Acquire your own taste: red, white or even two at a time
Master of wine Jeannie Cho Lee has a top five list for pairing with Cantonese food: new world pinot noir, premier cru Burgundy red, Loire valley whites, German whites and non-vintage champagne. With regards to banquets, she says because of the sequencing of dishes the best option is 'to serve two wines at a time: a red and a versatile white or sparkling wine. This also offers the diner the opportunity to experiment matching the two wines with different dishes.'
Peter Gago patriotically suggests the Australian grenache shiraz mourvedre (GSM) blend or shiraz on its own, neither aged in new oak. He's also a fan of Adelaide Hills chardonnay and gew?rztraminer.
Amanda Parker says typical contemporary matches are a crisp chardonnay from Adelaide Hills with dim sum, a red Burgundy with Peking duck, and a Beerenauslese, a late-harvest wine from Germany, with desserts, such as egg tarts. Parker says that, when selecting only one wine to match multiple dishes, the crux is in choosing a versatile wine with characteristics to match the range and style of food. 'Pinot noir is often a popular choice as it generally has good fruit concentration, doesn't display overly high tannins and has good acidic balance. There's enough character in the wine to complement beef dishes, good acidity to complement stir-fried dishes that have a high oil content, and is not so powerful that it would overwhelm fish dishes.'
Debra Meiburg thinks a Cantonese meal is far too complicated to try to pair a wine to every dish. 'The idea should be to pick a single special dish on the table - for example, braised abalone - to match with the wine and serve that dish with that wine; particularly for whites with little oak influence, the wine should still be able to pair to a greater or lesser degree with most courses on the table. For the rest of the courses, there is tea.'
Meiburg's pairing philosophy centres on the sauces. 'Chinese cuisine, which tends to be strongly sauce and garnish driven, calls for a pairing system that looks first at the sauce that forms the flavour base of the dish,' she says. For lighter, aromatic sauces, she suggests lighter white wines that are dry or very lightly off-dry such as riesling or light-bodied gr?ner veltliners. Reds, such as pinot- and grenache-based wines she says usually fare well with darker soy-based sauces and black bean sauces. For lovers of French red wines, she suggests wines from Burgundy over Bordeaux, which tend to match only with the darkest and richest sauces.
'Gew?rztraminer can actually be paired with Cantonese dishes that have enough flavour intensity to stand up to this bombshell.' This includes dishes with sauces such as oyster, hoisin and chilli.
Simon Tam says: 'There is no rule that says you can't have more than one glass at a time. I often serve more than one wine at the same time for a Cantonese banquet.' He also has a novel pairing approach. 'We eat seasonally in Hong Kong, so I feel pairing should be seasonal, too.'
For example, steamed chicken eaten in summer is a natural pairing with a summery wine such as a riesling; in winter, when it would be natural to eat braised brisket, the seasonal pairing is a warm, rich wine, such as an aged cabernet sauvignon. This led him to develop his Flavour Colours app, which divides dishes and wine into four colours (blonde, ivory, tan and brown). Diners simply match the dish colour with wines of the same colour. 'A blonde wine is a fruity sauvignon blanc and a blonde dish is stir-fried scallops with ginger.'
While these are some guidelines, the experts say don't be afraid to have fun and experiment. If it doesn't work, try something else.