There's a lot going on in Thai food. This aromatic cuisine has everything from spices and herbs to fish sauces, coconut milk, and fragrant rice, but it has also mastered the delicate act of flavor balance. Each bite reveals a new and complex taste.
It is this very complexity that often makes Thai food seem such a challenge for wine lovers. The good news is that matching wine with Thai food can be an utter joy. You can discover new Thai food and wine combinations, delight the senses, and add more wines to your collection, all at the same time.
Here's what makes Thai cuisine so variable, what you need to know to pair it well, and which wines bring out the best flavors.
What Is Thai Cuisine?
Like many cuisines, Thai cuisine is rich in regional differences that help to account for its appealing complexity. When you look across the country, you see variations in topography and climate as well, which also influence the foods grown and the way they're prepared. Here's a rundown of regional Thai cuisine.
This part of Thailand, known as Isan, has a drier but still seasonally wet climate, with rolling hills sandwiched between several mountain ranges. Here, locals enjoy foods with more spice and sourness, but they keep dishes simple.
Sticky rice is also more favored in the Northeast, compared to long-grain rice elsewhere. You're likely to see more boiled and grilled dishes, along with a variety of meats and a local type of fish sauce called padaek.
Surrounded by Myanmar and Laos, the northern part of Thailand is full of mountainous terrain, river valleys, and cooler tropical temperatures. This region has plenty of freshwater fish, but it focuses more on vegetables and herbs than seafood dishes, and the flavors lean toward sour and bitter, with less spice.
Similar to the Northeast region, sticky rice is highly favored here as well. You'll also see different types of meats, especially pork and sausage, with noodle dishes more plentiful as well. Curry dishes tend be of thinner consistency thanks to a broth base.
Moving south, you enter Central Thailand with its sloping hills and flat deltas. Bangkok is at the heart of this region, where seafood and vegetables mix in unique combinations. It is here also that sweet, sour, salty, and spicy flavors mingle with the creaminess of coconut.
You see long-grain jasmine rice replace sticky rice, and flavors take on a more moderate spiciness. Bangkok has a major influence on the cuisine as well, with more refined flavors and a tendency to have sharable-style dishes.
Finally, the southern part of Thailand is where spice comes back in full force. Here you have full-flavored dishes with high amounts of spice and salt. Seafood is everywhere, as is the local favorite fish sauce. You also see plenty of coconut dishes, with thick curries that use coconut milk. As in central Thailand, jasmine rice is a staple.
Tips for Thai Food and Wine Pairing
Now that you have an understanding of Thailand's incredibly diverse cuisine, it's time to find out how to pair wine and Thai food.
Due to the ubiquitous presence of spicy flavors, Thai cuisine needs wines that balance out the full profile without introducing harsh contrasting flavors. That's why it's best to avoid full-bodied tannic reds, oaky whites, or wines with too much alcohol. With Thai food, fruit-forward often works best.
White wines with acidity and a hint of residual sugar are the go-to for most Thai food. These off-dry wines enhance flavors, provide balance, and calm spice where it's too intense. Look for wines with Spätlese, Kabinett, demi-sec, or off-dry on the label.
Bubbly sparkling wines also work well to cut through the richness and complement the complex flavors. Sparkling wines also have plenty of acidity to cleanse the palate, but they don't work as well with high-heat dishes like those from southern Thailand.
Rosé wines step in where sparkling wines fade out. They work quite well with high-heat dishes while balancing flavors with their fruity notes.
Thai Food Wine Pairing Recommendations
Here are some suggestions for pairing wine with Thai food.
1. Pork Larb and Sparkling Rosé
This meat salad dish is a staple in Northeast Thailand. It is a mix of earthy flavors and intriguing combinations, featuring pork, fish sauce, ground toasted rice, chilies, vegetables, lime, and herbs like mint. When pairing this dish with a sparkling rosé, you enjoy plenty of fruity notes that complement the spice but won't overpower the milder flavors.
2. Pad See Ew and Pinot Noir
Pad see ew has a hearty, savory profile thanks to its stir-fried rice noodles, rich sweet soy sauce coating, and crunchy broccoli. The umami-rich dish has a perfect pairing in Pinot Noir, where the lush fruits mark their place but aren't overwhelmed by unnecessary tannins. Pinot Noir also has more natural acidity, helping it balance the richer taste of pad see ew.
3. Green Curry and Chenin Blanc
Green curry is one of those dishes that can catch you off guard. This central Thailand dish is made with spicy green chilies, eggplant, fish sauce, coconut milk, and green vegetables, and it is the spiciest of all Thai curries. To counteract all that fire, look for an off-dry Chenin Blanc that offers a touch of sweetness, with plenty of acidity to cut through the creamy coconut milk. Chenin Blanc also has enough pear, jasmine, and ginger notes to match the brightness of all those chilies.
4. Coconut Chicken Soup and Pinot Gris
Coconut chicken soup is a refreshing combination of creamy, sweet, and tangy. The tang comes from red curry paste and red chilies, while the sweet creaminess is down to the coconut milk. You also have earthiness from mushrooms, which means you need a wine that can hold its own against all the complexity. Pinot Gris, especially from Alsace, offers plenty of zippy and ripe fruit notes, along with ginger and sweet honey. Although fuller bodied, Pinot Gris has enough acidity to balance the coconut richness of the dish.
5. Summer Rolls and Torrontes
Summer rolls are fresh, light, and full of flavor, and they need a wine that won't overpower them. Argentinean Torrontes is highly aromatic thanks to florals like rose and jasmine, and it also brings in plenty of lemon and peach notes. This acidic wine is crisp and delicate enough to balance the taste of fresh summer rolls, making it an ideal match.
There are many additional wines to discover in our extensive online catalog, where the next great Thai food and wine pairing awaits. We can't wait to help you find your new favorite. Contact us today to speak with a member of our team or to get started with expert consultancy services.