The Year of the Rabbit – Chinese food and wine pairing ideas

wine with Chinese food

Wine with Chinese food: Five styles to consider

  • Riesling (dry, off-dry)
  • Gewürztraminer
  • Chardonnay sparkling wines 
  • Pinot Noir
  • Gamay

Chinese New Year’s eve: The countdown, the feast

It’s that time of the year again in China. The streets are lit with red lanterns, windows are decorated with red paper-cut patterns and the letter ‘? (fortune)’ on every door – usually pasted upside down, as ‘? (upside down)’ shares the pronunciation of ‘? (arrives)’.

You know New Year is around the corner when the online retailers start to warn their customers that the couriers are about to take a break so ‘shop now but it won’t get delivered any time soon!’ Every household is busy stocking up on ‘Nian Huo ??’ (the ‘spring festival stash’), which covers everything families need to indulge themselves during the week-long break; bags of rice, tons of greens, meat and fish, all sorts of snacks, cases of baijiu (the white liquor), beer and increasingly, wine.

The feast on the eve of the Lunar New Year, just like Christmas eve, is arguably one of the most important Chinese family occasions of the year.

After a year of hard work, the youngsters rush home even if they have to travel thousands of miles so they can make it to this special dinner. Parents meanwhile are busy cooking in the kitchen, while grandparents slip red envelopes into their grandkids’ pockets behind the backs of their strict parents.

When the food is ready, be it cold salads, red-braised meat, roast duck, steamed fish, hot soup, fried vegetables, or indeed dumplings, everything is served together and no one is supposed to touch the food until everybody sits down and a glass has been raised.

With the TV turned on to show the good old Spring Festival Gala, family members chat for hours over the abundance of food and drinks, doing rounds of ‘Ganbei (bottom-up)’ until firecrackers light up the midnight sky. Such is my memory of Chinese New Year’s eve.

Nowadays, this particular family dinner is much less about treating your family to the most sumptuous feast of the year they can afford perfectly good food themselves and don’t need to wait for a special occasion anymore. It is, at least for me, about sharing a tradition and cultural moment that transcends generations, and basking in the joyous reassurance that you are loved and cared about.

Pairing ideas for a full-on feast

If you are after a full-on, authentic Chinese New Year feast experience this year, forget about the one-wine-to-each-dish pairing routine, as dishes of diverse ingredients and clashing flavours are bound to be served together.

What you need is an all-rounder that works with the whole feast. Sparkling wines, namely Champagne, Cava, English bubbles and well-chilled Prosecco, are infallible choices with their palate-cleansing nature. If the dishes are red meat-heavy or with a strong seasoning, you can even try a red fizz such as a frothy Lambrusco.

Aromatic whites with a touch of residual sugar (such as Kabinett Riesling and Gewürztraminer) tend to work in synergy with steamed fish and dishes with strong scents of spices. The fragrance and friendly sweetness make Moscato Asti a welcomed partner to Hot Pot and Sichuan-style spicy dishes among young drinkers in China.

Fruit-forward, ripe and supple red wines such as a New World Pinot Noir, Barbera, Rioja Joven or Southern Italian reds such as Nerello Mascalese also have a place on the table, especially when your dishes are heavy on red-braised seasoning (which usually involves soy sauce and sugar).

I would avoid muscular reds with robust tannin when pairing with a complex feast. Austere acidity also tends to ruin the sweet-and-sour dishes entirely.

Pairing Chinese food and wine common takeaways

Chinese takeaways provide a simpler, westernised approach to the vast possibilities of the country’s eight great regional cuisines (‘????’).

You’ll find familiar options and popular single…

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