wine pairing of the week

How to Pair Wine With General Tso’s Chicken

Works equally well with leftovers. Photo: The Ellaphant In The Room

Thank the food gods for Chinese takeout. Many hangovers have been helped along by Seamless, and Styrofoam clamshells filled with sweet, tangy General Tso’s chicken. Sometimes, of course, the craving strikes when you’re otherwise feeling fine, which means you might want some wine to go with that delivery. We’ve got you covered.

Most folks would likely reach for some Riesling. When we think sweet and spicy food, we take the easy beeline, and there’s nothing wrong with that — I’ll join you anytime. But there are other ways to go, especially if you want to go red. One of the best choices would be some natural wine from Beaujolais.

Beaujolais is a subregion located in the southernmost stretch of Burgundy. Most Burgundy is based on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but the grape used in Beaujolais is Gamay. Gamay’s good name got dragged through the mud due to the overcommercialization of the region’s Nouveau style of wine in the 1980s and ’90s, but all that’s changed now thanks to a massive shift in mind-set and philosophy in wine-making.

In fact, Beaujolais — an area once known for producing wine so massive in its bulk capacity that the Japanese created spas where you could bathe in it — is now helping to lead the charge in the conversation about natural wine. We won’t go too deep into what, exactly, that means, but, suffice to say “natural” means at the bare minimum that the vineyard isn’t farmed with any pesticides, fertilizers, or other chemicals, and the winemaker is as minimally invasive as possible in the winery.

Time to get a little geeky: This approach to wine-making is largely a throwback to a traditional way that wine was made in the area before modern technology, using a technique called carbonic maceration. This technique creates the conditions needed for fermentation to happen naturally by packing the grape clusters on top of each other in a vessel without oxygen. The high concentration of CO2 starts the fermentation inside the berry, so there is little to no tannin (as the fermentation happens without the juice in contact with the grape skins). Grape clusters in the bottom of the vessel are crushed lightly due to the weight of the clusters above them, so they provide the little bit of color and tannin needed to make the wine red.

Here’s why it works: This wine-making technique produces a style that is light in body, similar to Pinot Noir, with a lot more fruitiness. This means that sweet and spicy sauce will have a light juiciness to move in tandem with the heat, and lighthearted red fruit flavors to marry with the sweetness. The underpinning of the fried chicken will spar just fine with the fresh, high acidity of wines from Beaujolais. Gamay from Beaujolais tends to have a hint of earthiness, too, so it will work well with the more gamy aspect of the cuts of dark-meat chicken typically associated with this deep-fried delivery of heaven.

Here are three bottles to get you started. Stock up now so that you have them in your apartment the next time you need some Seamless in your life.

Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais ($13)
This Domaine is almost 500 years old, so they kinda know what they’re doing at this point. The wine was fermented through carbonic maceration, so it will have the aforementioned characteristics.

Joubert ‘Cuvée à l’Ancienne’ Beaujolais ($18)
This will be a light, juicy style coming from a serious producer based in the Cru of Brouilly. They were making wines with a natural philosophy decades before the fad came around.

Marcel Lapierre Juliénas ($38) 
A member of “The Gang of Four,” which are the producers that first pushed Beaujolais to return to their region’s traditional way of naturally producing wines. Juliénas is a Cru of Beaujolais that has a bold style that will elevate your General Tso’s to an entirely new level.

How to Pair Wine With General Tso’s Chicken