Drink: Do you really have the time to pause, down chopsticks and meditatively sample your wine?
Sunday 12 September 1999
Next step: pull out the corkscrew and pull out some corks. I opened four bottles of wine to taste with the farinaceous objects, plus a single beer. The wines were as follows: a pleasant Rose d'Anjou 1998 from Waitrose (pounds 3.39); a surprisingly characterful Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico 1998, Terre Cortesi (pounds 3.99, Safeway); Hugel Gewurztraminer 1996 (pounds 8.99, Bottoms Up, Thresher and Wine Rack); and a token red in the form of Hardys Banrock Station Mataro Grenache Shiraz 1998 (pounds 3.99, Tesco and Safeway). The beer was La Chouffe, one of my favourite Belgians, with several months of the ageing that its makers recommend. You'll find it for pounds 3.49/75cl at Oddbins or pounds 5.25/75cl at specialists such as The Beer Shop (0171 739 3701).
All that remained was to eat, drink and find the marriage made in heaven. What happened? Well, the good news is that all the wines were worth drinking - the rose nothing special, and the Hardys somewhat one-dimensional, but Hugel's Gewurztraminer is one of my Desert Island Wines below pounds 10. And they went perfectly well with the food, up to a point - though the Hardys was the least successful match.
The bad news is that I didn't find any match that remotely resembled the heavenly pairing of my ambitions. Noodles are simply not the kind of food that demands careful matching. Indeed, they illustrate the dangers of pushing the whole food-and-wine matching game too far. Why should it be assumed that every food has a liquid equivalent of the Platonic "other half" which completes the individual soul? Asian noodles are not the creation of a wine-drinking culture. Beer or spirits would be a more appropriate choice, but have you ever seen the native eaters of this kind of food washing it down with alcohol?
More importantly, these slurpy noodles are not, intrinsically, a wine- loving kind of dish. First of all, noodle soup is not just a food but a drink: the broth quenches the thirst created by the solid ingredients. Second, the physical process of eating any Asian noodle dish does not lend itself to the thoughtful consumption of even a moderately serious bottle of wine. All that noisy chewing, sucking, dipping and lifting - this is eating at its busiest and most physical. Do you really have the time or inclination to pause, down chopsticks and spoon, and meditatively sample your wine?
This is not to say that you should go thirsty. On the contrary. Since none of the drinks I tried made me gag or even grimace, the matching problem is easy: let your choice of noodlist drinking be guided by passing fancy or mere convenience. Drink what you feel like drinking, or what you happen to have in the fridge or under the stairs. And do not get carried away with the momentousness of the choice. Hell, noodles are fun. Worry is not fun.
The more specific answer lies amidst three options. One is a good Alsace Gewurztraminer, such as that delicious Hugel - it may be a cliche, but this came closest in my tasting to achieving the status of Noodle's Best Friend. And it doesn't need to be expensive. Any supermarket or chain sells at least one basic Gewurz, probably from one of the region's excellent cooperatives; try the Turckheim Gewurztraminer 1996, (pounds 6.49, Unwins).
The second option is suds, and I think I would go this route, though it, too, is a boring cliche with Asian food. The La Chouffe held up well against the spicier elements in my noodle experiments. Just don't drink too much of it while you're eating, or the gas may cause you to belch while your mouth is full of ginger and garlic.
The third option is to cook your noodles, eat them, and wash the dishes. Pour yourself a glass of something you really like. Sit down with a good book, or your companion for the evening, and sip slowly while savouring the remains of the flavours in your mouth. In the case of these noodly specimens, that may be the best way of enjoying both food and beverage.
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