European black-shelled mussels are smaller and more delicate than their green-shelled cousins from New Zealand. They're frequently cooked as moules mariniere - with onion, garlic and parsley in a white wine broth. As they cook, the mussels give off an abundance of salty sea water that forms part of the broth. There are many interesting variations on this basic preparation - a pinch of saffron adds an incredible perfume and depth to the dish. If you like Asian flavours, lemongrass, ginger and coriander root are delicious.
The best wine to pair with mussels needs to have freshness and liveliness. Oak ageing and even classy barrel-fermented flavours have only limited appeal in the combination. Oak flavours - even if they're cleverly handled - can be exposed and exaggerated by the mussel freshness. Drink your favourite Montrachet with something else.
Wolf Blass Gold Label Riesling 2005, Eden Valley, South Australia
The beautiful and serene Eden Valley, a 30-minute drive away from the touristy Barossa Valley, attracts the most dedicated and knowledgeable wine lovers: the district is known for its riesling. This Wolf Blass is a crowd-pleaser. It has plenty of perfume from the quality riesling grapes and some aromatic esters from clever winemaking techniques. It's rich without being heavy and finishes fruity without being cloying. It's the perfect match with Asian-flavoured mussel broth - the wine's gentle aromatics sit alongside ginger, coriander root and lemongrass. Its sunshine-like fruit lifts the mussels and spotlights their freshness and rich marine tang.
Available for HK$165 from Maxxium (tel: 2845 5995)
Pascal Jolivet Exception Sancerre Blanc 2003, Loire Valley, France
Sancerre has been flooding the world with bottles of bland and vaguely fruity liquid, but this Pascal Jolivet is reviving the area. It's top stuff, filled with fresh, bean curd-like minerality and plenty of restrained fruit. The Exception is pure and stylishly lean and can age for a decade or two. It's a perfect match with Belgian mussels and frites. The wine's pure fruitiness sets up the mussels' freshness and it cleanses the palate of the oiliness of the frites. The wine has plenty of balanced acidity, and its phenomenal length delivers all the elements.
Available for HK$485 from Jebsen (tel: 2923 8777)
Hugel 'Gentil' 2005, Alsace, France
This is traditional Alsace wine with a contemporary name. Unlike other Alsatian wines, Gentil is made from a blend of grape varieties that, frankly, were the leftovers back when the tradition started. Riesling gives the wine freshness and acid backbone, a canvas for grapes such as traminer, and pinot blanc to add either texture or more perfume. The wine is noticeably complex and rather mouth-filling. It's a good match with mussels in a saffron broth. The saffron aromatics give the wine depth and warmth.
Available for HK$104 from Maxxium (tel: 2845 5995)