PARING DOWN PAIRINGS: WINE AND CHINESE TAKEOUT
My go-to order from my neighborhood Chinese takeout spot is General Tso’s chicken (basic, I know), spicy Sichuan wontons, steamed bbq pork buns, and some veggie chow mein. So tasty, but not necessarily easy to pair with many of my go-to wines. The sauce on the General’s chicken and the bbq pork has a bit of sweetness, the chili oil dousing the wontons provides a noticeable kick, while the soy sauce on the chow mein gives a bit of savory umami. What type of wines can live up to all those delicious and varied Chinese takeout flavors? Let’s talk about it!
Sweet flavors and spiciness (both heat and bold aromatics) are extremely tricky to pair with many wines. If the food is much sweeter than the wine, the wine will taste harsh, with most of the fruit flavors being dominated by alcohol burn. Similarly, if food is very spicy, the capsaicin from the chilis can react with the alcohol causing that unwanted “burning” sensation in your mouth. Finally, foods that have heavy aromatics like curries, ginger, allspice, Sichuan peppercorn, anise, and cardamom can overpower the smell and flavor of a wine.
It’s hard for one clear cut rule to be set in pairing wine. In some cases, “like-to-like” strikes a better balance (e.g., a salad with a very citrusy vinaigrette will go well with a highly acidic wine like sauvignon blanc); while “opposites attract” works better at times (e.g., fatty, deep-fried food also goes well with an acidic wine that “cuts through” the heaviness).
In the case of this first recommendation, it’s a bit of both. Riesling (especially a slightly off-dry version from Mosel, Germany) is a great pairing option for Chinese takeout. These Rieslings tend to be slightly sweet (“like-to-like” compliment for our General’s chicken and bbq sauce) and low in alcohol (chili oil won’t burn out your taste buds) with moderate aromatics (the minerally and citrus aromas will be a good, “opposites attract” to some of the more pungent spices).
An alternative recommendation is a grape type you might be less familiar with, Gewurztraminer. Typical examples from Alsace, France possess the slightly off-dry sweetness to Riesling, but take a more “like-to-like” approach with aromatics. These are “in your face” wines with heavily floral and spice-driven characteristics. Gewurztraminer can pair well with many of the spice-heavy Chinese dishes you’ll come across. The only area you need to look out for is the spice levels of your food. Gewurztraminer can run a bit higher on the alcohol side than other white wines, and too much alcohol with too much spice heat can create an unpleasant alcohol burn.
Here are a few of my favorites for each recommendation!
Dr. Loosen “Dr. L” Riesling, 2018
J.J. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett Riesling, 2018
Schoffit, Gewurtztraminer Harth Cuvee Caroline, 2017
Domaine Weinbach, Vin d’Alsace Gewurtztraminer Cuvee Theo, 2018
So, don’t be shy about setting a wine glass down next to those chopsticks and get ready to chow down!