Sometimes it seems the art of pairing wine with food is a kind of sorcery—a mysterious leather-bound book arrives to the table filled with esoteric terms and mystical names from faraway worlds, and it’s up to you to figure out how to add more magic to your meal with the perfect variety of wine. Now throw in the Asian food factor—which still confounds many a sommelier—and you really have an oenophilic puzzle.
I’ve attempted to decipher Asian food-and-wine pairings in the past with sommeliers like Alice Hama, the head somm for the famous Crustacean in Beverly Hills who specialize in Asian cuisine. I learned quite a bit from that lesson, especially when it comes to Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese fare. However, Thai food wasn’t in the equation, and with its notoriously spicy dishes and sweet creamy curries, this Asian genre covers a broad gamut and can prove to be as slippery as khao soi noodles.
To help decipher that culinary puzzle, I called on WSA/NASA Silver Pin-certified sommelier Courtney Walsh at Ayara Thai to guide me through the daunting yet delicious decision-making process. Here are the special wines she chose to go with some of Thai food’s greatest hits for when you want to Thai one on.
For fried dishes and curries: Robert Serol Turbelent Sparkling Rosé Gamay
“Perhaps the most versatile wine on the list, it is also the only non-domestic wine we chose to feature. A pet-nat (or method ancestrale) sparkler of Gamay from the Cote Roannaise, this wine is absolutely fantastic with such a wide range of flavors and spice levels that it was an obvious choice for me to add to the list. It’s incredibly low alcohol (8%) with just a small degree of residual sugar, making it just a touch off dry. This ends up adding a nice roundness on the palate, helping to absorb a lot of the spicy flavors, yet the wine still has incredibly racy acidity, which makes it delightful with fried dishes and curries.”
For summer rolls: Brooks Amycas (Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Muscat, Pinot Gris)
“When choosing which white wines to pair with Thai food, Riesling is always an obvious choice, but we wanted to venture a bit outside of the traditional German/Austrian single varietal bottlings. A blend of all domestic fruit (from Oregon), Brooks’ Amycas is inspired by the traditional Edelzwicker wines from Alsace, also known as ‘noble blends.’ As Ayara’s dishes are also inspired by traditional Thai recipes but utilize local ingredients, I thought it was a great complement both literally and conceptually. Not to mention the wine’s wonderful floral aromatics complement so many of the incredibly aromatic Thai dishes.”
For spicy papaya salad: Precedent Chenin Blanc
“Chenin Blanc is one of my favorite white varieties that does not seem to get as much love as it deserves. Able to be vinified in a variety of styles and levels of sweetness, Chenin also makes an incredibly versatile wine when it comes to pairing a wide range of flavors, and Precedent makes an absolutely killer version from vineyards up in Lodi. As most diners who come to Ayara order a variety of dishes in a family style manner, I wanted to select a wine that would complement the entire table’s selection. The wine is vinified dry but still has a lovely richness on the palate, complemented by mouthwatering acidity—this wine and the spicy papaya salad are a match made in heaven.”
For salmon curries: Poe Rose
“Rosés are always a great go-to option when it comes to Thai food as the crisp acidity alongside the soft red fruit and floral components serve to provide a nice balance to a lot of the intense flavors. This particular rosé is a blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, a variety not often found outside of the Champagne region it hails from, and both varieties were picked specifically for rosé production unlike many of the saignee-method rosés that are produced more as an afterthought. Incredibly quaffable on its own, we loved this wine with some of the lighter fare options on the menu such as the Spring Rolls and the Salmon Curry.”
For pad see ew: Broc Cellars Counoise
“I am incredibly biased in this winery’s favor as I absolutely love everything Broc Cellars is making right now. That being said, this 100% Counoise still managed to surprise me with its incredible depth of flavor while still remaining light and vibrant on its feet. Another rare variety generally only seen in Rhone style blends, Broc Cellars works with a Mendocino vineyard to produce a wine that offers an intriguing blend of both red and dark fruits, gorgeous purple flower notes, and some pepper spice that practically explode from the glass. The wine makes for an excellent pairing with some of the dishes with stronger, more pungent flavors, such as a number of the curries and noodle dishes.”
For “When Tigers Cry” beef: Harrington Carignane
“And finally, the last wine to round out the list is the Carignane by Harrington Wines that come from the incredibly old-vine (think Depression-era) Lover’s Lane vineyard, also located in Mendocino. Harrington Wines is a smaller production operation that focuses on all organic and sustainably grown vineyards and work with a number of unusual domestic varieties, and this Carignane is one of my favorites of the winery. A bit beefy in weight but with a very soft tannic structure, the wine’s savory notes of dark fruit and fresh herbs alongside the pretty juicy acidity, made it an excellent companion for Ayara’s ‘When Tigers Cry’ beef dish.”
Araya Thai, 6245 W 87th St., 310-410-8848