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Jan 13, 2012 10:44 AM

Wine for a traditional chinese dinner?

We are going to a dinner party where they are going to have a very traditional chinese dinner. I would like to bring some wine, but at a bit of a loss for what to bring. The most common recommendation I see is for an off-dry riesling, but I'm not really a fan. My fallback plan is to bring some bubbly, since I think bubbly goes with (almost) anything, though I'm toying with the possibility of bringing one of my white rhone-style wines, which is the style of white wine I prefer the most (I'm more of a red wine drinker).

Any thoughts/suggestions? The menu is below:

Cold Dishes:
1. 松花蛋 海蜇 SongHuaDan & HaiZhe : Thousand year old egg + Jelly fish
2. 素什锦 SuShiJing: Tofu delights
Hot Dishes:
3. 粉蒸肉 FengZhengRou: Pork with Spiced rice
4. 鱿鱼卷 YouYuJuan: Squid Roll
5. 炒虾仁 ChaoXiaRen: Saute Shrimp (no shell)
6. 糖醋排骨 TangCuPaiGu: Sweet and Sour rib
7. 四川面条 SiChuanMian: Sichuan Noddle.
8. 香菇油菜 XiangGuYouCai: Chinese Veg.
9.八宝饭 BaBaoFan: 8 Treasure Sticky Rice

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  1. This is a tough menu to pair. Looks like bubbly to me too. Off-dry riesling for the sweet and sour rib, and maybe something like a moscato for the 8 treasure rice. If you want some red you could do Burgundy or Rhone with the pork.

    1. arlene,

      You are (almost) always on the right track with bubbles. ;) However, I would not rule out some reds. As noted by craig, you can do reds though I would tend more towards Pinot driven wines rather than Rhone reds, but I don't hate either pairing. Well balanced wines go with well made/balanced foods.

      The only land-mines I see are the Sweet and Sour rib and Shichuan Noodle. If the rib is very sweet and the noodle very spicey, there could be some issues.

      As we all know, the capsaicin oils from chili peppers/oil cling to your taste buds like a Bull Mastif clamping down on a steak and don't allow for much subtlety. So if the noodles are fairly spicey the pairings get challenging and bubbles is probably a better rather than worse bet. You might also consider a Rose.

      Also, in the case of sweet, it is hard for naturally occuring sugars (those in grapes) to keep up with confected sugars even if there is some RS left after fermentation. If there are none, as in a dry wine, you've only got fruity characteristics to bring to battle. SO, if Sweet and Sour means pretty sweet (there is usually a fair amount of white sugar in this dish), there is a problem in that the confected sugar dominates the naturally occuring fruit flavors/sugars--think Coke vs. an orange. All you end up tasting is acid and/or tannin becuase power sweet tends to win over natural sweet. However, there may be an interesting Moscato-ish style pairing here or a Demi-Sec set of bubbles. For some reason, the bubbles tend to mitigate a lot of things and that little but of RS, while not able to fight table sugar, can at least put up a fair fight with CO2 on board. (note, Moscato also mentioned by craig though for a different dish)

      You've touched upon one of the great pairing challenges as more and more delicious food from the East travels towards the wines of the West (or vice versa).

      Please let us know what you choose and how it goes.

      1. If you really want red wine with that dinner, look for a German pinot (called Spatburgunder) Its lower alcohol and high acid goes much better with spicy food than any Rhone wine, especially those from the south!

        I would also forego Rhone whites with this meal, as well, for the same reasons. The spice needs the acid and low alcohol. Stick with Rieslings and/or Gewurztraminers and you'll be better off.

        Yes, bubbles go with everything, but not all bubbles go with everything!

        2 Replies
        1. re: ChefJune

          The Rhone white that I was looking into is high acid and somewhat low alcohol (13%), a Picpoul Blanc from Tablas Creek. Would that fit the criteria? Unfortunately I'm not really into the sweeter Reislings and Gewürztraminers that are typically recommended for this type of meal (dry, crisp Reislings are ok with me).

          1. re: arlenemae

            Recently tried a 2010 Picpoul Pinet from K&L in SF with a medium spicy curry noodle dish that my wife made, the combo was amazing with the spices giving the wine an off dry sweet note. Have also used it successfully with spicy Sichuan dishes at our local favorite spot.

        2. Anything with spice is going to be trouble for a dry wine, especially if it has tannins.
          Champagne and rose would be my guesses if you don't like riesling. A good wine store like K&L or William Cross Wine Merchants can help you pick a good rose, if you need help.
          One of my favorites is a Basque rose called Ameztoi Rubentis. They usually have it at The Spanish Table in Berkeley, but I have it say it's a love it or hate it wine. I have friends who hate it, but I can't get enough.

          1. I'd opt for Rosé bubbles. That sort of balances on the fence between red and white.



            PS - for many years, my tennis doubles partner was Chinese, and his family owned many restaurants. We did similar dinners, usually for weddings (usually 13 courses), and I also enjoy good Kabinet Rieslings with such meals (though never warmed to some dishes).