|Sweetness and light
By Peter Grogan
If you’re one of those people for whom the mere presence
of the two concepts ‘sweet’ and ‘wine’ in
a sentence – let alone in a glass – sends a shiver down
the spine, then you’d better sit down. The fact is that Thai
food and off-dry – and, whisper it, even fully sweet wines
– were made for each other. So when you visit the spectacular
new quarters of YumYum on the High Street then you’re really
going to have to give it a go.
You could brace yourself for this experience with a seriously sensuous
‘Thai Silk’ cocktail – but only if the thought
of a mix of dark rum, almonds, orange, apricot, fresh lime and pineapple
doesn’t put you off. Plenty of sweetness there, by the way,
and I don’t hear anybody complaining. (NB it’s the lime
juice that provides the acidity to keep everything from cloying,
of course.) A quick perusal of the new wine list shows it has expanded
at about the same rate as the size of the restaurant and now runs
to around 60 wines in total.
The good burghers of Alsace who started experimenting with the
late harvesting of their grapes in the Middle Ages presumably had
not even a passing acquaintance with galangal and lemon grass, coconut
milk and fish sauce, but what they did with their wines was in a
way similar to what Thai chefs do. By letting their grapes ripen
to maximum sweetness they set up a beguiling balancing act between
this sweetness and the natural acidity of the fruit, between sugars
and sharpness. Something of the same process is at work when a chef
mixes opposing flavours by adding both palm sugar and rice wine
or coconut milk and fish sauce to Thai dishes.
Of the four ‘noble’ Alsace grape varieties, it’s
Gewurztraminer that is generally thought to have the greatest affinity
with oriental food. Quality in Alsace has never come cheap, however,
so to tempt the sceptics among you into trying just one single glass
of wine made from this most idiosyncratic of grapes, Atique has
sourced a South African example at a mere £3.50 (£14.00
bottle). There’s serious body here and enough of the typically
spicy Gewurz nose and luscious lychee flavours to get the point
It’s not taking a great deal for granted to assume that this
point will have been well taken, so your next stop on the list could
be a bottle of Schloss Johannisberger Riesling Spätlese –
which is a bit of a mouthful whichever way you look at it. If a
zesty citrus nose and lovely purity of fruit matched with clean,
tongue-tingling acidity sound good, then the fact that it’s
good value at £29.00 should settle the matter.
In general, as with most restaurants, the further up the price
scale you venture, the lower the mark-ups, so be consoled with this
fact if you spring £44 for the Condrieu ‘La Petite Côte’
from the excellent northern Rhône winemaker Yves Cuilleron.
In no sense a sweet wine, this nonetheless has the long, rounded
apricot flavours typical of the viognier grape. If your concern
is more with the moolah itself rather than the mark-ups, you could
do a lot worse than rub yourself up against the pert and perky Argentinian
Torrontes from Michel Torino (£15.40) – it’s off-dry
with tropical fruit flavours and a lovely flowery nose.
If you decide you want to go the whole hog with the sweetness thing,
you’ll need to know that the last thing on the list is a Canadian
‘ice wine’ from Pelee Island (£39.00 half-bottle).
These wines are made from individually picked grapes harvested so
late in the year – and even into the new year – that
they’re frozen on the vines. Each one gives up a few drops
of super-concentrated nectar, which explains not only the price
but also the stunning loveliness of the wine.