I made a Thai curry stir fry. This is not particularly exceptional, I eat them fairly on the regular. This time, as is my habit when my wife is not carefully monitoring my kitchen activities, I made it about ten degrees too spicy. This was again not terribly exceptional, nor a huge problem, because we’re both capable of taking a little heat and the food was otherwise delicious, and on a given Thursday night, it’s not exactly America’s Test Kitchen around here. However, my fridge was all out of Riesling and Belgian Wits, so I resigned myself to going without, because a ten degrees too-spicy Thai curry stirfry is going to blow through just about everything else short of a Mango Lassi, leaving the unsuspecting palate a smoking, throbbing ruin. Heaven send help to the poor fellow who tries to eat what I just ate with your standard tannin wroth Syrah or Tempranillo, or even worse, the bright, crisp and lively unoaked Chardonnay.
I happened to have a bottle of Amontillado sherry on the counter, and I tried a slip with my stirfry out of sheer curiosity. Here’s the flavor profile of my food. Panang curry with basil, ginger, scallions, eggplant, Shittake mushrooms and snow peas. There’s like three items in there on the list of “never try to pair with wine”. So I tried something that’s sort of wine-adjacent.
Here’s what you get from a really good Amontillado Sherry like Toro Albala’s Viejisimo Solera 1922. A nose of woodsmoke (from a fire on the beach because it’s a little salty too) honeycomb, cinnamon stick and coriander, almond, caramel, brioche, candied lemon peel, dried strawberry, graham cracker, and just a sniff of saffron. The palate doubles and triples down on the salt and the lemon zest as the wine crashes through the front and mid-palate. On the finish, a wave of nuts, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts and one large and juicy Brazil nut all come crashing in drizzled in caramel and that classic sherry note of oxidation which is so so very close to umami if you squint a bit. All of this comes at you at ten thousand decibels because it’s sherry and the flavors have been concentrating for ninety-six years in a barrel next to the ocean, and I’ll be damned if that Sherry didn’t blow right back through that curry. It didn’t matter how spicy the food was, the wine was saltier. It didn’t matter how intensely nutty the wine was, the food was leafier. It was a little like pairing the unstoppable force of food with the immovable object of wine, and the umami notes of the sherry did achieve surprising harmony with the panang.
Sherry won’t match with everything on the Asian menu. But if you’re tired of Riesling and out of beer, and you have to find something to handle some serious spice and pugnacious flavors, give Sherry a go.