For many of us, Chinese New Year is a non-stop feast lasting from a few days to a few weeks. Because of customs, CNY meals often include similar dishes. The food, while delicious, can be heavy and even boring after a few days, so wine is an ideal way to add variation to CNY dinners. With 10–12 people around a table, a good few bottles can be shared.
White wine goes best with Chinese meals because the acidity cuts through the oiliness and the fruitiness enhances the freshness of the dishes. It also lifts the overall heaviness at the end of a meal. A medium-bodied, barrel-fermented or aged white wine has hints of spices, smoky notes and good complexity that complements a wide range of flavours, from sautéed seafood and soy sauce chicken to braised mushrooms and spare ribs. Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, Pinot Gris and Viognier are some of the top choices. Some people may not like chilled drinks with dinner, so the advantage of these white wines is that they do not need to be served too cold.
If you prefer red wine, avoid tannic wines such as young Bordeaux and Barolo as the tannin clashes with the soy sauce and cooking spices used in Chinese dishes. On the contrary, the tannin in aged Bordeaux and Barolo mellow over time, so they fare better with these dishes. Pinot Noir is an all-rounder because of its fruitiness and silky tannin. Try Pinot Noir from different countries and regions for different experiences. Other considerations are Tempranillo (Rioja), Valpolicella Ripasso, Pinotage, Malbec and Merlot, just to name a few.
Shiraz has peppery and spicy notes that accentuate the spiciness of certain dishes while aromatic or off-dry white wines such as Riesling Spätlese and Gewürztraminer tone down the fiery heat. These wines are good paired with CNY dishes depending on how much spice you can handle.
Why not organise a theme dinner by country or grape variety? Italy has such a diverse range of wines that you would not be short of choice. A Pinot dinner would be fun as you can choose from Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris (white wines) as well as Pinot Noir (rosé and red wines).
Or try some out-of-the-box themes. A sparkling dinner (champagne or bubbly from other countries and regions) certainly fits the festive mood. Like white wine, the acidity of sparkling wine cuts through the fat. The bubbles further refresh the palate and the relatively lower alcohol content (around 12%) is welcome after a few days of indulgence. A fruity-style sparkling wine such as Prosecco goes nicely with steamed seafood, a non-vintage champagne or similar matches well with medium-intensity dishes while a heavier, more structured rosé sparkling wine or vintage bubbly pairs well with more intense meat dishes.
For a bolder pairing, fortified wine is the way to go. Dry sherry is nutty with a savoury finish that gives a new sensation to the pairing experience. Port, on the other hand, is sweet and goes surprisingly well with bold-flavoured, savoury dishes. Tawny port, with its nutty and caramel aromas, is perfect with Cantonese roasted meats while late-bottled vintage port stands up to intense northern Chinese flavours. A sweet Oloroso sherry or vintage port would be a perfect way to finish a meal.
Whatever wine or wine theme you choose for your CNY meals, remember that wine is about sharing and enjoyment, so don’t get too rigid about the exercise. Just relax, explore and have fun.
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