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December 12, 2019

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Valencia supplies fitting chaperone for rice

RICE is one of the most endur­ing symbols we associate with China. This is appropriate as most food historians postulate that the early Austronesian people first domesticated rice over 10,000 years ago in the Yangtze River region.

It would take several millenniums for rice to reach the Korean peninsula then Japanese Islands and even several thousand more years to reach Europe. Today, rice is cultivated on every con­tinent, save Antarctica.

My compendium history of rice cul­tivation was inspired by a Shanghai Daily story on popular Chinese stir-fried and clay-pot rice dishes.

The talented writers of this paper will introduce these time-honored scrump­tious rice delights while I’ll focus on a style of wine that pairs beautifully with a plethora of rice preparations. It just so happens that the wine region I picked this week is also the home to one of Europe’s most famous rice dishes.

Valencia DO

Situated on the picturesque, sunny Mediterranean east coat of Spain, the region of Valencia is famous for long white beaches, night life, oranges and paella.

The latter is Spain’s most renowned rice dish that originated in Valencia sometime after the 10th century when the Moors brought rice to the Iberian Peninsula.

The original manifestation of this dish comprised round grain rice, sea­food and spices while beans, meats and other ingredients were added as paella spread to different Spanish regions where these additional ingredients were plentiful.

Less recognized but equally delicious are the wines of Valencia. Recent arche­ological evidence indicates that wines were made in the region over 3,000 years ago. The Romans introduced new techniques and upped production to quench the growing thirst of their empire, while Catholic monks kept winemaking traditions alive and well during the Middle Ages.

The Valencia DO was established in 1957. At this point of time, wine production focused mostly on local consumption and bulk wine. Over the ensuing decades, the region gradually migrated to the production of higher quality, rich fruit-driven reds, crisp whites and traditional sweet Moscatel wines. The past decade has seen the greatest progress, with Valencia wines starting to make a name for themselves outside of Spain. Many of the best vine­yards have old vines and are situated at elevations ranging from 500 to 1,000 meters above sea level.

The climates vary from the Mediter­ranean coast to the continental inland, with drought and heat frequently providing challenges to growers. Tem­peratures routinely exceed 40 degrees Celsius during the late growing season. However, when Mother Nature cooper­ates, the wines of Valencia can be some of the most intriguing of Spain and a wonderful new discovery for wine lovers.

Personally, I favor the fruity, spicy and supple Monestrell and Garnacha rose and reds along with the aromatic, fresh and textured Malvasia whites, but increasing fine and distinguished Tem­pranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Semillon wines are also being made. A small amount of excellent Cava is also produced.

Finding the wines of Valencia in Shanghai certainly presents a chal­lenge, but one top producer is in the process of entering the market. Clos de Lom is a fourth-generation family-owned estate making fine wines since 1950. Their 100 percent Malvasia white is a fragrant and intense wine with lovely apple, peach and lychee flavors, a perfect companion to rice-based sea­food dishes.

The Clos de Lom Garnacha and Tempranillo reds both offer excellent varietal typicity with typical fruitiness and well-integrated tannins. All three wines showcase the ability of the Valen­cia DO to produce top flight wines that reflect their unique terrior.

Other Valencia producers with wines available in Shanghai include Torre Mitica, Mennu Lunne and Vina Inigo. When purchasing Valencia wines in Shanghai, I suggest keeping to recent vintages.

Ending this year and well into 2020, I look forward to enjoying the wines of Valencia with a wide range of delicious Chinese rice dishes.

However, should you favor an ancient style of wine that has even more historic affinities to rice, then there’s another syn­ergistic option that’s closer to home and easier to find.

Rice dishes accompanied by rice wines is an eminently simple and digestible so­lution. The oldest archeological evident of rice wines dates back to Yangshao Culture 6,000 years ago. Many historians specu­late that the first fermented rice wine may well have been brewed even earlier.

Throughout the ages, Chinese chefs em­braced and liberally used fermented rice wines to embellish many of the Middle Kingdom’s most celebrated dishes. These rice wines have long been used as an in­gredient enhancer as well as a beverage companion. This is especially true of the most acclaimed of all rice wines, Shaox­ing wine.

The highly aromatic and velvety tex­tured Shaoxing wines improve with age and the 10, 20 or 30 year-old versions are wonderful cohorts to a wide range of Chi­nese rice and other dishes.

Some of the most reputable produc­ers of Shaoxing wine are Gu Yue Long Shan, Tu Shao Jiu, Di Ju Tang and Kuai Ji Shan. Some traditionalists favor Shaoxing served at room temperature, but to opti­mize food-friendliness I suggest serving these wines slightly chilled, or about 12-14 degrees Celsius.

Where to buy in Shanghai

Gu Xiang Te, B223/225, Jiahe Square, 378 Wencheng Rd, 6119-8965

Clos de Lom Garnacha

Clos de Lom Tempranillo

Clos de Lom Malvasia

Torrre Mitica Valencia Crianza

Torre Mitica Valencia Gran Reserva

Vina Inigo Vanesa I Valencia


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