Pairing Cantonese Cuisine with Fine Wines

I have never understood why – when I order a glass of red wine at some of Hong Kong’s more stylish hotel dining rooms – my teacup is mysteriously lifted from my midst just as my wine arrived. Isn’t tea, to Asian diners, what water is to Western diners? I’ve never had my water glass removed when the wine arrives at Western restaurant. Well, now I know why – thanks to the Hong Kong Tourism Board.

“Most Cantonese like to drink tea while enjoying their meal,” the board’s website informs. “Since the level of tannin in tea is similar to that of red wine, most tea lovers would find it easy to get used to full-bodied and strong red wine. However, if tea and red wine are drunk together during a meal, the mixture of tea with wine will make the flavour of both turn bitter.”

Now who would have thought?

Of China’s Eight Great Cuisines, Cantonese cuisine is the one that has been influenced the most by Western and other foreign cooking styles. It is also the one that has had the most influence on the ways that chefs in the other parts of the world cook.

Stir frying, one of the key cooking techniques in Cantonese cookery, was unheard of in the West a few decades ago. It has now found favour around the world. Thanks to this culinary confluence, Cantonese cuisine is one of the easiest styles of Chinese cooking to match with Western wines.

Having said that, some dishes are easier to match than others. My absolutely favourite Cantonese dish is sweet and sour pork, and this one – owing to the complex combination of flavours and ingredients, presents a serious challenge. The Hong Kong Tourism Board recommend sweet dessert wine such as Late Harvest, Botrytis Sweet Wine, or Muscat.

What to Drink with What

Here is a selected list of food and wine combinations from the Hong Kong Tourism Board (modified).

Baked Lobster with Cheese – un-oaked Pinot Noir, Gamey, Beaujolais (red); California Chardonnay, Australian Chardonnay, Bourgogne Blanc (white); Vintage Champagne; Italian Franciacorta Sparking Wine

Barbecued Pigeon – any deluxe red wine or Fine Pinot Grigio, Gavi, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc

Braised Dried Abalone – Shiraz

Roasted Suckling Pig – AOC Bordeaux, Bourgogne, Cotes de Rhone (red); Chablis Crand Cru, Loire Valley white)

Roasted Goose – without sour plum sauce: Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Australian Shiraz (red); with sour plum sauce: a full bodied red or Gewurtraminer (white)

Sweet and Sour Pork – Late Harvest (a dessert wine), Botrytis Sweet Wine, Muscat

Copyright: Michael Taylor

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