Wine pairing is no longer as simple as ‘red wine with red meat, white with fish and poultry.’ More and more the world of wine is expanding to all types of cuisine and Chinese food is no exception. With its exceptional flavor profiles and wide range of proteins, vegetables, starches, spices and sauces, there’s no end to the combinations you can explore. So how does one go about pairing wine with such a culinary smorgasbord? We’re glad you asked!
Best Red Wine to Pair with Chinese Food
Chinese food flavor profiles tend to lend themselves best to white wines. If you’re partial to reds, you’re not out of luck, you just have to be a bit more selective. Light-bodied reds with low tannins, low alcohol content and high acidity will go well with most Chinese dishes. Some great choices would be:
- Lambrusco; a slight bubbliness with strong berry notes.
- Pinot Noir; always a popular choice; light on body, high on aromatics.
- Beaujolais; also known as Gamay, it’s very similar to Pinot Noir in flavor.
- Grenache; floral with strong berry flavor and notes of citrus.
- St. Laurent; earthy notes with lush black raspberry taste.
Best White Wine to Pair with Chinese Food
We’ve already mentioned that whites tend to pair better with Chinese food. Considering the vast number of flavor profiles in Chinese dishes, and the fact that these dishes are often served family-style, (you may have Sichuan Beef, Ma Po Tofu, and Honey Chicken all on one plate!), white wine is an easy way to ensure you avoid the unpleasantness of your wine competing with your food.
German and Alsatian white wines are at the top of the list for Chinese pairings:
- Riesling; It’s light, sweet, crisp and highly acidic. It’s also highly versatile.
- Gewürztraminer; rich bouquet of exotic fruits, spices and rose tones.
- Pinot Gris; complex, with a well-balanced finish. Notes of apricot.
- Pinot Blanc; very light, and floral with notes of citrus and peach.
Pairing Wine with Various Chinese Dishes
Sweet and Sour dishes
You may think something as sweet as the popular Sweet and Sour Chicken/Shrimp/Pork would need a dry red to balance all that sweet, but acidic whites cut through all that sweetness quite well. Pinot Gris, Moscato, or even a Rosé are sure to complement this dish.
Vegetable Lo Mein
Sauvignon Blanc, with its low sugar and high levels of acidity, cuts right through the strong soy sauce flavors of this dish. Often referred to as “grassy,” this wine is bright, crisp and herbaceous.
Dumplings, Spring Rolls and Egg Rolls
These popular dim sum offerings typically contain a medley of flavors, but tend to be mild. Try a Gruner Veltliner or a dry Chardonnay.
Sichuan is known for bringing the heat. Here you’re going to want a light, aromatic white to ease the burn. Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris are all excellent choices.
Kung Pao Chicken
Kung Pao tends to stray toward spicy so a crisp, chilled Riesling is going to be your best bet for beating the heat.
Beef and Broccoli
This is one dish where a heavier red is sure to please. Malbec, with its smooth finish and luscious fruit overtones is a perfect match to this Chinese classic.
Fried Rice is a classic comfort food filled with rice, veggies and usually a protein of chicken, beef, pork, or shrimp. (Or all of the above!) A highly acidic Riesling or a sparkling wine should be your go-to’s to balance this meal.
Peking Duck is sure to be a treat when paired with the versatile Pinot Noir. The rich berry flavors and medium-acidity pair well with the crispy, fatty duck for a delicious combination.
Moo Shu Pork
This popular entrée tends to have a mild flavor profile. Brighter whites with a tinge of sweetness complement the pork, mushrooms and cabbage that dominate this dish. A Pinot Gris or Beaujolais would make a perfect companion.
Ma Po Tofu
This dish is spicy with a rich meaty flavor, green onion and pepper. A crisp white like Riesling or Pinot Gris will cool your palate and balance the spice. If you’re in the mood for red, try something soft, like a Cotes du Rhone.
Bonus Idea: Try drinking a cold glass of Plum Wine, also called Umeshu (梅酒) with your meal. The Japanese drink is technically a liqueur. But the sweetness & floral fragrance go very well with spicy Chinese dishes like General Tso’s Chicken, Hot and Sour Soup or Szechuan Beef. The sweetness cuts through the spiciness in the dishes, and it’s a lower alcohol drink (typically around 12%). This unique wine might just give you a new pairing experience that you really enjoy!