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Welcoming the spring with rose

THE advent of spring in China is celebrated with the Qingming Festival, also known as Tomb-Sweeping Day. This holiday is associated with family gatherings, paying respect to the dead and an assortment of cold snacks. Another great way to celebrate spring is with rose wines so I'm going to integrate some fine rose wines for spring with the history and celebration of Qingming. Let's begin by looking at the story of how the festival came to be.

A little history

Legend has it that back in the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC) Duke Xiao, the monarch of the state of Jin, under the spell of his favorite concubine Li Ji, killed his eldest son and planned to do the same to his second son Chong'er. By removing his two senior sons, Li Ji's son could ascend the throne. Chong'er saw the writing on the wall and decided to flee. Over the next 19 years Chong'er, also known by his official title Duke Wen, was on the run and experienced very difficult times. At one point while he was on the verge of starving, his loyal servant Jie Zitui fed him meat from his own leg so the duke wouldn't die.

Later when Duke Wen rightfully claimed his throne he arranged a celebration to reward those who had remained loyal to him. However, he forgot to invite Zitui. Hurt, the loyal servant fled to the mountains. When Duke Wen learned of his omission he sought out his devoted aide. A stubborn fellow, Zitui refused to come out and under the less than sagacious advice of an advisor, Duke Wen instructed his troops to set fire to the mountain to flush Zitui out. Unsurprisingly, this didn't turn out as expected and Zitui was found with his mother. Both were dead. Duke Wen was so distraught that he proclaimed a holiday to honor his servant and on that day no people would be allowed to light fires. The tradition of eating only cold food had begun.

Over the centuries this ancient tale has evolved into the modern-day Qingming holiday where ancestors are remembered and their graves attended to while spring's arrival is celebrated. And what better wine to celebrate spring and pay homage to a long-lost loyal servant than rose. Like the literal meaning of Qingming, clear and bright, rose wines offer a clarity and brilliance that tickle and stimulate the senses.

Treats & rose companions

Originating somewhere just south of the Yellow River, qingmingguo (sweet and salty Qingming dumplings) have become one of the most popular festival snacks. Made of glutinous rice flour and stuffed with sweet sesame and bean paste to make sweet dumplings, or cured pork, bean curd and mushrooms to make salty dumplings, these small stuffed treasures are essential edibles during Qingming. The sweet dumplings are nice with a slightly sweet rose like a Californian white Zinfandel. Despite the name, this is really a pink-colored wine.

A variant sweet dumpling especially popular in the southeast regions of Zhejiang and Jiangsu as well as Shanghai is the qingtuan (green cake). Green Cake is also a natural partner to white Zinfandels.

The salty dumplings are best enjoyed with a hearty dry rose from Spain or Chile as the rich fruit flavors add distinction to the meat, bean curd and mushroom filling and the good acidity in the wine freshens the palate.

Another Qingming culinary classic is sanzi (fried dough twist) made of flour often with a little butter or other fat added to provide additional crispiness. The dough is deep fried until bright golden brown and crispy. Made in a round shape this snack is also referred to as ring cake and is particularly popular in northern China. The greasiness of the dough twist, something that contributes to the savory nature of this snack, begs for a lively rose wine to cleanse the palate, facilitate digestion and highlight the textures. Almost any fresh rose wine would be a good companion, especially a young French rose from Provence or Italian rose from Veneto. Rose wines from these regions tend to have floral qualities that impart additional elegance to the simplicity of the dough twist.

In the west we have Easter eggs, while in eastern China during the spring there's the wucaidan (five-colored egg). It's believed that when you put the boiled colored eggs in a river the people downstream who collect the eggs will soon be blessed with a child. I'm not so sure how this works but I do know that a boiled egg benefits from a light rose wine with ample acidity such as a young French or Italian rose. In rural areas it's the custom to have children break the egg with their heads, thereby showing respect for life and bringing good luck. This technique is not recommended with the rose bottle.

Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Le Rose de Mouton Cadet, 2009

Region: Bordeaux, France

Variety: 65 percent Merlot, 20 percent Cabernet Franc, 15 percent Cabernet Sauvignon

Aging method/Potential: 4 months in stainless steel/enjoy now

Importer: Everwines

Price:171 yuan (US$26)



Pairing tips: serve at 8 degrees Celsius; with light foods and snacks


White Zinfandel, 2008

Region: California, USA

Grape varieties: Zinfandel

Aging potential: enjoy now

Importer: ASC

Price: 124 yuan



Pairing tips: serve at 8 degrees Celsius; enjoy as an aperitif or with light snacks and salads with sweet dressings

Miguel Torres Chile Santa Digna, Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé Reserve, 2010

Region: Central Valley, Chile

Variety: Cabernet Sauvignon

Aging method/Potential: no oak/enjoy within 18 months

Importer: Everwines

Price: 140 yuan



Pairing tips: Serve at 8 degrees Celsius; match with meat and seafood snacks


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