Pairing Sichuanese Cuisine with Fine Wines

Sichuan is home of one of China’s legendary Eight Great Cuisines. Because of the province’s heat and humidity, lots of innovative preservation methods were developed in the days before refrigeration and air conditioning. Included are drying, pickeling, salting and smoking.

Sichuanese cuisine is noted for its pungency and oilness. Flavours range from sweet and spicy to hot and pungent. Then there is the liberal use and ma la peppers, a sort of numbing spice that doesn’t have an adequate English translation.

The unique taste sensation it causes in the mouth is practically indescribable. Sichuanese chefs also use lots of garlic, ginger, fragrant oils, and yuxiang, a type of fish sauce, in the preparation of their dishes.

Sichuanese dishes are found on the menus of Chinese restaurants all over the world. Some of the most popular items include Auntie Ma’s tofu (or ma po tofu), hot and spicy hotpot, kung pao chicken, sichuanese style boiled fish, stewed carp with ham and hot and sweet sauce, and tea smoked duck. Of all of China’s most popular cooking styles, Sichuanese cuisine is undoubtedly the most difficult to match with fine wines. But it can be done.

“I believe is that red and white wines can be paired with Chinese cuisine based on the same assumptions and notions that apply to Western food,” says Ricardo Jorge Pina, assistant F&B director at the Shangri-La Hotel, Chengdu, in China’s Sichuan province.

“Sichuanese cuisine is known for its strong flavors and spiciness, in particular the famed Sichuanese peppercorns, which do not leave much room for being paired with wines. . . All this richness can perhaps be complemented with a wine that should be low in alcohol content and with a hint of sweetness to balance the spiciness of the dish. Only this way will you be able to enjoy the wine without enhancing even more the spiciness of the food. For this I would recommend either a red wine like a Pinot Noir, which is softer in tannins, or a white wine in the semi-sweet range, either a Riesling or a Gewürztraminer – the choice is yours!”

What to Drink with What

These food and wine combinations were suggested by the Hong Kong Tourism Board:

Hot and Spicy Hotpot – Fruity Pinot Noir from Australia, California, or New Zealand (red); or dry German whites wines or a New Zealand
Sauvignon Blanc (white)

Kung Pao Chicken – Pinot Noir (red)

Sichuanese Style Boiled Fish – Pinot Noir (red)

Stewed Carp with Ham and Hot and Sweet Sauce – Late Harvest (a dessert wine) or Botrytis Sweet Wine

Tea Smoked Duck – Pinot Noir or Malbec (red)

Copyright: Michael Taylor

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