“Thai-delicious” 4 Course Wine & Food Pairing Notes

All the years I have been teaching about wine, or wine and food pairing, people always ask about what wine goes with Chinese food. Or in this case, Asian cuisine. We call this kind of pairing a “cross-cultural” pairing. That is food from a country that does not have a wine and food pairing tradition paired to wines from a country that does have such a tradition.

Of course, since wine and food pairing is primarily a Eurocentric concept, you need to find wines that will go with the proteins, cooking techniques, and herbs and spices used in Asian cuisine. Interestingly enough, these will usually be wines coming out of Northern Europe such as Germany, Alsace (in France), Austria, Switzerland and Northern Italy (particularly Trintino Alto-Adige).

Aperitif and Amuse Bouche

Pickled Cucumber Salad with Fish Sauce

Giuseppe Carpano, Vermut, Carpano Antica Ricetta, NV

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First Course

Pan Fried Rock Fish In A Tri-Flavored Sauce with a Medley of Sautéed Peppers and Mustard Greens

Josef Ehmosr, Wagram, Grüner Veltiner, Aurum, 2008

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Second Course

Stir Fried Pork with Red Curry Sauce and Cauliflower Rice

Allimant-Laugner, Alsace Grand Cru “Praelatenberg”, Riesling, 2012

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Third Course

Grilled Thai Chicken Satay with Cashew Sauce

J. Prüm, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Riesling Kabinett, 2007

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Dessert Course

Supreme Orange Topped Panna Cotta with Pistachio Praline Brittle and Tokaji Gelée

Royal Tokaji, Tokaji Aszú “Mézes Maly”, 6 puttonyos, 2007

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Closer

Thai Coconut Coffee Shots with Mint Simple Syrup

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The issue is not the proteins, many different wines will go with a very wide variety of proteins and cooking techniques, it is the herbs and spices that will be critical. Therefore, the wines chosen for this dinner have been picked to create an array of flavors to showcase the wide range of herbs and spices in each dish.

Although the flavors have a definite Thai character, they are not as dominant as spices might be in traditional Thai cuisine. This is more a case of “Thai meets France” in terms of the culinary approach of the 2 chefs. Each dish has a unique flavor profile, showcasing Thai characteristics, but the herbs and spices are very subtle rather than dominance in character. This actually allows you to taste a wide range of flavors in each dish.

Therefore, the goal of the wine pairings with this dinner is to bring out and let you enjoy the different herbs and spices found in each dish.


Aperitif and Amuse Bouche

Pickled Cucumber Salad with Fish Sauce

Giuseppe Carpano, Vermut, Carpano Antica Ricetta, NV

 IMG_1883

For this dinner I chose to serve a tradition Aperitif rather than a sparkling wine or light and dry wine as the aperitif. The purpose of a traditional Aperitif is to clear the palate and make you hungry. Most European countries, that produce wine, have traditional aperitif liquors. Most of us have heard of Compari and French or Italian Vermouth, to name a few.

The flavor profile of traditional aperitifs is a combination of slightly bitter herbs and fairly high alcohol. The bitterness clears the palate and takes it to a neutral position while the higher alcohol (usually in the fortified wine range of 14% to 22%) gets your stomach juices flowing and, literally, makes you hungry.

Producer: Giuseppe Carpano

Product: Vermut (Vermouth)

Brand name: Carpano Antica Ricetta

Vintage year: non-vintaged (NV)

This particular vermouth is among the best produced throughout Italy. It is designed to be consumed as an aperitif, not in a martini. You should only pour an ounce or two, along with a couple of ice cubes. I would recommend chilling it for at least 30 minutes before pouring it. Do not use too much ice because it will dilute the flavor, so a couple of ounces of the aperitif and a couple of ice cubes.

This vermouth is made from more than 30 different herbs that give it the slightly bitter and herbal character that achieves the goal of clearing the palate and making you hungry. Serve it in advance of the Amuse Bouche arriving at the table, you could actually serve it before people sit down. You want to take small sips and enjoy it rather than treat it like a “shooter.”

It will create an interesting complement to the flavors in the Amuse Bouche. When the Amuse Bouche arrives at the table you might want to pour a second ounce of the Aperitif. This beginning bites of food, along with all of the subsequent courses, you need to eat slowly (think of the slow-food movement) to enjoy all of the flavors the aperitif is bringing out of the Amuse Bouche.

Actually, it works both ways. The food will reduce the bitterness of the vermouth while the vermouth will bring out herbs, the hint of peanut, and will increase the sweetness of the peppers. However, a fun way to taste this aperitif with the Amuse Bouche is to try each part of the dish separately with the vermouth and then try bites that are a combination of different parts of the dish. The vermouth will create an interesting pairing with each component of the dish and a completely different pairing with a bite that is a combination of the parts of the dish.

