Celebrating Chinese New Year with Spanish Wines

Well, firstly let’s remember that there are, of course, many different styles of Chinese food. Styles, which would be, in a perfect world, paired with dish-specific wines . . . .



Fortuitously (like the cookies?) this year’s Chinese New Year fell on the weekend of one of the Fine Wine & Gourmet Dine Programmes on Total FM. It was an obvious sign – clearly, the Rooster in the sky was telling me to taste, live on-air, Chinese Cuisine paired with appropriate Spanish Wine!


Now, there’s a thought – Spanish wines which complement Chinese food (and vice versa, of course, as this is the true nature of wine/food pairings). Well, yes, it is a thought, but sadly it doesn’t seem to be one that has occurred to so many Chinese restaurants situated on the Costas of Spain! And I mean that. It really is sad that, in my experience (in yours too? Please let me know.), the wine lists, at least in the Chinese restaurants in which I’ve dined during the 20 years, are not in any way designed to partner the cuisine. Lamentable, is a more appropriate word.


There is a general theme, and a couple of styles of wine, or grape varieties that are regularly recommended. And, it’s a higher end restaurant that believes in the quality of Chinese cuisine, there will be appropriate wines. However, if the restaurant is a downtown, down at heel joint with no passion for the food, serving poor quality dishes for what is believed to be the ‘western palate’, then you can forget the wine, don’t bother!


But this latter ‘style’ of Chinese restaurant is actually not what all the Costas’ Chinese restaurants are about. There are those which are genuinely trying to reflect all that’s good about Chinese cuisine – and my hat goes off to all such establishments. Bravo! But, you are missing a trick! Your restaurant will be so much better and far more popular, if you could please make an effort to list wines that actually go with your food!


Here endeth the lesson, and please, readers, if you are friendly with your nearest Chinese restaurant, show them this article and tell them that if they’d like me to, I can help!


So, which wines did we taste on The Fine Wine & Gourmet Dine Programme at Chinese New Year? Well, firstly let’s remember that there are, of course, many different styles of Chinese food. Styles, which would be, in a perfect world, paired with dish-specific wines. Clearly, it’s not often practical to do this as it presumes a long, appropriate wine list, as well as lots of these wines being available by the glass, given that there will several different choices on the one table.


However, there are ‘catch-all’ wines – wines that are in general good to excellent partners for Chinese cuisine.


One such style of wine is Cava, and indeed other Spanish Sparkling Wines – at a recent private tasting we really enjoyed a DO Rías Baixas sparkler, which I thought would be wonderful with Chinese (and Thai and Indonesian cuisine). For the purposes of the programme and to accompany Dim Sum and Spring Rolls I went for Canals i Munné Pinot Noir Reserva Rosé.


Firstly, this is a lovely Cava – in its presentation as well as its aromas and flavours. Pinot Noir is a relative latecomer into the vineyards of Cava-land. One of the principle varieties of Champagne, it is notoriously difficult to grow successfully. It must have the correct conditions and it’s rather fussy. However, when it’s good, it’s very good!

A delightful pale coloured rosado this Canals I Munné Brut offering has aromas of dark red rose petals, and a harmonious blend of soft red fruit – strawberry to the fore, with raspberry getting into the act a few seconds later. On the grams of sugar per litre scale for a Brut it’s about in the middle, perhaps 8 or nine grams. This means that whilst dry, as we expect a Brut to be, there will be a little fruit-driven sweetness – often a plus with Chinese food.


One of the staple recommendations made by the wine/food pairing cognoscenti, including myself, is a grape variety whose natural home would probably be considered to be Alsace in cold climate Northern France. And, fortunately, we are able to find excellent examples of Gewurztraminer here in Spain. It seems that this, admittedly difficult to pronounce variety, is perfectly at home in the heights of the DO Somontano, where it is able to ripen without difficulty (which is not always the case in Alsace) and yet, providing it is planted in appropriate vineyard sites, retain its essential acidity.


Bodega Sommos Gewurztraminer 2015 is part of their Collección Series, about which you’ll be reading soon, in Cork Talk – where else? It’s a really exotic variety, where the classic Chinese restaurant fruit, Lychee, is always noticeable, remarkably, on the nose and the palate. This in itself makes it a fine partner for Chinese cuisine, and when you add to the equation a certain spiciness (Gewurz means spice, in German) you’re going to be able to cover dishes that have a little sweetness as well as those with a bit of spicy bite to them.

Not that this wine is at all sweet, it’s just that it delivers an abundance of this exotic fruit, as well a hint of minerality. It partnered our Chicken Chop Suey very nicely, thank you very much!


Now, talking of minerality, the duck dish that my guests and I enjoyed in the studio, was paired with another Alsace variety, Riesling, this time grown, amazingly (given the difference in climates) in Moixent, Valencia! Clos Cor  Ví makes three or four white wines, using largely French varieties – they are all really good! I’ve written about their Riesling before, so I won’t repeat myself. However, this is another of those varieties that is often suggested when thinking of pairing wines with Chinese Cuisine. Put simply, it works!

Now, please let me know if the Chinese restaurant that you use has any of these wines, or of course any other wines using these varieties! If they do, they’ll receive a letter on congrats from me, for sure!


Next Fine Wine & Gourmet Dine Programme on www.totalfm.es Sunday 26th Feb – my guests will be Katherine and Harald from the new, beautiful boutique hotel, Casa Boquera!

