The semi-tropical climate in China’s south allows for year-round harvesting. Feed is aplenty for livestock and the coastline provides rich fishing grounds. The Cantonese enjoy food in abundance and incorporate fresh flavours and a range of texture. The natural flavours are all enhanced after being steamed, poached, or undergoing a quick stir-fry.
Any tangy dry white with delicate citrus or floral aromas can accompany steamed seafood smothered in soy and ginger, while Demi-sec Champagne and any sweet and sour dish is also a match made in heaven. It can be argued that slow boiled soups – winter melon, snow fungus, pork or game – are best enjoyed alone, although a glass of sparkling Italian spumante or German sekt can most definitely add a little something. Yet another surprising contrast is to serve Montbazillacs, Auslese, and late harvest wines with salt-baked chicken.
Westwards, in the central province of Sichuan, the climate is warm and humid. Spicy dishes, garnished with hot chilli, garlic and spring onions, provide a robust cuisine. Nuts and sesame seeds add the crunch whilst Sichuan pepper (Xanthoxylum piperitum) is the source of the unique numbing sensation. Food is often preserved with various salting, drying, smoking and pickling techniques. The featured cooking methods are deep-frying and stir-frying.
Sichuan food lovers quell the piquancy in hot and sour soup and the lip-numbing kung pao chicken with sweet or off-dry wines. Spatlese, Barsac, Passito or Vendange Tardive wines are all good choices, but the lightly sweet wines work best – try Moscato, red Lambrusco or Spatlese Riesling. For strongly flavoured dishes choose accordingly: Mirror the sesame oil and Shaoxing wine flavours in the dish – drunken chicken, with the nutty alcoholic taste of a sherry; match mapo tofu with sweet wines; and pair tea smoked duck peppery, crunchy and aromatic – with a Cote Rotie.