A Noodle-holic's Wine Pairing With Ramen - Kotetsu

"Hi, my name is Angie and I'm a noodle-holic"   

My ancestors are from the coastal province of Shandong, China, where they are known internationally for Tsing Tao beer.  However, to the people of China, Shandong is known for their abundance of grain, which has in turn shaped the regional cuisine with dishes involving the use of flour.  Shandong is especially famous for their steamed bread (饅頭), savory pancakes (山東大餅) and various styles of noodles.  Although I have not had the pleasure of visiting the town of my heritage, Shandong blood still runs deep in me, with a natural tendency to enjoy noodles (almost too excessively).  Making me just like my father and his father before him.

Moving to the bay area, one of the world's largest mixing pots filled with authentic cuisines from around the world, has fueled this obsession exponentially .  With pastas from Italy, pho from Vietnam, udon and ramen from Japan and and hundreds if not thousands of different noodles from China; you name it, I love them all.

Interestingly enough, I have never seen much wine paired with noodles.  Except the Italians with their delicious pastas, but I couldn’t help wonder why not the others?  Is it because wine culture is not as developed in Asia when compared to their European counterpart? Or are Asian style noodles (most of them served in a hot broth) are not great candidates for wine pairing? There is only one way to find out in my mind… let's give it a try!

My husband and I go out for ramen at least once a week and with an abundance of great choices in the South Bay for quality ramen, it is hard to go wrong.  However, one of our go-to spots is Kotetsu, located in a small strip mall in Santa Clara on El Camino Real and Scott Ave.  The restaurant is small, yet cozy and the menu is pretty straightforward.  For the soup base, either choose the shiro (white) salt based broth or kuro (black) soy sauce based broth.  Both include the usual suspects: cha shu (thinly sliced pork belly), spinach, green onion, dried seaweed, ear mushroom, and a soft boiled egg.  Then there are the addons: you can make it spicy, add extra veggies, cha shu, green onions, the whole nine yards.  Personally, I prefer the shiro broth due to its bold savory flavor combined with a weighty mouthfeel.  It is made in a decadently rich style; not for those looking for a light meal.  My husband likes the spicy shiro, which includes a homemade, mildly spicy paste that adds just a little kick.

Even with years of experience pairing food and wine at a fine dining restaurant, coming up with the perfect pairing for ramen noodles was challenging.  There are no guidelines or historic norms, making it unlike pairing wine with classic dishes such as lamb (Bordeaux), salmon (Pinot Noir), caviar (Champagne) or foie gras (Sauternes).  But that is what makes it so interesting!

After giving it heavy thought, I decided on a bottle of aged Pinot Gris from Alsace.  This wine is slightly off dry, which balances the saltiness of the broth and it also gains an array of secondary flavors with age such as: orange peel, tea leaves and ginger notes that work well with the different toppings in the bowl.  Lastly, Alsatian Pinot Gris has broader mouthfeel and fuller body (due to higher alcohol content) when compared to the same wine from a different region, which holds up nicely with the rich dense flavor of the ramen.  Thus making it a perfect marriage.

To test my theory, we brought a bottle of 2009 Albert Boxler Pinot Gris Réserve and our own wine glasses to Kotetsu.  Albert Boxler founded the winery in 1946, but his long family history dates back to the 1600s.  The wines have always, and still are made with traditional methods in old foudres in the cellar under the family home.  This Pinot Gris Réserve is actually all Grand Cru fruit (Sommerberg and Brand vineyard) from younger vines that he declassified!  So beside getting some weird looks from other customers, and the servers not sure how much to charge for corkage, the result was magical!  It was better than I could have imagined!  It paired especially well with my husband's spicy shiro ramen.  The ginger and orange aromas in the wine matched perfectly with the spicy togarashi (Japanese seven spice), which often contains… surprise, surprise: orange peel and ginger!  In addition to balancing the salty broth, the off dry Pinot Gris also helped mellow out the heat.

My husband was definitely skeptical at first, but blown away once he tried them together! Definitely a successful wine and noodle pairing experiment, which is evident by the empty bowl and bottle!  I think I’m on to something.  This wine loving noodle-holic is going to keep finding fun and daring pairings for different types of noodles.  Until then, drink well, drink often, and drink wine with noodles!

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