Following Recent Musical Dinner with Paired Wines

Well, 40 ecstatic people cannot be wrong and that is the number of very contented and happy diners who enjoyed your wine tasting/pairing yesterday evening

Hi Col,
Well, 40 ecstatic people cannot be wrong and that is the number of very contented and happy diners who enjoyed your wine tasting/pairing yesterday evening. We thought the location (D’Gust restaurant) was an inspired choice and the menu was imaginative and the food delicious. Your choice of all four wines was excellent and matched each dish extremely well and your wine explanations were informative and witty. All in all, a splendid evening in lovely surroundings with wonderful food and wine. Very many thanks for organising such an event. We look forward to the next one.
Cheers, Ros and Mick


If I was to think of one word that suits all their production (including that of their sister bodega in DO Calatayud) it would be ‘elegance’.




Forgive me if you’ve heard this before, but I do believe it’s worth saying again – I’ve never tasted a poor wine from DO Somontano! However, I’m unapologetic about making the above statement – again? If readers are looking for consistent quality, then DO Somontano is an ideal port of call.  Not that the rolling, at times, mountainous, vineyards of this relatively young area of production are anywhere near the sea (DO status was only approved in 1985 [DO Rioja, for example was in the 20s]). Set in the foothills of the Pyrenees as well as climbing into the higher ground, DO Somontano averaging 350 – 700 metres above sea level, is far enough away from the Med for it to be minimally, if at all, influential.


In the 1970s some local growers decided that they’d like to capitalise on their long history of winemaking, started really in Roman times, believing that their wines were of sufficient quality for them to apply for DO status – although it took 11 years, it was granted, and DO Somontano never looked back. Lengthy studies of microclimates and soils, initially undertaken by the bodega we now know as Viñas de Vero, convinced, not only themselves, but others too, that high quality wines can be made in this area.

Enter, as recently as 2014(!), Bodegas Sommos, whose super-modern, architecturally beautiful building alone is a pointer to the winery’s philosophy. At the cutting edge (see the ‘sharp’ angles of the  bodega!) of modern wine-making this bodega has been designed around current thinking, using tried and tested modern methods, the results of which are testimony to their success.


If I was to think of one word that suits all their production (including that of their sister bodega in DO Calatayud) it would be ‘elegance’.


Don’t get me wrong, I love the blockbustingly rich wines that we so often find in Spain. Those reds that fill your senses, almost as the cork is being extracted. The richness, often sheer opulence, of the meaty, big and bouncy reds designed to partner the equally powerful wild game and juicy casseroles so loved by the Spanish, and so appropriate in their specific locations.


However, I’m also a great lover of subtlety. Whilst, I’m not usually keen on overly delicate wines (their thinness can often be a result of over production and/or immature vines), I’m enamored with wines that have full taste and aroma profiles, but with an almost overriding, certainly integrated, elegance. The wines of Bodegas Sommos fit, perfectly!


The philosophy is spot on. The bodega building is very tall, an impressive part of its design, which allows for movement of the grapes and resulting juice by gravity rather than  by intrusive pumps, which can damage the final product. All harvesting is performed at night when the temperatures are at their lowest, bunches are placed in stainless steel trailers with an air-tight stopper, and then transported post haste to the temperature controlled reception area.


Fermentation occurs either in huge French oak vats or concrete tanks before appropriate ageing (according to the style of wine required) in new French oak barrels.


It’s a large concern, the more so considering its sister bodega, so there are a number of lines. I was sent a good selection of wines from the large portfolio and tasted first the Glárima range, of which two whites were first up: the intriguing (you’ll see why in a moment!) Varietals Blanco 2015, and the Chardonnay/Gewurztraminer Roble 2015.


The former wine, the Varietals Blanco, is a blend of 40% each of Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer with the addition of 20% Pinot Noir – told you it was intriguing, a red rose between two whites! Each variety comes from vines that are allowed to yield only one and a half kilos of grapes, and is fermented separately in stainless steel. After blending the wine is aged with its lees for 4 months in new French oak barricas, with regular stirring.

It has a glorious fruity nose with a faint pink rose petal fragrance completing the aroma profile. On the palate, a little lychee, some peach and apricot confirm its fruit presence whilst the finish is quite rich, yet elegant and dry. A super start for me!


Glárima Roble Chardonnay/Gewurztraminer is a wine big in flavour, and initially mouth-filling, though the aforementioned elegance gently asserts itself making this very flavoursome wine ideal to simply enjoy on its own, as well as partnering fish and shellfish, through to chicken and turkey. Gewurztraminer is one of the darlingg varieties of this DO, and here’s an example of why this is so!


Glárima Varietals Tinto 2014 is a blend of Tempranillo, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon (Somontano generally is big on international varieties, for which it does receive some criticism, at least here Sommos leads with homegrown Tempranillo!). This vineyard, with the different varietals growing  together, though in separate blocks, is permitted just 1 kilo of grapes per vine. Popular in China, the wine has enjoyed 8 mnths in French oak, again with its lees, and has violet traces in its colour as well as its aroma, with good damson and dark cherry fruit.

The Merlot/Tempranillo in this range also has a little Cabernet for extra colour and ageing potential. It’s had less time in oak, with a  view to highlighting the intensity of the fruit as well as allowing the terroir to make its contribution. Extra to the dark, forest berries fruit, I enjoyed a whiff of menthol too.


Please see www.colinharknessonwine.com and click Events, to learn of a fantastic, exclusive Short Wine Break in May! Very limited places available – at the moment!

After Musical Dinner with Paired Wines, Feb 2017

The food, wine, commentary, service and music were all perfect.

Good Morning Colin,

Writing to let you know how much we enjoyed yesterday evening at D’Gust.   The food, wine, commentary, service and music were all perfect.

I hope you continue with this theme.

Kind Regards