Perfect Match: New Zealand Pinot Noir and Chinese cuisine

Our Shanghai correspondent, Mick Knuppel, senses a change of the old guard as the new generation Shanghainese move away from pretentious French burgundy and discover that New Zealand’s deep-fruited pinot noirs are not only more generous and accessible they are brilliantly suited to this region’s cuisine moreover, offer exceptional value for money.

Things change. It is what we love about life (usually!) and here in Shanghai there is a wind, or more of a strong breeze, flowing through the restaurant and food scene. For years French burgundy producers have dominated the exclusive on premise and retail pinot noir market. Until recently, their domaine has not been shaken, their castle not really disturbed by the shots over the bow of the antipodean assaults.

Yet, fast forward to 2012. Wine conscious, discerning, pinot noir lovers are switched on to how well one country’s pinot is such a successful accompaniment to Chinese, and especially Shangainese, cuisine: New Zealand Pinot Noir.

Recently test-driving my theory, having spent the past month getting down to what it was that really made these pinots such a great match for the food here in Shanghai – from the famous Hunnan Ribs rubbed in fennel, chilli and a Moroccan- like spice mix, to the crunchy fried eggplant ears stuffed with spicy pork mince at local institution Di Shui Dong – these dishes were matched beautifully by the perfumed, spicy and light tannins of The Sliding Hill 2008 Pinot Noir from the South Island region, Marlborough.

Made by the team at Auntsfield and imported by Elders, The Sliding Hill has been judged as one of the best value pinots on the world market: think of forest floor, spice and a robust mid palate which oozes class and slices through the light oil and spice from the dishes Di Shui Dong serves up.

Auntsfield’s single vineyard Hawk Hill Pinot Noir has arguably even silkier tannins, a core of sweet brambly, forest floor, morello cherry fruit in the middle palate, which again has the breadth to complement many of the classic dishes in Shanghai. Elder’s have current vintages which have been excellently warehoused so you be sure the wines arrive in terrific condition. It has the Elder’s seal of quality, well known here in Shanghai.

I paired it with a traditional banquet; sea urchins, white hot peppered frog, roast duck, noodles in a mild peanut sauce, chilli crab – the dishes in this banquet appear rapidly, continuously, and yet the Hawk Hill has the roundness, flesh and acidity to take on all of the dishes that were served up to us. It evolved beautifully throughout the evening, opening up a silk purse of violets and spice.

Another local institution here is the dumpling. Taiwanese chain Din Tai Fun has been supplying diners with gorgeously hand made, petite, masterful dumplings for years.

These restaurants abound in China, serving such classics as Shanghai dumplings, or Zhao Long Bao, and it was here that I matched both the 2009 Villa Maria Cellar Reserve Pinot Noir and the Nautilus Pinot Noir 2009 with these dumplings, as well as shui mai, pork buns, and classic pot stickers.

The Nautilus Marlborough Pinot Noir 2009 is rich, dark and brooding exhibiting a powerful nose of wild berries, plum and spice with its palate round, broad and assertive yet harmonious and powerful, and more than a match for the drunken chicken we had also ordered.

My guests were astounded at how the fragrance of cherry, musk and spice of the Villa Maria paired seamlessly with the offerings of various dumplings, not overpowering, but enhancing the delicate flavours of soy, ginger and pork. In a flash the first bottles were gone and I am glad I had reserves.

Upmarket Shanghai food doesn’t come any more renowned that what is serving out of the kitchen at Jade 36 at the Shangri la in Lujaziu, Pudong. My most recent dinner there saw our group share a range of wines, but honestly, it was the 2006 Felton Road Block 3 Pinot Noir and Block 5 Pinot Noir that had us most intrigued.

The Block 3, with its dark berry fruits, hot wok-smoky-spiciness and vivaciously, rich and silky texture paired really well with the small cubes of three times roasted pork belly, in faintly smoky salty soy broth, whilst the Block 5 with its dense and almost inky, spicy black pepper amongst sweet black cherry showing all its power and pedigree with real pinosity, gorgeous fruit and impressive length with fine, chewy tannins.

In fact, we had occasion to share the 2009 Felton Road Calvert Pinot Noir recently with friends at Lost Heaven, a must go to destination for intimate diners. This has depth and intensity in its character, a delicate, quite floral nose but an intensely bold palate. It’s very well balanced at the moment, the tannins and oak supporting and not overwhelming the sweet fruit. It easily took on the Yunnan style duck and crab cakes we paired it with. Long, intense, the palate belies the nose, perhaps a tad shy but opening up in a really lovely way as it breathed.

New Zealand Pinot Noir is fast becoming the preferred wine of choice for many discerning Chinese and expat wine lovers, and so it should. Mid-weight, perfect for a climate where the humidity can get to over 90 %, and where the local Chinese and Shanghainese food can be a tad oily despite being delicious; these wines are proving to be on the brink of overtaking the French burgundies in restaurants and dedicated wine bars.

Seemingly more generous and accessible and certainly offering better value in the broad context of quality for money, New Zealand Pinots are brilliantly suited to this region’s cuisine. Moreover, I think it is the expression of deep fruit, the common thread of spice and that overwhelmingly balanced blend of aromatics and acid which push New Zealand’s Pinot Noirs past Old World expressions in food pairing here in China.

New Zealand Pinot Noir in Shanghai

One pity: the supermarket chains seem to be the slowest to catch on. Take in a trip to your local Carrefour, Pines or City shop, and all you will find is Kim Crawford Pinot, Mount Fishtail and Konrad. That’s not a criticism of these wines, just an example of how slow to catch on these super-brand warehouses are to what’s happening in the wine bars, cafes and restaurants in China.

Boutique suppliers such as Pudao, Summergate, Elders and EMW do though have a broad range of some of New Zealand’s most profound, powerful and elegant pinot noirs. Surely, within months, I expect to see some of these wines from their portfolios hit more shelves of the mass market food chains. And when it does, there will be little stopping it, a New Zealand driven pinot revolution of sorts.

Contact them; they are helping drive this quasi-revolution and they absolutely know their product. You will be able to secure exciting pinot noir from some of world’s greatest producers and all of these companies provide you with excellent, knowledgeable service and delivery.

Even the dense cellars of The House of Roosevelt on Shanghai’s infamous Bund, there is a serious representation of outstanding, high end and mid range New Zealand pinot noir already here, impressive in a fiercely competitive wine market – expect to see it on more tables, in more glasses and in more cellars soon.


By Michael Knuppel | Buying Wine, New World Pinot Noir | Related to: , , | 2 comments

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2 Comments to Perfect Match: New Zealand Pinot Noir and Chinese cuisine | Comments Feed

  • You could add Grasshopper Rock Central Otago Pinot Noir stocked by
    CitySuper in Shanghai.

    July 16, 2012
  • Shelly says

    John, you did a fabulous job as the wine guy at my art gaerlly reception .. people loved your charismatic personality and your extensive knowledge of wine, not to mention the impressive fluent french!

    August 15, 2012
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