Red Wine & Chinese New Year Party

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Who doesn’t love wine parties? They are a fantastic way to learn about wine, and wine for food. With that in mind, we bring you Wine Party of the Month, monthly articles detailing wine and food menus for your next get together. We recommend wines by category since you are likely to find similar options at your local wine shop in a range of prices. Recipes are included, and many courses can also be purchased. Grab your friends, take our recommendations, and throw your own Wine Party of the Month!

Inspired by the Chinese New Year, we’ve designed a Chinese-American menu and red wine pairing to kick off your New Year. Plus, many of us want a break from cooking after the hubbub of holidays. So this month, let’s carry-in our wine party.

You may be thinking red wine and Chinese food? Yes! This pairing works if you choose the right wines. Sure, you can go the well-known Riesling or sparkling white route. But we decided to stretch ourselves and find interesting reds that pair well with our favorite Chinese-American takeout. Especially since red is the color of the Chinese New Year.

The Year of the Rooster starts on Saturday, January 28, and families in China will be celebrating for an entire week. Also known as the “Spring Festival,” this public holiday will be celebrated from January 27 – February 2 with colorful parades, multigenerational “reunion” dinners, resting, reflecting on the previous year, and wishing for good luck and prosperity in the New Year.

As we gather for our own reunion dinner of sorts, we explore red wines that enhance (and cut through) our beloved umami-rich Chinese-American favorites.


FIRST COURSE WINES: Barbera d’Alba
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FOOD: Spring rolls, fried pork dumplings, and scallion pancakes

Barbera, the third most widely planted grape varietal in Italy, produces wine that has a deep ruby color, low tannins, and a very high acid level (wine is acidic if it makes your mouth water). It’s made with at least 85% Barbera grapes and can be found in three main areas located in the Northern Italian region of Piedmont: Barbera d’Alba, Barbera d’Asti, and Barbera del Monferrato. Of the three, Barbera d‘Alba is the most complex with plum and cherry notes. Whereas Barbera d’Asti is more tart and lively, and Barbera del Monferrato is often frizzante (slightly bubbly). Barbera’s magic acid makes it a perfect wine to pair with heavy Chinese-American food. We chose Barbera d’Alba for this course because its plum, black cherry, and earth notes deepen, brighten, and enhance that lovable fried flavor this menu features. Plus, its acid cuts right through that thick mouthfeel, so you are left with a clean palate, wanting more. This wine goes with every bite on the menu, so if you only want one wine for this party, choose Barbera d’Alba.

For the first course, we go with a montage of fried appetizers. It’s the best way to start any proper Chinese-American meal. Crisp, piping hot spring rolls, gingery fried pork dumplings, and flaky scallion pancakes are our selections. Sip Barbera after each bite, and you’ll find that it enlivens the pork and ginger flavors of the dumplings, lifts that lovable grease in the spring rolls, and adds moisture and interest to the scallion pancake. Plus it’s light enough not to overwhelm any dish. Our top choice for Barbera is Cantina Massara Barbera d’Alba (Golden Ram Imports). If you prefer to head to your local wine shop, ask for their most acidic (yet balanced) Barbera d’Alba.

Feel like cooking? Check out 16 Appetizers to Ring in the Chinese New Year by Hayley Daen on Serious Eats for recipes.


SECOND COURSE WINES: Chianti
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FOOD: Pork fried rice, lo mein, and baby eggplant with spicy garlic sauce

Chianti, the wine, is made in the Chianti, the region, in central Tuscany. It’s vibrant, medium-bodied, fairly tannic, and has notes of dark fruit, tart cherry, and exotic spices. It also has a fair amount of acidity which we love for pairing with food. Regular Chianti requires a minimum of 75% Sangiovese grapes, while Chianti Classico must have at least 80% and be aged in oak barrels for one year. We selected both a regular Chianti and a Chianti Classico so that you can taste the difference: Castel di Pugna ‘Ellera’ Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG (regular Chianti, Golden Ram Imports) and Castello di Albola Chianti Classico (Zonin USA). We like how the red raspberry and tart cherry of the Castel di Pugna Chianti brightens the vegetable lo mein, and how its spiciness cranks up the heat on the Szechuan eggplant. The strawberry, dark cherry flavors, oak, and dry finish of the Castello di Albola Chianti Classico brings out the meatiness of pork fried rice, and adds a layer of interest to all three dishes.


THIRD COURSE WINES: Lambrusco and Cabernet Franc

FOOD: General Tso’s chicken, beef with string beans, and Peking duck

Lambrusco is a fun wine for any occasion. It’s a classic bubbly red wine, typically found on dinner tables across Northern Italy on any given weeknight. Made from the Lambrusco grape varietals found in Emilia-Romagna and Lombardy, this wine can be dry (secco), off-dry (amabile), or sweet (dolce) with a freshness and effervescence making it a great match for food. Light-bodied Lambrusco displays plum, grape, and berry flavors, sometimes with pepper and almond notes, and a slightly bitter finish. The off-dry sweetness of Ca’Berti Lambrusco Grasparossa Di Castelvetro (Golden Ram Imports) matches the sweetness of General Tso’s chicken. If you prefer drier wines, opt for a dry Lambrusco, such as Lini 910 ‘Labrusca’ Lambrusco Rosso (Empson & Co.). Try both the off-dry and dry Lambrusco with this course and consider how each wine impacts the sweetness you taste. For instance, the plum notes, and earthy qualities of Lambrusco match the plum sauce in the Peking duck. And the famous bubbles cut through the richness of all of these dishes. For a little Lambrusco 101, read “Lambrusco, the Pink Sparkling for Adults.”

The Cabernet Franc grape is often mixed into Merlot (in the Bordeaux style) and Cabernet Sauvignon. Lately, it’s been gaining popularity as a single varietal. Widely-planted, it can be found worldwide, most notably in the Loire Valley of France. It’s known for its vegetal and floral notes, with a savory quality that makes it delightful for food. Medium-bodied, fairly acidic, and floral with roasted chili and bell pepper notes, Cabernet Franc is a good choice with roasted meat. We love it with the crispy Peking duck as it increases the gaminess and intensifies the exotic spices. Taste it with the beef to notice how the vegetal notes complement the green beans, and how it seasons the dish. Our favorite choice for Cab Franc is the 2012 Viansa Signature Series Cabernet Franc from Sonoma. Another yummy option is Clos Laurent Saumur Rouge (Golden Ram Imports), or try any single varietal Cabernet Franc (ask for one that it not too young, chalky or floral).

Want to make your own General Tso’s? It’s really easy!


DESSERT WINE PAIRING: Off-Dry Lambrusco

FOOD: Traditional fortune cookies

This is the easiest pairing of the party. The off-dry Ca’Berti Lambrusco Grasparossa Di Castelvetro is perfect for matching the sweetness of fortune cookies. The grape and almond flavors excite these classic cookies and bring out their nuttiness.

As you mull over which dish pairs best with what red, you may want to reflect on your 2016 year, wish those celebrating the Chinese New Year well, and make a toast for the upcoming year. Wishing you a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2017.

Which red wine do you like best? What pairings were you favorite? We want to know. Post a photo or comment on Facebook or Instagram, and be sure to tag us @wine_4_food.

Image: Sue Ward/Flickr Creative Commons