If you’re planning a Chinese meal to mark the beginning of the year of the pig, here are the wines to go for
China may be the most high-profile example, but it’s not the only country celebrating its new year next week: Korea, Laos and Singapore also mark the occasion with public holidays, as does Vietnam, whose celebrations start a day earlier.
I find that Vietnamese food is a bit easier to match with wine, being generally less spicy and sweet than many Chinese dishes, and certainly less punchy than Korean. That said, I prefer to drink white wine with it, and Austria’s grüner veltliner is my favourite go-to – Waitrose currently has the attractively peppery Felsner Moosburgerin Grüner Veltliner 2017 (12.5%) on offer at £8.99, instead of the usual £11.99.
That said, many Chinese restaurants have serious wine lists, especially in London, notably Hunan, Hakkasan and, most recently, Imperial Treasure just off Pall Mall, which specialises in (insanely expensive) Peking duck. This is one of the easiest dishes to match to wine, although I have my doubts as to whether you’d want to splash out £2,778 on a Cheval Blanc.
Outside that stratosphere, it’s probably more helpful to focus on whether you’re cooking or ordering more classic dishes, such as sweet-and-sour pork (tricky to match, but an inexpensive, fruity white such as the weirdly named 12.5% Fruit Orchestra Chenin Blanc Viognier 2018, on offer at the Co-op for £6, should do the trick). Or a more contemporary one of the kind you find in cheap noodle joints such as Bristol’s Chilli Daddy or Xi-an BiangBiang Noodles in east London – the answer with those, I recently discovered, is a deliciously smoky Chinese sour plum tea made from smoked plums and Chinese herbs (you can buy a ready-made version from puregusto.co.uk.
It’s perfectly possible to enjoy a red with a Chinese meal, though the sometimes eyewatering chilli heat of Sichuanese food won’t do it many favours. I still haven’t come across a Chinese red I’m wild about, but, as the sixth largest producer in the world, that can only be a matter of time. In the meantime, a smooth, medium-bodied merlot such as the Bulgarian example in the panel below, would rub along nicely.
Oddly, a bottle of champagne or good-quality sparkling wine can also be a good option, particularly if your Chinese new year feast consists of a succession of dim sum-style snacks. Thanks to the imminence of Valentine’s day, there are masses of offers around, the rather charming Bird in Hand fizz from Australia being one of the more reasonably priced.