Uncorked: Drink to the dragon
Alasdair Nicol suggests a few bottles to enjoy in celebration of the Lunar New Year
As you read this, you’re probably just leaving the travel agent’s office having just booked a long weekend away somewhere for the Chinese New Year break. Traditionally, though, the Lunar New Year is a time to get together with family and friends and feast over a few days. While I’m not a huge protagonist of twinning Chinese foods with wines (Chinese meals can get too diverse in their flavour profiles of each dish), there are some pairings that do work well. If you’re looking to bring a bottle to your next dinner gathering, here are a few suggestions that may prove helpful.
To start things off, let’s talk about traditional roast meats since they feature so heavily in Cantonese banquet menus. Goose, duck and pork – in particular char sui – are among the classics. For these, I’d recommend a vranec from Macedonia, particularly Skovin or a chablis from Joseph Drouhin, which is full-bodied with a fruity flavour that accompanies traditional roast fowl perfectly. Live seafood is another integral part of Cantonese cuisine. A minerally Sancerre from Michel Thomas & Fils or a chirpy little chenin blanc is preferable so as not to overpower the subtle flavours of the food. In particular, I recommend a Villiera barrel fermented chenin blanc from South Africa as it has a tropical style and flavour that complements the diverse-yet-delicate flavours often found in stir-fried seafood dishes.
Moving beyond Cantonese food, Shanghainese cuisine is also popular in our dining scene. A lot of Shanghainese dishes are prepared with alcohol, which leaves strong aromas but subtle flavours within the food. Champagne usually does well in this case and while we all have our favourite brand of bubbly, I suggest trying an Egly-Ouriet pinot meunier, which has a fine robust character. And as the temperature drops to what we here in Hong Kong consider cold, many of us head for a hot and spicy night out. No, I’m not talking about a late night excursion to Lockhart Road, but a trip to a Sichuan restaurant. Most people opt for an off-dry Alsace riesling but, this year, try a nice, cool climate pinot gris from Sidewood Estate in the Adelaide Hills region of Australia. A Côtes du Rhône syrah also works well, especially if you’re having dishes like spicy beef. Try a bottle from Le Plan Vermeersch, preferably the GT-S, which would be a fantastic match because of its fruity and powerful structure.
Finally, if you’re like my family and prefer something more casual like a hotpot meal during these colder months, the best wines to go for are those from Burgundy, especially a pinot noir or chardonnay. I suggest a Mercurey blanc from Michel Juillot or a Bourgogne rouge from Pierre André, both of which would match well with the assorted flavours brewing in a hotpot meal.
Indulge yourselves this Chinese New Year and grab a few good bottles of wine to complement the meal and celebrate a prosperous Year of the Dragon ahead.