Ying’s Chinese food and wine matching – California edition

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Sommelier Guo Ying gives her insider tips on how to match a wide array of Chinese food with California wines, as part of DecanterChina’s series in association with the Wine Institute of California.

Image: Grilled Duck, Matsutake, Black Truffle, Oyster Sauce; credit Four Seasons
Image: Grilled Duck, Matsutake, Black Truffle, Oyster Sauce; credit Four Seasons

Speaking about California, you may immediately think of the brilliant sunshine, laid-back lifestyle and its renowned Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

But I’d advise you to take a trip from the north of California to the south; let’s start from the cool Sonoma to Napa, bypassing Monterey and Paso Robles, pay a visit to the hot-climate Lodi, and reach the south end—Santa Barbara, the region that has cool weather and extremely low rainfall thanks to the east-west mountain range.

And you’ll realise that the versatile California has much more to offer than the always-talked-about Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

You can find beautiful Pinot Noir in the cool regions of the North and South end of California. Old vine Zinfandels from Lodi are lovely to all. Rhone valley varieties in Paso Robles are improving year by year. Pinot Noirs are certainly stars of Santa Barbra, but the most impressive wines for me are no doubt the Syrahs.

Such diversity gave us rich choices when pairing with Chinese food.

Before we get started

Chinese food and wine matching has been a hot topic among wine lovers. Before we get started, it’s worth noting that it’s impossible to generalise all the styles of cooking in China with the word ‘Chinese food’.

Chinese food includes eight key styles:

Cantonese cuisine focuses on the flavours of the raw material and is comparatively light in taste.

The use of spring onion and ginger are specialties of Shandong cuisine, which features savoury and umami flavours.

Huaiyang cuisine features the chefs’ cutting skills and fresh seafood.

Rich oil, thick soy sauce combined with sweetish flavours are the key features of Shanghai cuisine.

Finally it’s Sichuan cuisine—known for its tongue-numbing but delicious spicy dishes.

From the choice of material, methods of cooking and the textures on palate, the above eight styles of cooking can further transform into countless variations. Therefore, you need to think about the style of Chinese food before choosing the wines.

Chinese food and Californian wine pairings

To match four top Californian wines, I’d like to present to you four innovative dishes based on Cantonese and Shanghai cuisine.

Sautéed Prawns, Egg Yolk, Cream

Matches with: Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
Favourite match: Kistler, “Les Noisetiers” Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast 2013

The dish: The egg yolk and cream sauce wrapped around the prawns gave the sautéed dish a cheese-like texture and savoury-sweet taste, a perfect match with the oily, buttery texture of the Chardonnay.

The wine: This is a classic, representative Californian Chardonnay made by the Kistler Vineyards, which was founded 1978. Fermented in oak barrels, the wine has gone through 100% malolactic fermentation, which gives softer acidity. Regular stirring brings out the smooth buttery textures. Fresh fruits and nutty, buttery flavours are integrated perfectly with the spice from the oak. Rich and balanced, this is a Chardonnay made using the Burgundy method, only beautifully sweeter.

Grilled Duck, Matsutake, Black Truffle, Oyster Sauce

Matches with: Rhône blend (Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache)

Favourite match: Tablas Creek, “Esprit de Tablas” Rhône Blend, Paso Robles 2011

The dish: The duck is tender and juicy, with the black truffle sauce giving more layers to the palate. A fragrant, spicy, sweet and ripe red wine with medium tannin intensity is bound to be the ideal partner of this dish.

The wine: Co-established by Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel and merchant company Robert Haas, Tablas Creek is situated in Paso Robles, a region known for its Rhône varieties. This blend has higher portion of Mourvèdre.

The Mourvedre and Grenache-based “Esprit de Tablas” features rich black fruit and spice flavours, even a bit of tea; the softening tannins are a perfect match to the tender duck dish.

Shanghainese Style Braised Pork, Brown Sauce, Crispy Tofu Sheet, Sautéed Green Peas

Matches with: modern Zinfandel
Storybook Mountains, Eastern Exposure Zinfandel, Napa Valley 2013

The dish: This is a classic Shanghai cuisine, featuring fat-and-lean pork belly cooked in rich oil and soy sauce. The flavours are both heavy and sweet.

The wine: A wine too light will be supressed by its abundant flavours; a wine too tannic and tight may conflict the classic sweetness of the Shanghai cuisine. A fruity, rich-flavoured Zinfandel with sweet ripe tannins is exactly what you need. Storybook Mountains made in their impressive cellars a neat Zinfandel with layers of flavours. A nice match.

Sautéed Wagyu Beef, Scallion, Black Pepper

Matches with: California Cabernet Sauvignon
Favourite match: Peter Michael, “Les Pavots” Cabernet Sauvignon Blend, Knights Valley, 2012

The dish: The match of Wagyu Beef and Cabernet Sauvignon is already a classic. This dish is further livened up by black pepper and Beijing spring onion, which gives fresh aromas, complex and spiced palate. We need a concentrated red wine with rich, concentrated flavours to pair with it.

The wine: A Bordeaux blend with 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, the Les Pavots is bright and clean, black fruits carry fragrance of coffee and vanilla, followed by a long finish. The wine and the Wagyu complement each other, showcasing a variation of the classic match.

Translated by Sylvia Wu / 吴嘉溦

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