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For Lunar New Year, These Wines Pair Perfectly

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Lunar New Year is one of the most important celebrations of the year for many countries within East and Southeast Asia and in the United States. The holiday is considered a time when immediate and extended family members come together to welcome prosperity and abundance into the coming year of the lunisolar calendar. And though many families share large feasts with traditional Lunar New Year recipes as part of the celebration, some have more recently chosen to pour celebratory wines to embrace the coming year. So, we tapped experts and our Wine Enthusiast Tasting Department to share their picks for the best Lunar New Year wine.

What Is the Lunar New Year?

The celebration, also known as the Spring Festival, is observed over 15 days beginning with the first new moon of the lunar calendar and ending on the first full moon. It is marked by many customs passed down from generations prior. These traditions may vary by culture but commonly include large feasts, cleaning rituals to rid the previous years’ bad luck, bright red envelopes that contain money (also known as hong bao or lai) for good fortune and ends with an illuminating Lantern Festival full of dancing and fireworks to commemorate the first full moon.

Between lion dances and colorful lights, perhaps the most anticipated part of it all is a highly symbolic and thoughtfully prepared feast.

“In Chinese culture, people eat dishes that carry out auspicious meaning, especially during Lunar New Year,” shares Joyce Lin, certified sommelier and founder of 酒意思, Sip with Joyce. According to Lin, this meaning is often tied to homophones in Mandarin related to a food’s name, color or shape. For example, the Mandarin word for fish (鱼, pronounced yu) sounds like surplus and abundance. 

Is Wine Part of the Lunar New Year Celebration?

For a meal heavily steeped in tradition and eating together, the drinks tend to be less important. “We don’t have a tradition to drink any kind of beverage or liquor,” says Lin of her family’s Lunar New Year feast.

But this varies between families. According to the Weatherhead East Asian Institute at Columbia University, food traditions are the center of the Lunar New Year, but wine is occasionally used as part of rituals for the holiday and celebrations. For example, though many families, like Lin’s, don’t have a specific beverage, other families choose to drink the customary drink of the Spring Festival, nianjiu (年酒), a type of wine that translates to “year’s alcohol.”

And many families are beginning to explore wine during the Lunar New Year like never before. “The wine market in Asia is booming at the moment,” shares Lin, who hopes to introduce her family to wine pairings and plans to bring a few bottles home to Taiwan for this year’s celebration. “There’s a lot of wine fare happening in Taiwan and China, as well as a natural wine trend coming about.”

Even though it may not be the most traditional, with timeless dishes that pair this well, there is certainly room for wine on the table. If wine is something you’d like to pour at your Lunar New Year celebration, try these bottles that are sure to enhance the flavors and rich meaning behind each of these traditional Chinese dishes.

The Best Wine for Steamed Whole Fish: Ingrid Groiss 2020 Ried Pankraz Reserve Grüner Veltliner (Niederösterreich)

93 Points Wine Enthusiast

Steamed Whole Fish is a must at any Lunar New Year celebration. The Mandarin word for fish (鱼, pronounced ) sounds like surplus, and having the whole fish (head and tail included) is thought to symbolize abundance or leftovers to spare for the coming year. To pair, Lin suggests a Grüner Veltliner for its white peppery notes that will compliment the cilantro, scallions and ginger used to prepare the fish.

$ Varies Wine-Searcher

The Best Wine for Whole Smoked Chicken: Blade & Talon 2021 Calleri Vineyard Falanghina (San Benito)

The Best Wine for Pork Chinese Dumplings: Peter Zemmer 2019 Giatl Reserva Pinot Grigio (Alto Adige)

95 Points Wine Enthusiast

People once used dumplings to wrap up their wishes by placing auspicious foods, like sugar cubes for smooth relationships and peanuts for longevity, in the stuffing. “By eating those dumplings, it’s a wish for all of your dreams or wishes to come true in the coming year,” says Lin. Dumplings like these Pork and Cabbage Potstickers are also shaped like the small metal ingots of ancient Chinese currency, making the dish a wish in itself for good fortune and wealth. Serve them alongside something moderate like Pinot Grigio or an unoaked Chardonnay with hints of citrus and stone fruits to bring out the pork’s sweetness and complement the garlic, ginger and sesame in the sauce.

