Our banquet bacchanal at Peter Chang’s China Grill, which I wrote about for this week’s Food section, was an opportunity for me and a number of Virginia winemakers to test the conventional wisdom that calls for sweet wines with spicy Sichuan food — assuming, of course, anyone thinks about wine at all with spicy Sichuan food.
I love Riesling and Gewurztraminer, the two wines most often suggested for spicy dishes, but that seems like settling for the obvious given the wide variety of grapes and styles now available. During our explorations at China Grill in Charlottesville, we focused on Virginia wines in recognition of Chang’s upcoming James Beard House dinner with Jefferson Vineyards, but this exercise could be repeated with wines from anywhere.
While we did have some sweet wines — as in dessert wines paired entrees — the group was surprised by how well dry wines fared. Bottles such as Blenheim Vineyards’ 2010 syrah, a Rhone blend that includes mourvedre and grenache, and the 2010 cabernet franc from Veritas Vineyard & Winery were excellent partners with the subtler dishes on Chang’s menu, like his duck steamed inside a shell of bread or his braised “red-cooked” slab of fatty pork.
When the spice was amped up a bit, off-dry wines proved more versatile than overtly sweet ones. The Jefferson pinot gris 2010 and Horton Vineyards’ petit manseng 2008 were exceptional partners for the array of appetizers that started the meal. These wines offered good acidity, aromatic fruit flavors and a touch of residual sugar to keep the spice in check. This style of white wine is popular in the United States now, and I suspect that many white blends made without oak aging would also go well.
The Foggy Ridge ciders were stars, too, because their bubbles, acidity and low alcohol level (about 6 percent) made them excellent palate cleansers. They tasted more like wine than beer, and they too were off-dry with a bit of sweetness.
With such variety available, and not just from Virginia, it’s a shame more Asian restaurants don’t take their wine lists seriously. More reason to order take-out perhaps.