Thailand is famous for its interesting history, fabulous sightseeing spots, and beautiful beaches. It also has one of the world’s best cuisines that is well known for its versatile and flavorful dishes. And with the right Thai food and wine pairing, it gets even better.
How Does Thai Food Taste?
There are only a few cuisines worldwide that combine as many different flavors as Thai cuisine does. The dishes from the Southeast Asian country have an outstanding balance without a single dominating aroma. The flavors you can sense in Thai food include:
- sweet flavors from palm sugar or sweet chilies
- sour notes from tamarind and tropical fruits
- bitter aromas from numerous vegetables and roots
- spicy heat from various types of chilis and peppers
- salty flavors from seafood and sauces such as fish sauce or oyster sauce
- herbal notes from highly flavorful herbs and spices, for instance, cilantro, Thai basil, or lemongrass
The Basic Rules for Matching Wine and Thai Food
Thai food is very versatile, and most meals are full of different flavors. That makes it impossible to name one single wine that matches all dishes. Nevertheless, there are some basic rules for pairing Thai food and wine that you should follow:
- Stay away from bold, red wines. They are too dominant and will overpower most meals with their intense aromas and their strong tannins.
- The same is true for white wines with high alcohol levels, especially if they were aged in oak.
- Light- to medium-bodied whites with fruity aromas often are the best matches. Fruity rosés might work, too.
- As many dishes from Thai cuisine are at least mildly spicy, you need a wine with a good level of acidity.
- Off-dry or semi-sweet wines are excellent choices. Their subtle sweetness balances spicy as well as sour or bitter flavors.
- If your dish is very spicy, you can also consider sparkling wine. With its bubbles, it helps clean your palate and makes the heat more bearable.
- Sparklers also are the right match for fried foods.
With these rules in mind, let’s discuss some of the most famous Thai dishes and the best wine pairings.
Thai Curry and Wine
Curries are definitely among the most popular (and most-loved) Thai dishes. Made from various vegetables and often fish or meat such as chicken or duck, it combines many different aromas. Coconut milk, fish sauce, palm sugar, and bamboo sprouts round up the flavor profile. The signature ingredient is a curry paste made from various spices and herbs. It determines the curry’s color as well as its spiciness. In general, you can find three different types:
- The mildest version is Thai Yellow Curry. The curry paste for this dish is made from relatively mild Thai chilis, garlic, ginger, cilantro, shallots, and other spices. The meal’s distinct color comes from turmeric.
- Thai Red Curry is significantly more spicy than its yellow cousin. The reason is the red chilis which are the main ingredients for the red curry paste. Besides the heat, they add intense red color to the meal.
- The spiciest variation of the famous Thai dish is Thai Green Curry. For many diners, that might be a surprise because they associate the color green with mild meals. But actually, green chilis are extremely hot. And as they are the main ingredient for the green curry paste, the dish is similarly spicy.
In general, Thai Curry goes very well with off-dry white wines. Especially Pinot Gris from the Alsace region in France is an excellent pick. This wine features delicious sweet and musky notes that combine perfectly with the spicy dish. Another option with similar characteristics is Riesling Spätlese (English: Riesling Late Harvest) from Austria or Germany.
In case you struggle with the meal’s heat, you can also try a sweet or semi-sweet sparkling wine. Consider an Asti Spumante or a Moscato d’Asti, or, if you feel like experimenting, a red Lambrusco. Their bubbles clean your palate and make the heat bearable.
More Details on Lambrusco: LAMBRUSCO – SWEET AND SPARKLING WINES FROM ITALY
Phad Thai and Wine
Many lovers of Asian cuisines consider Phad Thai the national dish. Wherever in Thailand you are, you will most likely find a street vendor selling this iconic meal. The basic recipe contains rice noodles and sauce made from palm sugar, garlic, tamarind, shallot, and fish sauce. Depending on your preferences, you can add fish, shrimp, chicken, tofu, scrambled eggs, onions, bean sprouts, roasted peanuts or cashews, and chilis to adjust the spiciness. The noodles are cooked in boiled water and then stir-fried together with the other ingredients and the sauce.
The result of this uncomplicated preparation process is a meal with an incredible range of flavors. The palm sugar contributes sweetness, the tamarind adds sour notes, chilis and onions provide some spiciness, and logically the roasted nuts bring nutty aromas. With fish or shellfish, the dish also features intense fishy and salty notes.
