Pairing Wine with Thai Food

Fabfav
Days late, real life is taking over blogging life again, but hopefully still ok. Alberto and Lenn, creators of two of the most infectious memes in Food Blogosphere, Is My Blog Burning and Wine Blogging Wednesday, joined forces to host a food blog meme to end all memes, where food bloggers are supposed to blog about wine, and wine bloggers to talk about food.

Well, I fully intended to join, but other eventful events caught up with me and so I am days late….not that’s my being late is new or anything. Anyway, here is my entry for Fabulous Favorites.

Instead of recommending one particular wine with a specific dish, I’m going to take this opportunity to answer the most frequent wine question from Chez Pim readers: what wine to drink with Thai food?

Frankly, Thai food –with rampant spices, out of control heat, bitter herbs, cloying sweetness, sometimes all of those qualities in one dish- makes for a rather tough match with wine. But don’t despair, good matches are not beyond the realm of possibility. I mean, if Tom Cruise can make a baby, then anything is possible, no?

There are a few keys I use in matching wine with Thai food. They’ve worked pretty well for me, so hopefully they’ll work for you too. These are not rules, mind you. I hardly believe in rigid rules about anything, well, unless I’m the one making them. These are merely guidelines. Experiment with them. See what works for you. Wine and food are for fun, after all. So have fun!

Look for a little sweetness.
It’s become almost a reflex for me to reach for slightly sweet Rieslings when serving Thai food, and for very good reasons. The slight sweetness and floral notes in Rieslings and similar wines (like Gewurztraminer) match very well with the many flavors of Thai food. The sugar adds to the mouth-feel of wine and mitigates the effect of chilli and spice on the palate. Sweetness in wine also works well with the savory dishes that are on the sweet side in Thai cuisine.

Find the tropics in the nose.
Well, not your nose surely, but the nose of a wine. Some wines smell of tropical flowers or exotic fruits, which, predictably enough, will match well with the same notes in Thai dishes.

Avoid tannin at all cost.
Ok, this one probably most resembles a rule: never drink tannic wines with Thai food. The prominent flavors of Thai food -spicy, hot, and sour- are all horrible for big, tannic wines. Spice, chilli-heat, and acidity will make tannic wine taste bitter, ruining the experience with both the food and the wine. So, keep your fancy Bordeaux and expensive Cabs away from Thai food.

A little sparkly is good for the soul.
Sparkling wine works well with Thai food, especially all the fried things, which are everywhere in Thai cuisine. The bubbles cut through the grease and refresh the palate. Slightly off-dry Champagne or sparkling wine can also be versatile for many types of Thai dishes. It even works well with creamy curry, as long as it’s not super crazy spicy. If you’re thinking about just one bottle of wine besides a Riesling to match the entire meal of Thai dishes, pick a bottle of floral Champagne, it will surprise you.

Good acidity is good.
Thai food has a strong acidic element, especially Yum-type salads or the sour curries like Gang Som which are often dominated by lime juice or tamarind. For these types of dishes, it’s important that the wine you choose has a good level of acidity to support the acid in the food. Flat, flabby, low-acidity wine will be overwhelmed and turn even flabbier and less acidic when paired with these sour dishes. Acidic wines are also good with salty food, so they pair well with salty Thai dishes.
So, this may sound a little counter-intuitive here, but even when you choose slightly sweet, off-dry wines, make sure that they have a good level of acidity supporting in the background.
Be a little careful with acidic wine and Thai food though, very sweet dishes will turn acidic wines even leaner and more acidic, which could be unpleasant. So, if you like your Pad Thai cloying sweet, then I would pick slightly sweet wine to go with it.

Not a lot of oak.

Oaky wine, like a lot of California Chardonnays, are not a very good match with Thai food. The vanilla flavor in oaky Chardonnay doesn’t go well with exotic herbs and spices in Thai food. Stay away from them.

Now that we are done with some guidelines, we can talk about some wine varietals to go with Thai food. Again, these are just some suggestions, covering both the obvious and the more obscure. Play around with some of them and see what suits you best.

