Easy, tangy, spicy bowl of comfort
Recipe: Lazy 1-Pot Tom Yum Soup (Vegan)
Bottle: 2018 Dönnhoff Oberhäuser Leistenberg Kabinett Riesling (Vegan Friendly!)
I hate to admit it, but I was a late arrival to the "I love Thai food" camp. Looking back, I have no idea why I was previously opposed to it in high school and childhood; I have always loved spicy and savory foods, so I am not sure why I did not develop a taste for the explosively flavorful Thai dishes earlier on.
Well, when I finally got my act together and tried Tom Yum Soup in San Francisco back in 2013, I was floored. How could one dish be so tangy, spicy, pungent, savory, and just all around wonderful?! I am thoroughly shocked that I went so many years before trying it. Better late than never I guess.
Anyways, since my Thai awakening 6 years ago, I have enjoyed exploring the huge variety of flavor available in Thai cuisine and have been consistently floored by their deliciousness. I was fortunate to live in Portland, Oregon, for a few years, and I relished going to Pok Pok or Nong's Khao Man Gai - legends in the Portland food scene.
It seems that every few weeks or so, regardless of the season or weather, I get a craving for Tom Yum in particular. Sometimes I have it with wine, but other times I will have it with Singha or tea. On the occassions when it is wine, I have my favorite go-to: German Riesling.
If you see wine paired with Thai food, it is almost always Riesling, and, more often than not, a sweet Riesling at that. I think that this later part is somewhat of a mistake when pairing with Tom Yum. While I do enjoy the sweeter end of the Riesling spectrum as well, I think that this particular dish pairs better with an off-dry Riesling that falls somewhere between the sickly sweet and the terrifyingly dry.
My Recommendation - German Riesling
A classic pairing with many Asian dishes, Riesling can indeed vary drastically from austere and dry to lucious and sweet. German Riesling pairs so well with Thai food partly because its tasting notes act as an amplifier for various important herbs and spices in the dishes, such as ginger, shallots, thai basil, and coconut. With such a breadth of variety, any pairing recommendation that focuses on Riesling will typically come with a regional or varietal disclaimer of some sort, refining or limiting the recommendation to a specific subset. This in true in this instance as well, as I would like refine my recommendation to Riesling from the Nahe region in particular.
This is do in part to the spicy heat that can be inherent in the dish. The perceived spiciness of foods tends to increase with alcohol, which is why a German Riesling with typically less than 12% alcohol can be a must less painful pairing. Further, spicy foods tend to mask a certain amount of residual sugar in wine, and instead bring out any fruit notes that may be hiding behind the sweetness. Tom Yum, while it can be prepared in a spicy manner, is not typically the spiciest of dishes. Therefore, I think that a sickly sweet Riesling would be a bit overkill and the moderate heat of the dish would fail to reveal the fruit characters within. Nahe Riesling, on the other hand, are more commonly off-dry and acidic, which pairs beautifully with the moderate spice of the Tom Yum.
Why Nahe over Mosel (or other German regions)?
Historically, Riesling from the Mosel has been among the most desirable in Germany, and throughout the world. In recent years, however, Nahe Rieslings have begun to close the gap, attaining global recognition for their off-dry iterations of the varietal. Riesling grown in both regions are very similar when crafted in an off-dry style, though those from the Mosel previously had focused more on the sweeter variations.
Why this bottle in particular?
The Dönnhoff family, which owns and operates Weingut Hermann Dönnhoff, has been producing wine in the region since 1750. Needless to say, they are a more than a bit familiar with the ins-and-outs of growing award-winning Riesling in the Nahe. In fact, wine importer Terry Theise, in his annual report on the next German wine vintage, awarded his highest recognition ("Wine of the Vintage") to this bottle in particular! In Theise's own words:
The award goes to……(drum-roll)…..Dönnhoff, whose “little” Kabinett from the Leistenberg shows every conceivable virtue of great German Riesling in a form thought to be a little appetizer to lead into the more “serious” range of Spätlesen. But believe me, nothing is more serious than the tiny diamond of greatness that is this prismatic and rapturous Kabinett.
If Theise's soaring review is not enough, Dönnhoff's wines are VEGAN! Also, consider the growing conditions of the vineyard itself. The Leistenberg vineyard sits in a small valley outside Oberhausen in the Nahe, with soils comprised of gray, carbon-laced decomposed argillaceous slate that help keep the vines well-drained and warm with their above-average heat retention and drainage. This soil type, combined with slightly less rains and warmer weather than their Mosel neighbors to the north, lends itself more readily to the production of world-class off-dry Rieslings.
This 2018 Oberhäuser Leistenberg Kabinett leaps out of the glass with aromas of lime, peaches, tropical fruit, and wet stone, which greatly highlight the lime, lemongrass, and green curry paste in the dish. On the palate, the wine is full-bodied and viscous, with further stonefruit and citrus alongside overwhelming minerality. These palatal tasting notes enhance the depth of flavor on the Tom Yum soup, bringing out the cilantro, ginger, and garlic that give this dish its earthy, peppery edges. Finally, the wine is beautifully acidic, stopping just short of those overly acidic wines that make your mouth water with every sip. Practically responding to the call of the acidity, the tomatoes make their presence known, rounding out the dish and increasing its tangy brightness.
The more bites and sips that I take, the more that it feels like this wine and soup are performing a delicate dance - the spice of the thai chili peppers begins to burn just as the peach and mango of the Riesling begin to come out from hiding; the lemongrass aromas start to clear my nostrils exactly as the lusciousness of the wine cleanses the palate. It is a delightful experience. There are few wines that I think would be better paired with this dish, and few dishes that would pair better with this wine. Tom Yum soup and Nahe Riesling are lovers locked in the most intricate and beautiful dance. My only regret? Not buying more Oberhäuser Leistenberg Kabinett...
Other Great Choices
Whites: German Riesling (off-dry), Grenache Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris, Grüner Veltliner, Chenin Blanc
Reds: Zweigelt, Pinot Noir, Beaujolais Cru
Sparkling: Blanc de Noirs Champagne, Sparkling Rose
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