The right wine to pair with this wide range of flavors is a zesty, dry white wine. It needs a good acidity level to cut through the flavorful and oily meal. If your Phad Thai is only mildly spicy, grab a Sauvignon Blanc, for instance, from New Zealand’s Marlborough region. Its citrus and herbal aromas will deliciously add to the meal’s flavor mix. For spicy variations, go for Italian Prosecco. It’s acidic and citrusy, too, but its fizz will help stand the heat better.
Another exciting wine pairing for Phad Thai is orange wine. Like whites, most orange wines are high in acidity. But in addition, they feature characteristics that you would rather expect from red wines. For instance, many orange wines are fuller-bodied and have higher tannin levels than whites. Be aware that tannins often clash with spicy meals. So if your Phad Thai is very hot, waive the orange wine. But for mild preparations, it brings an interesting mix of fruity and nutty flavors to the table.
More Details on Orange Wine: WHAT IS ORANGE WINE AND IS IT MADE FROM ORANGES?
Thai Spring Rolls and Wine
Fried Thai Spring Rolls are very versatile. They are great as appetizers and finger food, but they also make a fantastic main dish for lunch. Their crucial ingredient is an egg roll wrapper or something similar such as rice paper. It holds the other ingredients and makes the rolls crunchy. But as it is neutral in taste, these other ingredients determine the Thai Spring Roll’s flavor, though.
You can fill the wrapper with rice noodles and various vegetables, including bean sprouts, baby corn, spring onions, carrots, and cabbage. Optionally, you might want to add meat like pork or chicken or seafood such as fish or shrimp. Of course, it’s also possible to waive the proteins and make vegetarian Thai Spring Rolls. With Thai basil, coriander, garlic, and other spices, you can add aromas and spiciness and round up the filling with fish sauce, soy sauce, or oyster sauce.
Depending on the ingredients, Thai Spring Rolls can range from mild to spicy. In any case, the rules for pairing Thai food and wine we have discussed earlier help: Pick a glass of sparkling wine for the crispy fried rolls. For mild variations, go for a dry sparkler, for instance, a Champagne or a Cava. Spicier preparations call for a sweeter drink like the formerly mentioned Asti or Moscato d’Asti.
Chicken Satay and Wine
Another delicious meal from Thai cuisine is Chicken Satay with peanut sauce. It takes some time to prepare it, but the result is extraordinarily delicious. Its backbone is chicken meat, typically from the thighs, but breast or tenderloin is also okay. The meat is cut into cubes and marinated for multiple hours with a mix of red curry paste, curry powder, salt, sugar, and coconut milk. Then, the cubes are put onto skewers and grilled over charcoal.
Chicken Satay Skewers
The Chicken Satay skewers are served with steamed rice and peanut sauce. This sauce is made from peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar, and more red curry paste. Together with the sauce, the chicken skewers offer a fascinating combination of sweet, salty, and smoky flavors.
The best wine to pair with Thai Chicken Satay is an off-dry rosé wine from the Loire Valley in France. Its acidity can easily deal with the richly flavored meat, while its fruity notes add another flavor layer to the culinary experience. You can also try an American White Zinfandel.
In case you’re not into rosé wine, go for a Pinot Grigio wine from Italy. Especially the dry whites from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region are great matches.
Green Papaya Salad and Wine
Before concluding this article, let’s discuss a vegetarian dish that perfectly showcases why Thai cuisine is unique: Som Tum, also known as Green Papaya Salad. The name-giving ingredient of this meal is green, unripe papaya. It’s shredded and mixed with carrot slices, cabbage, tomatoes, beans, chilies, and garlic. All ingredients are pounded with a pestle and mortar to release their aromas and then spiced with palm sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, and herbs such as Thai basil. Roasted peanuts round up the dish.
Green Papaya Salad perfectly combines sweet, salty, spicy, fruity, and nutty aromas in a light and flavorful meal. Besides, it’s easy to make and a great way to use leftover vegetables.
The optimal wine to match with this flavor profile is an aromatic white wine like Grüner Veltliner. Especially the wines from Austria are worth trying. Their high acidity comes with a combination of intense green fruit aromas and spicy and mineral notes – just perfect to match Green Papaya Salad. Another great option is a dry German Riesling that typically has similar characteristics.
Undoubtedly, Thai cuisine belongs to the world’s most fascinating cuisines, and it has something to offer for every taste. And with the right wine pairing, it becomes even better. In this article, you have learned the best Thai food and wine pairings. Enjoy!