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August 22, 2019

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Don’t come the raw prawn, have a Veneto white

TRENDY diets are nothing new, but one recently fashionable diet certainly caught my eye. It’s called the Stone Age or caveman diet. The premise behind this diet is that our genes haven’t had enough time to adapt to farmed and processed foods.

Proponents point out that our hunter and gatherer ancestors rarely developed the common diseases of civilization — diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure and heart disease.

I’m not sure I’ll embrace the Stone Age diet, but I do have a passion for healthy raw seafood and this will be my focus this week.

Some of the earliest records of eating raw fish date back to the Zhou Dynasty (c.11th century-221 BC) where fine raw strips of fish were referred to as kuai.

By the Edo Period in 17th century Japan, sashimi was already an advanced culinary artform. But Japan wasn’t alone.

Cultures around the world had their own popular raw fish dishes. Italy has carpaccio, thin slices of tuna, sword or other fish as well as crudo, raw fish dressed with olive oil sea salt and lemon. Peru has ceviche and Nordic diets feature raw or lightly cured salmon referred to as gravlax.

Writing about all these raw delicacies is enough to make me salivate but in truth all raw fresh and salt water fish and mollusks can be embellished by a synergistic wine.

Fruit, minerality and other qualities found in wines all work well with raw seafood, but it’s the acidity that’s most important.

This should hardly be a surprise as every great gourmet culture around the world has historically used acidic liquids or ingredients to embellish their waterborne fare.

In the West, we sprinkle lemon on fish and shellfish, while Thais make liberal use of lemon grass to add freshness and balance to their seafood dishes. In China, enjoying seasonal hairy crab without vinegar is unthinkable. The Brits also favor vinegar with their beloved fish and chips.

The right wine awakens and accentuates the best fresh and natural flavors of sea and fresh water fish.

Some of the most raw fish-friendly wines come from the northeast of Italy near Venice.

Veneto is best known for the great red wines of Valpolicella DOC, especially Amarone DOCG, the classy whites of Soave DOC/DOCG and the beloved bubbles of Prosecco DOC/DOCG.

But the eastern part of this voluminous region produces a host of charming and inexpensive Indicazione Geografica Tipica white wines that just so happen to be ideal partners to raw seafood.

Because they lack the historic prestige of the aforementioned DOC and DOCG regions, they are often overlooked by consumers.

This is a shame as the IGT whites of eastern Veneto offer an abundance of the raw seafood pairing attributes of freshness and balance.

Eastern Veneto is a difficult wine region to get a grip on as it encompasses or overlaps several other designated regions and sub regions. In fact, IGT wines from the region may have grapes sourced from different DOC and even DOCG areas. Therefore, it’s important to pick a top producer.

One of the best producers of Veneto IGT wines is Italo Cecon, a winery founded in 1957 by a gent of the same name. Today, the winery is run by his wife and children and they produce a wide range of quality white, red and sparkling DOC, DOCG and IGT wines.

Most germane to the topic of this week’s column are the Tralcetto line of Veneto IGT whites that include a stimulating Riesling with pleasing mineral qualities and my personal favorite, a wonderfully vibrant Muller Thurgau.

The latter wine is a raw seafood specialist with fresh peach and floral qualities, elegant mouth-feel and a lasting dry finish.

It just so happens that earlier this week, I enjoyed this wine with raw New Zealand Blue Pearl oysters and fresh Japanese sea urchin at my go-to restaurant in Shanghai for raw seafood, Osteria. It was superb!

Another down right cheap but eminently drinkable Veneto white option is the Fratelli Giuliari Sasso Bianco del Veneto IGT. While Veneto IGT whites may be the best value, raw-seafood friendly whites, equally suitable and still quite affordable partners are Veneto DOC whites.

Two recommended wines available in Shanghai are the Cadanza Pinot Grigio delle Venezie DOC featuring ripe yellow fruit balanced by a solid acidic backbone and the Mosole Venezia Pinot Grigio DOC, a lusciously fruity wine with a clean finish.

Both Pinot Grigio wines are lovely with sashimi and fruity enough to assuage any lingering spiciness from the wasabi.

When serving Veneto or other white wines with raw seafood it’s best to serve them well-chilled or about 6 to 8 degrees Celsius. This is especially important in the summertime as the temperature of the wines quickly rises after being poured.

Where to buy in Shanghai

Interprima Fine Wines, 16E, 168 Zhengning Rd, 187-0123-1520

Italo Cescon Veneto Muller Thurgau IGT

Italo Cescon Veneto Riesling IGT

Fratelli Giuliari Sasso Bianco del Veneto IGT

China Wine and Spirits, Lane 1136, Xinzha Rd, 186-2110-2410

Candanza Pinot Grigio delle Venezie DOC

Yishe-Wine (WeChat official account)

Mosole Venezia Pinot Grigio DOC


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