AS ONE who has argued for beer to play a greater part on food menus, today’s column may seem perverse. To coincide with the Chinese New Year next Friday, I am exploring how wine – rather than the traditional beer – works with Chinese cuisine.
To do so I enlisted the aid of Chop Chop restaurants because, with sit-in, take away and “bring your own bottle” facilities at their Edinburgh outlets at Haymarket and Leith, they cover most options. All the wines used are available in supermarkets near at least one of their restaurants.
Predictably, perhaps, their Crispy Northern Beef, for example, worked pretty well with the 2012 Morrisons Signature Carmenere (£5.99 until 9 February) but so did 2010 Exquisite Collection Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore (£7.99 at Aldi). The typical chocolate components behind the damson and red cherry fruit of the carmenere resonated well with the sweeter elements of the dish but the smooth, black cherry intensity of the Ripasso provided the vigour to handle the robustness of the dish’s authentic sweet and sour sauce.
A runaway winner with the seasoned chicken wings was 2012 Tesco Beaujolais Villages (£5.99). Here, the wine’s fresh raspberry acidity and gentle touches of sweetness provided exactly the right foil for the food. Perhaps a top level Cru Beaujolais would fit perfectly with any variation on this dish you might make at home.
Chop Chop has a deserved reputation for its dumplings and the pork variation on that theme again worked well with the carmenere indicating, perhaps, why that grape was nominated as providing the best red wine for curry a year or two back. It did not have things its own way, however, as there was a similarly good match with 2012 Finest Steillage Riesling Mosel (£7.99 at Tesco). I have been impressed with the way this wine works with pork previously, so that result was not a total surprise.
Riesling was outperformed, however, when we came to the prawn dumplings and a crispy squid dish – even more surprisingly, so was sauvignon blanc. The clear winner with both dishes was 2013 Cimarosa Australian Chardonnay (£3.99 at Lidl). However, this is no old style, heavily oaked Oz chardonnay; it has good acidity and a sharp lemon edge to sit alongside its classic tropical fruit and butter flavours. None of the wines really prospered when full volume chilli appeared in the food but the one that was least uncomfortable with the heat was 2012 Morrisons Signature Alsace Gewurztraminer (£7.99) where the grape’s natural spiciness at least put it among friends.
With the vegetable components of the banquet, we found a brilliant match for both the cucumber salad and the aubergines among the grassy, nettle touches and textured peach influences of 2012 Exquisite Collection Sud de France Sauvignon Blanc Viognier (£5.99 at Aldi).
So, for general conclusions about wine with Chinese food, I would recommend following the usual rule and matching meat with (usually red) wine of similar intensity – including Beaujolais with chicken – but favouring chardonnay for fish. Remember, too, that riesling fits a narrower range of food with Chinese cuisine than it does with, say, Thai dishes, but do experiment with something like that Aldi Languedoc white for vegetarian options. If you are planning to test out my recommendations from Chop Chop – and going BYOB – then, for all purpose wines, I would suggest carmenere or chardonnay (or both).
• 2012 Dr L Riesling, Loosen Bros Mosel, Germany, 8.5 per cent
For anyone limiting their alcoholic intake, this is very much what the doctor ordered. The peach and honey flavours make it clearly off-dry but the delightful acidic prickle to the tongue and very clean, crisp finish makes the whole thing versatile and relatively complex. £6 on promotion in Asda
• 2010 Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon Maipo Valley, Chile, 14.5 per cent
If the kitty is not totally empty, try this delightful month-end treat. Despite its lovely, dark and intense style, there is a lively acidic edge and only gentle tannins – which merely add a little grip to the bramble and cherry fruit and the minty cinnamon backdrop. Classy and robust powerhouse wine. £11.99 at Sainsbury’s