"The one wine in the world that tastes good with most Asian food: German Riesling. If you have spice, there’s no better foil than a little bit of sugar. (I try to match the sugar with the spice—if you like it 4-star, get thee to an Auslese. The rest of us reasonable 2 star people will enjoy our Kabinett and Spatlese.) If you have sweeter dishes, try to get a Riesling that is just a tad sweeter than the dish in question. Even if the preparations are a bit simpler, there is often a salt component enhancing flavors. Generally stated, sweeter wines will cancel out the perception of salt without negating its positive effect on a dish. Consequently, the salt will also diminish the perception of sweetness in the wine, making everything just plain taste better. And if someone at the table says something snarky about sweet Rieslings, just flip it and order a Prosecco or slightly sweet Vouvray or Gewürztraminer—anything on the 'helpful side of dry'."—Chris Horn, Purple Cafe (Bellevue/Seattle)
Think About Texture, Heat, and Umami
"There are usually many components to juggle; is the dish light or heavy, is the spice character low or aggressive, is the heat character mild or strong? With that said, here are some guidelines with a general range of dishes. Dim Sum can throw a dizzying amount of complex pairings your way. Stick with a high acid wine that also has significant weight. Riesling from Alsace (seek out the wines of Andre Ostertag) or Austria (Johannes Hirsch from the Kamptal is a rockstar!) would work great here and will keep your palate pristine in-between bouts with the steam cart. For spicy noodle, rice, or tofu dishes, texture and heat are the main concern. I like wines with softer acidity and a rounder texture as it will help balance the heat component. Gewurztraminer from Alsace (Zind-Humbrecht for a richer style) and Viognier from the Northern Rhône (any cuvée from Yves Cuilleron) or Central Coast of California (Morgan Clendenen’s Cold Heaven) are round and lush and can lend their own exotic profile to the dish. For smoked or roasted proteins with sweet sauces, such as Peking duck, red wine can be the go-to for you to build on the umami factor. A Barbera from Alba (Vietti’s bottling from the Scarrone vineyard is a prime example) or a Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir (look for Failla from Ehren Jordan) will be dexterous with their acidity and high- toned red fruit."—Ehren Ashkenazi, The Modern (NYC)
All About Acid
"For Chinese food, acidity in wine is the key! With spicier food like Szechuan cuisine, I love off-dry Riesling. Especially from the Mosel valley in Germany. The sweetness and cold temperature of the wine will cool off your palate and the crisp acidity will cleanse your mouth and get you ready to eat more! For something fatty with a bit of sweetness like Peking duck, I've found that drier styles of Riesling are great or Chenin Blanc from the Loire valley."&mdashJoe Campanale, L'Apicio, Anfora (NYC)
A Wine with Time In the Bottle
"Riesling with some fruitiness and a bit of age pairs nicely with heavy and complexly spiced Chinese sauces. Riesling from older vintages can be hard to come by at an everyday wine store, but they do make appearances from time to time. Stock up when you see a nice Riesling with age and save it for a rainy Chinese takeout day! I did this with a Riesling Spatlese from Mosel, Germany 1997 for less than $20 that I found at my neighborhood wine store and enjoyed it with a few savory, dark-sauced Chinese dishes—the flavors balanced each other perfectly. Additional choices from the other side of the Rhine River are Alsatian Pinot Gris, Muscat, Riesling and Gewurztraminer—these all contain a lot of complex spice notes, and occasionally a touch of residual sugar, which allow them to work with Chinese food."—Caleb Ganzer, Eleven Madison Park (NYC)
"German Riesling is the ultimate answer to this question. Find a lighter bodied riesling like a kabinett for the ma po tofu. A richer spatlese or auslese style for the duck to hang out with the fat. Pairing with Asian food is complex because there are so many flavor components. Spicy, sweet, fatty, tangy...Riesling easily handles all of those flavors. Don’t be afraid of wines with a little sweetness to them! They can really be excellent for pairing."—Adam Chumas, Tom Douglas Restaurants, Seattle
Not Just Riesling!
"Depending on the preparation, you've got lots of options. Ma po tofu, for instance, works with a lot more than Riesling. Recently, we had some of the Barbieto "Savannah Verdelho" Madeira with it, and while it was a bizarre idea at the onset, it was completely nuts with the dish. Generally the sweetness in the sauces of mushu and Peking duck make for potentially awful non-riesling pairings. If the kitchen at your particular restaurant has a deft hand, Peking duck can be great with juicy cru Beaujolais or juicy Grenache-based wines, like those from Grammenon. There are some non-Riesling options for mushu, but honestly, this is an example of why Riesling is such a steadfast go-to wine.
