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Column: Pairing wine with Thai cuisine

Wine pairings that won't distract from the unique flavours and aromes of Thai cuisine.

Encouraged by my recent visits to two of the best Thai cuisine restaurants in town (Baan Lao Fine Thai Cuisine in Richmond and Maenam in Vancouver), I thought I would do an article on wine pairings with Thai cuisine.

It is difficult to generalize regarding Thai food, as Thai cuisine has so much variety.  However, I generally associate seafood, such as prawns and scallops, as well as exotic fruits, like mangos and coconuts, with Thai cuisine.  Thai cuisine also uses many herbs and spices such as basil, parsley and lemongrass.  Various curries and pad thai noodles are also common in Thai cuisine.

Having this in mind, here are some of my favourite wine pairings with Thai cuisine:

Generally, when pairing with Thai cuisine, you are looking for wines that will not overpower the delicate aromas and tastes of the food.  There is a lot of subtlety in the spices used in Thai cuisine, so wines with high acidity, high tannins or high alcohol will distract you from these unique flavours and aromas.

White wine

If you are choosing a white wine, I like the sweetness of B.C. or German Rieslings to offset the heat and spiciness of Thai cuisine.  I also like Alsace wines (like Riesling, Gewurztraminer or Pinot Gris) that are off-dry and aromatic in style.  All of these wines have some sweetness, good acidity and fragrant aromas which match nicely with the aromatics of Thai cuisine. 

I find oaky Chardonnay wines too much of a contrast to Thai cuisine and the acidity in Sauvignon Blancs generally competes too much with the natural acidity in many Thai dishes.

Red wine

If you are choosing a red wine, I don’t think heavy Cabernet Sauvignon wines match very well with Thai cuisine.  I like fruit-forward wines but not Australian Shiraz, which has too much alcohol content and may again compete with the food for attention.  I like lighter, fruity wines like Gamay wines from the Beaujolais region or young Pinot Noir wines.  Even Grenache-based wines may do very well with Thai cuisine, as they are wines with moderate acidity and tannins. 

Although you can find Grenache wines in Southern Rhone, I prefer Australian Grenache-based wines when pairing with Thai cuisine, as they are more moderate in terms of the alcohol content and tannins. 

Champagne or sparkling wine

You could also try champagne or sparkling wine with Thai cuisine, but the concern is that the acidity of the champagne would detract from your enjoyment of the food.  So you may need to have an aged sparkling wine, which has some citrus elements and secondary bread-like aromas and tastes.

So what did I eat at Baan Lao and Maenam? Check out the full reviews of my dining experiences at Baan Lao and Maenam.

And what did I end up pairing with my meal? Since I was dining with non-drinkers, I chose to just order wine by the glass at each restaurant.  I like experimenting with different wine pairings and the wines offered at most restaurants are carefully selected to pair with the dishes they offer. 

At Baan Lao, I chose a glass of Chenin Blanc from the Anjou region in the Loire Valley followed by a Syrah from the Crozes Hermitage region in Northern Rhone.  Chenin Blanc is a wine with higher acidity but also has lighter body.  The Syrah from Crozes Hermitage was juicy with some smokiness and some white pepper elements.

At Maenem, I had a glass of an Alsace white wine that was a blend of different grape varietals.  The medium acidity, light body and fragrant aroma paired very well with my meal. 

But don’t take my word for it… Go to your favorite Thai restaurant and take a stab at pairing a wine to go along with your meal. Until next time, happy drinking!