There’s no doubt about our love of Chinese food. There’s hardly a shopping center in the area that doesn’t have at the very least a Chinese takeout kitchen.
And as the Chinese mark the Year of the Rabbit, whose eve is Feb. 2 and which runs through Feb. 9, it’s a good time to consider alternatives to tea, Coke and water to wash down those barbecued spareribs and General Tso’s chicken.
Yes, there’s Tsing Tao Beer. It does a fine job of cleansing the palate. And it goes with most anything. But beer can be filling. And what if you don’t like beer?
Wine? Some experts say it doesn’t go. Others suggest only Champagne or other sparkling wines will do. Riesling and Gewürztraminer, both aromatic, fruity white wines, are the go-to wines for some, myself included. And they work quite well with foods prepared in the spicy styles of Szechuan and Hunan. Experimentation has provided me with other possibilities, wines that work wondrously with the more delicate Cantonese dishes that abound on Chinese restaurant menus.
Most Huntington area Chinese restaurants, except Best Buffet which charges $15 a bottle corkage, do not allow you to BYO, which is a shame, because their wine offerings often aren’t well suited to the food or are mass market style wines. Of course, you also can do takeout and not worry about BYO policies.
Sadly, to my taste, the hugely popular wines from Chile, California and Australia that so many people favor simply overwhelm the delicate flavors of some dishes or add to the heat of those already fiery. These wines have high alcohol levels, lots of oak, are big bodied and full of tannins. Instead, consider, light-bodied, low-alcohol, fruity wines, perhaps with a bit of a fizz.
My experiments with different wines at home and at restaurants around the Island and in Chinatown produced some terrific matches.
I also got some ideas from Huntington resident Gary Price, who owns Cambulac Italian Wine Merchants in Beijing, China. Price suggests that Italian wines have a great affinity for Chinese food. Think Marco Polo visiting China. He recommends, among other things, matching regional Italian wines with regional Chinese dishes. And I tried some of his suggested pairings.
It’s better, I decided to treat a Chinese meal as I would any western meal and serve a lighter wine with the lighter dishes and a more robust one with the heartier dishes.
Champagne or sparkling wine is an ideal answer with dim sum – both the steamed and deep fried variety, especially when stuffed with shellfish. It also goes well with lighter stir-fries and steamed fish and vegetable and with the more delicate flavors of Cantonese food.
Remember Lambrusco, that light, slightly fizzy wine popular in the 1960s? It’s still around. But skip the Riunite and Cella in favor of something more flavorful, say the Medici Ermete Lambruscos. These wines, low in alcohol and, some with a touch of sweetness, worked magically with dumplings (fried or steamed) and with barbecued spare ribs.
A clean, minerally, citrusy Sauvignon Blanc (rather than a grassy, herbaceous one) is a good match with Chinese seafood. If you feel like spending big bucks, the Chateau Smith Haute Lafitte Blanc 2004, a Bordeaux white, does the trick nicely.
Dry Rieslings such as those from Germany, Austria, Alsace and the Finger Lakes work well, too. I also like the way Grüner Veltliner, from Austria, and Inzolia, from Sicily, pairs with seafood and other light dishes. They match marvelously with seafood dishes served with scallion and garlic sauce and any number of gingery dishes. Also worth considering: racy Albarinos from Spain’s Rias Baixas region and Alvarinho from Portugal. The white wines of Friuli, especially the blends, also are excellent foils. I’ve also enjoyed Le Vieux Donjon Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc, a wine from France’s Rhone Valley not seen all that often. It’s a crisp wine with notes of honeysuckle and fruit that’s pairs quite well with Cantonese seafood dishes. It sells for about $36.
Sweet-and-sour dishes are popular choices on Chinese menus. This is where off dry wines, such as fruity rosés, work well. Aromatic whites, such as Riesling, Pinot Gris, Grüner Veltliner and Inzolia are good matches. Feeling extravagant? “Rich” Champagnes also handle sweetness well. Pockets not so deep? Consider a Spanish Cava or Italian Prosecco.
The wine-friendliest dishes of all in the Chinese repertoire are those with duck — roast duck or Peking duck, for example. Lighter reds such as Beaujolais and Pinot Noir, or an Italian Pinot Nero from Friuli or a Barbera D’Asti make fabulous matches. Duck is also is a good partner for a spicy Gewürztraminer, which can overwhelm some of the more delicate elements of a typical Chinese meal.
If you’re fortunate enough to find a lamb dish on a Chinese menu, Pinot Noir, a typical accompaniment for French-style lamb, works equally well with a Chinese rendition.
An Italian Valpolicella also can be substantial enough to accompany the lamb or a crispy roast duck.
Fruity reds again come into play with black bean sauce and the hotter, spicier dishes such as Szechuan beef.
You’ll find many of these Chinese-food friendly wines at $20 a bottle or less at retail. At this level, experimenting on your own not only is fun, but relatively inexpensive.
Here’s a list of just a few Chinese food-friendly wines. Prices are approximate and not all wines may be available at area merchants. A good wine merchant might suggest something comparable.
Cataldo Grillo / Inzolia Sicilia 2008, $9
Dolomites Pinot Nero 2005, $15
Tedeschi Capitel San Rocco Rosso Valpolicella Ripasso 2005, $12
Fuchs Grüner Veltliner 2008, $9
Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais 2008, $12
Heron Hill Old Vines Riesling 2005, $25
Hugel Gentil (white blend) NV, $10
Le Vieux Donjon Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc 2005, $36
Medici Ermete Solo Lambrusco Reggiano 2007, $20
Medici Ermete Concerto Lambrusco Salamino 2007, $25
Medici Ermete Qercioli Dolce Lambrusco Reggiano, 2007, $15
Medici Ermete Lambrusco Grasparossa 2007, $20
Monchof Urzinger Wurzgarten Riesling Auslese 2007, $24
Poderi Alasia "Rive" Barbera d'Asti Superiore 2007, $25
Marchese di Barolo Gavi di Gavi 2008, $14
Mastroberardino Radici Fiano di Avellino 2006, $22
Le Vieux Donjon Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc 2005, $36
Chateau Smith Haute Lafitte Blanc (sauvignon blanc), $60
As they toast in China, Niennien Ju e! (nyen nyen zhu ee).
As the Chinese usher in the year of the Rabbit, at least two Huntington restaurants are offering special dinners to mark the occasion: Albert’s Mandarin Gourmet and Best Buffet.
, a venerable eatery at 269 New York Ave., Huntington, has a four-course banquet menu and entertainment. Seatings are at 6 p.m. on Feb. 2 and Feb. 3, and the prix fixe menu costs $35 per person. Owner Albert Leung says the food is traditional.
The sprawling Best Buffet, opposite Walt Whitman Mall in Huntington Station, is celebrating with a holiday buffet with special food offerings from Feb. 2 through Feb. 6. Weekend brunch is priced at $12.99 per person and dinner all through the holiday is priced at $25.99, the usual weekend price.