Sunday marked not only the start of the Chinese New Year but the Vietnamese New Year celebrations too - known as Tet. As in China there are certain foods which are traditional to the occasion such as pickled vegetables and candied fruits, none of which are particularly wine-friendly but in general I find Vietnamese food, with its milder heat and fragrant herbal flavours easier to match than Thai (although I haven’t had such extensive experience of doing so).
The wine I’ve generally found works best is Austrian Grüner Veltliner, a combination I discovered a good few years ago now at The Slanted Door in San Francisco. It’s own slightly herbal, green pepper character seems to complement the herbal notes in many Vietnamese dishes perfectly. I notice however from their website that they strongly recommend German Riesling.
Their whites are intriguingly divided up by style into herbal (Grüner Veltliner, Sauvignon Blanc and Alsace Pinot Blanc), floral/dry (Austrian Riesling, Muscat and Gewürztraminer), ‘Minerally, Floral Wines from Germany’ and Rich Whites (whites from the Rhône, Alsace Pinot Gris and Vouvray demi-sec). They don’t generally list new world Chardonnays “because of their high alcohol, flabby structure and an overpowering oak character which is bitter when paired with Vietnamese food.” (So there!)
Reds they recommend include Loire Cabernet Franc, ‘supple Northern Italian reds’, cru Beaujolais, softer Northern Rhône Syrah and Pinot Noir (the latter a recommendation of my fellow wine writer Malcolm Gluck who put together the wine list at the London Vietnamese restaurant Cay Tre and Viet Grill).
You can experiment with more ambitious pairings at Tan Dinh in Paris which offers a connoisseur wine menu. You can read an interesting feature about it on the Michelin website www.viamichelin.co.uk
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