White
Riesling (and other German/Alsace whites like Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris)
A no brainer, really. Go with fruity and floral nose rather than the musky note that some Rieslings have. Riesling labels can be hard to fathom, look for Kabinett (generally drier) or Spätlese (usually slightly sweeter). Auslese, depending on makers, migth be a little too sweet to pair with savory dishes. Or ask your wine merchant, she could be able to help you choose.
Scheurebe

A cross between Riesling and Sylvaner. Scheurebe is crispy, fruity and very aromatic. It will work well here as well.
Loire whites: Vouvray, Savennières, and Saumur Blanc
Crisp minerality and citrus notes in these wines work well with sour Yum salads. Some Saumur Blanc with good structure (like my favorite Chateau Yvonne) would make a good match for coconut-based dishes, again as long as they are not extremely spicy. The minerality in these white wines from the Loire Valley also go very well with Thai seafood dishes.

Sparkling

Champagne and sparkling rosé, as long as they are not too oaky.
Lambrusco, an obscure sparkling wine from Italy. Lambrusco is fruity and slightly sweet, and will be a fun and unexpected match with Thai food.
Brachetto, another obscure Italian sparkler, this one a rosé from the Piemonte region. Pick a Brachetto that is not too sweet.

Red
Saumur-Champigny
Juicy and low-tannin Saumur-Champigny is a good choice if you want red wine.
Cru Beaujolais
Light and fruity Cru Beaujolais is not a bad choice. I’m not a big fan of Beaujolais Nouveau so I can’t really recommend it.
Barbera
Very classic style of low tannin and ripe Barbera can also be a good match.

This is far, far from an exhausted list, I’m sure. I’m only talking about the wines I know. Feel free to suggest your own successful matches, that’s what the comment section is for!

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  • http://profile.typekey.com/IndolentAgain/ Matthew Bowden

    Riesling, Gewurtz and champagne I find all go well.
    Another excellent match is viognier (Condrieu or some of the VdP).
    There is plenty of fruit and flavour to balance out the flavours of both thai and chinese food.

  • http://www.panasianbiz.com/ Bill Belew

    Excellent observation! Can’t say that I enjoy Thai food all that much, but maybe if I could find a great wine that would be a little different!

  • http://becksposhnosh.blogspot.com/ sam

    ha ah! mine is looking like it will be the latest entry of all then cos I am still not ready.

  • http://www.tigersandstrawberries.com Barbara Fisher

    I am the exact opposite of Bill Belew–I can’t say that I enjoy wine all that much, but with some great Thai food, I might change my mind!

  • http://www.vinography.com Alder

    Good one Pim.
    I’ve recently been experimenting pairing Asian spicy foods with the Argentinian grape Torrontes with a lot of luck. It’s got a muscat-like floral quality to it but with good acids and often a touch of residual sugar.

  • http://na-zdravi.blogspot.com/ Dianka

    Great guide, Pim! Thanks! I love Gewürztraminers, had some delicious one’s when visitng Alsace last month =)

  • http://www.2tastyladies.com tejal

    that’s an excellent guide, thank you. I usually go for good beer with thai food. How barbaric, eh. =)

  • http://foodcookeat.blogspot.com Aude

    Merci Pim!
    That’s an useful guide and I am going to print it. I could try with one of my favorite Gewurtz.

  • Peter Riccio

    My wife and I have found that Prosecco is great with Thai. I would stay away from the blended varieties (some put 5% Chardonnay in the product). Nino Franco non-vintage Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Rustico is a good deal at about US$12. It’s Very fresh and fruity. The Canella Prosecco is not bad either, but is slightly more acidic. I made Kanom Jeen Nam-Prik (Rice Noodles With Spicy Shrimp and Coconut; I am sure I got the recipe here.) The Nino Franco made it a fantastic dinner.

  • http://www.finewinereview.com Claude Kolm/The Fine Wine Review

    Pim — We’ve had nice experiences with Rieslings together, but I’m just back from Italy and have Italian wines on my mind. Ee should try Prosecco next time — the slight sweetness will, I think, work far better than most Champagnes, and in fact, I predict a resounding success.

