Wine has been around a long time in Asia but sometimes we are still confused about which wines to enjoy with Asian Food. Luckily, here in Thailand the art of balancing sweet, salty, sour and bitter flavour sensations in wine along with richly flavoured Thai cuisine is as effortless as wine itself.
There are only five flavours we human beings can perceive: salty, sweet, sour, bitter and savoury. That's it; there are only five tastes and it does not matter if the food is Thai, Russian, Italian or Greek - the rules for matching wine and food are the same whether the food is from the east or west.
Most Thai food is low in fat, tangy and richly flavoured. Savoury curries, salty ocean fresh seafood, spicy dips, bitter herbs and sweet fruits all combine to mix deliciously in popular Thai cuisine. The ideal wines for Thai food are fruity, spicy, robustly flavoured and low in acidity and tannin.
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White Wines for Thai food
Riesling and Gewürztraminer are some of the best white wine choices for Thai food. These wines offer floral, citrus, peach and mineral accents that pair well with spicy dishes and have won many fans among Thai food lovers. Riesling and Gewürztraminer paired with stir-fried vegetables like zucchini, squash, asparagus, and carrot; spicy chicken in chili paste; yellow noodles with crab meat; duck in red curry; and stir-fried chicken and cashew nut are all favourites of mine.
One of the best wine and Thai food matches I have experienced was in Songkla where I had an incredibly spicy yellow curried seafood plate with an icy cold Moscato d'Asti from Santo di Stefano. The whipsaw of spicy heat of the curry and chilled fruitiness of the Moscato was like a rollercoaster of flavour sensations. But for the ultimate in Thai food and wine combinations try deep-fried fish and mango salad or mussaman chicken curry paired with a sparkling Shiraz.
Then there is the world's most popular white wine, Chardonnay. It's equally happy with Thai cuisine. Good Chardonnay offers generous apple, melon, pear flavours, along with spice, honey, butter, butterscotch and hazelnut nuance. Look for lightly oaked versions that are refreshing and not heavy.
Personally, I find lighter Italian white wines to be perfect with herb-infused Thai dishes. Most Italian wines have an intriguing, slightly bitter taste that works well with Thai food. Another good bet is Semillon; its rich, honeyed flavour contrasts nicely with spicy Thai curries and dips.
Don't Overlook Red Wine
Many people seem surprised to discover how delicious Thai food is with red wine. The wines of the Rhône Valley, Syrah, Grenache and Mouvedre are perfect partners to Thai food. Not too heavy, spicy and fruity, their peppery character and fruitiness makes an ideal contrast and compliment to rich Thai foods.
California Zinfandel's peppery and jammy blackberry flavours work perfectly with the more hearty Thai dishes for much the same reasons. Try a peppery Zinfandel with a chilli-laden red curry beef plate to get the forehead moist and the senses firing on all cylinders.
As with Italian white wines, Italian reds have an uncanny affinity for Thai food. The Sangiovese-based wines of Tuscany are perfect with Thai food, and the wine's flavours seem to come alive when paired with local fare.
The two most important rules to remember when pairing wine with Thai food are that full-bodied wines should be served with robust, heavy dishes and lighter wines with lighter fare. And that crisp, acidic wines marry well with fatty foods, while soft wines are better suited to food with a touch of sourness. Other than that one should enjoy the wines they like the most without worrying about rules too much.
Why Smart Thai Food Lovers Choose Wine
Forget about beer and Champagne; the carbonation just intensifies the heat of chili peppers and bitterness of herbs while doing little to accentuate the food's other tastes. Unless you enjoy belching and sweating in front of others, go with wine or go without.
And what about Thai wine? There are two ways it is marketed and both are based on false logic. Some people try to make you feel obligated to drink Thai wine with Thai food simply because you are in Thailand. A salesman once asked me, "What's the matter, don't you like Thailand?" when I politely declined to buy his Thai wine. I just smiled and said I was into fusion. He didn't get it.
The other false logic propagated about Thai wine is that since it is from Thailand it somehow tastes better with Thai food. Actually, I have had some acceptable Thai wines and they seemed to taste better with Swedish food than they did with Thai food, but that is not the point. One should choose wines they enjoy, not wines they are obligated to drink. Taste is a personal experience; any wine can taste good with Thai food if you enjoy that wine.
Thai food is rapidly replacing Chinese as the world's most popular Asian fare. Wine has always been an important part of the dining table in both Western and Asian cultures and you could lose a lot of time thinking fine wines and Thai cuisine don't work. So mix it up, guided by the assurance that the two go hand in hand, just as with any other cuisine, and say 'yes' to Thai food and wine the next time the urge strikes. You just might discover your only regret is that you did not enjoy the two together sooner.