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How to pair your Chinese New Year foods with wine

By Lisa Clarissa Zancanaro 20 January 2020

Header image courtesy of Quercus Vino

Another Chinese New Year is approaching and the Year of the Rat makes an early entrance on 25 January (how fitting to the zodiac animal). Any Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong worth their salt will have finalised their culinary preparations by now to present the most attractive menus possible to their guests, mirroring traditions for this special festive season.

Dining with friends and family is a must—either at home or luxurious venues around the city—but let’s not forget the drinks, and pairing classic Chinese New Year foods with wines is a lot easier than it sounds. Here are our best pointers on how to show up to your Chinese New Year dinner with the right wine pairings.

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Wine pairing is a very personal and subjective matter, especially if your background is from the New World versus Old World—wine lovers and producers are very sensitive towards this difference! Nevertheless, there are a few general rules. For example, if it grows together, it is good together. This is precisely why Riesling from Germany goes very well with cold cuts and pickles typical of that area, or Chianti pairs perfectly with Tuscan delicacies.

Another principle is that the structure of the wine should be similar to the foods you’re eating. Stewed beef is usually paired with full-bodied wines, while light snacks are good with a light Sauvignon Blanc. Contrast is also well accepted: Fried food is compensated with champagne, for instance, to lighten the fatty effects. Keeping that in mind, how should you pair your upcoming Chinese New Year banquet?

Starters

Let’s start with some easy fried spring rolls—they are the perfect dish to go with a glass of champagne or sparkling wine and create a harmonious match. The bubbles of the bubbly help refresh the lingering deep-fried taste on the diner’s palate while adding a special sparkling effect on the tongue.

When it comes to foods like dumplings and bao, the pairing changes depending on whether they feature a vegetable or meat filling. Vegetables call for a light white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, and the Marlborough area is the typical region to taste it from. Should the dumplings be filled with meat instead, a light- to medium-bodied red wine would pair quite nicely. The range here is therefore quite large and it widens from a classic Burgundy to a Pinot Noir from California or a nice Barbaresco from Piedmont, Italy.

Tofu dishes, as well as seafood, are soft and light dining solutions and pair beautifully with similar light wines like Riesling or a fresh and fragrant Pinot Grigio, enhancing their flowery aromas. If you wanted to try a daring pairing, you could opt for a light red, such as Beaujolais or a young Sangiovese to present something unexpected.

Mains

When it comes to main plates, the classic Chinese New Year Peking duck is absolutely delicious when balanced with the typical red cherry taste of Pinot Noir, while a warming hot pot is an ideal match for a full-bodied, intense-flavoured red wine such as Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Spanish Rioja, Italian Barolo, or the very classic and easy-to-find French Bordeaux. The same pairing is also well recommended when it comes to beef rice noodles that typically signals the end of the long series of Chinese New Year meals.

High minerality would also suit this rich and sumptuous plate. If you can get your hands on a rare red like Etna Rosso, I would highly recommend a taste. Originating from a volcano (in Sicily, Italy), this wine conveys aromas influenced by lava and its mineral soil. Quite an exclusive and interesting solution!

Desserts

Sweet dessert dishes like fried sesame dumplings and egg custards can be enjoyed with fruity white wines like Gewürztraminer, while mango puddings are uniquely enhanced by champagne and sparkling wines. A sugary French Sauternes goes well with milk chocolate, tropical fruits, or cakes.

Apart from tastes and general foodie rules, cooking techniques and room temperatures can also influence the wine pairing, wherein the same foods can be matched with different wines if cooked differently, such as boiled versus pan-fried and stewed versus deep-fried.

Last but not least, always remember that, ultimately, the best wine pairing is the one that you like. When in doubt, just follow your taste and preferences, and don’t be shy to ask shopkeepers for their recommendations. May you have a prosperous Year of the Rat and bring a perfect wine pairing to your next Chinese New Year dinner!

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Lisa Clarissa Zancanaro

Breakfast at Liza’s

Italian-born and Hong Kong-based Lisa Clarissa Zancanaro is an acclaimed foodie and WSET student who shares her love of wine and the hospitality industry on her blog Breakfast at Liza’s and on Instagram.

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