There is no written law that decries you must drink a certain wine with a certain dish or, that wine consumption has to be accompanied by any food at all. There are also no laws stating that you have to drink a certain wine style at a certain time of day or, stick to a certain wine style in a certain climate. Thank goodness we live in uncertain times. Experimentation, inspiration and hedonistic impulses bring me some of my greatest dining and drinking pleasure.
I do however, enjoy the organoleptic pleasure of a fine match between glass and dish and I am ever so prone to preferring certain wine styles in the unique, dark, wet, heat of the Cambodian night.
Nothing quite says Phnom Penh like being perched on a plastic stool, suspiciously teetering between pavement and shop front, bathed in dim, flickering fluorescent light. At a tin table, which marks the very intersection where the odours of dust and diesel collide with the dubious aromas of kitchen galley and all too public relief. A small fan, bouncing on its stand, going like the clappers in a pitiful attempt to beat off the climate of an entire nation, shirt pasted to your back, beads of salty liquid dripping from your chin to become a condiment in your soup.
A cleaved chunk of greasy pork, bobbing up and down, its final throws in a warm sea of noodles, spices, herbs and don’t ask what. A large porcelain bowl -chipped and cracked and stained with a drunken soy calligraphy, relics of a thousand dishes past; worn down plastic chopsticks shoved by the dozen into a large glass tumbler -containing water the colour of irrigation channels. A conveniently placed toilet roll, which serves as help yourself napkins, but one always finds it comforting to have handy -in case of gastronomic emergency. I find the food and indeed the whole Asian Noir canvas tends to hang better around 2am, when the rallies in the streets and the riots in the scullery have exhausted themselves and when any semblance of freshness -whether in the air or in the kitchen- has long since ceased to exist.
If that whole scene doesn’t scream Alsace Pinot Gris at you then, quite frankly I just don’t know what does.
Alsace, with its rolling hills and valleys dotted with quaint villages, pristine rivers and crisp mountain air; where woman wear floral patterned dresses to work and sing in the fields and where they produce aromatic wines of flowery bouquets and crisp, clean flavours. If this seems an unlikely place to produce a wine to match with the Chinese food on Monivong Boulevard at 2am, (and yes, you will have to bring your own) then you have yet to discover the joyous underbelly of the region, waiting to be revealed in a bottle of its wines.
Alsace has a mixed history and culture of French, German and Holy Roman Empire, it produces superb wines that are beguiling in their aromatic freshness, they can be bold bur are balanced by an elegant finesse.The dry white wines sometimes have an off-dry fruitiness to them usually balanced by fine acidity.
Alsace Pinot Gris can range from off-dry to dry and beneath its purity and overt charm is a trail of complexity leading to nuances of spice, exotic fruits, minerality and citrus. There is enough acidity to deal with fatty foods and enough fruit and sweetness to cope with spices and heat and there is an allusive, seductive quality to the wines that suggests, (more than it demands) your attention, like a gentle whisper in the night.
The Riesling from Alsace is intense, floral with lemon, lime and talc like minerals it weaves its way seamlessly with Asian cuisine, its fruit alluring, its acidity dances brazenly along your palate, this is a wine to get excited about, a wine to revive one’s senses in the steam, sweat and heat of a South East Asian night.
Gewurztraminer is something of an enigma, described by one critic as having all the charm of a tart’s parlor, the wine is highly perfumed and aromatic, with white flowers, ginger spice, orange, honey, Meyer lemon, rose water and the distinctive piquancy of lychees. The wines are often rich with less acidity but the acid is still lively and has presence along the palate.
In Cambodia look for the amazing Alsace wines from Zind Humbrecht, producer of some of the finest wines from anywhere in the world, from any variety, let alone Alsace.