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Thai Cuisine

Food, Spices & Wine

Thai cuisine is enjoying a North American renaissance of sorts. Exotic spices with exotic names like lemon grass, galangal and kaffir lime, together with endorphin-inducing heat might account for its popularity.

thai-3Thai food is complex and pairing wine with the many flavors and textures in specific dishes is complex also.

As with Asian cuisine and wine pairings, the key to success lay in balancing the sweet, salty, sour, bitter and pungent with those same characteristics in wine.

Thai cuisine favors the use of fresh herbs and spices and almost always includes 'nam pla', a flavorful fish sauce. Kaffir lime, garlic, galangal, turmeric, lemongrass, and coconut figure prominently in Thai fare.  Pad Thai (above) is Thailand's most popular culinary export, and thankfully one of the least challenging to pair.

Curry Rules

Popular Thai dishes include red curry, where the feature ingredients are chili peppers; green curry made with green chili peppers and Thai basil; pad thai, a noodle dish with peanuts, lime, and bean sprouts; Masaman curry, a less spicy curry, but full of flavor and made with coconut milk, peanuts, bay leaves, fish sauce and various spices; and yellow curry, made with coconut cream and milk and turmeric.

thai-2Many German Rieslings and Rhine wines (left) pair well with chicken or seafood red curry as their acidity levels help to cut the spiciness of the dish. For red curries with beef or pork, try a French Beaujolais or Italian Barbera.

Green curry is one of the spiciest curries in Thai cuisine and should be paired with a wine that will cut the heat, challenge the spice and cleanse the palette. The usual suspects here include Champagne (of course) and Gewurztraminer.

Masaman curry is extremely flavorful, but slightly milder on the heat scale. This naturally creates an opportunity to experiment with different wines. Try an un-oaked Chardonnay, a Vouvray from the Loire Valley. Canada's Okanagan Valley produces some fabulous Chenin Blancs, seemingly made for Thai food pairing.

For Pad Thai, a lighter Pinot Noir or crisp German Scheurebe should work nicely.

Yellow curries are slightly more versatile than the other curries as they are milder. Look for a wine with citrus notes to complement the lemongrass. Good choices include Sauvignon Blanc or Rioja if red is preferred.

thai-1Thai Pairing 101

When pairing wine with Thai food, first identify the main ingredient - coconut milk, chilis, lemongrass, garlic, turmeric, or tamarind. Look for wines that are slightly sweet, such as Rieslings or light Muscats (right). The residual sugar will tame the heat of the chilis, but will complement the underlying sweetness.

Wines with so-called tropical notes like pineapple, mango, peaches, apricots, lemongrass, and those with floral notes should pair well with the exotic flavors of Thailand.

Unless you want to amplify the heat in a dish, stay away from wines with tannins. If red wine is favored, try Pinot Noir, Beaujolais or Rioja.

Dishes containing high-acid tamarind or lime require stable acid wines as well . Consider Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris. Acidic wines work best with sour note dishes. Sweet dishes will not complement these wines, and visa versa.

Dry ros├ęs are also an excellent choice for Thai food because of their versatility. Crisp, and full flavored, the acid levels of roses are perfect for many Thai dishes.

For the most part, avoid oaky wines. Sparkling wines like Prosecco and of course Champagne are good choices as they help to cut the richness of some of the creamier dishes and cleanse the palette.