By Chef GENE GONZALEZ
I leaped at the invitation to join “Epicurean: A Thai Gastronomic Journey,” a dinning interaction by Michelin-star chef Noom from Chim Restaurant in Bangkok with Chef Ja of Dusit Thani’s Benjarong. The greatest reason, of course, was the presence of Nikki Lohitnavy, the award-winning oenologist and winemaker of Granmonte Wines, whom I have been a great fan of for more than a decade, visiting her winery and marveling each year at the great improvements of her wines. Finally, Granmonte’s wines have a local importer, which is Philippine Wine Merchants, with Ralph’s and Rustan’s as their retail outlets.
Our dinner started with a round of their crémant, which has won three medals for three years. This is a non-vintage sparkling wine, lovingly handmade, and done following the Champagne method (I was one of the lucky mortals to have tasted this during its first release and I brought back a declared vintage bottle). Only a little more than 3,000 bottles each for vintage and non-vintage are made.
I decided for an unmixed version, although others prefer this bubbly as a mimosa mixed with orange juice. On its own, the crémant is a great aperitif, with its wonderfully refreshing lemon, cucumber, and nutty traits, combined with a light tart melon back flavors and a creamy finish.
As we sat down for dinner, they poured the Sakuna Rosé. This elegant rosé, formerly bottled in 0.5 liter bottles, is now a full wine bottle that is as classy as the person it was named after, which happens to be Nikki’s mother, Sakuna. And since I was not able to visit their vineyard this year, I was pleasantly surprised that it has become the best of her work yet. This Sakuna Rosé is made from Syrah, but Nikki’s addition of 15 percent grenache gave its berry signature more varied characters. A creamy character, with light scents of marshmallows, gave this pink wine more complexity. With enjoyed the juicy and subtle tart flavors of white-fleshed fruit like mangosteen and lanzones (longkong) with stonefruit with the cucumber and crab salad with fish sauce and lime. The other amuse bouche which I enjoyed more was a version of Meang Kamor fresh fragrant betel leaf with a filling of pork rinds, toasted coconut, and chili.
Next was a Granmonte Spring chenin blanc 2018. With its juicy white-fleshed fruit characters, it paired well with the seared scallops. The fruit acidity of the young wine complemented the creamy texture of the aubergine chutney. Its light acidity was perfect for the seared scallops and the rich fatty salmon caviar.
Then we had a Granmonte Viognier 2018, a barrel-fermented wine containing natural yeast. It had a creamy palate that, added to the exchange of wood to the wine, also gave hints of vanilla mixed with tropical fruits like guayabano. I even loved the way it matched the curried crab soup, which is Chef Noom’s adaptation of Chiangmai’s Khao Soy. But instead of using chicken or beef on a curry soup with crispy noodles, our chef used crab meat with a glutinous blue dumpling of ternate flowers. The Viognier could, in my opinion, can pair well with spicy Asian dishes— so I should remember to take a bottle to a Chinese restaurant .
A curious intermezzo followed, served with compressed cherry tomatoes in plum wine or what the Thais call crispy ice. This was a rather good deviation from the customary sorbet or granite.
A pre-main course of Gaeng Phed Gam Moo or a red curry sauté, with melt-in-the-mouth slivers of pork cheeks tossed in pollomai or mixed fresh fruit. The acidity of the fruits was a good foil to the rich pork cheeks, which had a light smoky touch. It paired best with a young Granmonte Spring 40 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 60 percent Syrah (barreled for 12 months), with flavors of tart cherries, dried leaves, and ripe acerola.
The main course followed the Asian style sequence of putting crustaceans at the last portion of the meal. There was a river prawn, grilled and smothered with yellow curry mixing with the fat on its head. Sakuna’s recommendation was to put the kaffir and lemongrass-scented rice into the split cavity and mix everything—completing a deconstructed set of curry elements into a complete Thai yellow prawn curry with the creative addition of grilled flavors. The wine for this pairing was a limited edition bottle of the Orient, a 100 percent Syrah with blueberry and creamy flavor. This surprisingly paired well with the curried fat of the found in the prawn’s head.
Dessert was a smooth soursop ice cream, laminated in a thin coat of gelatin and paired with a late harvest wine of Muscat, Chenin, and Viognier. This third edition had notes of lychee, longan, and jasmine. These flavors highlighted the tropical character of our ice cream. It also paired well with a plate of Thai mignardises—coconut pandan madeleine and Thai tea-filled macaroons, which I found most interesting in the selection.
Overall, the dinner was a great logistical exercise in a degustation scene dominated by more western flavors. I look forward to tasting Nikki’s next releases and probably smoke a stogie and have an espresso with Granmonte patriarch and Nikki’s father KhunVisooth during one harvest season.
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