It had to happen. It just had to happen, and it wasn’t even on my radar—until a friend informed me about it. There’s a wine from Washington State called “Kung Fu Girl
.” That’s right: Kung Fu Girl
. And I am doubly dumbfounded about this since I am into fine wines (and not so fine wines) and of course, Kung Fu which (as I’ve mentioned on this blog ad nauseum) I’ve practiced for 35+years. The fact that this wine has been around, I think, since 2006 and I didn’t know about it, leaves me feeling quite asinine (I could use another adjective but this is a family blog).
The wine in question is a white wine, a Riesling (more about that later) made by winemaker Charles Smith of the famed K-Vintners; and it comes from the Columbia Valley in Washington. As per its name, it’s a wine tailored for Asian dishes. Why the label (and a beautiful label it is) Kung Fu Girl? Well, as wine master Mr. Smith states in his ad—“because Riesling and Girls kick ass!” He adds that “. . .the reason we love this wine actually has more to do with another aspect of Kung Fu: balance. This comes from a single vineyard comprised of fragmented basalt and caliche soils. Great acidity, minerality and girl-next-door kiss of sweetness.” I like that last part. Mainly because wife, Holly, loves Riesling—it’s the only wine she can take–essentially because she prefers sweet and semi-sweet wines. I, on the other hand, prefer dry wines (my favorite dry white being Pinot Grigio). But I do like a well balanced, juicy Riesling—which this one is reputed to be.
I guess it was only a matter of time before the martial arts would be paired up with wine ads. But I’m intrigued and happy that Mr. Smith picked the tag of Kung Fu. I don’t know whether Mr. Smith has ever dabbled in the art or not, but he is a legendary wine maker who, like most people on the cutting edge, pushes the envelope somewhat. Apparently he’s on a mission to bring Washington State Rieslings to the fore, and I wish him well. And from the raves I’ve seen on-line, he has succeeded. Cork’d gave the 2006 Kung Fu Girl Riesling an average rating of 89.0/100, which is pretty good. The reviewer from The Wine Cask Blog hailed it as “one of the best Rieslings I have had in years from any country including Germany!” High praise indeed. Gary Vaynerchuk featured the 2007 Kung Fu Girl Riesling, along with Charles Smith as guest, on his popular Wine Library TV, The Thunder Show Episode #549 (http://tv.winelibrary.Com/). Mr. Smith stated, among other things, that the mild climate and long growing season in Washington State produces this really exceptional wine. Mr. Vaynerchuk also gave it an 88/89 type rating.
The fact that, according to its followers, this wine pairs well with Asian cooking also peaked my interest. Chinese food has been one of the passions in my family since I can remember. From my boyhood on we would make that weekend trek to Chinatown and gorge ourselves on baby spare ribs, fry rice, lo-mein, steamed sea bass, egg rolls, all that good stuff. Of course then it was all mainly Cantonese cuisine with an American bent. Actually, it was American Chinese food. A secret: fried rice, egg foo young, chop suey and, yes, fortune cookies, are all American inventions. It wasn’t until later in my adulthood when Shechuan and Hunan restaurants started opening up in Chinatown that I really began to appreciate the variety and multiplicity of Chinese cuisine. Add to that, the Thai, Burmese, and Vietnamese places that followed so that today there’s a cornucopia of fine Asian cuisine in the city, not just the Cantonese fare of yesteryear.
In the old days, the only beverage served with Asian food was either tea, beer, or a wine called Wan Fu white that used to be sold in some Chinese restaurants. I remember Wan Fu. It was supposed to accompany what were then called “Oriental dishes.” Even then I considered it a bit sweet for my taste. It was only later on that I discovered that Wan Fu wasn’t Chinese at all. In fact, it was a semi-dry white Burgundy from France. Go figure. Further experimentation got me into the realm of drinking Gewurstraminer (Guh-verts-trah-mee-ner) with Asian dishes. This is a dry, spicy wine that can either hail from Germany (the Rheinpfalz area) or Alsace (which for a long time had been a disputed part of Germany until 1945 when it became French). I still like Gewuzstraminer with Asian food but, again, it’s all relative. Holly likes Riesling with everything. Back in my youth I once knew a lady who preferred Mogen David Heavy Malaga Red with every meal. Where wine is concerned, I believe, there should be no hard and fast rules. Every palette should decide for itself. But it’s good to know that now there’s another alternative to Asian food—Kung Fu Girl Riesling.
It’s the more amazing that Charles Smith has decided to stake his calling on the Riesling grape variety. A few years back, Riesling was the province of German and Alsatian vintners. In the last few decades this has changed with Riesling being cultivated in California, Australia, New Zealand and a host of other countries. In the U.S., California is no longer the only player. Oregon and Washington, among others, have gotten into the act.
