A Moon and a Sun: Pairing Italian Wine with Chinese Food

A moon and a sun inhabit our home. One is called Italy, the other called China. Which is which, you may ask? They take turns playing moon and sun, balancing momentum and gravity, constantly in need of the other’s orbit.

chinese-mealWhen I first mentioned to my Italian mother that I was thinking of marrying a woman from mainland China, her first question was this: “Oh my God, what will you eat ? “

15 years later, my wife and I still enjoy exploring each other’s food traditions, figuring out what we’ll eat. There is more in common between the great culinary traditions of Italy and China than you might think.

Working in the Italian wine business has had its advantages: it’s not uncommon to have 10 wines open at once with the opportunity to taste all of them against the many dishes from Italy, China, and elsewhere that we cook at home.

Italian wines are exceptionally adept at table – and not just the Italian table. There are many, many gorgeous pairings of Chinese / Asian dishes and Italian wines which we’ve discovered.

Here is a multi-dish, home cooked Chinese meal we enjoyed along with recommended pairings of Italian wines. You may not cook or order these EXACT dishes, but you’ll get the idea. Click the suggested wine name for more information about the wines / producers:

chinese-chickenChicken with leeks, bell pepper, spicy pepper from the garden, and onion.

Wine Pairing Suggestion:

    Roero Arneis


Buns stuffed with pork, chives, fresh bamboo and five spice powder.

Wine Pairing Suggestion:

    Bolgheri Rosso


Bitter vegetable stuffed with tofu, pork, water chestnut.

Wine Pairing Suggestion:

    Pinot Grigio Dolomiti

Buon Appetito ! OR…. Hao Chi !!!! 🙂

P.S. My mother now loves Chinese food !

Zeni Sorti 2007

Zeni Sorti 2007, Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT

After seeing photos of grandfather Roberto Zeni and grandson Roberto Zeni – and I say this with great affection – 4 generations in the wine business remain connected both in name and moustache !

What began in the late 1800’s when Roberto Zeni secured a tavern license and poured Teroldego from a first vineyard harvest has, since the mid-1970’s, been transformed by the brothers Zeni, Roberto and Andrea, with great attention to tradition, innovation and quality. The brothers were educated at the distinguished San Michele School of Wine. Today, Azienda Agricola Zeni specializes in wines made from the rather unusual, but exciting grape varietals found native to Trento.

Geography: let your mind reach north at Verona and look as the crow flies toward Innsbruck and Munich. Zeni is located in Grumo, a hamlet of the municipality San Michele all’Adige, about 15 km north of Trento, in a tradition-rich region of Italy called Trentino-Alto Adige where local customs blend Tyrol and Italian influences.

zeni-sortiZeni Sorti 2007 is produced from predominately Pinot Blanc and Riesling harvested from Guyot pruned vines planted in rocky, alluvial soil with a layer of river silt. The winemaking is unique and masterfully carried out: the Pinot grapes are harvested and allowed to dry naturally for about 4 weeks, bringing about a concentration of aroma and flavor; the Riesling is allowed maximum time on the vine and harvested late. For Pinot, fermentation is carried out in oak barrels at low, controlled temperature, with time allowed on the lees; the Riesling is done separately in steel tanks. Blended in the Spring, the wine is bottled and allowed a brief rest.

Tasting Notes / Impressions:

Don’t let the grape-drying process – normally associated with “dessert” wines – through you off track: this wine is gorgeously dry and complex. The wine’s warm, glowing shade of straw yellow color is as inviting as a light in the window. Hints of vanilla and cinnamon that seem to linger for a moment, vanish, and then return provide intrigue to a perfume of tropical fruit, pear and mountain herbs. The wine’s good weight and rich mouth-feel are a nice counterpoint to its delicate layers of fruit. Note of lightly toasted bread. Delicious acidity and minerality set up for a dry, persistent, elegant finish.

Food Pairing Suggestions:

APPETIZERS: especially that include prosciutto, speck, pate, white or green asparagus; SOUPS: rich, hearty soups, such as with “Canerderli”(like dumplings) flavored with porcini or liver; RISOTTO: try this wine with apple risotto scented with cinnamon; FISH: most kinds of fish and seafood will work, but lake fish, prawns and sea bass will be especially nice; PASTA: dressed with light cream sauces flavored with mushrooms, speck, prosciutto, or seafood. CHEESES: younger, Alpine style cheeses


Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio Dolomiti 2007

Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio Dolomiti 2007, IGT

Sometimes, things which are innately different combine to create a new experience. Mother Nature knows this. Every morning, she rolls up her sleeves and busily glues together Alpine and Mediterranean landscapes, ergo uniting a collection of German and Italian traditions that create the geo-cultural experience known as Alto Adige.

