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March 20, 2011

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Choosing wines to supplement snacks

WHAT'S better than to enjoy good wines with good friends? There are numerous occasions to appreciate wine when you're not eating a full meal. Whether spending a relaxing afternoon with friends, having an after-work party with colleagues or a late-night snack with music, the proper combination of snacks and wines will embellish any social gathering. The wine you pair with snacks should be easy-going, reasonably priced and have specific attributes that bring out the best qualities of the snacks. Here are some of my favorite Chinese snacks with natural wine companions. It's party time!

Chashaosu (Guangdong baked BBQ pork pastry)

Who doesn't like freshly baked pastries? Guangdong-style baked barbecue pork pastry is one of China's most popular and scrumptious snacks. Served warm, these treats are crunchy on the outside with sweet and savory cha shao (barbeque pork) filling. Inside the crusty pastry is an irresistible mixture of slow-roasted diced pork, oyster and hoisin sauces, sesame oil, vinegar, Shaoxing wine and sweetener.

The contrasting sweet and meaty flavors and layered textures of the crust and soft interior are delightful by themselves but even more delectable when enjoyed with a fresh and fruity red wine. Excellent choices would be a young Chianti Italian wine or Villages level red Burgundy wine. The freshness of these wines cuts through the grease and accentuates the savory nature of the cakes while the fruitiness deliciously complements the sweetness of the cha shao barbecue sauce.

Choudoufu (Shanghai stinky beancurd)

In the same way many of my Chinese friends are turned off by the powerful aromatics of blue cheese, my foreign friends shun stinky beancurd. Someday, someone will have to explain to me how you could love one and not the other. Both stink but both are truly yummy. When pairing stinky beancurd with wine we can borrow from the experience of Europeans in matching their stinky cheeses with wine. Whether you're in England chomping on Stilton, in France savoring Roquefort or in Italy munching Gorgonzola, your preferred wine will always have a level of sweetness. The sweetness in the wine effectively offsets the pungent flavors and balances the palate. This is a "tried and true" method with the most stinky of cheeses that also works well with stinky beancurd. For something light, I suggest a Moscato d'Asti from northern Italy. The aromas and flavors of honey and sweet fruit are sure to assuage your palate of any odious flavors. If you desire a more weighty and heady drink, Port is also great. The powerful sweet fruit and nut flavors, along with the higher alcohol content, stand up to the strong flavors of the snack while cleansing your palate. These sweet wines also offset the spiciness of the chili sauce that's often served with stinky beancurd.

Yansuji (Taiwan's deep-fried chicken nuggets)

You can't really say you've been to Taiwan unless you have tried the island's famous deep-fried chicken nuggets. Typically sold at carts located in the many alleyways of Taiwan's cities, health food it is not. In addition to the chicken nuggets, the vendors often offer a selection of other chicken parts including innards and some vegetables. Choose your favorites and they are fried right in front of you often forcing you to take a step back to avoid the popping hot oil. After frying, the pieces are sprinkled with a little salt, pepper with some deep-fried Taiwan basil leafs added and perhaps some minced garlic.

When I have little time to eat I often stop at one of my favorite chicken nugget vendors on the way home and get a selection of the delectable treats. This often includes the small fried chicken nuggets, chicken hearts or giblets and my favorite, chicken ass.

The sweet, salty and fatty qualities of the deep-fried chicken treats meets a perfect partner in a fruity red wine with moderate tannins as the wine washes the mouth of all grease while highlighting the natural flavors of the chicken. I find that the fruity-spicy nature of Portuguese wines work especially well with these deep-fried snacks.


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