The fizzle of an ice-cold Chang may be hard to resist on a hot day with a fire curry in Bangkok. After all, as tradition would have it, even the locals tend to enjoy Thai food in large part with beer, whisky, or an iced tea. Wine is almost always entirely left out of the equation, which, if you ask us, is boozy blasphemy.
Sure, Thai cuisine presents a bit of a challenge for the avid amateur sommelier. It can be spicy, salty, sweet, or sour – and that too all at once – making it a difficult one to properly pair with wine. Thailand has no far-reaching history of wine-making (and by default, wine-drinking), yet as more noted wineries are cropping up across the country and the interest is growing, questions of ‘can a Pinot Noir pair with a Pad Thai?’ are starting to swirl in social drinking circles. The fruity aromas of select wines are beginning to crush on the spices in countless Thai favourites. The fragrances are flirting. The flavours are seduced. And it turns out, Thai food and wine are actually quite a sweet match.
In an effort to slam dunk and score with all the right sips and knock it out of the park (much like our sports metaphors here), we put together the ultimate Thai food wine pairing bible. Scroll ahead for some of the best combinations, which we promise, if anything, are an absolute game changer.
(And yes, a Pinot Noir pairs well with a Pad Thai, though a Riesling is definitely more apt. Read on.)
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The safest option: white wine
The overarching connoisseur consensus when it comes to picking an all-rounder wine for Thai food is white. White wine has a low alcohol level and is able to calm spice with a refreshing and sugary flavour profile, particularly in sweeter off-dry varieties. It’s light enough so as to not clash with haunting fish sauce flavour notes, and serves as a beautiful complement to tamarind, coconut, lemongrass, or lime. Ideal for spicy, seafood, or even dessert dishes (definitely try it alongside mango sticky rice, your taste buds will boggle).
Green curry & Chenin Blanc: the high acidity of the grape will cut through the fat, whilst the sweetness will mediate spice and cool some heat
Thai-spiced Seafood & Sauvignon Blanc: a refreshingly citrus-y complement, especially New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs
Pad Thai & Off-Dry Late-Harvest Riesling: with its earthy and fruity flavours, Riesling is the most praised wine when it comes to Thai food accompaniments. Need any more convincing? Even the Michelin Guide suggests this exact pairing
A surprising bit of fun: sparkling wine
Beyond being able to use the phrase ‘winner winner, prosecco for dinner’, there are many reasons why sparkling wines and Champagne pair well with Thai food. The high acidity and fizz cuts through the grease found in fried dishes or coconut cream curries, and acts as a great palate-cleanser between courses. They’re light enough to pair with seafood starters without being overwhelming (despite a ballet of bubbles inside the glass), and enhance the flavours in heavily seasoned dishes. Go for Italian sparkling wines like prosecco, or the somewhat French equivalent of a pétillant-naturel (or ‘pét-nats’ in wine slang). If you really want to bring out the big guns/flutes, opt for Champagne – its citrus, pear, or apple notes go well with the ginger, galangal, or basil found in Thai cuisine. The main thing is to avoid pairing spicy dishes with sparklers, as these can add to heat and create some unwanted acidity.
Fried spring rolls & Champagne: have you ever noticed how champagne receptions often feature fried food canapés? Yeah, exactly. Champagne is not only a traditional way to start a meal, but also perfectly clears the palate from oil and spice before starting on the main dishes
Minced pork larb & sparkling rosé: fruity and sweet, sparkling rosés are low in alcohol, and contain just enough sugar to absorb the mild spice found in the Northeastern favourite
Yellow duck curry & Prié Blanc: ideal for a fatty meat and mild curry, this Italian sparkling grape is noted for its fresh scent and taste, acting as a friendly complement to an otherwise rather heavy curry
A romantic harmony of sorts: rosé wine
Whilst whites reign supreme in Thai food and wine heaven, rosé wines come in as a close summer love. Light and fresh like its white counterpart, the appeal of a rosé with Thai food lies in its crisp acidity and dry character. Beautifully harmonising with chilli, rosé wines normally bear fruity and floral notes, offering a delicate balance of flavours. Opt for the European ones for a spicy salad starter, and a sweet Australian one for a noodle and vegetable stir fry or rich curry.
Summer rolls & Rosado: as if the Spanish rosé wine wasn’t already the official beverage of a summer well spent, it also pairs refreshingly well with the crisp veggies found in a summer roll
Eggplant curry & White Zinfandel: rosé wine pairs exceptionally well with eggplant, much like those found in green curries or spicy basil stir fries
Salmon & Schillerwein: combine a salmon curry or a spiced yam salmon with a glass of the German rosé Schillerwein for a pungent sip and bite
You’re a bit of a daredevil: red wine
Sommeliers are a little divided on this one. With Thai food already boasting a rich range of flavour and spice, a red wine can be an overwhelming and downright complicated choice. However, they can work – if you know how to choose them.
Go for a light-bodied red with a simple structure, such as a Pinot Noir. As tannins don’t react well to spice, it’s important to avoid wines with firmer tannins, like those from Bordeaux or Australia. You don’t want a multi-layered beverage when you’re having Thai food. A secret tip (though it may make some gasp)? Lightly chill your bottle of red before serving, as this will soften the tannins a little. It’s unconventional, but as a general rule of thumb, Thai food wine pairing is all about what feels good.
Stir fried noodle Pad Seaew & Pinot Noir: light and juicy to complement the savoury and umami-packed notes of the wide noodle and soy dish
Massaman curry & Carignan: to round out the spicy influences of cardamom, cinnamon, and cumin in the curry
Grilled ‘Weeping Tiger’ beef & Loire Valley Gamay: featuring minimal tannins, a Gamay always goes well with spicy red meats