Pairing Vinho Verde wine with Chinese food

Pairing wine with Chinese food can be difficult … there are just so many flavours, ingredients and textures to content with. At banquet dinners, when we do have wine, it generally consists of an overly sweet white (yuck) and a robust red (delicious, but drowns out the delicate steamed seafood dishes).

Hence, when I was invited to Taste of China to sample bottles of Vinho Verde, it seemed like the ideal opportunity to learn from the experts. A product of Portugal, Vinho Verde refers to the region the wine is produced in. It’s a fragmented area with more than 30,000 growers and due to low yields tend to use cooperative wineries to produce the wine.

Although the region produces red, white or rosé, we samples three whites that evening – it’s mineral properties and light taste is believed to be more versatile in holding up against Asian cuisine.

The Quinta Da Aveleda Vinho Verde 2013 ($10.95 at the LCBO) was the driest and tasted like it’d have the highest alcohol content. With green apple elements, it had the acidicness needed to compliment the tart red vinegar accompanying the deep fried shrimp balls ($15.50).

Veinho Verde wine

The shrimp balls itself arrived piping hot with a light moist centre. It’s essentially the shrimp paste you’d normally find around deep fried crab claws. There was perhaps a bit too much flour used in the appetizer, but you could still taste the shrimp’s flavours.

Taste of China shrimp balls

Moving into the Vintages selection, the Muralhas De Monção Vinho Verde 2014 ($15.95 at the LCBO) had a much smoother finish. Of the three, the hint of spritz within the wine was most prevalent. This sparkling nature historically stemmed from the fermentation process and was actually considered a blemish to the wine. But, it became a characteristic that consumers like about Vinho Verdes so some vintners continue the tradition by adding artificial carbonation into the bottles. 

A vegetable vermicelli with bean sprouts and Chinese mushrooms (not on menu) and green sea bass done 2-ways (seasonally priced, believe was $16.99) was paired with this wine. Both were different dishes but tended to be more neutral against the Muralhas.

The vermicelli was served on a sizzling plate helping it to retain its heat. A layer of onions separated the thin delicate noodles from the plate adding a sweetness to the salty noodles.

The sea bass’s filets were removed and pan fried while the bones deep fried until crisp. The filets were cooked well retaining a meaty tenderness in texture. However, the bones didn’t lend itself to being fried compared to a flounder: they are too thick and there wasn’t enough cartilage on it to add interest.

Taste of china sea bass

Lastly, a bottle of CDV Brazão Colheita Seleccionada Arinto 2013 ($13.75 at the LCBO) that was the sweetest (although compared to other varietals is still relatively dry). For a lighter white, it had a more substantial feel to it, lending itself to being paired with the heaviest dish – stir fried filet mignon ($13). Of all the bottles served, I would consider it the best to drink by itself.

The filet mignon’s tenderness varies: one piece was too difficult to bite through while another gave absolutely no resistance. The sauce was sweet and spicy; enough heat to sting but you won’t be reaching for water. The broccoli lining the plate was fresh and crispy, but unfortunately didn’t pair with the wine, causing it to have a bitter finish.

Taste of china filet mignon

Overall, I welcomed the introduction to a new region of wines I previously had never heard of. Vinhos Verdes are light and fresh with slight fruity and floral aromas without being overpowering. Although I still find it hard to have a one-wine-fits-all pairing with Chinese food, the wine is definitely a contender to many of the deep fried dishes as the wine’s acid helps to balance out the oiliness of the dishes.

Kevin Fox, producer of the show Wine Portfolio, said it best: if you like it, than drink it! Although there are helpful suggestions as to what pairs best, like all food and drink, taste is subjective. Don’t over think things and just try a bunch of wines until you find what suits your taste.

After this event, I came to the realization that Chinese restaurants are missing a huge opportunity – to offer drink pairings with tasting menus. It’s certainly something I’d be interested in trying! After all, there are so many dishes that would work so well with wine … Chinese restaurants, who will take up this challenge?

How To Find Them
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 Taste of China:

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