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This Week: Northern Thai



Matching wine to cuisines it isn't traditionally drunk with--Caribbean, Latin American, Asian, etc--is the focus of this periodic feature, in which we pick a BYO restaurant, sample a few dishes, and recommend some wines.

Sticky Rice Thai

4018 N. Western | 773-588-0133

Nok thawt kra-thiam phrik thai (deep-fried quail in garlic-and-pepper sauce) 1


Kung phan hawy (shrimp pate wrapped around sugarcane skewers, with sweet-and-sour sauce) 2, 4


Hawy "shell" phat phrik thai awn (spicy scallop stir-fry with green peppercorns) 3, 5


Phat kra-phroa tao-huu het (holy basil stir-fry with tofu and mushrooms) 4


Phat phet pet paa (spicy stir-fry with duck and vegetables) 6


Sticky Rice Thai has everything you'll find at your corner Thai joint--pot stickers, shu mai, curry dishes, pad thai--but it also has an extensive menu (ask for the English translation) of hard-to-find northern Thai dishes like khaw muu yang (grilled pork neck), luuk chin ping (grilled and fried meatballs), and khanom jiin naam ngiaw (pork and cubed-pork-blood curry with vermicelli, fermented beans, and dried flowers). Pairing wines here was a challenge because of this cuisine's complex blend of flavors: most dishes are dominated by hot chiles, brown sugar, coconut milk, and salty fish sauce. Crisp, acidic whites work with most items, but a handful call for a light, fruity red. The consulting wine expert on this trip was Tom Powers, director of beverage service and education for the KDK Restaurant Group (Marche, Gioco, Opera, Red Light, and others).

1. 1999 Prager Smaragd Gruner Veltliner (Wachau Valley, Austria), $20. This delicious full-bodied white comes from the banks of the Danube in the town of Weissenkirchen. It is astoundingly complex, with layers of honey, apricots, quince, and minerals, and easy to pair with many different kinds of food. Its moderate acidity cuts through the richness and gaminess of the deep-fried quail, which is intensely seasoned with garlic and pepper and in turn makes the wine taste fruitier. (Sam's)

2. 2003 Domaine de Pouy, Cotes des Gascogne (Cotes de Gascogne, France), $7-$9. This deep yellow wine is produced in southwestern France from a blend of lesser-known grapes: ugni blanc (commonly used in cognac), colombard, and petit gros manseng. It tastes like lemon and grapefruit, with a mild grassiness and hints of tart green apple and white peach. Its moderate residual sugar (the sugar left behind after fermentation) makes it a good match for the shrimp pate wrapped around mildly sweet sugarcane skewers. It's acidic enough to counter the saltiness of the shrimp and the spiciness of the chiles in the accompanying sweet-and-sour sauce but doesn't overwhelm any of the flavors. The shrimp's saltiness brings out the wine's peach and apricot flavors. (Binny's, Kafka, Sam's)

3. 2001 Kuentz-Bas Riesling (Alsace, France), $17.50. This very dry Riesling is full of lemon and lime flavors. Alsace's limestone-and-clay soil gives it a mineral aroma and a mild taste of flint, distinguishing it from its sweeter German counterparts. The peppercorns in the spicy scallop stir-fry taste milder with this wine, which lets the scallops' slight sweetness come through, and bring out the wine's otherwise barely perceptible sweet peach flavor. (Trotter's to Go)

4. 2001 Trimbach Reserve Pinot Gris (Alsace, France), $16-$17. Pinot gris, also known as pinot grigio, gets its name from the gray ("gris") color of the grapes' skin. The cool climate of Alsace allows grapes to ripen slowly, which is what gives this wine its pear, peach, apricot, and honey flavors. The region's mineral-rich soil adds overtones of slate and earth. An ideal match for fish and shellfish, this wine goes great with the shrimp pate, freshening the palate between salty mouthfuls. It has enough body to cut through the oil of the vegetarian stir-fry and mitigates the harsh bite of the spicy holy basil. (Binny's, Sam's)

5. 2003 Vinum Cellars CNW Cuvee (Clarksburg, California), $12. CNW stands for "chard-no-way," a dig at America's favorite over-oaked white. Vinum Cellars has been growing the chenin blanc grape, which is indigenous to the Loire Valley, in California with decent success. The Clarksburg area, southwest of Sacramento, has long, hot days tempered by cool breezes from the San Francisco Bay, a combination that allows grapes to ripen completely but gradually (grapes ripen too quickly in straight heat; in excessively cool climates they don't ripen fully). The result is a slightly oaky wine with fresh apple and lemon flavors and moderate acidity. Much like the Riesling, it diminishes the harshness of the peppercorns in the scallop dish, highlighting the subtlety of the shellfish. It seems even more full-bodied when drunk with that fairly salty dish. (Cabernet & Company, Trotter's to Go)

6. 2002 R. Stuart Big Fire Pinot Noir (Oregon), $14.50. Aged ten months in oak barrels, this New World wine has strong raspberry and plum aromas and flavors. Cherry and cinnamon are secondary notes, and there's a hint of earthy leather on the finish. Its powerful fruitiness makes it work with the stir-fried duck dish the same way the orange sauce that's often served with duck does: it rejuvenates the palate, sweetening the oily, salty bird. (Sam's)

Binny's Beverage Depot 213 W. Grand, 312-332-0012

Cabernet & Company 732 Lake, Oak Park, 708-763-9463

Kafka Wine Company 3325 N. Halsted, 773-975-9463

Sam's Wine and Spirits 1720 N. Marcey, 312-664-4394

Trotter's to Go 1337 W. Fullerton, 773-868-6510

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