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The ‘Songkran’ or Thai New Year celebrations, which take place from 13-15 April, are famous for their spectacular water fights but no Thai celebration would be complete without a feast.
The predominant tastes of Thai food are sweet, sour, hot and salty – slightly different from the warm spicing of many Indian curries or the more fragrant, herbal notes of Vietnamese. As with other Asian cuisines, dishes are served at the same time rather than in succession – a typical selection being a salad, a soup, a deep-fried or steamed dish, a stir-fry and a curry – a daunting task for any wine!
So first of all, what not to drink: a full-bodied tannic red! Why? Well simply because the chilli heat will emphasise the tannins creating an uncomfortably spicy sensation in your mouth. And the sweetness of many Thai dishes can make a classic red seem lean and mean.
What you need is an unoaked white wine that has a bit of sweetness and spice of its own and for that you need to look no further than Alsace, the unique wine region in the far east of France.
Unlike many French wines, Alsace wines are easy to understand because they’re named after the grape variety they’re made from. The best known varieties are smooth, fresh Pinot Blanc (a great alternative for Chardonnay lovers); elegant, crisp Riesling (pictured left); Pinot Gris (a musky, sensual relative of Pinot Grigio); and one of the world’s most spectacular grape varieties: the exotic, lychee-scented Gewurztraminer. As an introduction you’ll find that supermarket own brands are great value.
Top ‘grand cru’ versions of these wines, which you’ll find mainly in independent and on-line wine merchants as well as in the best Thai restaurants, tend to come from one single exceptional vineyard and have an intense purity of flavour and crisp acidity which stands up surprisingly well to the hot and sour flavours of Thai food.
Then there are some sumptuously sweet Alsace wines, labelled Vendanges Tardives (late picked) or Sélections de Grains Nobles, which go wickedly well with exotic Thai fruit salads and coconut milk-based desserts.
So which one to pick? Well, obviously it depends partly on your own preference but also on the overall heat and temperature of the meal. Authentic recipes will generally be hotter and spicier than ones you make at home. A relatively mild noodle dish such as Pad Thai or grilled chicken marinated in Thai spices for example is a good match for an Alsace Pinot Blanc, a wine that also makes a great aperitif. Or with Crémant d’Alsace, the region’s sparkling wine.
Thai-spiced seafood and salads? Alsace Riesling with its perfectly pitched acidity is the ideal choice, especially with Thai crab cakes, prawns and other light dishes seasoned with the characteristic citrussy, herby flavours of lemongrass, lime-leaf and coriander.
Rich creamy coconut-based curries work well with Alsace’s richer wines, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer. Try top favourite Thai green chicken or vegetable curry with a Pinot Gris and richer red curries such as Thai red duck curry or spicy ‘jungle’ curries with an exotic ‘Gewurz’, as it’s affectionately known.
So, it’s not so difficult after all then! Just remember lighter dishes with crisper, drier whites such as Pinot Blanc and Riesling; spicier ones with more intensely flavoured whites with a touch more sweetness like Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer. And remember Alsace wines are a reliable, value-for-money choice in Thai and other ethnic restaurants. Chefs love them because they flatter their food!
For more information visit www.alsacewine.com