our sister site WhatsCook.in.

Dumplings

Dumplings are a traditional element in a Chinese New Year’s feast, not to mention a staple on most restaurant menus. The combination of garlic, ginger and soy that one typically encounters in dumplings can make them tricky to pair with wine. This is a great spot for an off-dry sparkling wine. A sparkling Gewürztraminer (there are some out there) or a Cremant d’Alsace that may include some spice in the blend would be ideal, but even an excellent Moscato d’Asti or Prosecco can be a fun match for unpretentious dumplings.

Spring rolls

Spring rolls, and other fried dishes, such as fried dumplings for example, tend to need more acid than most off-dry sparkling wines can provide. Spring rolls are generally not very heavily seasoned and have a vegetable component that make them well suited for serving with Grüner Veltliner or Sauvignon Blanc, each of which has vibrant acidity paired with clear fruit and a little vegetal component of their own. Another alternative is a zesty, lemony Argentine Torrontes, whose flavors can offer great contrast to a spring roll’s.

Lettuce wraps

Lettuce wraps. There are a whole world of potentially fillings for lettuce wraps out there. WhatsCook.in featured a delicious, spicy boldly flavored version with duck as an element in a Chinese New Year’s feast and in some ways the flavors of that wrap are so typically of many Chinese meat-based dishes that I thought it worth pairing with wine, but what wine you ask? Well, in this case, because of the heat, spice and richness of the dish I’d opt once again for an off-dry sparkling wine, but this time a red one!

Sparkling Shiraz or, even better, Malbec, would be an ideal match here, though an excellent Italian Lambrusco would work well, too. The spice of the dish would be tempered by the sweet edge of the wine and the rich flavors of the wine would meld with the deep, complex flavors of the duck.

Roast chicken

In addition to being the way to gauge any chef’s prowess in the kitchen, roast chicken has to be one of the wine-friendliest dishes around, even when jazzed up with assertive Chinese seasonings. In this case, the spice, ginger, and garlic calls out for a wine that is equally bright and assertive. I might be tempted to go with Pinot Noir here, but in truth an excellent Nebbiolo has just the right combination of flavor and finesse to act as the perfect foil for this bird.

If you’d rather pair this dish with a white wine, consider a wine that has seen some barrel-ageing. The spice element imparted to the wine by its time in wood can help form a bridge with the spices in the chicken recipe. A Rioja Blanco Reserva or Gran Reserva seems like a great pairing.

Whole fish

The centerpiece of every Chinese New Year’s celebration, a whole fish -- typically steamed but possibly fried, baked, or broiled -- can be a breeze to pair with wine. Though if you’re going the spicy route, and that is also not unusual, the picture gets a bit murkier. Typically one can temper the heat in a dish with a little bit of sweetness, and this case it’s no different! German Riesling, off-dry, a nice Kabinett or Spatlese, is a perfect partner for a spicy fish preparation, whether steamed or fried.

Germany Rieslings are super food-friendly because they generally are all about the fine interplay between their brilliant acids, which marry with a dish’s fattier components, and sugars, perfect for parrying spice and heat. 

Noodles

Noodles are a typical dish for Chinese New Year's and pairing them with a luxury ingredient such as lobster can really make the dish special and help ensure an interested audience! Chardonnay is a natural with lobster and the lightly spicy style commonly encountered in Chinese cooking really lends itself to a lightly oaked style of Chardonnay. While good village-level Burgundy might be perfect in a situation like this, examples from South Africa can pack just the right balance of weight and spice to work wonders with the dish.

A Chinese New Year Feast

Inspired to create your own Chinese New Year celebration? Check out A Chinese New Year Feast on our sister site What'sCook.in for recipes.

For more on picking the perfect wine to go with your meal, go to Classic Food and Wine Pairings.

And if you're a new fan of Bordeaux, get some help deciphering the labels at How to Read a Bordeaux Wine Label.

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Comments

  • Snooth User: tjgriffin
    601667 21

    Hi Gregory. Nice article as Chinese food is always a challenging cuisine to pair with wine. Couple of notes: Gewurztraminer is not allowed in the blend for a Cremant d'Alsace and Torrontes is misspelled. Keep up the good work!

