If you’re like me, with the demands of work and family, Chinese food is a frequent visitor, thanks to the reliable if predictable takeout place around the corner. Occasionally, though, I want something more original — Chinese food from my own kitchen.
Such a craving came this past weekend and led, of course, to a contemplation of wines that might go well with our meal. I’ve learned over the years that a wide range of whites will do the trick with Chinese food, from spicy and herbal Alsatian or American gewürztraminers to crisp Italian pinot grigios to racy sauvignon blancs from any number of countries. If there were one rule, though, it would be to steer away from wines that are heavy on oak, such as many American chardonnays, which would be a recipe for a clash of tastes.
For the food, I decided to make some variation of stir-fried chicken with vegetables. Fortunately, I was going to be close to New York’s ever-expanding Chinatown, where I knew there would be lots of fresh produce to choose from colorful street stands at fair prices. I emerged with a bag of bok choy (a Chinese cabbage), snow peas, scallions, fresh coriander, ginger, bean sprouts and green and red bell peppers. It was more than enough and cost all of $6 or $7.
As I cooked, I uncorked several wines I had picked up on the way down to Chinatown, including a very inexpensive Hungarian gewürztraminer that had me hopeful but turned out to be somewhat syrupy and nondescript, a kind of gewürz light that barely reflected the character of this unusual grape.
Far more successful was a $10 discovery from the Veneto region of northern Italy, produced by the prominent Maculan winery in Breganze, 30 miles or so west of Venice. Well known for its white “Breganze di Breganze,” this one was Maculan’s 2003 “Pino & Toi,” a play on the names of the grapes in the blend. The mix is 60 percent tocai friulano (unrelated to the tokay grape of Alsace or the tokaji of Hungary), 25 percent pinot bianco (blanc) and 15 percent pinot grigio, known elsewhere as pinot gris.
Medium-bodied, crisp and slightly creamy, it had lemon, pear, floral and herbal notes. It was an excellent choice for the dinner, cutting through but not fighting the myriad tastes of the Chinese food while maintaining its own character. It would also serve well with any number of fish recipes and as an elegant aperitif.
This attractive and well-made wine, with its modest price and good level of complexity, fit right in with a fun, creative and inexpensive dinner. It should be widely available.
Edward Deitch's wine column appears Wednesdays. Write to him at EdwardDeitch @hotmail.com.