  • http://foodcrazee.blogspot.com michael d foodcrazee

    good info…that will help a lot of Asian …wine is damn expensive here due to taxes and stuffs

  • alb

    I always bring red Burgundies to my favorite Thai joints, Thai Stick in Millbrae and Sirayvah Organic Thai in San Carlos. The key is to make sure the pepper is mild. At Sirayvah that’s no problem because the style is mild anyway, but at Thai Stick, which is more traditional, I just tell them to make it mild. I love red Burgundies with ped yang, pla rad prig, gai yang, catfish grilled in banana leaves, barbecue beef and the heavenly chili lamb and lamb chops at Sirayvah. And at the end a glass of eiswein with my favorite Thai dessert, khao niow mamuang.

  • http://anthonyskitchen.blogspot.com Tony of Bachelor cooking

    Amazing info, and Tom Cruise bit was too funny..

  • IronThaiChef

    Vinho Verde from Portugal works well too! Good for Thai street foods, BBQ type items, crispness and acidity backbone stands up to yum salads, spritzyness can refresh palate on fried items. Your picks are dead on!

  • http://wineforspice.com Warren Edwardes

    I happen to agree with most of the points.
    see http://wines.wineforspice.com
    My own range of wines to drink with spicy food can be summed up in one word – REFRESHING – a refreshing alternative to a cold gas injected lager.
    First, the wines are all naturally semi-sparkling. Carbon Dioxide enhances taste and adds natural acidity when dissolved thereby adds to the mouth watering feel. But a fully sparkling wine or beer has too much gas and lager has gas injected producing large bubbles leading to bloating with food.
    Second, drink the wine cool to ice-bucket cold – So thirst quenching like a cold lager.
    Third, a refreshing wine also should have a good level of mouth-watering acidity. Think lemon juice – the classic Indian “Nimboo Pani”.
    Fourth, avoid mouth-drying tannin. Whilst tea is drunk in India with food, the tannin is softened with milk and sugar. Furthermore, tannin in both wine and tea is exaggerated at low temperatures.
    Fifth, the wines are also free from oak, which clashes with spices such as cumin, coriander and ginger giving a bitter, harsh after-taste.
    Sixth, moderate alcohol; a good degree of alcohol is required to provide body but excess alcohol over 12.5% can add to the burning sensation of chillies. Take a sip of vodka before and after biting into a chilli to feel this. Furthermore, the wines are so moreish that you will find yourself drinking quite a bit.
    Finally aromatics, fruitiness and sweetness in the range rise in relation to the chilli heat of the accompanying dish. This is based on my Goan Grandmother’s trick of adding some sugar to an over hot curry. Suck on a sweet before and after biting into a chilli to feel this. But unlike some wines such as 100% Gewurztraminer or Muscat which can be over-aromatic and too flowery and sickly after a glass, all of these wines are balanced with natural acidity and are refreshingly sparkling. And because acidity offsets sweetness and sparkling wines have enhanced acidity because of the dissolved CO2, the Off Dry wines result in a quite dry mouth feel after allowing for acidity and spice.
    rgds
    Warren Edwardes, founder-ceo , Wine for Spice, London

  • http://www.sfphotorama.com San Francisco Photos

    I always have enjoyed a nice California Riesling with Thai food!

  • http://www.winosandfoodies.typepad.com/ barbara

    Thanks for the advice Pim. I always end up drinking beer with Thai food but I’ll try your suggestions.

  • http://www.carablack.com Cara

    It’s de rigeur with me, Pim, a Thai ice tea – strong tea and sweetened condensed milk goes with a Thai meal…and I love swirling it with the straw to a tawny mixture

  • http://blindtasting.twoday.net Alex

    Hi Pim, I really agree with your list! Also I don’t know how you came up with Scheurebe. I know it from Germany where I live but I am really surprised you heard of it. Is it available in the US? But it is indeed a good match with spicy/exotic food. Also the Vino Verde proposition from Iron Thai Chef is a good match I think.
    I am only a bit sceptical about Barbera which has a lot of acidity (which might be mouth-watering) but in my opinion has also a large amount of tannins most of the time.
    Regards,
    Alex

  • http://aliceqfoodie.blogspot.com Alice Q.

    Myself, I always drink Singha with Thai Food, but I can see it working with a Vin Gris de Pinot Noir (dry-ish pink wine) or a viognier, in addition to Gewurtz or Riesling. Love your blog! Huge congrats on the NY Times piece a couple of weeks ago. It was a major inspiration for me to get into food blogging! Cheers!

