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What wine goes with Chinese New Year food?

Tersina Shieh 謝德蘭 promoting wine culture in Greater China wine consultant ■ marketer ■ event organiser ■ winemaker ■ food/wine pairing adviser ■ wine judge ■ writer +852 9849 2677

Chinese New Year (CNY) is big family celebration where family would sit together for the CNY eve dinner to thank for the year, and then again on the first day of CNY to celebrate the beginning of a new year. The next few days are then spent visiting and receiving relatives. Being Chinese, all visits and gatherings would involve food so you could say Chinese New Year is essentially a week of feasts.

The most traditional CNY dish is Poon Choi (Pun Choi, 盆菜), literally translated as ‘basin food’. It is a big pot of assorted meat, seafood and vegetables and everyone around the table can just dive in. The dish is rich and offers a warm, fulfilling sensation. A big red wine with robust flavour that can stand up to the powerful dish would be a good match. Think Australia (Shiraz/Grenache), South Africa (Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon), France (Southern Rhone) or Portugal (Touriga Nacional), to name a few.

Typical CNY snacks are the savoury turnip cake (蘿蔔糕) and the sweet neen go (nian gao, 年糕) and tsin du (Jian dui, 煎堆). Home-made turnip cake has a lot of different ingredients including preserved meat and sausages, dried shrimps, dried scallops and mushrooms. Its flavour is deep and wide but not intense so a medium bodied red wine such as New Zealand Pinot Noir, Italian Montalcino or a rich white Chardonnay would go well. The sticky neen go and chewy tsin du can be heavy so a sweet wine with good acidity such as German Spatlese or Auslese Riesling or a fortified Madeira wine would lighten up the food yet not being dominated by it. Usually these three snacks are served together so if you can only have one wine, then go for a sparkling wine. The bubbles and crisp acidity cleanse the palate so you have appetite for an extra serving!

Other CNY food includes abalone, fish, chicken, mushrooms and vegetables. Like everyday Chinese food, it is a myriad of dishes and flavours that are to be eaten together and this makes pairing with wine confusing. No wonder a lot of people may have wine with western meals but they don’t have wine with Asian, especially Chinese food. Luckily there are a few tips. Usually, white wine goes better with Chinese dishes because the acidity cuts through the fattiness and oiliness but if you prefer red, a fruity medium bodied wine would match well with most dishes. Avoid high tannic wine because tannin clashes with soy sauce. Therefore aged Bordeaux with integrated tannin fares better with Chinese food than young Bordeaux. Similarly a too pungent wine may overpower the food flavour therefore a Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc) from France arguably is a better match with food than a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, which is better to be enjoyed on its own. In my opinion, the best way to have wine with Chinese food is to serve a white and a red at the same time so you can mix and match the wine with different dishes.

Anyway, there is no precise right or wrong in food and wine pairing. It is all down to personal experience and culture. The trick is to pair wine and food according to their flavour intensity. Light and delicate food goes well with equally light and delicate wine while rich and heavy food matches perfectly with powerful and robust wine. Wining and dining is all about enjoyment and having a good time with family and friends so if you are enjoying the company, wine will only enhance the experience. Enjoy and happy drinking!

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