Food and Beverage
Marion Barral of French winemaker Château de la Gardine in Châteauneuf du Pape, France, was in Hong Kong recently for Vinexpo 2012.
While in town, she attended a Chinese banquet in which French wines were paired with Chinese cuisine. For interest, three vintages were matched with each course. Afterwards, I asked Marion if she could comment on how best to match French wines with Chinese cuisine.
“We could write an entire book on matching French wine with Chinese cuisine, but I will try to summarize a few ideas,” Marion said.
Three Key Elements
“Start by taking the following elements to into account. There are often numerous basic ingredients in Chinese cuisine. Which one is predominant? What about the cooking method? Steamed? Baked? Grilled? Fried? Slow-cooked? And finally, what is the level of spiciness?”
For soups, Marion suggested a fruity Beaujolais, a young Côtes du Rhône, or an aromatic Viognier.
“For their light texture, you do not want anything too tannic and a wine that can work with the different ingredients of the soup.”
Dim sum and steamed fish are hallmarks of Cantonese cuisine, which is the most popular style of Chinese cooking in Hong Kong and overseas. For them, Marion recommended delicate white wines like Sancerre, a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, or a dry rosé from Provence.
For deep fried foods, which are also popular with Cantonese chefs, she suggested a wine with good acidity to cut through the oiliness of the dish such as a Chablis.
“Sparkling wines, especially Champagne or a good crémant, are also a good option,” Marion said.
“In terms of red, a Burgundy or New Zealand Pinot Noir can also be an option.”
Sweet and Sour
Who doesn’t like sweet and sour pork?
Sweet and sour dishes are always popular, and not just with Cantonese chefs. In addition to sweet and sour pork, you will find sweet and sour chicken, sweet and sour fish, sweet and sour spareribs – the list goes on. And chefs in different parts of the country give different spins on this classic Chinese cooking style.
Despite their popularity, however, sweet and sour dishes can be difficult to pair with wine because of their unusual combination of flavours.
“Here you need an aromatic wine with a hint of sweetness such as a fruity and full bodied rosé like Bandol and Tavel,” Marion said.
If Cantonese cuisine is the most popular Chinese cooking style in Hong Kong and overseas, Sichuanese cuisine is arguably the most popular of China’s regional cuisines in China itself.
Sichuanese chefs, however, have a heavy hand with hot chilies and numbing spices, and this can present special challenges to sommeliers. Many diners make the mistake of trying to match the robust flavours of the food with an equally robust wine – such as a Bordeaux or a Burgundy – but this is a mistake.
“I would suggest wines with a touch of sweetness like Alsace Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer or Loire Chenin Blanc,” Marion said.
“In terms of reds, young Beaujolais and Côtes du Rhône are also a good option as their fruitiness helps to cool down the heat of the food, and their soft tannins do not clash with the spices.”
Ginger Based Dishes
Many Chinese recipes call for the liberal use of ginger. For ginger-based dishes, Marion recommended an aromatic white wine such as a Gewürtztraminer or a fruity rosé like Tavel or Bandol.
For barbecued meat dishes, she said a light or medium-bodied red like a fruity Beaujolais, a Côtes du Rhône, or a Burgundy red.
For rich braised dishes, dishes with a strong caramelized sauce, and hotpots, Marion suggested Châteauneuf du Pape or Madiran, “Here you need a full-bodied red with good complexity,” she said.
And what about dishes seasoned with uncooked soy sauce?
“Here you need a wine that can balance the saltiness of the dish,” Marion said.
“A rich white Burgundy or a rich white from the Rhône would be perfect.”
When all is said and done, there are no hard fast rules. Half of the fun of savouring fine wines with fine cuisine is experimentation.
“Of course these are only suggestions,” Marion said.
“The best and the most exciting thing about food and wine matching is trying, experimenting, and finding some surprising and unexpected combinations!”