    Jan 31, 2011 at 3:22 PM


  • Snooth User: PC2
    752573 1

    I'm from Grove Estate Wines in Young Australia. Tim Kirk makes our Shiraz Viognier. Any ideas on who I can speak to regarding importing to USA?

    Regards Brian Mullany

    Jan 31, 2011 at 7:04 PM


  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 6,340

    Some good combos here, Greg, but a few stretches. Afraid you lost me on the Lambrusco with lettuce wraps. What's wrong with a beer?

    And glad you recognized that NYC (or San Fran or....) Chinese is a different animal from Chinese across the Pacific. Would be fun to bring a large winelist to Canton and do some matchings there.

    Feb 01, 2011 at 2:11 AM


  • Prosecco was a surprising hit with Thai Food. In general Alsace wine goes well with Chinese in my experience, the added grapy flavours lift the combination. Gewurztraminer or prosecco for spicy food, or even off dry eg mosel. Bordeaux might just make it but seems a gamble to use a classed growth, unless host is showing off flamboyant wealth (?) - which is behaviour increasingly likely to denude us of .....classed growth bordeaux

    Feb 01, 2011 at 4:58 AM


  • Brian Mullany Thankyou for the Hilltops Semillon of 2008 and 2007 and 2006 wonderful golden liquid fondly remembered here in London. Am nursing last bottle of the 2006 Shiraz Viognier Grove Estate in my cellar as well. Divert any future shipments to London please

    Feb 01, 2011 at 5:01 AM


  • Snooth User: shermank
    614080 9

    Interesting article. During Chinese New Year banquet (or other Chinese festive), all the dishes are presented almost at the same time (I'm excluding the usual spicy dishes here) Usually, Australian Shiraz, NZ Saug Blanc or even South Africa Pinotage fair well with the combination; while Asti sparkling wine (Italian Brachetto or Australian sparkling Shiraz) will do well with the dessert (Chinee pastries). Oak flavored wine is not a good pairing choice.
    I'm putting together a handbook about wine pairing for the 8 main Chinese cruisines; thus, this is a helpful research material for me.

    Feb 01, 2011 at 12:11 PM


  • Aussie shiraz and chinese food SURELY YOU MEANT roast lamb! But I am keen to hear of suggested chinese dishes that would be lifted by shiraz.....

    The sauces are surely a minefield... Beef yes, but in black bean sauce? What goes well with Kung Po or sweet and sour? Noodles and lobster yes with chardonnay, but thats the lobster. What if noodles are spicy?

    Tea , hot green and cutting through the fats with tannins and heat, surely best with chinese food?

    Puzzled no one fancies Alsace eg pinot blancs, gewurz, with this cuisine

    Feb 02, 2011 at 5:42 AM


  • Snooth User: manan1
    1188025 24

    William Simpson and Sherman K are spot on.

    I am a Chinese ex restaurateur and lived in France for over 15 years. Grape wines are not a common part of Chinese cuisine. Tea and a lager type beer is universally drunk in China by most people at meals so why not do as the Chinese do? You can't go wrong.
    For banquets, hard grain liquor grain liquor (40 degrees proof or more) and yellow rice wine is served. Chinese food does not go with great bordeaux wines but does with great rice wines.

    If I prepare a banquet or buffet with more than 10 dishes for my western friends and need wine, I recommend to keep things very simple. Four wines I have found go well are an Alsace pinot blanc ( 1-3 yrs) and an Alsace pinot noir (1-3yrs) which have enough acidity and dryness to cut through the fat and spices of many dishes and clean the palate. For guests who prefer a bit more body an alsation gewurztraminer ( (1-5yrs regular is ok, no need for a v.t. or s.g.n. )plus an aged (4-7 yrs) red gigondas work well. Last week we had a 3 hour complex New Year banquet for 18 people; A vintage champagne opener (before serious eating started) was followed by a Gewurtz. and a Gigondas.
    For non drinkers and drivers, tea and sparkling mineral water were fine non alcoholic alternatives and in China you will commonly find watermelon or cucumber juice commonly available in restaurants. Everyone was happy with the choice.

    Feb 13, 2013 at 5:55 PM


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