Chinese Food is complex with many layers of umami, salty, sweet, tangy, garlic, vinegar, sour, spicy, ginger, soy, chili, oil to enhance flavours. This gives us much to work with, but the tricky part is each dish offers a different set of flavours, textures and nuances. So for that reason, I have chosen 4 popular Chinese dishes and paired wine with each one separately so that you can appreciate the reasoning behind my choices. If you were to sit down and order a table full of various Chinese food dishes, then any of the wine pairing options would fit as a whole, but you will learn how to appreciate each choice.
Top Wines for Chinese Food:
- Pinot Gris
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Sparkling Wine
Let’s start with a classic chow mien noodle dish. It can be laden with meat or vegetables but consistently will have a soy and oil base which it is cooked in. This adds umami same as meat and mushrooms. This is a classic stir fried dish with onions, peppers, celery, bean sprouts, scallions, mushrooms, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, and noodles of course! It can be a medley of meats and seafood or vegetarian. My preference is to pair a white wine with this dish.
Choose white wines that offer white stone fruit like peaches and pears, citrus zest, honey notes and a balancing acidity. At the top of this list is Pinot Gris, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. Viognier and Chardonnay have a fuller body matching the oil base and weight of the dish especially with meat and seafood. Other whites that would work include Pinot Blanc, Muscat, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Albarino, Verdelho and a white wine blend containing any of these. All of these wines will provide a refreshing reprieve from the saltiness of the soy sauce base. Any fruit, citrus and honey notes will compliment the umami flavours and textures of the dish, by lifting the palate.
Next up is the popular Ginger Beef. This dish is sweet and tangy made with honey, sugar, ginger, rice vinegar, white pepper, chilies, and rice vinegar. It gets its texture from deep frying which adds oil. My favourite wine to pair is Gewurztraminer as it often has exotic lychee fruit and ginger flavours both of which are Asian so a great match.
The body matches too, and the wine should always be sweeter than the food to avoid a bitter taste and if you go for an Alsatian style Gewurztraminer then you will have an off dry wine full of intense flavours and honey notes. This is a match made in heaven. Other wines that will work are an off dry Riesling, Muscat, Semillon, off dry Pinot Gris and an off dry sparkling wine would also work well balancing the texture and oiliness of the deep fried beef.
Next is the popular fried rice. This dish is often accompanied by pork, beef, chicken, tofu, mushrooms, vegetables, scrambled eggs, soy sauce, garlic, scallions, and an oil base. It is usually stir fried in a wok or sizzling skillet. I think here we need a fruit forward wine with body that will balance out the oiliness and saltiness.
I am thinking a rose with earth, cherries and strawberries, and a good level of acidity will do the trick. Many roses can fit this bill. Also, you could find a lovely synergy with Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Viognier.
Next is the ever popular pot stickers also known as dumplings and gyoza. This is usually chicken, pork, or vegetables wrapped up in an egg roll wrapper. With this dish we are looking for a wine to offer a refreshing balance to the oil, salt and crisp wrappings that may or may not be deep fried, but usually sauteed. In my mind there is no better complimentary pairing then sparkling wine. We will want a sparkling wine with some lovely citrus notes, fruit nuances and a zesty acidity to cut through the oiliness.
This pairing could work with egg rolls too for the very same reasons. Usually soy, rice vinegar, sesame oil, ginger, and chillies are in the dipping sauce so a sparkling wine will accommodate that big umami flavour without getting lost. Both will enhance the other in an exciting way.
Whatever you choose, we hope you get some inspiration from this and have fun experimenting.
Katherine McEachnie, DipWSET