Many people do not associate Vietnamese food with wine but think again. First what makes Vietnamese food special? It’s those fragrant elements which play an important role in just about every dish in the Vietnamese cuisine canon. Each dish could really have its own bottled fragrance. L’eau de Pho would be redolent of mint, cilantro, lemongrass, garlic, star anise, and ginger, with long-simmered beef bones, tear-inducing chilies, and the essential drops of fish sauce. If you are thinking of Vietnamese food for dinner be adventurous and order at least half a dozen different dishes and share with friends over a selection of wine. Now what would be the perfect wine to pair with these fragrant dishes?
The range of flavors from spicy to sweet, to salty then sour variations within each bite can make pairing even more confusing. White wines, in general pair well, but dry Rieslings, dry Gewurztraminer, dry Rosés, many Viogniers, and Champagne (or Sparkling Whites or Rosés not from Champagne) are best because these wines tend to have a crisp, brightness, as well as a touch of sweetness that goes with the varying delicate, strong and often spicy Asian flavors. They combine well with hot, chili flavors. Particularly the slight sweetness of the dry Rieslings and Gewurztraminer handle the spiciness very well. They seem to cleanse ones palate of some of the flames, so that as you eat and sip, your mouth goes “Oooh!” “Ahhh” “Oooh!” “Ahhh!” It becomes a beautiful dance of fire and refreshment.
The heavier, fatty, salty meat dishes have always been complimented by reds
The reds that tend to work best are Syrahs, Pinot Noir, many Rhone reds (go Gigondas and Chateauneuf de Pape!), and the occasional Zinfandel.
Three favourite Vietnamese Dishes with wine:
Bo La Lot (Grilled Beef wrapped in Wild Betal Leaves)
One of our favorite dishes calls for one of our favorite wines, the spunky, brash and peppery Zinfandel. Well, maybe not an over-the-top Zin, but a tasty well balanced Zinfandel. The la lot leaves (for those who haven’t tried them yet) have a unique, peppery quality, which combined with the beef and the smokiness from the grilling lead up to this Zin – Bo La Lot pairing. Pinot Noir or most all red Rhone blends would also be great. I really like a nice Gigondas with the Bo La Lot. Dry rosés are good to, especially in summer, and a Sauvignon blanc to compliment the peppery la lot is a nice choice for a white wine.
Mizuna Mustard Green and Shrimp Salad
With the nuoc cham based dressing, a dry Riesling (or Gewurztraminer) is a great choice. Sauvignon blanc, Champagne (particularly a Rosé), or a dry rose wine would also be winners. The Riesling (or Gewurztraminer) is the ideal choice, though, for a couple reasons. The sweetness of the shrimp is easier to pair with any of the aforementioned wines, but the spiciness of the nuoc cham complicate matters a bit. However, the Riesling is up to both challenges and shines with this dish.
Black Pepper Pork Banh Mi
For this one we might lean more towards a fruitier red. Something like a Syrah, or Pinot Noir. Of course, Champagne (particularly a Rosé Champ.) or a dry rosé would also be yummy.