Wine Press: Alsace wines are inspiration for Chinese New Year

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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