I discovered Riesling in my young manhood; and the Rieslings I recalled from that time were different from what you get today. To my unformed palette, the Rieslings back then where perceptibly sweeter. Now, I’m talking about the 1960s and 70s. The wines were pale yellow in color, or yellow to golden yellow, fruity, and some even with a note of honey in them, and low alcohol content. This changed as wines with a dry finish became so increasingly popular that even German vintners began making dry wines. Still, from what I gather, most Washington Riesling is made in the traditional German style. That is, light and fruity, with high acidity to balance the sugar, but with a much higher alcohol content, sometimes over 13% alcohol. Austrian and Alsatian Rieslings are somewhat dryer. Some of them have almost no residual sugar. My preference is for the Austrian or Alsatian type. Still, that doesn’t mean a Washington Riesling can’t be great. We decided to give it the ultimate test and see how it would pair up with an Asian dish. In this case, Northern (Peking-Style) deep-fried bean curd, along with steamed chicken and white rice. The bean curd recipe is from my second cookbook, The Pharaoh’s Feast (Avalon Books). To make the steam chicken is easy enough: take one fryer chicken (about 2 1/2 to 3 pounds), washed and cut up in generous bite-sized pieces, place it in a bowl and rub it all over with olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper, and dried oregano. Let it stand for about 10 to 15 minutes. Then place in a wok, medium-sized skillet or pan. Fill about 1/3 full with water, bring it to a boil, cover and let simmer 25-30 minutes until pieces are tender. If you want to follow the more traditional Asian mode then use a mixture of 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 tablespoon cornstarch and 1 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil for the marinade. In either case, if you desire a more spicy dish, add 3 to 4 drops Tabasco or chili sauce to the mix.
I must say that in our informal tasting (Holly was the official Riesling judge), I was pleasantly surprised. To begin with, the wine came with a screw cap. There has been an issue of sorts in the wine world as of late concerning screw caps on wine bottles. Traditionalists state that this is heresy. The corked bottle is sacrosanct. Truth is that, to a wine maker, bottle caps are more efficient, less time consuming and less expensive than traditional corks. I have discovered that bottle caps on white wines ensure a longer storage time in the fridge. This is no scientific experiment; just my observation. Although there is a certain romance to maneuvering that corkscrew, pulling out the cork, and listening to that pop! As to the wine in question, it was soft, subtle, with plenty of aromas—peach, pear, lime— you name it. This fruit like aromatics was also noted on the Wine Library segment where Mr. Vaynerchuk declared the wine had a hint of sweetness and heavy on apple flavors. As to its marvelous color, Holly thought it looked like summer: bright and golden. She described it as early morning sun without the heat. And it had a cool taste, not overwhelming. Lightness is how she summed it up. her final allegory is “that there is something about it like spring. Something youthful.” This echoes what Charles Smith himself said on Wine Library TV. He also confirmed it was a melowy wine, floral, and reminiscent of spring flowers. So Holly wasn’t too off the mark. I found that it had good balance, not too sweet, not too dry, and not as intense as I expected. My experience with fine German Rieslings is that, to compensate for the sweetness, they have a lively acidity and their flavor is usually intense. Not with this one. It had a light, crisp finish that left a lingering aftertaste with just a little hint of dryness. All in all, a superb wine for spring or summer.
The one caveat I have is that the wine store where I purchased the bottle, in Manhattan, it was $19.95 retail. In the web sites I perused in Washington State the price ranged from $12.99 to $14. Cork’d blog gave the 2006 a retail price of $14.99. Gary Vaynerchuk gave it a retail range of $12-$13. In these trying economic times, one has to save wherever one can. But where good wine is concerned, it sure as hell is difficult to do that in New York State.
Finally, this all leaves me to consider that this wine thing could be the beginning of a new trend. If there’s Kung Fu wine, then why not Kung Fu beer? or gin? or whisky? Who knows, someday you might even have a Kung Fu laxative. the possibilities are endless.
NORTHERN (PEKING-STYLE) DEEP-FRIED BEAN CURD
1-pound container fresh bean curd, preferably extra firm, washed, patted dry and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 tablespoons cornstarch (more or less as needed)
Peanut or vegetable oil for deep frying
3 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon chili sauce
1. Sprinkle the bean curd evenly with the cornstarch.
2. Heat the oil over high heat in a wok or deep skillet. Add the bean curd and fry until golden brown. Depending on the side of the wok or skillet, you may have to do this in batches. Remove the bean curd with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
3. Mix the soy sauce, sesame oil, and chili sauce.
4. There are two ways to serve the bean curd (or tofu as it is known in Japanese): either place the tofu in a bowl and drizzle the soy sauce mixture over it, then stir, making sure the bean curd is evenly coated with the sauce; or just use the sauce as dip separately. Either way, serve with white rice or noodles.
Yield: 4 servings