Which Aussie wines go with a Chinese New Year feast?
A Chinese new year smorgasbord can pose some real wine pairing challenges - savoury meats of one dish besides the sour and sweetness of another, steamed fish on your plate, and fried rice has almost every ingredient and palate sensation.
Can you stick to just one wine, or do you need a few going at once? There are some wines that will cover all these bases really nicely - namely fresh rieslings or reds that have a wide range of flavours, just like the food you’re going to eat.
If a Cantonese style steamed whole fish sounds good, a crisp riesling with great freshness and acidity will go perfectly. Cantonese fish is nuanced, so whilst fish can go with red wine, maybe not this particular dish. The Sorby Adams Jellicoe riesling is a great example of one of the world’s most versatile grapes. Just dry (4.6g/l of residual sugar), 10.7% alcohol and high acidity, the wine is crisp and refreshing with flavours of lime, lemon, and a saline-mineral quality. With the cilantro, ginger and soy sauce from the steamed fish such a racy fresh wine will taste great.
Aussie rieslings are also great because they are typically bottled with a screw cap instead of a cork - this meant they remain really fresh.
Steamed fish can be easily overpowered by big, bold wines - so this riesling is going to work with the flavours and texture, not against it. Heavy amounts of oak won’t work well, nor will malolactic fermentation (the conversion of malic acid, like in green apples, to lactic acid, such as creams). To put it simply - would you rather soy sauce fish with cream and vanilla, or lemon peel and acidity.
Fried food also works great with riesling. The small amount of sugar in this wine is going to cut through these salty dishes. That’s the same reason why dim sum goes great with sparkling wines that carry a little bit of sugar. Eden Valley produces some really fantastic rieslings, and has been the most important white variety since massive replantings in the 1960’s. Alkaline, rocky soils keep yields low and cool nights lead to a long growing season with high acidity. Petrol is a common tasting note as these wines age, but also look for marmalade, almonds and herbs in older rieslings - all things you might see and taste in a Chinese New Year treat box.
The winning combination with your favourite Chinese delights.
If a heartier Chinese cuisine is more your style, with thicker sauces and more meats, a heavier wine is probably going to be the right way forward. The French have for years made wines that pair with so many dishes, and that’s why modern winemaking in China follows the classic French styles. Australia’s take on French grapes can be almost too bold for Asian dishes (a big cabernet sauvignon from McLaren Vale is probably going to be a choice for a barbecue, not a hot pot), but Australian GSM’s are perfect for flavorsome Chinese cuisine. With a heritage back in France’s Rhone valley, the combination of Grenache, Shiraz and Mataro (I’m using the Australian names for the grapes here) in GSM’s have combinations of spice, herbs and red fruit. They match so many dishes globally, and hence the Australian take on this winning combination gives even riper fruit from the warmer climate to bring a vast array of flavours, but without being too heavy.
Bondar’s Junto GSM is a great example. For Chinese food with a lot going on (soy sauce, bell pepper, spice, beef) this wine is not overly tannic, is fleshy (mouth filling, juicy, so a stuffed mouth of food isn’t going to make the wine feel small) and is very fruit forward.
What’s the deal with tannins and spice?
For the sake of explanation, tannins are naturally occurring polyphenols (organic compounds) that are found in grape skins, stems and seeds, as well as wood (ie oak from barrels). If tannins are too ripe and/or plentiful, the dish can be overpowered and the spice can make the wine taste too bitter. Grenache is low in tannin being thin skinned, and low in acid from having a long growing season. In the Junto grenache is 88% of the blend, so these tell tale characteristics take the lion's share of this silky style of wine. The remaining parts are Shiraz and Mataro - with shiraz giving a richness and mataro higher levels of perfume, anise and grainy tannins. Can you taste components that can be 3 or 4% of a wine? Maybe only slightly, but think about these small additions like the addition of pepper and salt to a meal, it’s to enhance but not override the key ingredients.
This is such a versatile wine, and will carry you from spring rolls to sweet and sour pork all the way to the fortune cookies.
Kung Hei Fat Choy - Happy Chinese New Year of the Ox!
As harvest begins in Australia it looks like the Year of the Ox is going to be a great one for wine, so let’s raise a glass and a pair of chopsticks and celebrate great food and always great Australian wine.