Group attempts to find ultimate wine pairings with Chinese cuisine
"Chinese are so into food and have so much love and passion for eating. Wine is a natural complement and really enhances the food. It's a great fusion of cultures," says Albert Cheng, 55, of San Francisco.
"We wanted to demystify wine-drinking" and the conventional wisdom that only beer goes well with Chinese food," says Cheng. So he and his wife, Anne, and four other couples -- Dr. Rolland C. and Kathy Lowe of Orinda, Ling-chi and Linda Wang, and Dr. Randall and Dottie Low, all of San Francisco, and Dr. Eric and Kay Leung of Hillsborough -- got together and named themselves Dai Sik Wui (Da Shi Hui in Mandarin), or Gourmet Group, 10 years ago. DSW formed because all of its members love wine.
The group's aim is to discover the best combinations of Western wine and Chinese cuisine and to enjoy and educate each other while doing so. Originally they did not set out to pair wines with Chinese food, choosing to dine at San Francisco restaurants such as Masa's, La Folie and Jardinière. Then they felt the gravitational pull -- and the logic -- of pairing wine with Chinese food.
"It was natural, with great Chinese food and great wine, there had to be combinations," says Cheng.
The group reached the pinnacle of food and wine pairings when, surprise, it discovered that each couple owned great wine cellars and began pulling bottles from their own collections.
They began by going to the best Chinese restaurants in the city. "When we ran out of restaurants in the Bay Area, we went to Vancouver," a mecca for Chinese dining in North America, Cheng says.
Their passion knows no bounds. Last year, in search of the world's pre- eminent Chinese food, the group traveled to Shanghai. Each hand-carried at least two bottles of wine, 24 bottles in total. Rare vintages included the 2001 Brown Estate Napa Valley Zinfandel, a 1994 Stags' Leap Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, a 1997 Littorai One Acre Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir and a 2001 Chase Haynes Vineyard Napa Valley Zinfandel.
The best pairing of the entire trip -- braised pork (also called red- cooked belly pork or pork shank) with a 20-year-old Graham's ruby port. It's a pairing worthy of the classic Sauternes with foie gras (fattened liver) in French cuisine, Cheng says, "It's to die for."
Through the course of their week of ultimate pairing in Shanghai, the group also tasted some locally made and locally sold wines. Of the locally sold wines from France, Spain and Italy, none were high quality or they were improperly stored, says Cheng.
Some more of DSW's great finds include:
- Sauvignon Blanc with gai choy sum (baby mustard greens)
- Chardonnay or Champagne with lobster, sashimi style
- Zinfandel with roast squab
- California Pinot Noir or French Burgundy with roast duck
- Chenin Blanc with gailan (Chinese broccoli)
Similarly, Dai Sik Wui knows what to avoid. "We tend to stay away from Cabs; they are overpowering," says Cheng.
Among the group's general rules of thumb: Start with white and sparkling wines and accompany them with vegetable and seafood dishes first.But most importantly, bring good wine to the table. "Any good or great wine goes well with good food," says Cheng.
DSW finds it often ends up with 20 bottles on the table to complement the immense range of styles and flavors of Chinese cuisine. Cheng echoes the advice of Fifth Floor wine director Belinda Chang. "In the end, it comes down to individual taste. There are no set rules."