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Having Chinese takeout? Pour a French white

Any varietal from Alsace would work, but a gewürztraminer is perfect.
/ Source: TODAY

Living in New York can be frustrating, from the noise, to never quite having enough living space, to the challenge of finding a place to park. On the other hand, and fortunately for me, New York is a food and wine mecca. I haven't done a survey, but I suspect that the chances of finding good wines and good wine values are better in this town than just about anywhere on the planet.

And the other night proved the point. After dealing with the parking issue (and a dead battery), I finally made it to my neighborhood wine store, Martin Brothers on Manhattan's upper West Side, to choose a bottle of white for Chinese takeout, which, given my car troubles and the lateness of the hour, had become the default dinner.

I headed diagonally to a back corner of the shop and the section of wines from France's Alsace region, which borders Germany. These are mainly white wines in tall, skinny bottles holding such varieties as riesling, sylvaner, pinot gris, pinot blanc and gewürztraminer. Alsace, as it happens, is the only French region permitted to call its wines by the names of the grapes, as opposed to calling a wine, say, Chablis (a chardonnay) or Sancerre (a sauvignon blanc), which take the names of the towns where they're made.

Just about any of the Alsatian wines in the store the other night would have worked with the spiciness of the Chinese food. But I had my mind set on a gewürztraminer (pronounced guh-vertz-tra-MEE-ner), one of the more exotic and expressive varieties with its herb and spice notes, and one that is increasingly being grown in the United States.

I went with the less expensive of two wines standing side by side. We were, after all, eating takeout and the 2005 Gewürztraminer from Willm, one of the best-known Alsace wineries, turned out to be a superb choice and a bargain at $12.

With gewürztraminer — "gewürz" means spice in German — there are many styles, ranging from the heavily spicy and herbal to more fruit-forward wines in which the botanicals are less prominent.

The '05 Willm is decidedly and deliciously in the latter camp. The wine is off dry, meaning that there's a bit of sweetness, which comes across as a touch of honey on the nose and in the mouth. That's balanced by notes of orange rind, mango and sage, and it all adds up to a "beautiful, sophisticated wine," as I wrote in my tasting notes. As an aperitif it would be lovely and different and would no doubt provoke conversation.

And while it's a natural for spicy foods it will also match well with herbed chicken and fish dishes.  I can easily see it, for example, with roasted cod topped with diced tomato, a fresh herb like thyme or sage or tarragon and perhaps a little grated parmesan cheese.

On that note, I think I've just come up with a dinner plan, and just the right wine, for tonight.

Edward Deitch's wine column appears Wednesdays. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at