Wine Press: Alsace wines are inspiration for Chinese New Year

Hugel Gewurtztraminer

I LIKE wine and I like food, which is lucky, as I also like eating and drinking. Next week it’s Chinese New Year so that’s yet another great reason to combine the two.

Just a few weeks ago I enjoyed an amazing Chinese meal.  It began with a dim sum platter and jasmine smoked tea organic pork ribs. The mains included pan-fried Angus ribeye with schezuan,  pepper and onion confit and also scallop and prawn cake with scallop sauce.

Etienne Hugel from Hugel wines
Etienne Hugel enthuses about his wines

But these words are mainly about drinks, not food so I’ll mention that sharing the meal was Etienne Hugel from Hugel wines.  Etienne is part of the 12th generation to run the family business. They have been making wines in Riquewihr, Alsace, since 1639.

And you can’t  find a  better match with a Chinese meal than an Alsace  riesling or gewurtztraminer.

We began the meal with a Hugel Gentil 2012 (£10.99, Davy’s, Tanners, Fenwicks, Yorkshire Vintners, Cambridge Wine Merchants) and back at home, when I conducted one of my regular Scientific Experiments,  I too poured the Gentil.

But back to Etienne. He was with his new Japanese wife Kaoru, a sommelier. What is it, I asked him, that makes his   wines such an ideal match with Eastern cuisine?

He said: “Purity, elegance, minerality and subtlety. Food is the natural destination of our wines. For seafood, try a riesling; for white meat try a pinot gris.

“It gives me a nice smile every day; it is great to come home to.”
As for the Gentil, he said: “It is lightly spiced; people can discover wine through this. It is very accessible, not intimidating for people.”

So, back at home, I set about my own Chinese Saturday evening meal.

I finely chopped some spring onion and my favourite addiction, chillis,  over the top of some dim sum, with some chilli dipping sauce. We poured the Gentil – a blend of muscat, gerwutzraminer, pinot gris and riesling.

This is a white wine which is wonderfully refreshing and simple; it has floral and stone fruit aromas which are  mirrored in the moHugel Gentil wineuth, but with a peck of spice which sidled up to the chilli and said “you don’t scare me”. But likewise it   mingled perfectly with the dim sum filled with gentle, soft pink prawns, veggies and pork.

I’d rustled up what began as Gunpowder Chicken with Peanuts (from BBC Good Food) but it soon diversified to something with cashew nuts and  more spicy “gun” than was intended. I partnered plump prawns with a salt and pepper mix and a dab of   dipping sauce.

So to Hugel Classic Riesling 2012 (£15.49, Cambridge Wine Merchants, Oxford Wine Co) and Hugel Classic Gewurztraminer 2011 (£15.99, Hammonds of Knutsford, Portland Wines, Yorkshire Vintners,  Oxford Wine Co). Now these are wines to savour.

Gerwutztraminer has such a unique aroma and taste. Think Turkish delight and that light dusting of rosy-scented icing sugar floating upwards when you open the confectionery box. There’s also a jasmine flower, softly brushed as you walk past it in a summer garden. Then on the palate a delightful long-lasting mouth-filling burst of excitable fruit, mangoes and lychee; perhaps a stony  ginger glimmer.

The riesling had sparky green fruits. Crisp and bright and clean and fresh and mouthwatering and springtime streams and limes with a zest and clean elegance.  To taste, fulsome and exquisitely “to the point”; each sip  savoured.

Chinese food can be packed full of different ingredients but they all come together in harmony. Much like these wines.

Published in the saturday extra magazine January 25, 2014

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How to store wine … some simple tips to follow at home

I MIGHT be getting a new kitchen. Girlies, you would be proud of my steadfastness. Four years of dropped hints as heavy as an American fridge and the end is possibly in sight. Glossy cream storage beyond my wildest dreams.

We have been to see a kitchen shop man. He clickety-clicked his computer and there was my longed-for vision. “And just down both sides of the oven,” he said, “we’ll put some wine storage racks.”

“Oh no you won’t,” said I (in a high-octave squeaky voice) – realising just then that I was an official Say It Out Loud Wine Geek.

Why would you want to store wine squidged up against an oven with all its variations in heat? The temperature is up and down like Tigger on a trampoline. People get hot enough in a kitchen but at least we can open a window or take off a cardie.

Without arms or legs to aid its movement, a bottle of merlot has no chance of respite

So should you have your own kitchen click-click man lined up, a tad of advice.

Keep your wine somewhere cool, where the temperature is fairly constant. My bottles are well away from radiators and sunlight which can cause wine to warm and change the flavours for the worst.

Red wines are commonly served at room temperature; but think on. Room temperatures in 2014, with our radiators blasting and insulation designed to keep every degree of heat in, are not the ideal. If reds are over warm then the flavours become off-kilter. Store reds in a cool place; it is easier to warm them up slowly as you need them.

Popping a red in a fridge for a few minutes is not sacrilege if it is a light red such as a beaujolais.

If you want to chill whites or sparklies in an ice bucket as a star-of-the-dinner-table treat then put equal amounts of water and ice in the bucket. The ice will chill the water which is in constant contact with the bottle, cooling the wine that much quicker.

You might be lucky enough to have a wine fridge (no room in my glossy make-believe world just yet) but as a rule of thumb, the temperatures to serve wine at its best are:

Oaked whites: Lightly chilled, 10-13 degrees
Light/ medium whites: Chilled, 7-10 degrees
Sweet wines: Well chilled, 6-8 degrees
Sparklers: Well chilled, 6-10 degrees
Light-bodied reds: Lightly chilled, 13 degrees (so think how warm your rooms at home are!)
Medium/ full reds: “room” temperature, 15-18 degrees
Please don’t lose sleep over the preciseness of this. I certainly don’t.Torres Viña Sol review

In my glass

If you haven’t seen a bottle of Torres Viña Sol around your parts, then where have you been.

A label featuring fifty suns has been issued to mark the passing of 50 years since Bodegas Torres experimented with fermenting grapes at a lower temperature to develop a fresh and aromatic white.

The grapes are parellada and garnacha blanca, with paralleda one of the three grape varieties used in cava. The wine is a sensible 11.5% abv and is pale lemon with a fruit-edged rim of apples and pineapple on the nose.

To taste it buzzes freshness with apples and lemon zest but the flavours don’t linger as long as the juiciness. It’s a decent glug of wine for the price.

It is widely available with an RRP of around £7 and this month limited offers include £5.99 each at Majestic (if you buy two); £4.99 at the Co-op; and at Morrisons it is £4.49.

Published in the saturday extra magazine January 18, 2014

Liverpool Echo – South Wales Echo – Daily Post Wales – Huddersfield Examiner – The Chronicle, Newcastle – Teesside Evening Gazette – Birmingham  Mail – Coventry Telegraph – Paisley Daily Express