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Compared to a lot of European cuisines, Chinese food with its balance of sweet, savoury, sour and of course, spicy, flavours can be tricky to pair with just the right wine. But, where there’s a will… I had a chat with the wine buyer of Hakkasan Group to find out just how she does it.

Chinese cuisine has a reputation for being difficult to match with wine, thanks to complex sauces and the sweet and sour notes that underpin almost every dish. Hakkasan Group wine buyer Christine Parkinson has some tips on what to do the next time you’re presented with a wine list at a Chinese restaurant.

Hong Kong gailan with shimeji mushrooms - definitely goes with wine

Hong Kong gailan with shimeji mushrooms – definitely goes with wine

1. Fancy a glass of white? Choose a German or New Zealand Riesling, or almost any Italian white wine

“We find the biggest problem is that there’s often a sweet component to the dish, particularly if the dish is of Cantonese origin. This sweetness can clash with a fruity wine and make it taste hard and bitter,” says Parkinson. So go for a neutral wine like the above, or find whites with a delicate floral note or only a bit of sweetness, such as a Viognier.

2. Chinese food can definitely go with reds

“I’d say either fairly young simple crisp reds like an Italian Barbera, a basic red burgundy, or New World pinot noirs and shiraz as they have lots of sweet fruit flavour,” says Parkinson. She also suggests Spanish reds with their sweet oak flavour such as riojas.

Peking duck trio at HKK - try with a pinot

Peking duck trio at HKK – try with a pinot

3. Try it with sherry

“Dry sherry can be tremendous with Chinese food. Get a takeaway and just try it for yourself!”

4. Avoid Bordeaux

Just about the only grape Parkinson advises again is this heavy red, at least at the bottom end. “Bordeuax has to come from fairly good vintage and good site because most are likely to have this green note and tannins that will clash with the sweet notes or sour notes in Chinese food,” says Parkinson. “Unless you’ve had a chance to taste it first, or the sommelier recommends, this is best to avoid.”

5. Finally… don’t overthink

For one, if the sommelier has done his job, a wine list at a restaurant should be able to be matched to its menu. “I really do feel that people should not worry too much what they should drink,” says Parkinson. “they should experiment because it’s probably going to be ok with most of what you’re eating. We should demystify all this a little bit.”

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