Wolfgang Weber on Wines for Thai

Posted on Mar 1, 2013 by Luke Sykora

After a stint as a Senior Editor and critic at Wine & Spirits, Wolfgang Weber joined Revel, a broker that focuses on small-production, artisanal wines, mostly from the West Coast. When his favorite Thai restaurant, Lers Ros, opened a new location, he found himself on yet another side of the wine business: managing a wine program. Luke Sykora asked him how that came about, and what wines go with Thai.

I would take wine all the time to drink at the original location on Larkin Street. I got to know the owners and eventually suggested they add a wine list. And they did, although not the kind of list you’d think they’d have. In talking with them, they pointed out that there are some younger Thai people with some money that come in and happily order up expensive cabernet, which didn’t occur to me.

When they were opening the new location, I was nervous about them having the Larkin Street list over in Hayes Valley—just that it was not the right fit for the neighborhood. The Hayes Valley dining crowd—I’ve watched that wine scene evolve over the last thousand years, from when I was working at [now-closed] Hayes and Vine. I thought: you could do a really interesting small list, more tailored to the food, and do well with that. We talked and they let me have free reign to run it.

The idea was: super short, 21 wines max, most available by the glass. And since there’s no one on the floor [focused on wine], I organized it by rough flavor profile, rather than by geography or variety. So you could look at a page and say: I like crisp, minerally whites, this is $8 per glass, I’ll take that.

The rules were: everything had to cost the consumer $50 or less, and I wanted to throw a little bit of the artisan-involved thing in there. To work with independent wineries or smaller independent distributors. And another little rule for myself was: For years we’ve been trained to think that aromatic whites like riesling and gewürztraminer—that’s the perfect paring with Thai, and I wanted to explore other pairings that are possible. I went to lighter reds from the Loire, northern Rhône, Spain and Portugal. A lot of the food has ingredients like young peppercorns, and some of that translates well to red wine.

Is there a particular wine lately that’s been especially versatile?

There’s a white wine slot on the list I’ve come to call the “non-chardonnay, not necessarily sauvignon blanc and definitely not riesling white.” That most recently has been occupied by some Italian wines. Like a white from Borgo di Colleredo, a blend of trebbiano, bombino bianco and malvasia. That was a fun, versatile match, with a textural component that worked well with food, aromatic aspects from muscat that gave lift, pretty good acid and no new oak. Riesling and gewürztraminer don’t always go with everything. Some might have too much sweetness, others might be too spicy. And there’s actually a lot of red on the list…

What kinds of reds do best with Thai food, and do people actually buy them?

A Quinta da Saes red from the Dão in Portugal did really well. I’m sure part of that was price [it’s the least-expensive wine on the list], but it’s one of those bright, medium-bodied, fresh red wines. I’ve been seeing this around town—that sort of medium-weight, brighter, fresher red is getting a lot of play. It’s cheap enough that when somebody orders a glass, and it’s delicious, they order a second one. The Domaine Mucyn syrah/gamay blend from the northern Rhône did well too—not much more expensive, a little darker in color, a little more violety and floral, but still minimal oak, really fresh and vibrant.

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