Harmonising Wine with Chinese Cuisine

Australia is the second-biggest exporter to China, after France. Not a bad achievement, considering we only produce 4% of the world’s wine*.

The Chinese especially love our full-bodied reds, and not only because red is considered a lucky colour; they just love big, full-flavoured reds with power and concentration.

We have a large Chinese-Australian population and Australians of all ethnic backgrounds regularly dine in Chinese restaurants. Our love of Chinese food can be traced back to the 1860s Gold Rush: since then, almost every Australian country town has a Chinese restaurant. Wine and food go together and it follows that our wine culture and China’s food traditions should find a meeting-point. Of course, Western-style wine hasn’t always had a place in the Chinese diet but it’s rapidly becoming popular and fashionable to drink wine. It’s part of the westernisation that is happening gradually across the country, beginning in the major population centres such as Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou. Hongkong has been a major fashion trend-setter, influencing the rest of the country in many cultural aspects, including wine drinking. Several Australian wine companies have set up distribution and promotion offices in China. Wine Australia, the promotions arm of the Australian Wine & Brandy Corporation, is also increasingly active in China.

*However, Australia has a lot of clout as a wine exporter: we are the world’s fourth-largest after the big three – France, Italy and Spain.

A few more facts:

  • China is Australia’s fourth-largest export market after UK, US and Canada.
  • Wine exports to China are increasing rapidly: in the year to December 2010, bottled wine exports increased by 24% to 24 million litres and bulk wine by 51% to 30 million litres.

I was part of the first-ever International Congress on Chinese Cuisine and Wine, held in Beijing in 2008. The task was to match Western wines with classic Chinese dishes (paid article).

Some of my favourite combinations:

Some general tips from the ICCCW:

  • French Champagne was the most useful and versatile wine with a range of Chinese dishes
  • Austrian gruner veltliner came second to Champagne
  • A personal favourite with Chinese meals is pinot noir. Had there been a good pinot noir at the conference, I feel sure it would also have starred
  • Strongly oaky white wines don’t go with anything. Pungent sauvignon blancs are too domineering to harmonise with delicate dishes

Happy Chinese New Year!

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