Wine or Beer with Chinese Food?
Whether dining in a restaurant or doing take out, the question of what to drink with Chinese food seems to be a problem for many of us. However, the answer may depend simply on how you eat this wonderful cuisine. If you approach the table (or the carton) with a ravenous appetite and shovel in the food, you might do better with a good Chinese beer like Tsing Tao. It has a wonderful plummy flavor that goes well with the mildest of Cantonese or the spiciest of Schezuan offerings. Go ahead; scarf the food, gulp the beer, and enjoy. It’s a fun way to indulge with a group of close friends. If, however, you’re a taster and like to savor every bite and sip your beverage (or perhaps need to appear that way in a more formal setting), I suggest you opt for wine. This month’s feature suggests several well priced wines that should definitely enhance your meal.
For this tasting, we ordered a variety of popular take-out dishes from our local Chinese restaurant: chicken with cashew nuts, shrimp in black bean sauce, orange flavored beef, eggplant with garlic sauce, moo shu pork, and pork fried rice. For this menu, we thought it best to stay with white wines. In fact, I’ve never found a red that goes well with Chinese food. (Please, if you know of any, let me know and I’ll share your suggestions with our readers.)
The evening began with two sauvignon blancs (a.k.a. fume blancs) from Murphy Goode. The 1995 Murphy Goode Fume Blanc, Sonoma County ($10.99) is a textbook sauvignon blanc. Pale straw in color, the wine has a fresh, grassy nose. Crisp on the tongue, it is pleasantly dry with earthy mineral flavors. The wine’s flavors developed nicely during the course of the evening and we all thought its crispness complemented the spicy dishes especially well.
The next wine was a 1995 Murphy Goode Reserve Fume, Alexander Valley ($14.99). The wine has a golden straw color. Its reserve quality is immediately apparent in its lushly herbaceous, orange peel nose that is more complex than the Fume Blanc, Sonoma County. Full bodied and buttery on the tongue, the wine is very dry with a delicate lemon/citrus flavor. It also has a wonderful finish. This wine’s complex nose and citrus flavors truly enhanced the shrimp in black bean sauce. (The Reserve is certainly worth the four or five extra dollars.)
From previous features, you are probably well aware of my predilection for Alsatian wines. So our next wine was a 1994 Hugel “Gentil,” Alsace ($9.99). The wine lives up to its name, gentil (gentle). It appears to be a delicate blend of riesling and pinot blanc. Very pale straw in color, it has hints of vanilla on the nose with an underpinning of herbaceousness. Crisp on entry with a bit of acidity, it offers flavors of vanilla and minerals that cut through even the spiciest of the dishes we had. It was extraordinary with the chicken and cashews and the spicy eggplant. I recommend this wine as an introduction to Alsatians.
Our next wine came from one of my favorite producers known for his inventiveness. The 1995 Bonny Doon American Riesling Pacific Rim ($10.99). This is a beautiful riesling. Light straw in color with vanilla and grass on the nose. There’s a slight bite on entry followed by very dry citrusy flavors. Steely on the tongue, the wine has a great finish. It’s a perfect wine for the hotter side of Chinese cuisine.
The one disappointment of the evening was a 1993 Aigle Blanc “Cuvee Abbe Baudoin”Vouvray ($13.99). This was not a bad wine, but in my opinion was not well suited for our menu. Gold straw in color, it has a blossomy nose with hints of vanilla and herbs. Smooth on entry with a subtle fruitiness, the wine has a good body and an adequate finish. This wine might be better used as an aperitif.
The final wine for the evening was a 1996 Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc, California ($7.99). I think that jug wines have given chenin blanc a bad reputation. But this wine represents a great value and has always been one of my favorite California whites at any price. Pale straw in color, the wine has a beautiful vanilla nose. Buttery and dry on the tongue, the wine is full bodied with hints of pineapple and banana. It has an equally good finish. One word of warning. This wine is better suited for milder dishes and does not stand up at all to spiciness. I recommend that you try this wine. It’s perfect for a summer picnic.
For a dessert wine, we wanted to taste a Mondavi Moscato d’oro, which has a wonderful fruity bouquet and hints of lichee nuts on the tongue. Unfortunately, we were unable to find it at any of our local wine stores. If you can find some at yours, I think you will enjoy it.
While white wines should be chilled, they should not be served ice cold. If the wines are too cold, you will not be able to taste them at their fullest.
Please let us know what you think about these wines on our feedback page. In our next issue, we’ll publish some of your comments.