Again, eat slowly and pay attention to the burst of different flavors on the palate. Not all at once, the flavors will shift on the palate over a few seconds.


First Course

Pan Fried Rock Fish In A Tri-Flavored Sauce with A Medley of Sautéed Peppers and Mustard Greens

Josef Ehmosr, Wagram, Grüner Veltiner, Aurum, 2008

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Rock fish is not intensely flavored. Like many dishes the protein is the “delivery device” for the sauce. This dish is an excellent example of that possibility. One of the most important jobs of the person doing wine and food pairing must achieve is to understand what is the dominant component of the dish.

To do this we usually break the dish into four components: proteins, sauces, herbs and spices, and cooking techniques (actually the impact of the cooking techniques). Whatever creates the most dominant texture and flavor characteristics of a dish is what the wine must be paired to. In the US we are used to thinking that we pair wine to proteins – that is the case only about 30% of the time.

In classic French and Italian cuisine the wine is often paired to the sauce not the protein. For this dish, and most of the dishes in this meal, the wine will be paired to the herbs and spices and the protein is the “delivery device” for the herbs and spices.

Producer: Josef Ehmosr

Growing Area: Wagram (Austria)

Grape: Grüner Veltiner

Brand name: Aurum

Vintage year: 2008

Grüner Veltiner is the most important white grape grown in Austria. The strong mineral content along with moderate acidity help create this pairing. This particular producer has held the grapes on the vine for an extra week. The goal is not to produce a sweet wine, rather, it is to produce a wine with a lot of fruit concentration to go along with the mineral and acid character. This combination is very similar to what Alsatian white wines are like.

The wine also shows three acids on the palate: malic, citric and succinic. Malic attacks first, then citric and last is succinic. Malic acid tastes like apples, citric shows lemon, lime or grapefruit characteristics (in this case lemon characteristics) and succinic is slightly bitter and salty. As the acid attack changes it changes the flavors observed in the dish.

If I combine the acids with the other flavor characteristics of this wine it would be mineral, followed by 3 acids, followed by fruit concentration. So when you take a bite of the fish, with sauce, sautéed peppers and greens and then a taste of the wine you can taste the peppers, then the fish, then the bok choy and greens and a hint of spices to go with the fruit concentration of the wine at the end.

The wine does an excellent job of bringing out all of the key flavor components of this dish.


Second Course

Stir Fried Pork with Red Curry Sauce and Cauliflower Rice

Allimant-Laugner, Alsace Grand Cru “Praelatenberg”, Riesling, 2012

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This is primarily ground pork in a red curry sauce. In classic Thai cuisine this might be served in a lettuce wrap. In this case it served with riced cauliflower in lieu of rice. It has more flavor intensity and texture than the first course, so the wine needs to be a little more body than the previous wine.

In this case there is considerable balance between the flavor and texture of the pork and the flavor intensity of the red curry sauce. Therefore, you can pair the wine to both.

Producer: Domaine Allimant-Laugner

Growing Area: Alsace Grand Cru “Praelatenberg” (the vineyard)

Grape: Riesling

Vintage year: 2012

If you are surprised that I am serving a white wine with this course, keep in mind that Alsatian white wines were designed to go with red meat and wild game, just like Austrian and German white wines. It is an excellent pairing for the pork in combination with the sauce.

This wine has more flavor intensity than the last wine, with less powerful acids, and slightly more palate-weight (viscosity). It shows a strong mineral character (in this case a very observable schist character); malac, citric and succinic acids as well as increased fruit flavor intensity.

Since the sauce and ground pork are mixed together, rather than sauce on top of the pork, you are assured that each bite of food will include both pork and sauce. In addition, the cauliflower adds to the flavor combination with an earthiness and slight bitterness that blends really well with the pork and sauce.

Again, the wine lets you taste the texture and flavor of the pork, the different spices in the sauce attack one after the other and the wine clears the palate for the next bite of food. Both wine and food are in balance so you can taste everything.


Third Course

Grilled Thai Chicken Satay with Cashew Sauce

J. Prüm, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Riesling Kabinett, 2007

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If you consider the classical organization to a dinner that starts with fish, then poultry and then red meat, we would appear to be out of order by doing a fish dish followed by a red meat and then poultry. The reason is because the spices and sauce with the chicken Satay are much richer and sweeter than any of the previous dishes.

Since the combination of spices and sauce dominate this entire meal, it is critical to get the dishes organized based on spices and sauces rather than be overly concerned by proteins. In addition the chicken in this dish is grilled, a cooking technique that can also dominate a dish.

