Picking a wine for Cantonese food can present a bit of a challenge even for the most avid imbiber. After all, the flavours and textures of Cantonese cuisine, one of China’s Eight Great Cuisines originated in Guangdong, can be incredibly varied and complex. To begin with, Cantonese food encompasses a spectrum of sweet, sour, salty and bitter flavours, which are typically achieved through a variety of cooking methods, including steaming, stir-frying, deep-frying, double-boiling and braising.
One of the characteristics of Cantonese cuisine is its moderate use of spices and fresh herbs, with ginger, spring onions and garlic being notable exceptions. To enhance the flavour of a dish, dried seafood and preserved meat are commonly used in conjunction with fresh ingredients.
With such diverse flavours all presented at the same time, is it possible to find a wine that could complement, or even elevate, the complexity of Cantonese food? Absolutely! In fact, pairing a Cantonese meal with wine can open up a whole new dimension of enjoyment to the experience.
To help guide us in our quest for the perfect pairing, sommeliers of MICHELIN-recommended restaurants share their insights into choosing wines that will go well with your Cantonese favourites, from dim sum to siu mei (barbecued meat) and everything in between.
Head Sommelier of one-MICHELIN-starred VEA
“When choosing a wine to pair with Cantonese food, which is often packed with umami flavours, we need to pay attention to the tannin of the wine. A sure-fire choice to pair with a Cantonese meal is Brut Champagne made with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. The taste of yeast enhances the smoky flavour of Cantonese food, while the champagne’s minerality goes well with the saltiness of dishes that are cooked with soy sauce. The bubbles will help to clean the palate, too.”
“When it comes to dried seafood and preserved or fermented ingredients, you can’t go wrong with a white wine with minerality like Meursault.”
“Chopped chilli fish maw rice, a signature of WING Restaurant, paired with Georges Laval Garennes Doux NV. It has 50g/L of residual sugar, which is quite rare in Champagne. Unlike typical Brut Champagne, it has a sweetness that does not overpower its minerality, offering more complexity while cutting down the spiciness of the chilli at the same time. This allows the spicy flavour of the fish maw to shine through and the palate to cool down afterwards just with a sip of champagne.”
Head Sommelier of two-MICHELIN-starred Tin Lung Heen
“Champagne would almost never go wrong with Cantonese food, especially if you have seafood, white and red meat. My tip: pair seafood with champagne, barbecued meat with light-bodied red like a Burgundian Pinot Noir, and dim sum with champagne or a light to medium-bodied white.”
“I have a few personal wine pairing favourites with Tin Lung Heen’s signature dishes. First, the barbecued pork with osmanthus flower honey with a German Riesling Kabinett. The wine’s mild sweetness pairs well with the honey’s sweetness, and the acidity of the Riesling cuts through the fat of the pork to create a good balance of the taste.”
“With the baked egg custard tart—a classic Cantonese dessert, I like to pair it with a dessert wine, such as a French Sauternes.”
Restaurant Manager/Sommelier of two-MICHELIN-starred Tate
“My approach is to focus on the texture(s) of the main ingredient, the temperature, and the sweet level of the dish. Generally speaking, Chardonnay from Burgundy or Bordeaux blend wines are comfortable pairings. A beautiful Chardonnay from Burgundy is not required to be served too cold, which is a huge advantage to not affect the dish's temperature. The minerality also makes it an amazing pairing with Cantonese fresh seafood. Bordeaux blend wines are usually well-balanced in terms of tannin level and fruitiness. Cantonese-style barbecued meats or wok stir-fried dishes could be a bit sweet or accompanied with a thick sauce, which require a wine with elegant tannin and a light fruitiness.
“The first tip I would give when it comes to choosing a wine is to always think about balance and complementarity. For example, if you’re having fresh seafood, try to balance it with a fresh and mineral white. If you’re having barbecued meat, try to balance it with a spicy and well-balanced red wine. Japanese sake could also be a good alternative to bring more freshness to the dish and reveal the umami flavours.”
“I like to pair a steamed mouth grouper with soy sauce and scallion with a Chablis Premier Cru. Chablis Premier Crus’ soils are characterised by the presence of countless fossilised oyster shells that bring about the mineral and salted notes it’s known for. Their Chardonnay grapes, which are grown on those terroirs, are very fresh, energetic and rich. The soft texture of the steamed mouth grouper perfectly balances with the wine acidity, while the sauce is brightened by the wine’s minerality.”
“I would recommend trying a Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley of France because of its high acidity, which tastes almost like a sparkling wine. You can expect it to be quite dry with more fruit maturity and apricot notes, which I find can go with any Cantonese dishes.”
“For another option in whites, I think that a white Burgundy with great body and texture can go well with any white meat like chicken; and a red wine from Northern Loire Valley with darker fruits and more minerality can go with something that uses richer sauces.”
"I like to pair chef Hung’s signature roasted pork spare rib with honey pepper sauce with Maxime Magnon's Rozeta 2018. It’s a very clean and precise wine with hints of dark cherry and spices, which pair well with red meat in general."
Sommelier of MICHELIN Plate restaurant One Harbour Road
“For me, wine and food pairing can be very personal. There are a few tried-and-tested wine pairings that I really enjoy, including champagne with dim sum. Another typical Cantonese dish is sweet and sour pork, which works particularly well with a Chardonnay, specifically the Chablis 2018 from Domaine Patte Loup. The lemon confit, apricot and sweet floral notes all laced together to deliver a rich, textual intensity. The acidity in the wine also balances well with the sweetness of the dish.”
“For Cantonese stir-fried beef, I would pair it with a Shiraz from Australia, The Struie 2017 from Torbreck. With nuances of plum, blackberries and violets, this aromatic wine is a perfect match for the smoky, soy sauce marinated beef.”
I’m still new to Hong Kong, but I’m a big fan of pairing char siu with German Riesling, especially with a Riesling Trocken from Weingut Keller. Trocken means dry, so it’s a dry Riesling with a bit of residual sugar. The combination is perfect as the Riesling is quite dry and acidic to balance the fatness and sweetness of the char siu.