Monday, March 2, 2009

Basil And Springfield Team Up For Wine Dinner In Bangkok


Basil Thai Restaurant In Bangkok

Basil Thai Restaurant In Bangkok

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There are many cuisines that are readily adaptable to the practice of pairing wine with food but Thai cuisine has never really been considered to be one of them by many food and wine experts. At a recent wine dinner that featured Springfield wines from South Africa at the Basil restaurant in the Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit Hotel in Bangkok, however, a small step was taken to disprove that notion. It wasn’t a large step but it was one that pointed the way towards being able to pair wines with some Thai dishes, something I have not seen done successfully before.

The major problem with pairing wines with Thai food is, in my opinion, the challenge of finding a wine that will work with the multiple flavors that are the trademark of most Thai dishes. With many western dishes the challenge is much easier. A beef dish or a fish or poultry dish, for example, will generally have one or two dominant flavors that can be matched to a particular wine that will accentuate and enhance the flavors on the plate. A Thai dish, on the other hand, can have four or five strong flavors – and usually does since that is one of the cornerstones of Thai cuisine – making the selection of wine much more difficult. How do you find a wine that can complement all of these flavors?

I’ve attended wine diners in the past that attempted to pair wines with Thai foods but they mostly just succeeded in displaying how desperate winemakers were to promote their wines as being compatible with Thai food so as to boost their sales here. I was never convinced that the pairings that were presented were, in fact, done successfully and in most cases the results were just plain bad.

I came away from this dinner at Basil with a slightly changed attitude. I’m not completely sold on the broad notion that wines can be successfully paired with Thai food because I think that there are many Thai dishes that will never be compatible with wine. Cold beer, yes. Wine, no. However, the people behind the wine dinner at Basil – F&B Director Giuseppe Fornillo and  Basil Chef Thanida Lamba along with Springfield winemaker Jeanette Bruwer – managed to put together a six-dish meal that featured some of the winery’s more interesting wines along with some of Chef Thanida’s contemporary interpretations of Thai food in a way that made sense.

To really pair up well with Thai dishes the wine that is accompanying them must have strong identities and well-developed characteristics. Weak, wishy-washy wines need not apply for this task. As such, the vineyard’s Firefinch Sauvignon Blanc 2007 that started off the night, with its crisp, citrus overtones was a match for the appetizer course which consisted of three dishes that featured both tart and sweet flavors – deep-fried crispy spring rolls that included a sweet dipping sauce, a spicy prawn salad with green apples and a tart mango salad with crispy-fried cotton fish. The wine worked well with all of these dishes as the flavors were concentrated and the wine was strong and well-defined.

The next two courses featured seafood – snowfish and seabass – with the snowfish as part of a spicy sweet soup and the steamed seabass accompanied by lemongrass and vegetables. The smooth nature of the Wild Yeast Chardonnay 2005 that was served with them also worked well, surprisingly for me, because I didn’t think that the wine would match well with the spiciness and sweetness of the soup. Perhaps it was the subtle pineapple and pear flavors in the wine that helped out.

The last two dishes of the evening were a grilled lamb rack with a mussaman curry and grilled rib-eye beef with a sweet basil sauce. These are by no means traditional Thai dishes although the sweetish mussaman curry from the south of Thailand is a mainstay dish from this region and, of course, basil is a common Thai herb, as you can surely tell, given the restaurant’s name. However, these dishes are contemporary versions of Thai cuisine and, it must be said, superbly done. No matter, since the wines, the Whole Berry Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 with the lamb and the Work of Time 2002 (a blend of four grapes: cabernet franc, merlot, petit verdot and cabernet) with the rib-eye were both well suited to their respective dishes. The touch of sweetness with the lamb was offset by the depth of the cabernet and the sweet basil sauce was also complemented well by the beautifully-blended Work of Time.

What this dinner proved is that there is a way to put together great combinations of food and wine using Thai dishes. Not just any combinations will work but a carefully thought-out menu put together with well-made wines of strong character can succeed. This dinner represents a small step that could lead to more successes in this type of endeavor. I doubt, however, that anyone can come up with a wine that will make som tam taste better. Sorry, if you don’t know what this Thai staple is. You’ll have to look it up.


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