The year of the Rooster begins on January 28th 2017 per the lunar calendar. Equivalent to Thanksgiving, the biggest celebratory event on the Chinese calendar is accompanied by lion dances, red envelopes, and most importantly, a lavish fete shared amongst loved ones. While traditional dinner table libations are tea, beer, Shao-Xing (rice wine), and various Chinese liquors of varying octane, modern Chinese cuisine has found various wine pairings that work remarkably well with dishes passed down through many generations. Here are a few classic Chinese New Year dishes we’ve enjoyed pairing with some of our favorite wines.
- Suckling Pig & Char Siu
The roast porcine duo of Suckling Pig and Char Siu are commonly served together on a huge appetizer platter amongst pickled vegetables. Just like an old fashioned southern barbecue, both meats are time consuming and require a lot of love from the kitchen. The secret to a beautiful suckling pig is simple: a few heaping handfuls of salt, followed by a generous glazing of sugar water to keep the skin crackling and shiny. Char Siu, on the other hand, is soy based and finishes in a sugar glaze to achieve the glistening look on the meat. The crispy skin on the suckling pig and the sweetness of the Char Siu should work harmoniously with an epic bottle of richly textured Champagne that is sure to set the tone to the entire meal.
Go Big: Krug, Grand Cuvee
- Steamed Fish
Whole fish symbolize prosperity. Seasoned deftly with either salt or soy sauce, the fish is steamed with aromatics like scallion and ginger which complements without overpowering the natural sweetness of the fish. The most important part of the dish is how it is steamed: Chefs keep the fish in the steamer for no more than 7-10 minutes (dependent on the size of the fish) ensuring that the fish is just cooked. The minerally, yet elegant grace of an Alsatian Riesling would play well from the soy and ginger elements and provide the perfect accompaniment.
Go Unusual: Albert Boxler, Riesling 2014
- Lion’s Head Meatballs
Meatballs made of fatty ground pork flash-fried in oil, then stewed with napa cabbage, tofu, and various vegetables in a clay pot help to keep a cold evening at bay. The lion’s head meatball is hearty though not heavy, and the cabbage combined with tofu continues to highlight the elegance of such a meat dish. I love pairing this dish with an earthy pinot noir from Willamette Valley.
Go Elegant: Domaine Serene, Evenstad Reserve 2013 Pinot Noir
- Peking Duck
The presentation of the Peking Duck is a spectacular moment at the dining table. Chef rolls his cart with the whole duck, and swiftly separates the crisp skin from the flesh. He then wraps both skin and flesh with julienned cucumber, scallion, and a dash of hoisin sauce wrapped in a flour pancake—it’s sinfully fatty and delicious. The luxurious boldness of the duck covets a fruit forward; full bodied red. Grenache or Cabernet Sauvignon will do the job very nicely here, so don’t be shy.
- Peppercorn Beef
The use of beef/steak has increased over the years as chefs continue to modernize Chinese cuisine. What used to be beef stew or slices are now replaced with filet mignon or more sophisticated primal cuts of the animal. Black peppercorn filet mignon with onions is one dish you can find in both restaurant as well as your grandmother’s house. The key to keeping the Filet moist is to flash fry the meat, after cutting into cubes and giving them a dusting of flour. The sauce is made of soy, honey, oyster sauce, and black pepper. Getting the dish right requires high heat but is one that can be easily replicated at home. We love pairing the dish with a nice Bordeaux or a smoky Syrah—a wine with fruit and heft work well, but a touch of acid keeps the richness of the dish in check.
Go Classic: Alain Graillot, Crozes-Hermitage 2014 (Syrah)
Like all holidays, Chinese New Year is a way for friends and family to gather and share our passion for food, wine, and each other. So, if you’re inspired to throw a dinner party, or perhaps call your nearest Chinese takeout restaurant, be sure to tell them “Gond Xi Fa Chai” ~ Happy Chinese New Year & may good fortune (and good wine) come your way!
What would you pair with a Chinese New Year’s banquet? Leave your thoughts in Comments section below.