While Chinese New Year is traditionally a whirlwind of passing around red envelopes, booking last-minute travel plans for the long weekend, and attending a flurry of family engagements for local Hong Kongers, this year is bound to be a bit more subdued. But perhaps distilling the weeklong festivities into a simple celebration may be just what we need to recuperate from a difficult year: a time to refill energy tanks, enjoy plenty of good food and wine, and toast to the new year with a close circle of friends and family.
A traditional Spring Festival spread calls for a number of symbolic dishes that represent longevity and good fortune, from crispy spring rolls to glutinous rice balls, steamed fish to colourful yee sang platters for the all-important ‘prosperity toss’. With all the bold flavours and heavy-handed seasonings typical to Chinese cooking, however, it can be tricky to land a perfect wine pairing. For that, we’ve turned to our team of sommeliers for their expert advice. Whether it’s a crisp Riesling, a fruity red or a fizzy Champagne to cut through the spice, these versatile wines are just what you need to round out your CNY spread.
Arnaud Bardary, Carbone
What better option to pair with Chinese New Year dishes than a good Chinese wine? I would also say to go for a white wine. Kanaan winery, based in the foothills of Helan Mountain in Ningxia does a very good Riesling. The winemaker Wan Fang (or “Crazy Fang” as we call her) is a German businesswoman born in China, and believes strongly in the potential of the land. The Riesling is full-bodied and refreshing with a juicy lemon flavour and floral notes. It’s a great wine to start with, and also pairs well with the spicy profile of many Chinese dishes.
Kevin Lu, BELON
Chinese New Year is the time for social gatherings, and catching up with many friends and family members. With such a diversity in terms of food and people, you can’t go wrong with a bottle of Champagne. The dishes served around Chinese New Year are usually rich in flavours. Champagne Francis Boulard, Les Murgier, Brut Nature is my pick, with very fine bubbles and an intense citrus profile. It bears white flower and brioche flavours with crisp acidity to open up the appetite and balance out the richness of the dishes.
Johann Kwon, Crown Super Deluxe
During CNY, one of the most famous dishes is nian gao, a sweet cake made from rice flour, brown sugar, molasses and other traditional ingredients. It bears nutty flavours such as almond, toffee, ginger, and some dried fruits, and is ideally matched with wines showcasing similar characteristics. Recently I had a chance to taste Marco de Bartoli’s ‘Bukkuram’ Padre Della Vigna from Passito di Pantelleria 2012 vintage, and it literally brought me to heaven! It’s delightfully sweet yet balanced out by a refreshing acidity—complex and fresh, with aromas of dried fruits, sweet tobacco, hazelnut and ginger. Thanks to its high sugar level, this bottle will last a long time even after opening, and goes so well with not only desserts such as nian gao, but also complex blue cheeses such as gorgonzola and stilton, or matured hard cheeses like XO Gouda and cheddar.
Wingate Ng, Osteria Marzia
The best wines to pair with Chinese New Year foods are both off dry Alsace and German Riesling for white wine and Bordeaux for red wine. These wines pair exceptionally well with most Chinese New Year snacks (like peanuts and honey-glazed walnuts) and Chinese New Year dishes such as pan-fried turnip cake with salty Chinese sausage and dried shrimp.
Constanza Cabello, Associazione Chianti
When matching wines with Chinese New Year foods, I always gravitate toward bubbles. This year, I will suggest a bottle of Cava from Spain: 2008 Agusti Torelló Mata “Kripta” Cava Brut Penedes. It’s a great sparkling wine, made with the white grapes indigenous to the region: Macabeo (45%), Xarel-lo (20%) and Parellada (35%). This wine is cultivated from 50-year-old vineyards in the Penedes Area, and boasts great complexity and freshness. It’s ideal for any celebration!