You could be forgiven for having the impression that the entire country is doing dry January, but there were only 130,000 of us doing so in 2022, according to Alcohol Change (that said, there must have been many thousands more who didn’t sign up). So it’s easy to forget that they are still a minority, and that there might be many who think January would be improved by a glass of something slightly stronger.
Foodwise, too, I find now a time when I react against the rich, heavy fare of Christmas and have even got marginally bored with comfort food. I want the zip, zing and fiery kick of Korean, Sichuan and other spicy cuisines, and the clean freshness and crunch of south-east Asian salads. Fortunately, we have Chinese and Vietnamese New Year heading our way next weekend to scratch that itch.
Wine with spicy food is contentious, of course, and there’s still a school of thought that you’re being pretentious or wilful in drinking anything but lager. Obviously, as a wine-lover, I’d disagree, and there are many wines that work perfectly well with Chinese food (see last year’s column on the subject).
The wines most people still instinctively reach for are aromatic whites, especially riesling and gewürztraminer. But do they work? Yes, for the most part, although the problem with wines of such distinctive character is that they can jar as often as they hit the spot. Gewürztraminer, for instance, is great with duck (especially if ginger’s involved), but less good with dim sum or steamed fish. (Asda has a very decent one in its Extra Special range for £7.50, though it’s not as good as the Seifried in today’s pick), while a delicate dry riesling won’t make much headway with mapo tofu, say. The fierier the dish, the more sweetness you generally need.
In fact, Alsace so dominates the conversation about wine and spice that many other wines don’t get much of a look-in. Try other countries’ take on those grapes – New Zealand is particularly strong on aromatics – or travel farther afield with Argentina’s torrontes, Portugal’s fernao pires, Greece’s moschofilero and the many iterations of muscat and moscatel. It’s also Tryanuary, after all.
And just for you dry Janners out there, I know I’ve recommended it before, but it’s worth mentioning again: I really like Saicho’s sparkling jasmine tea. At £17.99 a bottle it is more expensive than I feel it should be – and more than any of the wines below in my pick today – but would be great for a Chinese New Year dim sum feast. As would, of course, jasmine or chrysanthemum tea, albeit rather more cheaply.
Four aromatic whites to explore
Emiliana Novas Riesling 2021, £9.59 Rannoch Scott, £10 Booths, 13.5%. This Chilean is more like an Aussie riesling than a German one, and has a vivid streak of lime that would go well with a herby Vietnamese salad.
Ara Single Vineyard Pinot Gris 2022 £8.99 (on offer, down from £11.99) Waitrose, 13.5%. An off-dry Kiwi that would go really well with chicken noodle salad.
Seifried Gewürztraminer 2021 £12.99 Waitrose, 12.5%. A stunner of an off-dry New Zealand gewürz. Would be great with Sichuan food or Thai red curry.
Adega de Pegões ‘Selected Harvest’ White 2021 £9.99 (or £8.99 on mix six) Majestic (they also sell the 2020, but go for this one), 13%. A pretty, aromatic, Portuguese white based mainly on the indigenous fernão pires grape. A wine to sip with sushi or Vietnamese summer rolls.
For more by Fiona Beckett, go to fionabeckett.substack.com