Onions in red wine: delicious & nutritious

John H. Isacs
Onion skin-colored wines are among the most pale and delicate roses and many of the best come from the south of France.
John H. Isacs
Onions in red wine: delicious & nutritious
Ti Gong

A medieval castle overlooks expansive Languedoc vineyards. 

Our intrepid epicurean sleuths at Shanghai Daily are introducing the numerous delicious culinary applications of onions and shallots.

The Allium family is one of the largest plant genera with approximately 1,250 species. The best known among them are onions, shallots, scallions, leeks, garlic and chives.

Onions and other species of Allium plants were an important part of the early homo sapiens diet. First domesticated in Central and South Asia about more than 2,000 years ago, onion, shallots and related plants were indispensable to ancient civilizations as they’re easy to grow, transport and store. They’re also remarkably nutritious.

Ancient literati gourmets in Egypt, Babylonia, Greece, Rome, China and India wrote affectionately of the tasty and healthy attributes of onions. Modern chefs and physicians agree, the humble onion and its bulbous cousins are an irreplaceable super food. But how do they relate to the wine world?

One popular onion-meets-wine example is when red or purple onions are soaked in red wine.

Ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans expounded the health benefits of onions marinated in wine, and in the late 20th century a number of physicians published papers on the subject. The authors cited a host of healthy properties including antioxidants, anti-inflammatories and antidiabetics. They also claimed that onions soaked in red wines helped lower cholesterol, promote heart, brain and bone health as well as mitigate depression, obesity and insomnia.

Additionally, in the world of wines the term onion skin is a popular wine-color descriptor, especially for rose wines. Onion skin-colored wines are among the most pale and delicate roses and many of the best come from the south of France.

France produces and consumes more rose wines than any other country. Purists may favor rose wines from Provence, austere wine lovers prefer the Tavel roses of the Southern Rhone, but when factoring in price/quality ratios the rose wines of Languedoc are hard to beat.

Onions in red wine: delicious & nutritious

Languedoc AOC

The largest wine region in France is Languedoc-Roussillon with over 300,000 hectares of vineyards.

This amounts to almost a quarter of all the vines planted in France.

The Pays d’Oc region is included in Languedoc-Roussillon as are wines of 23 sub-appellations that produce red, white, rose, sparkling and fortified wines.

The relatively new Languedoc AOC appellation includes wines from the entire region though many wines feature only the name of the sub-appellation. Yes, French wine laws are confusing.

What’s definitely not confusing is the unpretentious and approachable styles of Languedoc wines. Today, it’s quite fashionable to drink the new discovery wines of Languedoc, but in truth the region has a rather complicated history.

In the fifth century BC, long before the more celebrated wines regions of Champagne, Burgundy and Bordeaux-cultivated wines, Greek traders in the South of France were making wines in and around what is present-day Languedoc.

For most of its history wines from the Languedoc region made good if not great wines, but the advent of the Industrial Age in the late 19th century had a decidedly negative impact on quality.

Languedoc started producing huge quantities of cheap wines to fuel the thirsts of the proletariat masses and the growing military. Languedoc wines serviced the multitudes while Burgundy and Champagne satiated the loftier desires of connoisseurs.

However, in the latter decades of the 20th century the blue-collar market was shrinking, and Languedoc winemakers were compelled to produce higher-quality wines suitable for export. In increasing numbers, wineries made easy-to-drink wines from local varieties as well as more internationally recognized French grapes like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Making things easier for international consumers, many producers also start making varietal wines.

The majority of wines produced in Languedoc are red but the region also produces a significant quantity of rose wines. Fully 30 percent of French and 11 percent of the world’s rose wines come from Languedoc.

Pertinent to our story lead-in this week, many are onion skin-colored.

Stylistically, Languedoc rose wines are subtle, fresh and pale. Colors range from off-white and light onion skin to pale ruby red. Aromas and flavors tend to be less overtly fruity and more floral than their Spanish and New World counterparts, and there’s always a pleasingly fresh acidity.

These qualities make Languedoc rose wines exceedingly food-friendly and an ideal foil to Shanghai’s summer heat. One fine example is the Gerard Bertrand Gris Blanc, which despite the name is a pale onion skin-colored rose wine with zesty citrus fruit flavors and a palate puckering fresh finish.

Other Languedoc wine producers with fine rose wines available in Shanghai include Laurent Miquel, JM Crazes, Domaine de Lamy and Skalli.

With precious few exceptions, rose wines should be consumed young. After two or three years many rose wines lose their aromatics and subtle flavors.

To optimize the performance of the wine, serve well chilled or about 6-8 degrees Celsius.

Where to buy in Shanghai

Pudao Wines, 376 Wukang St, 6090-7075

Gerard Bertrand Gris Blanc


JM Crazes L’Ostal Languedoc Rose


Laurent Miquel Cinsault Syrah Rose

Domaines de Lamy Fontareche Rose

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