While tea is seen to aid digestion and cleanse the palate with dim sum, the same can be said for the practice of drinking wine with food.
For family-style dim sum with its steamers and little bowls all over the table, my option is to find one or two wines that can be enjoyed throughout the meal, cleansing and refreshing the palate without ever detracting from the food.
I don’t want wines that are too heavy or high in alcohol as these are too “big” on the palate for the delicate flavours of the dim sum, and as I mostly eat dim sum as a late breakfast or lunch, I don’t really like big wines that are going to knock me over for the rest of the day.
When it comes to texture there is a lot of fried dim sum and dumplings with their gelatinous or doughy casings, so I am looking for wines with bright acidity to cut through these oily or creamy textures and clean up my palate, much in the same way the tea works with its very fine tannins.
Dim sum by its nature is highly refined and delicate so wines need to take this into consideration. However, there is also the matter of the dipping sauces, strong, savory and salty soy sauces and hot, spicy chili sauces. So, here, along with good acidity that promotes saliva flow and can ameliorate heat, I look for wines that have a good concentration and intensity of primary fruit character in order to be able to compete with the saltiness, savory-ness, the heat and spice of the sauces.
For me the perfect way to start a dim sum is with Champagne, it’s a textural thing really, sensory and sensual and as always with Champagne, a little bit salubrious and celebratory. Here I find its subtlety of flavours, its pristine elegance, its vibrant acidity and it expansive, joyous mousse on the palate work beautifully with the dumplings and I can happily stay with it throughout the meal.
I do also enjoy a good dry style Riesling from either Alsace, France or the Clare Valley in Australia, wines with intense yet elegant flavours of lemon/ lime, balanced by fine, talc and chalk acidity.
Other whites to consider are the more elegant, crisper whites of Bordeaux, the flinty, minerality of the Chardonnay from Chablis, crisp, green apple like Pinot Grigio from the north of Italy, Albarino from the Rias Baixas area of Spain.
As you move through your degustation of dim sum, many feel it gets to be time for a red wine; my preferences are the lighter varieties like Pinot Noir and Merlot, reds with good acidity, very fine tannins and attractive fruit.
When it comes to dim sum wine, just like the dim sum selection itself, the trick is to experiment a lot and remember the ones you like.
Darren Gall has spent a quarter of a century involved in virtually every aspect of the wine industry and the passionate pursuit of the next great bottle continues. firstname.lastname@example.org