Partnering wine with Thai food can be vexing particularly with the overwhelming preference Thai’s have for red wine.That said any number of pinot noirs and merlots found on most local retail shelves are reliable options owing to their lower levels of tannin compared to cabernets and syrahs. It’s tannin, that compound in red wine making your mouth pucker, that tends to accentuate hot pepper spices found in many Thai dishes. White wines are usually safer bets for enjoying everything on a Thai table whether it includes red meat, chicken or fish. New Zealand’s famous sauvignon blanc with its piquant acidity and herbal flavors holds its own with som tam as well as tom yum gung. Rieslings are also versatile complements to not only seafood but barbecued meats of all colors. And don’t forget often shunned rosés regardless of parentage which can perk up nearly anything a buffet presents.

New Zealand has given a fresh bright face to red and white wines in their relatively short three decades on the world wine stage. Some 600 commercial wineries are spread between the 1000 mile stretch of the North and South Islands. South Island’s Marlborough region brought international credibility to the country’s wines with its Cloudy Bay sauvignon blanc now owned by luxury goods French company LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy). Producing the equivalent of 125,000 cases or 1.2 million 750ml bottles annually Cloudy Bay is small compared to Pernod Ricard’s giant 4 million case Montana wines, marketed here as Brancott Estate. While a few dozen large producers dominate New Zealand’s space on global retailer’s shelves the vast majority of the country’s wines are “lifestyle wineries” making 2000 to 30,000 cases annually. Among them are former Tokyo banker turned oenologist Yoshiaki Sato and wife Kyoko, owners of Sato Wines. Emigrating from Japan in 2007 to pursue their love of wine and a rural lifestyle the Sato’s bought property in South Island’s Central Otago region where they planted their first vineyard in 2009.

He was in Bangkok recently to taste and discuss his organically produced wines with several potential restaurant clients including David Thompson’s award winning Nahm at the Metropolitan hotel. A stellar luncheon featuring Thai specialties was a made-to-order seminar in wine and food marriage.  

Sato presented his ’14 chardonnay paired with Nahm’s prawns with wild almonds & kafir lime accompanied by pork and lobster salad with ginger and citron. Minimal oak let the natural chardonnay flavors come forward to ease flawlessly into the spices and seasonings of the multi-dish salads. Hot & sour soup of prawn and wild mushrooms plus kingfish with pomelo and lemongrass posed a wine challenge met perfectly by Sato’s ’14 pinot gris “L’atypique.” The atypical wine was fermented on the skins resulting in an orange hue then aged 14 weeks in oak. Medium bodied with clean dry finish—perfection with the typical Thai fare.

Choices of curry of oxtail with nutmeg, ginger and eggplant or steamed coral trout with yellow beans and pickled garlic were the perfect options for Sato’s favorite wine,’14 pinot noir. Subtle red berry flavors and full round finish melded flawlessly with Nahm’s creative menu. Bravo to both! Sato’s wines are or soon will be on several premium wine lists in Thailand. More at Nahm is open for lunch and dinner. Reservations recommended at 02 625 3333.  

By R. James Mullen