  • Mary-Anne

    Sawadee-kha
    I think you have missed one of the best wine classifications to drink with Thai cuisine, and that is Zinfandels, and in particular Old Vine Zins.
    They really hold up to and compliment Thai cuisine. Try it! We’ve been cooking and serving Thai cuisine for over 20 years and find Zin the favourite.
    I have been to Thailand over 30 times, last trip just this past Dec/Jan for a month, and we are planning our annual Christmas/New Year’s trip for 2006.
    Mary-Anne
    Alamo (SF Bay Area)

  • http://www.thebizofknowledge.com thebizofknowledge

    I stumbled across your blog while I was in the process of doing some online research. I like to eat at Thai restaurants but never know which wine to select, so this information was very helpful to me. Thanks so much!

  • http://www.whiteelephant.nl Sven

    Hi Pim,
    interesting to read your blog. I am the owner of an exclusive Thai restaurant in Amsterdam. I personally test all wines very well with a panel of 3 others outside my restaurant. First of all, there are very few rules. Tastes and expectancy are so different from person to person. But if I should dare to put down what we considered the best to accompany Thai food, there is Number 1, Champagne. We have Dom Perignon, expensive but matching very well, so do a regular Moet Chandon. The Vieuwe Cliquot
    fades somehow a little away, a little too sharp, but the pink version is a go.
    Sparkling wine, the Italian Lambrusco, yes, yes, very good. White, what sell most, Sauvignon Blanc, our house-wine, but also some top notch New Zealand and South African, respectively a more expensive Drylands and Boschendal. My personal best
    is however an Edelzwicker, a Alsac mix of Gewurztraminer, Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc and Riesling from Josmeyer. This is a splendid match for all Thai food. What I stay away from is to classify wines that goes to spring-roll, another that goes to salads, and a third that goes to spicy dishes. This is absurb. You have a wine, and mostly it follows you through the meal, unless a big expense account, or large enough table to change wines throughout the meal. Since Thai normally will consist of some spicy dishes, we test wines next to eating some very spicy dishes. Wine will never kill the tastes of the food, but spicy food can kill or change the flavour of the wine. If I can still taste the wine, I am generally happy. With whites it is generally more difficult
    to find the good match, but as I already mentioned Sauvignon Blanc/Sancerre and Edelzwicker is very good match. Surprise, Reds goes very well with Thai food, any light reds is a no-no, but heavy syrah/shiraz is perfect, a Boekenhoutskloof Syrah from South Africa, perfect match. Rose wines is normally popular together with Thai food, but the less expensive spanish can sometimes loose in a match with the pink ones from Domaine Ott; in my view the best roses of the world.
    Thank you for your attention!

  • Simon

    I experimented with ice cider over the weekend. IT went really well with satay chicken and fried shrimp spring rolls. The cider’s acidity was great against these dishes’ fat. Also, the cider’s sweetness went really well with the touch of spice.
    I also tried a Maury Ruby (2001 Domaine de la Ferriere) with a very hot beef dish with lemongrass and chilies. Pretty good.
    I then tasted the Maury with a chicken curry which contained a good dose of coconut milk. The two together were great.

  • Dirk

    I brought some Pinot Noirs (“Spaetburgunder”) back from Germany a couple of weeks back having tasted some excellent examples from ther and the basic ones from just some co-op were quite light so thought I’d try them with seafood. By chance I had Thai shrimps and opened one which didn’t state “trocken” (dry). Turned out to be off-dry – a reasonable amount of residual sugar at least – and an absolute unexpected treasure to have with spicy shrimps!

  • http://overanalyzed.blogspot.com Tiffany Anne

    I’m going out for Thai tomorrow night and I never know what type of wine to order. Last time I got Chardonnay and that was a bad idea. So thanks for the recommendations!(I found you by googling “wine and thai food”)

  • http://barriquesmarket.com Patrick Bohan, Barriques Market Fitchburg, WI

    I just tried a Spatlese Riesling (Gustov Adolf Schmidt, $10) with a cup of coconut curry chicken… good stuff! The chili and curry were immediately extinguished without being wiped out, and the sweet/crisp nature of the wine added an extra dimension that allowed the spices to re-emerge beautifully.
    Feeling bold? Try an Albarino. I have yet to, but it may shine on light to medium spicy dishes.