Cumin lamb falls into a wholly different category, however. Given that it's slightly rich, has that wonderful cumin spice yet remains quasi-delicate on the palate, there are countless great pairings for this dish. Anything from S. Rhone/Languedoc stuff, to Cornas, to Loire Cab Franc, to Sangiovese, to Nebbiolo, to Burgundy... there are so many choices. Favorites of mine include the Cab Francs from Baudry (A bargain!), Montevertine "Pian de Ciampolo" from Tuscany, older Bordeaux (mostly left bank or Pomerol) and also the wines of Leon Barral. The Barral wines are magic."—Collin Casey, Namu Gaji (San Francisco)
Extinguish the Burn
"General rule is that if the dish is hot and/or salty then find something with a little sweetness to extinguish the burn and flow with the dish. Riesling and off-dry Chenin Blanc are your wingmen. Wines with serious tannins, on the other hand, are your worst nightmare. For me this would be angry chimpanzees and big reds like Cabernet Sauvignon with spicy dishes. The spiciness of the dish is amplified to the nth degree and your mouth will be en fuego. For Peking duck, think Pinot Noir form the New world or riper-vintage old world. California Pinot Noirs with finesse like Eric/Kent, Ghostwriter and Littorai. And if you want something from Burgundy then look for the 2009 vintage. This was a warmer vintage and the wines show a bit more voluptuousness. Baby got back! For cumin lamb? I like Zinfandel with lamb or of you want to get all fancy pants then Greek reds work as well. For a Zinfandel find one that has a bit of elegance to it—my favorites would be Scholium Project "Arrows of Apollo" Zinfandel. For the Greek wine try Skouras St. George."—Josiah Baldivino, Michael Mina (San Francisco)
Acid, Burgundy, Vouvray
"With Chinese food, my basic advice is to pick a wine that has great acidity that will get your mouth watering for all of the different textures within the cuisine. The foods can often be fatty or fried so wine with great acidity will cut through the fat and make for a great pairing. With spicy dishes in particular, I like a wine with great aromatics and a bit of residual sugar. A Riesling or Gewürztraminer is a great choice as the sugar helps with heat. With a sweeter Chinese dish that involves pork or duck, a red burgundy is an amazing option. I would not go with a Pinot Noir that is overly ripe and sweet as you can normally get that addition with a hoisin sauce; instead, I would choose a balanced red burgundy that has some mushroom flavors and girth to it. Make sure the red you pick has some tannin as it will help cut through a fatty meat. For an overall pick that will go with any of the dishes on the table, the best white is a Vouvray as it has nice aromatics. I really like the amazing value Vouvray from Bourillon Dorleans-- the pear and fig notes complement a variety of dishes. For a red that will go with anything, I like a nice fruity Gamay. My pick would be the Morgon from Foillard."—Natalie Tapken, Burger & Barrel, Lure (NYC)
"A lot of people like sparkling wines with really robust, spicy food because it is clean and the bubbles accentuate the dish's spice. On the other hand, if the food is really spicy, I love wines that help to tame the fire and have relatively low alcohol (chances are, I'll be drinking a lot of it very quickly!); my favorites are classic Mosel kabinett or spätlese rieslings. For sweeter dishes, especially ones that showcase crispy duck or pork, I'm a huge fan of cru Beaujolais. For either category, try to find wines from classic vintages and quality-minded producers. The more specific the site, the better; if the most you know of the wines provenance is "Mosel", it might be a good opportunity to dig deeper to find one with a town and vineyard designation. The wine will reward you."—Eamon Rockey, formerly of Aska (Brooklyn)
So Many Options!
"Ma po tofu is a lot of fun with a demi-sec wine from Alsace, like Sylvaner, or a bigger Pinot Gris. These wines have a mellow sweetness and bright acidity. For mushu pork, I think pairing with Riesling or a dry Tokay goes well; Furmint has a lot to offer to all the ingredients from this dish and we don’t play a lot with Hungarian wines, but there is a lot of great potential here. For the Pièce de résistance, peking duck? Well, you must break this down to white, red, or what the person in front of you likes better. If your dining companion likes white better, go with Loire Chenin Blanc. For red, I would go with Languedoc—a medium to bigger body, jam-plummy wine. Corbieres any one?"—Gerardo Acevedo-Vanni, Bocanova (Oakland CA)
"For slightly sweet dishes like mushu pork, I would recommend full-bodied whites or reds. Juicy red varietals include Zinfandel, Merlot and Syrah. Rich whites would be like Viognier. ( Try L’Ecole Merlot and Mark Ryan Viognier!)"—Lee Spires, AQUA by El Gaucho (Seattle)