Best wines with Asian food? It’s a Thai

Pairing Asian food with wine has traditionally been a slightly tricky affair with many of us sticking to the tried and tested beer route. This month The Journal has teamed up with Jacques Scott and the Thai Orchid to appreciate that there is a whole host of interesting wines out there that enhance the delectably clean and spicy flavours of the East (and yes – even a couple of reds made the cut as well!)

The success of the Thai Orchid has largely been based upon the authenticity of its cuisine, with Thai chefs bringing their incomparable knowledge and experience to the table for every guest.
The restaurant was therefore an excellent base for us to properly test the exciting wines (mostly blends) that Jacques Scott’s Lee Royle and Sergio Serrano had brought along in an attempt to educate the tastebuds into realising that wine can be a perfect match for Asian food.

The Thai Orchid’s effervescent owner/manager Suladda (who also runs the Touch of Thai salon) and the restaurant’s gracious Woody Sriling joined us for lunch, a busy thriving Wednesday when the restaurant was heaving with clientele, even on this quiet mid-September day.

Woody presented us with a fabulous display of succulent sushi and sashimi to get the tastebuds well and truly whetted, with both raw and cooked fish sublimely aligned, tucked into neat little seaweed rolls also filled with popular sushi fillings such as avocado and rice. The traditional accoutrements that are guaranteed to turn up the heat on any sushi plate – intensely green wasabi paste and pale pink ginger slivers – created a taste and texture sensation that only Asian food can produce. What on earth could possibly be drunk with such a taste explosion?

Sergio has the answer: “Oroya (CI$15.99) is a wine made in Spain especially for sushi. It’s a blend made from Airén, Macabeo and Muscat grapes made by a Japanese born winemaker called Yoko Sato who now lives in Spain and spends her time crafting the perfect wine for sushi.”

Sergio says the wine, which is sourced entirely from the Tierra De Castilla region of Spain, is crisp, fruit forward and, with the slight sweetness from the Muscat, creates a delicious accompaniment to the fresh sushi.

Indeed, the wine, somewhat to my surprise, really did accentuate the sweet silkiness of the lush fish while at the same time iron out the harsh intensity of both the ginger and the wasabi. An incredibly hit.

Our table was then graced by four of the Thai Orchid’s top selling appetisers – chicken and vegetable spring rolls and deep fried shrimp, both served with sweet chilli dipping sauce, a fresh and zingy mango salad with a citrus-filled dressing and the ubiquitous chicken dumplings (otherwise known as potstickers).

Three whites were poured so that we could ascertain which met their match when it came to the spicy (but not overly) dishes.

Evolution (CI$19.99) made by Oregon winery Sokol Blosser, is a blend of no less than nine varietals – Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Semillon, Sylvaner, Muller Thurgau, Muscat, Chardonnay, Riesling and Gewürztraminer.

“This wine is a really interesting blend. It’s got a lovely fruity, fragrant nose and a crisp finish that is just made for Asian food,” Lee confirms.

The wine was very much a winner, pairing nicely with the deep fried appetisers before and after they were dipped in the sweet orange sauce delicately laden with just a touch of chilli. The steamed dumplings, when dipped into their own spicy soy-based sauce also demanded the fresh crispness of the wine.

The rather naughtily names Menage à Trois (CI$15.99) is an exciting wine that, as the name hints, is comprised of three grapes: Chardonnay, Muscat and Chenin Blanc. Again, the slight sweetness from the Muscat grape gives this wine the ability to marry beautifully with the appetisers. 

Lee gives some background: “Winemakers Folie à Deux are based in California’s Napa Valley and are intent on creating exciting blends that are affordable and interesting. They produce a red, a white and a rosé in their Menage à Trois range, all equally as interesting and fruit forward as the other.”

Third on our list of whites was a Chenin Blanc (CI$10.95), from South Africa’s Winery of Good Hope, an interesting choice given the wine’s oak aging, not necessarily a feature that usually matches with Asia cuisine. In truth, this wine, as lively and fruity as it is, was only really a winner with the mango salad and could not do justice to the spice of the other dishes.

In a daring move, Lee also produced two reds for us to try alongside the Thai Orchid’s mains, again favourite choices brought to the table by Woody, the ever gracious host. We tucked into the ever-popular Phad Thai noodles with shrimp, a magnificently displayed snapper Phad King served with fresh ginger and pineapple, a deeply spicy red seafood combo flavoured with chilli, garlic and sweet basil, and a succulently juicy beef salad. Each dish provided its own unique glimpse into this most delicious of cuisines. 

Sticking with the Menage à Trois (CI$15.99) range, we enjoyed the red blend, made from an unusual combination of Zinfandel, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Lee says: “This is a silky and soft wine, again with lots of fruit on the nose and the palate, a great wine to serve with grilled meats as well as Asian food with a spicy kick.”

Even though some of the mains had their spice levels ramped a bit higher than the appetisers (especially with the light sprinkling of extra chilli sauce kindly provided by Woody), the wine still came out as a lovely match, tempering the heat of the dish and enhancing the flavours with its fruity notes. The gentle tannin from the Cabernet Sauvignon grape rounded out the wine nicely in the palate.

Sergio gives some background to the next wine: “Meditrina (CI$18.95) is another exciting blend of red wine grapes – this time Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Syrah – and is also made by Oregon winemakers Sokol Blosser. Meditrina, named after the Roman goddess of wine and health, blends the lushness of Syrah with the spicy tannins of Zinfandel along with the earthy elegance of the Pinot Noir grape, creating a fruity and delicious wine.”

Again, the fruit forwardness of this wine was a hit with the cuisine and an excellent choice.

Spoilt for choice at the end of the meal, Woody brought us four of the Thai Orchid’s most delectable desserts (although I would imagine they are all up there on the deliciousness levels) we dived into Bailey’s cheesecake, Suladda’s bread pudding and her own sticky toffee pudding, as well as a densely chocolaty cake, as if we had not been fed for a week.

“People often come here after they’ve been out for dinner just for our desserts!” Woody confirms, and I could half understand why, but why would you want to miss out on the rest of the meal?

Staying true to the end, the reds in particular did perfect justice to the sweet end of this most interesting foray into wine pairing with Asian cuisine. So next time you are in the mood for some spicy Far Eastern food, look just a bit further than the beer isle and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.