  • Maria C. Valencia

    I am hosting a Thai dinner tonight. I am pouring Sparkling off dry from Spain (Catalonia), Torrontes from Argentina, a great Rosé from Italy (almost white zinfandel like sweetnes), and a very light, fruity Pinot Noir from the Languedoc area in France. Any comments? I will let you know later how it went.

  • http://www.squidoo.com/dmskywine dmsky

    I’ve been drinking wine for a long time, but trying to discern each wine’s unique characteristics is a new challenge for me. Thanks for your insight.

  • http://www.onlinecasinosgames-onlinegambling.com Online casinos

    Hmm.Thanks you for news and site.Very good.

  • KN VENUGOPAL

    PULIYOGARE GOJJU is a syrup concocted with tamarind, chilly, jaggery and salt – for about 3 hours. This is a tradition with IYENGARS- a caste in south India for a few hundred years.
    This mixed with rice is distributed in large number of temples in south india particularly the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
    Every IYENGAR family prepare this on festival days and each has a different taste and still tasty.
    This is also commercially made.
    KN VENUGOPAL
    IYENGAR & CO

  • http://grillsblog.com Sarah

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.
    Sarah
    http://grillsblog.com

  • http://buy-wine-online.org Wine Making Decor

    hmm, wine and thai food..intersting combination!

  • http://www.mythaibeach-restaurant-santacruz.com thai food restaurants in capitola santa cruz

    It isn’t anything new…wine and thai food have been paired together for ages !

  • http://profile.typepad.com/colettenichol colette

    Hi, I really appreciate your blog, thank you!
    I’m going to a dinner tonight and the dish is something Thai with a peanut sauce. Should I stick with the Riesling or other refreshing choices listed above? Is there something else that I should try that would work better?
    Thanks in advance for any advice!

  • http://www.thepittsburghtastebuds.com Pittsburgh TasteBudB

    We will soon be hosting a wine dinner in Pittsburgh. I like the suggestions you have and have shared them with our attendees. We’ll see what creative pairings others come up with!

    Thanks
    @PghTasteBudB
    http://www.thepittsburghtastebuds.com

  • kittisak

    geweldig blog over Thailand, ik krijg de kriebels om er weer heen te gaan!
    d.jouwweb.nl/

  • Maxxymum2

    geweldig blog over Thailand, ik krijg de kriebels om er weer heen te gaan!
    d.jouwweb.nl/

  • Maxxymum2

    geweldig blog over Thailand, ik krijg de kriebels om er weer heen te gaan!
    d.jouwweb.nl/

  • Marta

    Thanks so much for the barbera recommendation. We had a bottle of barbera we’d be saving for the right occasion, and our dinner with friends at a local Thai restaurant turned to be the perfect occasion. Delish!

  • Ronald_nippy1

    This was a great article to read and interpret since we don’t eat Thai food as much as we should…
    Thanks,
    Good stuff

  • Ronald_nippy1

    This was a great article to read and interpret since we don’t eat Thai food as much as we should…
    Thanks,
    Good stuff

  • http://twitter.com/regularwino Regular Wino

    Really great piece! I started putting together a guide for Indian food recently ( http://www.regularwino.com/articles/what-wine-goes-with-curry/ ) but I hadn’t even thought about doing one for Thai – you have saved me a lot of research :)

  • http://www.symplypetfoods.co.uk/ pet food

    Thai food are well known as spicy food. Every dish have a perfect wine to be paired with. It depends on the dish and the flavor of wine.

  • Sincint

    just get the point,to many silly remarks

  • Seangossner

    *too

  • http://www.novacationrequired.com Caanan @ No Vacation Required

    Thanks for the great suggestions!

  • Emily Rowe

    Love the suggestions! Thanks for posting!

  • Dee Doka

    Have you tried Namprik Kapi (shirmp paste salsa) paired with Cabernet Sauvignon (I prefer Chilean one) or curry soup with Syrah? It works out really well.

  • vipassana

    Exhaustive, you mean? ;)

  • Jenn

    This article gave me all the info I was looking for to find wine pairings for a special Thai dinner with friends. Thank you so much!