$ Varies Wine-Searcher

The Best Wine for Lion’s Head Meatballs: Château La Nerthe 2021 Les Cassagnes Rosé (Côtes du Rhône)

91 Points Wine Enthusiast

Lion’s Head Meatballs is a classic dish of giant pork meatballs served with vegetables. Also known as “Four Happiness Meatballs,” they symbolize good luck, wealth, longevity and happiness. “It’s a classic dish to have in my family,” says Lin. To pair, she suggests a Pinot Noir or Côtes du Rhône to balance the savory and earthy flavors of the meatball with a bit of fruitiness.

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The Best Wine for Longevity Noodles: Château du Coudray Montpensier 2018 Gaudéamus Cuvée d’Excellence (Chinon)

93 Points Wine Enthusiast

Longevity Noodles (or 伊面, pronounced yī miàn) are a hallmark of many celebrations in Asian households, including the Lunar New Year. The long noodles symbolize longevity and the dish as a whole represents a life long of happiness. To complement the savory shiitake mushrooms and vegetal chive used in this dish, Lin recommends Pinot Noir or Cabernet Franc from Loire Valley. “It won’t overpower noodles and has a good amount of fruit to support the dish.”

$15 Vivino

The Best Wine for Spring Rolls: Gosset 2015 Grand Millésime Brut (Champagne)

94 Points Wine Enthusiast

Though technically observed in later winter, Lunar New Year is often referred to as the Spring Festival. Some choose to welcome the season with crisp Chinese Spring Rolls meant to symbolize bars of gold for wealth in the coming year. Serve with something refreshing that provides great acidity like a Sparkling Rosé. “Those bubbles will serve as a palate cleanser for the next bite and a new awakening, clearing for a new season,” says Lin.

$94.94 Vivino

The Best Wine for Turnip Cake: Domaine du Clos du Fief 2020 Les Capitans (Saint-Amour)

93 Points Wine Enthusiast

Turnip Cake is a savory dish that uses radishes and plain rice flour rather than Western-style turnips. Its auspicious meaning plays on the word for “cake,” which sounds like the word for “high” (高, pronounced gōu). “It means climbing step by step, rising steadily in your career path,” says Lin of the cake’s offering of good luck in the year ahead. Serve with a light red like Schiava from Alto Adige or Beaujolais to balance this dish’s umami profile.

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The Best Wine for Tangerines: Moulin Touchais 1996 Chenin Blanc (Coteaux du Layon)

95 Points Wine Enthusiast

“We will always have an abundance of different kinds of fruits for the New Year,” says Lin. Tangerines, oranges, kumquats and apples are typical offerings due to their round shape (representing family reunion) and their golden color that implies fortune and wealth. Now, pairing wine and fruit is challenging. Sweet foods tend to go well with wines of similar notes, so something fruity with citrus notes like an off-dry Chenin Blanc should do the trick.

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The Best Wine for Tang Yuan: Domaine des Baumard 2018 Quarts de Chaume

94 Points Wine Enthusiast

Tang Yuan is a sweet soup of glutinous rice balls, typically eaten as dessert on the last day of the Lantern Festival as well as other celebrations. Its pronunciation is similar to the Chinese word for reunion (团圆, pronounced tuányuán) and implies togetherness and a sense of completeness. To bring the dish full circle, we suggest something delicate but not overly sweet, like an off-dry Riseling.

$299.99 Vivino

The Best Wine for Nian Gao: Mure 2018 Clos Saint Landelin Grand Cru Pinot Gris (Alsace)

93 Points Wine Enthusiast

Also known as the Chinese New Year Cake, Nian Gao is a steamed rice cake made with glutinous rice cake and brown sugar. Like Turnip Cake, this dish implies higher achievement and prosperity for the coming year. “This auspicious meaning is not only for adults, but also for children too,” shares Lin. “It wishes children would grow taller and receive higher scores in school.” For climbing aspirations, we opt for a Pinot Gris from the mountainous region of Alsace. Its elevated acidity can wash off the stickiness and density of the Nian Gao and pairs nicely with the cake’s ginger and coconut flavors.

$ Varies Wine-Searcher

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