Two recent experiences helped me realise the truth about pairing wine with spicy Asian. The first was eating with a group of Japanese colleagues in Tokyo. We were seated at a dubiously named Thai restaurant called Mango Tree.
Located on the 35th floor, this monster restaurant with penguin waiters, was serving up cocktails that looked like something out of a 1980’s milk bar. These big frothy, sweet coconut concoctions. Even mango alcho-slushies served in sundae glasses. Our Japanese neighbours might have a sweet tooth, but this was garish.
As the food started to hit the table, packed with lime and loaded with (limp) herbs, I grabbed the wine list like a man on death row. I found a beautiful 2015 Alkoomi Reserve riesling from the great Southern in WA - a wine that funnily enough, I had never tried in Australia. Now the wine paired with the food, like cigarettes and beer. Three bottles in and six courses down, the Alkoomi just worked. Even with the more mild dishes like curried lobster - (oldie but a goodie) the wine had this ultra persistence and acid, that could handle the chill and palm sugar.
The second experience was a fluorescent lit 1.15am dinner at Golden Century in Sydney. Another large table, for my Longrain crew to celebrate on.
The first person seated ordered two bottles of Chablis for the whole table. While this would normally be a pick for Asian food, thanks to its great minerality, this particular wine had clearly been sitting around for a while or had been badly stored. It tasted a bit extracted and forced.
It was falling really flat in my mouth and was not going to stand up to the great food hitting the table. San choy bau, seafood dumplings etc, I had to act fast. I tipped my Chablis into neighbouring glass and filled up with a great Clare Valley riesling, Petaluma’s 2015 Hanlin Hill. With the salt and pepper squid, that tasty combo of deep fried crunch and soft yummy flesh, you want something to cut the oil and bring some limey, refreshing substance into the meal. The Hanlin Hill did it.
So yes, I love resiling with spicy Asian. But don’t get me wrong, if you hate riesling or Gwürtztraminer you aren’t suddenly going to fall in love just because it’s a classic food match. To me wine pairing isn’t so much about looking for match, as guarding against a clash. It’s like DJ-ing; you don’t want people to notice every song you just want them to have a great time. Thai food has such an abundance of chilli, fishy salt, sweet palm sugar, fresh lime and herbs smacking you over the tongue, you need something to match all that acid. That’s why something like Gwürtz gets guernsey because it has some aromatic qualities and a fuller mouthfeel. Some of my favourites on the Longrain list at the moment are the Vickery Riesling and the Empirica Gwürtz. Whatever you like to drink be it vodka and soda, whiskey, beer, crisp whites or juicy reds-they all work well.
It’s best to drink what you like not what you are supposed to like. Just remember it’s the company, nourishment and conversation that you actually went out for in the first place.