The grilling put grill marks on the chicken, which adds a bitterness to the flavor and wine pairing. The cashew sauce, which is really a peanut sauce using cashews in lieu of peanuts is sweet. These become the dominant characteristics of the dish the wine must complement. However the wine cannot be too sweet or it will leave the dish cloying with sweetness, which is not appropriate.

This was actually the easiest wine to pick for the dinner. A German Kabinett, where Kabinett is the designation for an “off-dry” style of German wine, is ideal to bring out the sweetness without overpowering the food.

Producer: J. J. Prum

Growing Area: Wehlener Sonnenuhr (the vineyard)

Grape: Riesling

Vintage year: 2007

This particular wine is an excellent example of the flexibility of Riesling as a grape and the ability of German wines to work with a very wide range of foods. The residual sugar in the wine is about 2%. This is right in the middle of the “off-dry” zone for wines. Off-dry means a wine shows sweetness, but it is not sweet enough to be a dessert wine. The off-dry zone is roughly between 1% and 4% residual sugar. Dessert wines begin at 4% and can be as high as 32% residual sugar.

The wine will seem quite sweet after the previous two wines, but after a bite of food it will become obvious that the sweetness is in balance with the cashew sauce and you get a nice bitter-sweet contrast between the grilled chicken and the wine.

Also, this wine has an extraordinary balance between sugar and acid. That is, the acid will wash the sugar off your palate and keep it from being cloying. This is a critical structural balance in well made off-dry wines. It carries over to the dish and the acid in the wine will keep the sauce from been cloying on the palate as well.


Dessert Course

Supreme Orange Topped Panna Cotta with Pistachio;s and Tokaji Gelée

Royal Tokaji, Tokaji Aszú “Mézes Maly”, 6 puttonyos, 2007

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As I have said in other blogs, desserts can be a very difficult pairing, especially when there are multiple sources of sweetness in the dessert. Fortunately, this is a very “European” style of dessert, meaning it is not very sweet. In addition the flavors are balanced and you can taste each source of sweetness in the dish (orange, custard, pistachio and gelée).

Custard based desserts, made from heavy cream, can be a difficult pairing because the custard tends to make some dessert wines become “chalky” on the palate. What is needed is a mid range level of sweetness (10% to 15% residual sugar) and enough acidity to wash the heavy cream off the palate. Oranges also need a combination of sugar and acid in the wine. The pistachios add a nice crunchy texture to the dessert, while adding a discernable flavor that adds a little oil and salt to the dish.

The gelée is the easy part. It is made with gelatin, orange juice and the dessert wine we are pouring. Any time you cook with a wine you are serving to drink you are marrying the dish to the wine. Whether it be a wine sauce, a marinade, or in this case a gelée. The gelée helps marry the wine to the food by being the exact same flavors as the wine, only toned down slightly.

Producer: Royal Tokaji

Growing Area: Tokaji, and vineyard “Mézes Maly”, Premier Cru classification

Style: Aszú – 6 puttonyos

Grape: Furmint

Vintage year: 2007

A Tokaji Aszú is one of the world’s oldest and most famous dessert wines. The dessert styles for this wine are 5 and 6 puttonyos as well as Tokaji Essencia (over 10 puttonyos). A puttonyos is a measure of the amount of unfermented grape must added to the wine after it has been produced. The Germans would call unfermented grape must the “sussreserve” when making a dessert wine.

In addition the term Aszú means the grapes have gone through the botrytis cinerea process. That is, the grapes get covered by a fungus (botrytis cinerea) that adds a distinct honey like color, smell and flavor to the wine. Some of the world’s most famous dessert wines, such as French Sauternes, go through the same process.

In this case the wine brings out the richness of the cream, is a wonderful complement to the oranges and pistachios and of course is the same basic flavor as the gelée. A wonderful combination on the palate and a great end to the meal.


Closer

Thai Coconut Coffee Shots with Mint Simple Syrup

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After the wonderful meal, this closer is basically one ounce of shot of coconut milk with espresso coffee and a little mint simple syrup for sweetness. It was garnished with fresh mint leaves. This “closer” was a delicious ending to a “Thai-delicious” dinner!

To date, I think this was one of the more interesting dinners to pair and was certainly flavorful and hit the spot on a hot summer day.


If you have not tried very much Thai food, give these recipes and pairings a try. There are so many different ingredients and wines in the world. Having a broad palate when it comes to food and wine will open the door to new experiences that keep life interesting!

This dinner certainly got the “judge and jury” talking and there was not one single morsel of food or wine left on anyone’s plate or in anyone’s glass at this dinner!

3 thoughts on ““Thai-delicious” 4 Course Wine & Food Pairing Notes

    • Susan,
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