At the Hong Kong International Wine & Spirits Fair, Mr. Nelson Chow, Chairman of the Hong Kong Sommelier Association, gave an asian food and wine pairing from the perspective of the ethnic Chinese in Hong Kong and China. Food and wine pairing cannot be approached the same way it is done in western cultures where the dishes come separately and where there may only be one main dish. As many of you may have noticed from dining in authentic Chinese restaurants in the U.S., many of the tables will have lazy susans on it. This is because the Chinese share dishes. There may be three dishes, one of seafood, one of pork and one of beef or duck. If you had five diners, there may be up to 10 different dishes with different meats, various preparations from steamed to stir-fried to roast, with flavorings ranging from delicate broths to deeply flavored and rich hoisin, oyster or soy sauces. You get the picture! Mr. Chow asked theoretically, does one pair a different wine with each dish? It is very impractical to pair wines this way. Instead, Mr. Chow suggests that the right approach is to pair wines with the major schools of Chinese cuisine and their particular way of cooking.
The Cantonese – mainly in Hong Kong and southern China – are known for cooking with fresh ingredients and showcasing the purity of their flavors. 70-80% of dishes are seafood based, 10% might be meat and 10% vegetables. Cantonese can be prepared in various ways such as steamed, deep fried and braised, with various seasonings. For delicate seafood dishes, a light and crisp wine like riesling would pair well. The minerality in dry sauvignon blancs like Sancerre and Bordeaux can also bring out fresh fish flavor. Slightly richer scallops and shellfish complement the fuller body of Chardonnay. For foods stir-fried at high heat with slightly caramelized flavors, an off-dry gewurztaminer would serve as a good contrast.
The Shanghai cuisine is known for heavy flavors and bias for sweet, braised and stewed dishes. For this cuisine, Mr. Chow recommends full-bodied, fruity red wines such as Rioja and Ribera del Duero.
In Szechuan with their chili pepper hot foods, wine pairing can be challenging. Each dish has a very distinctive taste with use of herbs and spices assaulting the senses. One of the classic Szechuan dishes is Kung Pao chicken. According to Mr. Chow, one needs to counter the heat and cites the practice in many Szechuan restaurants of having sliced cucumber or sugar on the table for that purpose. The sugar tempers the heat temporarily, but it comes back, requiring a bite of cucumber. A light wine with good acidity will provide more lasting taste and relief.
As examples, we tasted crispy and well-marbled beef with five-spice powder which is pungeant in aromatics but not hot, paired with a fruity, velvety, merlot-based Dourthe #1, one of Bordeaux’s largest brands. With the spicy but light Kung Pao prawns, we had a 2005 Weingut Schales dry riesling from Rheinhessen.