Even if you’ve never traveled to Thailand, there’s a good chance you’ve tried Thai cuisine somewhere in the world. And, while street food often comes to mind when many travelers think Thai cuisine, the truth is there are a number of chefs looking to elevate the overall Thai food experience. And what better way to experience it than with a good glass of wine?
Thai food, known for its complex blend of exotic spices and heat, pairs surprisingly well with wine, especially a number of white wine varietals. I tend to cook a lot of Thai-influenced dishes, especially curries, and I love how they pair with a nice bottle of wine.
Wondering how to pair Thai food with wine? To find a complementary wine pairing for any Thai meal, start by identifying the main ingredient of the dish and then follow a few simple tips to ensure a pleasant wine pairing.
What Ingredients in Thai Food Pair with Wine
Thai food has a variety of spices that are commonly seen throughout recipes. Ingredients like lemongrass, chilies, turmeric, tamarind, kaffir lime, ginger, and coconut milk are staples in most Thai cooking. Powerful flavors like garlic, shallots, and fish sauce are also seen in many Thai dishes. Those spices and powerful flavors are often offset by fresh fruit flavors including mango and pineapple.
Pairing Wine with Thai Curries
Some of the most popular dishes in Thailand include some type of curry element. Red and green curries are two of the more popular choices, each with varying levels of heat. When pairing wine with a curry-based dish, remember that wines that are on the sweeter side will help cut the heat from the chili peppers in the meal.
Green curry is often the spiciest of Thai curries and should be paired with a sweeter wine, one that will not only cut the heat, but will stand up to the bold flavors in the dish. One pairing suggestion for green curries is a Champagne or sparkling wine. Bubbles in wine work well to counterbalance spicy foods, and Champagne and sparkling wines are more versatile than many people realize.
Another excellent option is a Gewurztraminer. Try a nice German or Alsatian one. Gewurtz is the German word for “spice”, which is why this is often considered a good match for spicy dishes. Since the heat of a spicy green curry can also numb the palate, a wine that has high acidity, like a Gewurztraminer, will work well with this dish.
For red curries that pack less heat, try a nice Riesling. Dishes like Pad Thai would be enhanced by the hint of sweetness from a nice Riesling. Germany is the most famous region for Riesling production, but other notable regions include Alsace, Washington, and portions of Australia’s wine country. Rieslings come in varying levels of sweetness, making the choice of a Riesling more of a personal preference. Just a hint of sweetness will work for red curry since it is typically less spicy than other curries.
Not a fan of Rieslings? Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, and less-well-known varietals like Sylvaner, Grüner Veltliner, Muscadet, and Sancerre are good wines to pair with Thai food as well.
Other Wines that Pair Well with Thai Food
Dry Rosé wines are good options for spicy dishes and Thai curries. These tend to be very versatile wines, and are easily paired with a variety of cuisine types.
One rule of thumb to remember is acidic wines generally pair well with most Thai dishes. Look for wines that have a tropical nose, like pineapple, lemongrass, pear, and lychee fruit, as they will pair nicely with Thai food. For dishes with high-acidity ingredients, like kaffir lime and tamarind, pair wines that can balance these elements. Two good options that pair well with sour dishes include Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc.
For those wanting to serve a red wine with Thai food, try a very light red such as Beaujolais, or a Rioja. Pinot Noir is another popular varietal that pairs well with some mild coconut and creamy curries, but it’s recommended to look for ones produced in cool climates like Germany. Wondering why Pinot Noir might make a good pairing with Thai Food? Pinot Noir is a flavorful wine, but tends to be low in alcohol content and tannins, making it a good choice to stand up to some Thai dishes.
Wines to Avoid with Thai Food
The most important thing to avoid when serving Thai food is any wine that is tannic. The tannins in heavy red wines can actually amplify the spiciness in a dish, ruining both the taste of the meal and the wine itself. Wines that are high in tannins pair best with high protein dishes like steak, as the protein softens the tannic element of the wine.
Another wine to avoid is an overly oaky wine, typically seen from many California Chardonnays. An oaky Chardonnay can overpower many foods, which is why it is not an ideal match for most Thai dishes.
At first, it may seem a bit overwhelming to find the right wine to match with Thai food, but once the main ingredients are identified, basic wine pairing guidelines apply. When in doubt, ask the wine steward or sommelier when dining out in a restaurant. If you’re cooking at home, utilize a reliable wine pairing tool to help you out. One of the best available free resources I love is the Wine Matcher tool from Natalie MacLean.
The main rule of thumb to remember — avoid tannic reds and overly oaked whites. With this rule in hand, you are well on your way to start enjoying pairing wine with Thai dishes!
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