For two years straight, Chinese New Year feels like an anomaly. Families gathered at a safely distanced dinner table toasting for what seems like never returning pandemic-free life.
This year the run-up so far especially in Hong Kong seems closer to routine until the more infectious Omicron promoted the city’s toughest social distancing rules this month, throwing large gatherings at restaurants into doubts.
Like many of us, with no restaurant dine-in after 6pm, Chinese New Year this year is going to be truly a family affair.
But hosting Chinese New Year dinner parties at home always seems daunting. We fret over ever changing social distance rules in the era of pandemic, food selections and guest allergies. Choosing wine therefore should be the least of all worries. Considering everything that has been going on in the past two years, you don’t need to fret over wine picks or how the wines would work with a tableful of various Chinese dishes.
That’s why in our annual Chinese New Year wine guide, we advocate versatility and simplicity.
Every Chinese New Year dinner table looks different and even with the same dish, preparations and cooking vary. In Hong Kong, this is particularly true with Poon Choi, a traditional festival meal served in a big bowl composed of many layers of different ingredients. For more adventurous palates, some might even go for Italian staples or French fine dining over Chinese cuisine for the traditional festival.
To put it more bluntly, you won’t be tried in the people’s court for failing to provide a precise food and wine pairing for Chinese New Year. Your friends and families will remember the hospitality, the conversations and moments shared. Granted, they might prod you about your career updates and your marital status, but no one is going to fault you over choosing a slightly flaccid Sancerre unless they are ardent wine enthusiasts.
That being said, you want to have wines that can lubricate and invigorate your long Chinese New Year dinner, unless you want to avoid dish washing duties by going straight to heavy-lifting and big wines.
We imagine most people’s Chinese New Year gatherings to be long meals that may begin with snacks, cold dishes and starters, followed by main courses that often comprise of beef, duck, chicken, fish and other seafood at a typical Cantonese dinner, and end, perhaps hours later, with the luscious Chinese New Year cake or other auspicious desserts.
Rule of thumb is to choose a marathon wine that can go on for hours instead of a sprinter. This means that you should go for fresh, lively and vibrant wines with a good amount of acidity. The liveliness that comes with good acidity is in effect a survival strategy. Such wines will rejuvenate, even as all that food pushes you closer to your couch.
Avoid serving high alcoholic wines (15% abv or above) that can knock your guests out after just one glass. When already serving heavy food, as we imagine most gracious dinner hosts will, a high-octane wine will quickly wear out your palate and dull the flavours in food.
Seek out wines that are crowd-pleasers, easy, approachable with straight-forward fruitiness even with a bit of ripeness. No one wants an astringent and tannic wine that induces an acid flex later.
Take pleasure in breaking rules. Convention dictates that white wines go with seafood and red wines go with red meat. Even when wine lovers venture out of the convention to match a seafood dish with red wines, experts dutifully advise a light-bodied red wine. Cue the Beaujolais and Pinot Noir.
The varied Cantonese cooking methods of braising and pan-frying can transform the texture of seafood in various ways. This means a full-bodied red that would normally ruin a delicately steamed fish with a mouthful of copper taste would otherwise match perfectly with a deep-fried or braised meaty fish in a rich sauce. If you are serving a seafood-rich Chinese New Year dinner to your family and friends, don’t shrug away red wines just yet.
If you can, make sure there’s a good spread between white wines and red wines. Though Hong Kong favours reds normally, it doesn’t hurt to offer choices for your guests. Who would refuse a glass of vibrant Chablis or enlivening Champagne?
Last but last least, purchase more wines than needed. A bottle per head is a rule to go by, but who can blame someone for indulging a glass more or two.
Here we have listed down our wine recommendations that will energize and invigorate your Chinese New Year celebrations. Scroll through the page below to view them all.
You can also download the guide in PDF format here.