I used to hate onions. I could never eat them. Well I could but I wouldn’t because they reacted with my metabolism and the result - well, let’s not go there. It was a shame because the smell of onions cooking on the BBQ at the fundraiser outside the entrance to the supermarket was always so tempting. Then I discovered red onions, a milder onion which didn't have the same effect. At last I could eat onions and socialise the next day.
I'm rabbiting on about onions because onions featured highly in my searches to find a food match for Gewurztraminer without an Asian influence. I love Asian food and many Thai foods, as well as Lamb Rogan Josh from India and Chicken Satay Curry from Indonesia, are simply delish with Gewurz. But I wanted French, something classic from Alsace in the north-east corner of France where the best Gewurztraminers in the world come from.
Although Alsace is in France it hasn’t always been. This narrow north-south oriented strip of land is the smallest of all the French regions with the Rhine River in the west and the Vosges Mountains in the east forming natural borders. But Alsace has a tormented history and its ownership has been fought over since the time of the Roman Empire. It became a French region in 1648 then part of Germany in 1870. It was a bloody battlefield in the First World War but became part of France again in 1945 at the conclusion of the Second World War.
Not surprisingly the food of Alsace has a Franco-German influence with rich cheeses, cured and smoked pork and cabbage / sauerkraut featuring high on the list. Munster cheese is the cheese of the region and is meant to be especially fine with a glass of Gewurztraminer and even more so when the cheese is mixed with cumin spices. La tarte à l’oignon or Onion Tart is also a specialty as is Flammekueche (tarte flambée) where cream, onions and bacons top a thin layer of pizza-like bread.
Onion Soup doesn’t come up in many Internet searches on 'classic Alsace wine and food matches' but I thought if caramelised onions formed the basis of one of the best matches, what about caramelised onions made into soup? And of course caramelised onions are the basis of French Onion Soup. And if the onions are well and truly caramelised with long, slow cooking, even ordinary onions didn't cause the after-effect I utterly dreaded.
French Onion Soup is simply divine with Gewurztraminer, especially when made with the addition of cumin seeds. The natural sweetness of the onions complements the low acid wine style and the spiciness of the cumin seeds enhances the spicy flavour of the wine.
Check out my recipe in my Food Files.
I've made French Onion Soup 4 or 5 times during July. I love it and it is simply divine with Gewurz. I've tried it with the Henri Ehrhart Gewurztraminer Hengst Grand Cru 2002 from Alsace and it was delicious. I've tried it with Villa Maria Private Bin Gewurztraminer 2004 from Marlborough and it was delicious. I tried it with Cloudy Bay Gewurztraminer 2002 from Marlborough and it was delicious. Then having exhausted all my current vintage Gewurz, it was time to raid the cellar.
Three wines with three impressive track records were opened. They were Stonecroft Hawkes Bay Gewurztraminer 1998, Dry River Martinborough Gewurztraminer 1998 and Te Whare Ra Duke of Marlborough Gewurztraminer 1998.
Well, the two high-fliers, the Stonecroft and the Dry River, presented just a little tired, the Stonecroft the tiredest and flabbyish of the pair. Dry River was better but had just picked up a slightly muted edge.
But the Te Whare Ra Duke of Marlborough Gewurztraminer 1998 in its clear, Bordeaux-shaped bottle, was simply sublime. Bright gold in colour and although showing age, it looked fresh. The aroma was exciting with apricots, Turkish Delight and exotic spices carrying through to the palate with a touch of lemon grass. Smooth, seamless, sweet and luscious, it had becoming quite honeyed with age.
I reviewed this wine as "Wine of the Week" in March 1999. Then I found a varietally correct aroma with a hint of lychee but a more floral palate that filled out with gorgeous, voluptuous, bewitching flavours. It was a rich, satisfying medium style with a deliciously persistent aftertaste with just enough acidity to let you know the wine would last one or several years before it fell away.
The bottle I opened the other night had certainly lasted several years!
Te Whare Ra Duke of Marlborough Gewurztraminer 1998 was made in the Smith era - or the second phase of ownership of Te Whare Ra Wines when John Levenberg from California was the consulting winemaker. The finished wine had 17.5 grams of residual sugar in a continuation of the style that original owner Allen Hogan had established in preceding years. It went on to win the trophy for Champion Gewurztraminer in Easter of 1999.
Where can you buy this wine? Well you can’t. Just try your favourite Gewurz with French Onion Soup and see what you think of the match.
Te Whare Ra is now in the third era of ownership. And they still make stunning Gewurz. Check out the website at www.tewharera.co.nz.
© Sue Courtney
31 July 2005