Mooncakes and Chinese tea are a pairing that has reigned as old as time. Come Mid-Autumn Festival, that one ornate porcelain teapot in your cupboard will receive its annual taste of light, finally resurrected as a vessel to brew the earthy cup of pu er that will accompany the dense sweetness of your mooncake. Rekindling tradition is always special, but let us offer you something unorthodox to make this Mid-Autumn Festival a memorable one — mooncake pairings with Chinese wines.

Chinese wines are the dark horse of the Asian liquor world. Within China itself, bai jiu (a clear distilled liquor typically made with sorghum or rice) and huang jiu (a fermented or brewed wine made from cereal grains) are cultural staples. These beverages are the pillars that hold up all manner of social interactions, be it a dinner between two, or a full-on evening of entertainment with a large group. Outside of China, however, these expressions are often met with disdain, being associated with drunken revelry more so than cultured indulgence. Still, Matthew Chan, the beverage director at one Michelin-starred Nouri, believes Chinese wines to be full of potential for food pairings, even mooncakes, if we all just took a moment to adjust our perspective.

If you have any Chinese wines lying in the house during the Festival, experiment with these mooncake pairings offered by Chan.

Shaoxing wine and traditional double yolk white lotus paste baked mooncakes

chinese wine and mooncake pairing
Shaoxing wines tend to come in ceramic vials with intricate carvings.

Shaoxing wines are typically associated with Chinese cuisine, but it is also commonly drunk as an aperitif in China. The semi-dry wine is rather full-bodied, especially since it has been aged for 20 years, with an earthiness akin to soya sauce.

Chan advises this would go best with a traditional, Cantonese style mooncake, with double salted egg yolk within and a really rich bean or white lotus paste. To him, the salty, savouriness of the double egg yolk and the thick sweetness of the paste would really be the perfect merger with the nuttiness of the shaoxing wine.

Nu er hong huang jiu with Teochew-style yam mooncakes

mooncake and chinese wine pairing
Nu er hong huang jiu traditionally comes in a vial tied with a red ribbon, which signifies prosperity during marriage.

Nu er hong huang jiu, loosely translated as “red daughter” wine, hails from Zhejiang in the Shaoxing province. This particular wine is accompanied by a custom of the people of Shaoxing have, where a wine would be buried to ferment underground when a female child is born, and then dug up on her wedding day to be enjoyed at the banquet. At 16 percent ABV, the wine typically has a flowery, nutty profile.

“The nu er hong wine is a bit cleaner and more floral, so this would be best with flakier Teochew mooncakes that are more oily,” Chan advises, because the floral profile of the nu er hong huang jiu will offset the buttery crust. Red bean or yam paste in the centre would be the most ideal.

Baijiu and durian snowskin mooncake

chinese wine and mooncake pairing
Serve baijiu in chilled glasses to quell some of the strong aromas.

Bai jiu has a very intense aroma, which some liken to blue cheese. Once a bottle is opened it permeates the whole room with its scent, and that’s the exact same of reaction one gets when a durian shell is split. For their similar intensities, Chan reccomends a bai jiu and snowskin durian mooncake pairing, especially if the durian falls under the Red Prawn or D24 grade, because those tend to be slightly sweeter, cutting the pungency of the bai jiu a touch. It’s funky, but worth a try.

chinese wine and mooncake pairing
Jia fun jiu is another type of shaoxing wine that is sweeter because it is fermented with a higher concentration of glutinous rice.

Jia fan jiu literally translates to “more rice wine”, and so, it has a higher concentration of fermented rice inside it. It’s an off-dry version of the usual shaoxing, having been aged for a much shorter duration. Chan suggests that the kind of sweet, starchy characteristic would be ideal with a traditional baked mooncake with a red bean paste filling, and flecks of nuts within, so the sweet starch can play off the sugary red bean paste to create balance on the palate.

Beatrice Bowers
Features Editor
Beatrice Bowers writes about beauty, drinks, and other nice things. When not bound to her keyboard, she moonlights as a Niffler for novels and can be found en route to bankruptcy at your nearest bookstore. Don't tell her boss.