Many wines struggle to cope with some Chinese food because of the oils used in the preparation. In these situations the best wines to serve are riesling and gewurtztraminer because the wines’ natural acid cuts through the oil.
This week we meet a pair of exceptional value wines from the Alsace region of France: the 2010 riesling and gewurtztraminer made by A.Zirnhelt. Each can be found at supermarket chains like Metro for about 70 RMB a bottle, which is a bargain for wines of this quality.
Alsace is in the north east of France, near the west bank of the upper Rhine River next to Germany and Switzerland. The region’s political, economic and cultural capital is Strasbourg, where dozens of international groups are located, making Alsace politically one of the most prestigious regions in the European Union.
The A.Zirnhelt riesling is prestigious in its own way. It smells like freshly-sliced limes. The citrus zing shows in the flavors and taste of the wine. The acid is refreshing and vibrant and would mix with, and cut through, pretty much most oil-based foods.
This is a wine that could be consumed on its own as an aperitif, or matched with a range of Chinese dishes. The lime and citrus flavors in Riesling wines from cooler climates like Alsace make it a fine summer drink.
Riesling originated in Germany’s Rhine region. It is often described as an aromatic grape variety because it displays flowery – some would almost say perfumed – aromas as well as high acidity. Riesling can be used to make dry, semi-sweet, sweet or even sparkling wines. In the last case in Germany the sparkling rieslings are known as sekt. See previous columns for reviews of German sekt.
As a variety riesling is highly “terroir expressive” – which means the character of the wine is clearly influenced by its place of origin. Rieslings are often drunk young, when they exhibit fruity and aromatic characteristics. The flavors depend on the terroir and climate.
But if stored well the best examples can keep for decades, when they take on totally different characteristics. Then they taste of honey and toast, and the colours move from pale white green to a golden yellow.
The A.Zirnhelt version is drinking well now and the citrus zing is like having a chat with a sparkling conversationalist. But it would also be worth meeting again in three to four years.
The A.Zirnhelt 2010 gewurtztraminer is a very different wine, though also excellent value. It smells like a bowl of spicy lychees and fruit salad. One expects it to be sweet but it is bone dry with a long finish. It’s another wine that goes well with a range of oily Chinese foods. For a change, try it with Peking duck instead of the usual red wine.
Gewurz is German for “spicy” or “perfumed”; hence spicy traminer wine. Some people have problems pronouncing the name of the wine, which might explain why it is not so popular in China. But it deserves to be appreciated and is one of my favorite grape varieties.
Dry gewurztraminers may also have aromas of Turkish delight, passion fruit and a range of flowers, like roses. Sometimes you will notice some fine bubbles on the inside of the glass. This is known as “spritz”.
Gewürztraminer finds its finest expression in the Alsace region, where it is the second most planted grape variety and one of the most noticeable of the region. Once you have tried a classic gewurztraminer you will recognise the wine every time you smell it.
Certainly that was my experience when I first tried gewurztraminer in France way back in 1986. The aromas captivated me and I can still remember the first one I tasted. Do yourself a favor and seek out these bargains from your local wine shop.
* “Great grapes can ensure that oil won’t spoil” in China Daily, 15 October 2011, page 12. Find link here.