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May 16, 2019

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Pinot Grigio is fruity friend to rice noodles lovers

THE noble endeavor continues. A growing cadre of wine and food aficionados in China are attempting to deliciously integrate their passions.

Unlike wine growing countries in the West, where over the centuries or millenniums food and wine evolved together, China has never really had a culture of pairing its great and diverse cuisines with wines. This is true of grape wines, rice wines and even baijiu spirits. But, as Bob Dylan once sang, “The Times They Are A-Changing.”

The quality and veracity of information on pairing wines with Chinese food is still relatively paltry, but efforts by the growing number of wine lovers in China have made progress. Long gone are the days when Western wine experts, with little knowledge of real Chinese cooking, would advocate a Riesling or Gewurztraminer wine a default selection. The process is far more complex and entails a detailed knowledge of ingredients, cooking techniques, aromas, tastes and textures, and a little wine intimacy. For nearly every Chinese dish there exists a harmonious wine companion, it just takes expertise, time and a little trial and error. This week, I’ll introduce a synergistic wine partner for Chinese rice noodle dishes.

Noodles of all sorts have maintained their popularity over thousands of years because they are nutritious, cheap, filling, easy to prepare and can be easily stored and transported. Done properly, they’re also incredibly tasty.

Perhaps the most famous and beloved Chinese rice noodle dish comes from Guilin. Legend says the noodles were invented in the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) as occupying northern soldiers settled into more southerly areas of the kingdom where rice, not wheat, was the preferred staple food.

These noodle-loving soldiers had no taste for simply prepared steamed southern rice so they used the grain to create the familiar shapes and textures of noodles. The veracity of this tale aside, the dish has a long and distinguished history and is loved by noodle enthusiasts the world over. The last time I visited Guilin I was astounded by the innumerable preparations of rice noodles, some with beef, pork and the most appetizing included horse meat. All versions were amply spiced with a rich stock and palate-pleasing, elastic textured noodles.

Another classic is Taiwan-style stir-fried rice noodles. Often served from streetside carts or in night markets, this common dish offers an abundance of delicious flavors and intriguing textures. Fine rice vermicelli noodles are combined with slivers of pork, dried shrimp, mushrooms and vegetables. One of the most famous examples comes from the city of Hsinchu where seasonal pumpkin is added.

The combination of savory pork and mushrooms with the sweet pumpkin and salty shrimp is divine.

A profusion of rice noodle preparations can be found throughout southern and eastern China as well as Southeast Asia and Japan. Many styles of wines pair beautifully with rice noodles, but one of my go-to varietals is Pinot Gris or if you allow me, Pinot Grigio.

Pinot Grigio

This white wine grape has Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde dual identity.

The Pinot Gris of Alsace in eastern France are serious, rich and age-worthy wines that many consider the greatest expressions of the variety, while more exuberantly fruity, friendly and approachable Pinot Grigio wines are produced in northern Italy. The grape is genetically the same but the wines the variety makes can be astonishingly different. The staid Pinot Gris and affable Pinot Grigio both have their attributes, but in the diverse and sometimes spicy world of Chinese rice noodles, fruitiness wins.

The finest Pinot Grigio wines come from cool climates in northern Italy with the largest producer being the amalgamated region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Situated in the northeast corner of Italy boarding Austria to the north and Slovenia to the east, this region produces a wide range of white, red and sparkling wines.

The hilly wine growing areas in Friuli feature an alpine continental climate in the north and Mediterranean climate to the south. Vines have been cultivated since ancient times, when the region was already an important stop on trading routes to the Near East. Roman Emperor Julius Caesar was said to be a fan of wines from Friuli, as was the famous poet-drinker, Pliny the Elder. In the early to mid-19th century the region was a critical part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Friuli winemakers were said to be making nearly 400 different varieties of wine.

The late 19th century phylloxera epidemic decimated the diversity and production of wine in Friuli and it took nearly a century for the region to regain its winemaking prominence. In the 1980s and 1990s the explosive international popularity of Italian Pinot Grigio wines, from Friuli and neighboring Italian regions, transformed the industry into one of Italy’s most dynamic wine regions. In addition to Pinot Grigio wines, Prosecco sparklers and elegant single variety Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay and Muller-Thurgau are also produced.

Recommended Friuli Pinot Grigion producers, with wines available in Shanghai, are Livio Felluga, Marco Felluga, Orazio Nonino, Zonin and Torresella. To best harness the natural animated fruitiness of Pinot Grigio wines, while accentuating their freshness, it’s best to serve the wines well-chilled, about 6-8 degrees Celsius.




 

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