Wine and Chinese food

Drinking wine with Chinese food has always been a bit like wearing Kanye West shutter shades: more about fashion than function, yet still somehow missing the mark. That’s all about to change, though, thanks to a new study put together by Toronto wine expert Tony Aspler and New York master sommelier Roger Dagorn.

The pair methodically paired up Cantonese dishes with western vino and delivered a thorough and objective (there was no sponsorship from wine producers) pairing guide that offers more than a few surprises.

First among them is the debunking of the myth that reds are the go-to pairing for Chinese cuisine.  “In fact, that’s the worst thing you can do,” says Aspler, referring to a trend established by newly affluent Chinese connoisseurs who frequently buy expensive, status-bearing Bordeaux reds to go with their meals. “You don’t want tannin in those wines. You want good acidity and good fruit—that tension of flavours in the Chinese dish, you need the same tension in the wine.”

We can hardly blame the nouveau riche for taking the easy way out. Pairing wines with Asian cuisine is a difficult venture. The sequence of a Chinese dinner switches back and forth from meat to fish to soup, for example, and the complexity of seasonings and spices can easily throw off dedicated matchmaking efforts.

The guide—titled Pairing a Traditional Cantonese Banquet With Western Wines: Lessons Learned—is supported by Henry Wu, the president of Metropolitan Hotels, who brought the wine experts together for a free-for-all at his Lai Wah Heen restaurant on Chestnut Street. Chef Patrick Lin helped Aspler and Dagorn deconstruct the complexity of Chinese dishes and begin to systematically categorize which wines are best suited to which edibles. “I could go wherever I wanted to select a style of wine,” says Aspler, who once participated in a similar though far more restrictive study. “The whole wine world was at my disposal.”

Pairing highlights include:

• honey-glazed barbecue pork with late-harvest (and affordable) Ontario riesling;
• shredded jellyfish salad with unoaked chardonnay;
• Peking duck with Ontario gamay;
• deep-fried crab claw with Alsace pinot blanc.