Gung Hay Fat Choy! Happy Chinese New Year !
Today marks the official celebration of the Year of the Ox, the year 4709 in the Chinese calendar. I don't know about you but I was happy to see 2008 go, happy to put 4708 and the Year of the Rat behind me.
My neighborhood Chinese restaurant was packed last night as regular Sunday nighters sat cheek by jowel with Chinese New Year's celebrants. It was a festive atmostphere complimented by the decorative paper dragons, and red lanterns. My carry out bag came stapled with the traditional red good luck envelope.
Before I dashed out I glanced around the dining room. Few of the diners were drinking wine with their dinner, although I could see cocktails, beer or tea on the tables. I wasn't surprised - at lot of my pals who like Chinese food and like wine don't think the two go together. They complain that trying to figure out the "right" wine is confusing. What wine goes with a dish that is sweet or sour, crunchy and spicy or some other multiple combination of tastes?
Putting aside that the "right" wine is the one you like, there is a way to enhance your Chinese food/wine experience by using the distinctive genres of Chinese food as a guide. Spicy Szechuan? Go for a floral white wine that is off dry --meaning slightly sweet. Gewurztraminer offers a wonderful contrast to the spice of those dishes. The fruity and crisp Riesling, another white wine, is also good.
Cantonese dishes which are flavorful but without the spice of Szechuan are good matches for Chardonnay, but my first choice would be Sauvignon Blanc. I don't eat a lot of duck or beef so I rarely have occasion to drink red wine with Chinese food. However, my choice with beef or pork would likely be a Merlot. It's medium bodied, can stand up to a variety of ingredients, and is easy drinking. Pinot Noir would be delicious with pork and duck. Popular Chicago based sommelier Alpana Singh, one of the youngest sommeliers in the nation, suggests a Malbec would also be a good match because Malbec is soft but substantive. (Malbec recently bypassed Merlot as the most commonly purchased red wine in America.)
I'm told that people born in the Year of the Ox, (like President Barack Obama), are patient and dependable, but don't like to be pushed. So, drink what you like as you celebrate the new lunar year. But, it is a new year--- a great time to try something new. And a great time to toast the blessing of the dragon for a new year's worth of good luck and prosperity.