While working at Soif Wine Bar, Santa Cruz, California’s wine mecca, Sam Zelver got to know food blogger Pim Techamuanvivit and her partner David Kinch of Manresa, both of whom were regulars. When Techamuanvivit opened Kin Khao, her lively Thai restaurant in San Francisco—her first restaurant venture—she tapped Zelver to serve as GM and run the wine program. Rather than create a list that would be all things to all people, they decided to focus the compact selection around the food, which meant riesling, riesling and more riesling.
On getting people to drink riesling
We knew we’d sell more wine if we had a chardonnay and a cabernet, but we have no intension of doing that. Having a serious bar program helps: I can be really focused, and then there’s still something in our beverage program for everyone.
That said, San Francisco is a pretty educated city and willing to experiment. Wine is part of the city’s culture, and they’re willing to take a little direction if there’s a strong reason to do so. If they’re coming to us because our food is different—it’s not the kind of Thai food you’ll find everywhere—that helps, too. [Riesling] hasn’t been such a hard sell. The one disconnect I tend to get is with the sugar levels. There are times when people are ordering by the glass and getting the wine before the food; that’s when the guest will say: This is too sweet, this isn’t what I had in mind. If they’re really opposed to it, we’ll find them something else. But often it’s just explaining to them that it’s meant with the food in mind, and usually that goes over pretty well, they’re usually happy to wait. Still, I generally have a dry and a sweet riesling open by the glass, and for that reason: something to start with and something to have with the food.
On Thai flavors and wine
One thing I’ve liked recently is the Leitz Dragonstone Riesling—which is really saline—with the Brussels sprouts in XO sauce, a salty dish. That’s a really fun and interesting match.
We have a green curry, and with that, the aromatic wines have been spectacular: we have a muscat from Hugel, which has a lot of white flowers, and we have a kind of lean, herbaceous grüner veltliner that pairs well with the dish. The dish has some spice, but also a lot of herbal flavors from things like Thai basil. Those aromatic wines can easily be blown away by spicy flavors, but can be fun to pair when we get a great match.
On Mercurey in the top ten
One of the challenges with our list is that wine needs to be more acidic than food, or it’s not refreshing; finding a lot of high-acid wines that are different from each other and don’t blow you away with tartness is difficult. [The Faiveley] is priced where most Bourgogne Rouge would be. It’s an older style, very low alcohol. You still get the darkness and ruby notes and silkier tannins that are hard to get otherwise with our food.