Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Wines to Pair with Thai Food

By Liza B. Zimmerman

The spice palate of Thai food runs from mildly intense to a fireball in some dishes. I remember eating food so hot on my first trip to Bangkok that I couldn’t taste a thing. Thankfully not all restaurants or consumers like it that hot. The combination of chilies, and bursts of citrus spritzed on certain dishes, can also make good wine pairings even more challenging.

The first rule of pairing many non-Western cuisines successfully with wine is keeping the spice level reasonable. The second would be not dousing everything in too much citrus. I break the rules all the time and suffer the consequences but the best matches are made with a touch of restraint. Another two great rules for bringing out the flavors in spicy foods are pairing them with refreshing wines—with ribbons of acidity—and teaming them up with wines that have a touch of residual sugar.

Go-to Whites
Rieslings, from around the world, have long been the darlings of sommeliers for their food-friendly taste profile. They often combine zippy acidity with a tongue-teasing touch of sugar. I adore German Rieslings, but as much as the arguably world’s best organized wine producer tries to convey a lot of information on its bottles it is a category that is still hard to navigate.

The driest Rieslings—that are tested for sugar level at harvest—are Kabinetts. However they can vary enormously in style and how much sugar you can feel on the palate when you enjoy them. Those labeled “Trocken” or dry are good wines with which to start. Canada, the Pacific Northwest and New York State are also making some exceptional and affordable Rieslings. The bulk of the wines from all these three regions run primarily dry.

Dr. Konstantin Frank is a master of the grape in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York. The fresh, fruity flavors of his “Salmon Run,” Riesling would pair beautifully with everything from Larb—a spicy minced-meat salad with a kick of lime—to classic Thai seafood soups and green papaya salads. Both Niagara-on-the-Lake, outside of Toronto, and British Columbia on the West Coast of Canada make some amazing Rieslings.

Other fantastic whites that can stand up to the spice of Thai food include Spanish Verdejos and Italian Soaves. Pieropan’s Classico is fruity and rich. Other solid Italian pairings hail from both the far South and North of the country. Kerner is an aromatic white grown in Alto Adige and Kofererhof’s Isarco is lovely. These wines are big, rowdy whites that can stand up lots of serious flavors and spice. They also run high enough in alcohol, sometimes hitting 14 percent alcohol by volume that they can work with stronger meat dishes. You can bring on the pork with this Kerner and perhaps even some duck in coconut milk.

Spicy Reds
If want a little red, which I have moved to after Sancerre in a couple of recent Thai meals, you will wantCabernet Franc’s acidic backbone is up to the task. Whether they are French, California or even from Friuli—such as D’Orsaria’s wine—they should work well with many Thai dishes. something lighter-bodied with a little kick and structure.

If you want to go dense and intense a Southwestern French Madiran will work with the smoky flavors of spice-inflected Thai meat dishes. Syrah, particularly from sunny climes that make serious wines—such as Walla, Washington and Santa Barbara—would also work well with the bigger dishes. One thing to look for would be Syrahs with a touch more age in bottle and refined tannins, so the fruit-juiciness of the wine doesn’t overwhelm the flavors of the food.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about wine and food for two decades. She is principal of the San Francisco-based Liza the Wine Chick wine writing, education and consulting firm. She has worked on staff and freelance at national magazines such as Wine Enthusiast, The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, Wine Spectator, Where SF and the Examiner. She currently contributes to Cheers, Wine Business Monthly and the Examiner, among others.

Zimmerman focuses on demystifying wine and transforming it into a tool for business and networking for companies all over the country. Past clients include Genentech, Roche and IBM.

She has visited all the world’s major wine regions and is one of select few in the U.S. to hold the Diploma of Wine & Spirits (D.W.S.), the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine.

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