Steamed Chinese treats and popular bubbles

John H. Isacs
For me, the best beverage with dim sum is sparkling wine. My ideal dim sum companion is Prosecco.
John H. Isacs
Steamed Chinese treats and popular bubbles
Ti Gong

Hillside Glera vineyards

Steaming is a moist heat method of cooking that’s gentle, flavor-preserving and healthy. Using steam to cook dates back to prehistoric times in the Stone Age. Whenever I contemplate steaming as applied to Chinese cuisine my mind and appetite immediately gravitate to dim sum.

Throughout ancient China, traders and travelers plying the Silk Road and other less-beaten paths stopped at roadside teahouses to rest and replenish. The establishments offered weary travelers hot tea and simple snacks. Over time, these humble roadhouses expanded the variety of teas and snacks and referred to their offerings as yam cha.

The tea snacks in Guangzhou became especially sophisticated and celebrated, and in the early 20th century Hong Kong restaurants refined the meal into an elevated culinary art form we now refer to as dim sum.

The most iconic dim sum dishes are savory and sweet steamed treats served in small bamboo steamer baskets but typical dim sum meals also comprise a host of roasted, fried and deep-fried dishes that may comprise seafood, meats, vegetables and starches. This wonderfully polymorphous repast is traditionally accompanied by a range of teas. For some, even the thought of dim sum without tea is tantamount to sacrilege. I beg to differ. For me, the best beverage with dim sum is sparkling wine. My ideal dim sum companion is Prosecco.

The Italian sparklers are the most popular bubbles in the wine world. Chinese wine lovers are enthusiastically drinking Prosecco sparkling wines, but many don’t distinguish between Prosecco DOCG and Prosecco DOC wines.

The former are wines from the traditional and historic growing areas, and these refined wines though stylistically distinct are the qualitative match of many higher priced sparklers including Champagne.

In today’s column, I’ll focus on Prosecco DOC wines as they represent some of the world’s most affable and affordable sparklers and just so happen to be perfect partners to dim sum. Prosecco DOC is a wine region and a style of wine that comes from the Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia regions in northern Italy. The wine was born over 150 years ago.

Steamed Chinese treats and popular bubbles
Ti Gong

Federico Martinotti, the director of the Research Institute for Enology in Asti, Piedmont invented and patented a method of controlled fermentation in large tanks in 1895. His work was then adopted by Eugène Charmat who in 1910 patented and built the first tanks.

In Italy, this process is often referred to as the Martinotti-Charmat method but in most other countries it is simply called the Charmat method. Compared to the Champagne or traditional method where the second fermentation is in the bottle, the Charmat method is quicker and easier and results in remarkably fruity and friendly sparkling wines with a charmingly outgoing and exuberant character.

Glera is the primary Prosecco DOC grape and must comprise at least 85 percent of the blend. There are three major styles of Prosecco DOC wines, the most popular Spumante sparkling wine, the lightly sparkling Frizzante and the least common still version called Tranquillo. In ascending order of sweetness, Prosecco DOC wines can be Brut, Extra Dry, Dry or Demi-Sec.

Prosecco DOC wines are exceedingly food-friendly, pairing well with a wide range of foods from seafood and white meats to salads, pastas and pizza. They are also good partners to many Chinese and Asian dishes. The generous and lively apple and yellow fruit flavors and good acidity in Prosecco Brut and Extra Dry wines helps them pair nicely with the diverse small dishes in a typical dim sum meal.

Furthermore, the lively bubbles help cleanse your palate while pleasingly accentuating the many varied textures of dim sum dishes.

Standout steamed dim sum treats that are perfect companions to Prosecco DOC Brut and Extra Dry wines include pork and shrimp shaomai dumplings, chopped pork ribs, beef balls, beef tripe and, my personal favorite, chicken feet. Other dim sum classics like pan-fried turnip cakes, deep-fried tofu skin rolls and spring rolls, mix BBQ meat plate are equally good partners to Prosecco.

The sweeter Dry and Demi-Sec Prosecco DOC wines are lovely with dim sum desserts like egg tart and sweet steamed rice bun with custard and egg yolk filling.

The overall quality of Prosecco DOC wines has improved significantly over the past decade because of the work done by the Prosecco DOC Consortium that was established in 2009. The consortium oversees all aspects of winemaking and helps with promotion. Nonetheless, to endure the best possible Prosecco experience buyers should seek wines from top producers. Two of my favorite brands are Villa Sandi and La Tordera.

Villa Sandi is arguably best known for their superb Prosecco DOCG wines but I’m also a big fan of their Il Fresco Treviso Prosecco DOC Brut wine that features a lovely combination of fresh apple and floral sensations with a very clean finish. Established in the 1970s, Villa Sandi is among the most respected and awarded Prosecco producers with five estates in the Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia regions.

The La Tordera Alnè Treviso Prosecco DOC Extra Dry is another flavorful and balanced sparkler that has a 5 percent Chardonnay contribution that provides a nice round mouthfeel. Other recommended Prosecco producers who have wines in Shanghai are Tenuta S. Anna, Carpene Malvoti, Zonin and Bisol.

Where to buy in Shanghai (website)

Villa Sandi Il Fresco Treviso Prosecco DOC Brut

Isola Italian 

IFC Mall, 8 Century Ave, 5012-1277

Bisol Belstar DOC Brut

Yishe Wines Shanghai

16F-168 Zhengning Rd, 130-6200-3648

La Tordera Aine Treviso Prosecco DOC Extra Dry

Dogarina Prosecco Treviso DOC Extra Dry

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