Sichuanese Cuisine is noted for its pungency and oiliness. Flavours range from sweet and spicy to hot and pungent. Then there is the liberal use and “ma la” peppers. To clarify, they are a sort of numbing spice that doesn’t have an adequate English translation. <
In fact, the unique taste sensation it causes in the mouth is practically indescribable. And Sichuanese chefs also use lots of garlic, ginger, fragrant oils, and yuxiang, a type of fish sauce, in the preparation of their dishes.
What to Drink with Sichuanese Cuisine
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 mapo 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 China’s most popular cooking styles, Sichuanese cuisine is undoubtedly the most difficult to match with wines. And let me clarify that I am speaking of Western wines, which are made of grapes. I am not speaking of Chinese wines, which are made from rice, sorghum, or other grains.
Sommelier Offers Suggestions
To find out if it could be done, I interviewed a sommelier at a five-star hotel in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province. His advice follows:
“I believe 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.
“Sichuanese cuisine is known for its strong flavors and spiciness. In particular, the famed Sichuanese peppercorns do not leave much room for being paired with wine.”
While many foodies think the strong flavours of Sichuanese food call for a robust Burgundy or Bordeaux, Chef Ricardo believes the opposite is true.
“All this richness should be complemented with a wine that is low in alcohol content and with a hint of sweetness to balance the spiciness of the dish,” he says.
“Only this way will you be able to enjoy the wine without enhancing even more the spiciness of the food.”
I asked for for some general guidelines without overcomplicating things. Chef Ricardo had three suggestions. which should go well with either a hotpot or a multicourse meal.
“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!”
Recommendations for Specific Dishes
The above recommendations should suffice for a multi-course meal. For specific Sichuanese dishes, the Hong Kong Tourism Board offers the following choices:
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)