The greatness of Alto Adige is found in its incredible individuality: the greatness of Alois Lageder is that he manages to capture that individuality in a bottle.

alois-lageder-pinot-grigio-dolomiti-thumbThe Lageder family wine cellar was established at Bolzano in the mid-1850’s and became well known early on for a focus on quality that today remains a guiding principle at Lageder. The business expanded in the 1930’s with an acquisition of the Löwengang estate in Magrè and afterward with purchases of other vineyards in the area. Today, the business is run by Alois Lageder and oenolgist brother-in-law Luis von Dellemann who is responsible for the winemaking.

The many asymmetric natural factors that comprise Alto Adige terrain result in local sites of varied but specific characteristics. It is part of the Lageder approach to deeply understand these nuances and to match the grape to its preferred growing conditions.

Interesting bottle label: the photograph by Elisabeth Holzl, “…shows the passage of light through a perforated surface, and thus refers to respiration, to the porosity of the soil, and the leaves of the vine, to the exchanges always taking place between the earth and the surrounding atmosphere.”*

Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio Dolomiti is produced from 100% Pinot Grigio grapes sourced from vineyards in Magrè and Salorno slightly southwest of Bolzano and from the northern part of Trentino. Soils tend to be of sand and gravel with a high limestone content. Daytime temperatures are warm with wide fluctuation between evening temperatures.

Fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks followed by maturation on the lees for 4 months. Lageder’s wines are natural and adhere to the tenets of organic wine making.

Tasting Notes / Impressions:

Core color of golden summer straw highlighted by magnificent, diffused greens. Clean citrus and flower aromas, smooth melon on the palate, notes of lime, and sexy, racy acidity. Super fresh finish.

Food Pairing Suggestions:

Generally speaking, fish, poultry, shellfish, will all be good pairings, but standouts include: Pâté & Terrines, consider liver pâté topped with bacon and sauteed mushrooms, or a smoked salmon terrine; Baccalà alla Vicentina; Chicken salad with peaches and bacon; a simple starter of smoked herring.


*Artist label quote taken from the rear label of Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio Dolomiti 2007.

Alto Adige: H. Lun Pinot Grigio 2007


Alto Adige: H. Lun Pinot Grigio 2007

Prepare for a photo.  Let’s give it a title: South Tyrolian Flavor.  Caption:  Fresh as mountain water, fruity as orchards in bloom.  Subject = H. Lun Pinot Grigio 2007.

H. Lun, South Tyrol’s longest running private winery, built its good reputation by selling only bottled wine, though they were dependent on buying quality barreled wine to do so.  Today, H. Lun is owned as a cooperative but run as private enterprise, a strategic decision that provided immediate access to 30 hectares of first rate local vineyards and the ability to make and market wines from their own grapes.

South Tyrol, officially aka Alto Adige, is Italy’s northern most wine producing region and home to some of Italy’s most exciting white wines.  H. Lun vineyards are nestled among the foothills of the Dolomites, a section of the Alps, in an area that receives approximately 1,800 sun hours per year.  Combined with an average temperature of 18°C, near perfect amounts of rainfall on well aerated soil which warms up easily, and cooling breezes entering from the Mediterranean Sea and the Alps, all factors create an ideal climate especially suited to wine growing.

Tasting Notes:

The H. Lun Pinto Grigio, a straw yellow color, is lovely to look at in the glass.  In the mouth, it is full-bodied and brisk, with crisp pear and almond components in blissful stasis.

NOTE: 2011, March… recently re-tasted this wine that has now evolved tropical fruit component to aromatics…wowWowWOW. Showing more complexity and still drinking great at the moment !

100% Pinot Grigio, harvest time for this wine is during the middle of September.  Fermentation / maturation takes place in stainless steel tank.

Food pairing suggestions:  Super with the Tyrol’s smoked bacon called “speck”, or with north Italy’s air-dried beef called “bresaola”. Try it with a cheese plate with apples, raw nuts, and dried figs; gnocchi with mountain herbs or cream; love it with the region’s large bread dumplings called “canerderli”;  fish, of course, especially lake fish, chicken dishes (no red sauce).