Best wine for Thai food

If you love Thai food as much as I do but would rather have a nice wine pairing than the standard beer option, you are in the right place. This guide will give you some information to help you pick a wine that plays well with your Thai food. Finding the best wine to pair with Thai food can seem daunting. The combination of bold, spicy flavors and hot temperatures make finding a wine to match these requirements seem like a difficult task.

With such an enormous range in dishes, flavors, and spices, choosing the right wines to pair with Thai food can be tricky. As with most cuisines, there are combinations that are going to go better together than others. A careful wine pairing can elevate a Thai dish, making both the wine and accompanying food an experience that is much more pleasurable. To find an appropriate complementary wine pairing for any Thai dish, begin by identifying the primary ingredients in the dish, and then follow some simple tips to help you achieve an enjoyable wine pairing.    

Let’s look at an example of one of the most popular Thai dishes, Pad Thai.

Best wine for Pad Thai

The best wines for pairing with pad Thai are Riesling, Sauvignon blanc, Sylvaner, Beaujolais, and Prosecco. The aromas of sauvignon blanc can appeal to savory dishes, particularly ones reliant on herbs, so it is no surprise the wine works well here.

While red wines are not a great option for pad Thai, you can get by with Beaujolais Villages, which has fruity acidity and offers a lot of refreshment for the extra-spicy pad Thai bowl. For a red wine-Pad Thai pairing, you will want to stick with lighter, fruitier reds with high acidity. Red wines do not work with Thai foods normally, however in this instance, the combination works brilliantly. The combo works so well because pad Thai sauce uses tamarind as the key ingredient.

This is particularly appealing to red wine lovers who might avoid the traditional white wine pairings with spicy foods. Off-dry white wines are a great option here since their light sweetness helps to balance out the warmth of the dishes. These off-dry wines boost flavors, offer balance, and soothe spice when it is overpowering. These off-dry wines are good at targeting the softer flavors rather than the spices.

Great Pad Thai recipe here

AVOID dry wines but don’t get too sweet!

Dry wines may make for a poor pairing, contrasting against the spiciness of your meal. Some sweetness in the wine may help, but the dryer the wine, the harsher the flavor. It is important to control sweetness for both the wine and food or you run the risk of losing nuance to either.  

Sugar can overwhelm a wonderful wine, as good pairings typically call for wine being sweeter than the food (and this is why wedding cakes with champagne don’t work). The flavor/texture combos may be quite different from Western foods many of us are familiar with, making the wine pairings really challenging.    

Understanding the flavors

For Thai cuisine, the key to paired wines is an acute awareness of fresh flavors, cooking techniques, and how dissimilar flavors work together in a dish. Pay attention to proportions and differences in these ingredients among the various types of Thai curries, as understanding and matching those flavors is the key to a skilled Thai curry wine pairing. Because spicy flavors are everywhere, Thai cooking requires wines that complement their entire profile, while not contributing to the sharp contrasting flavors. The dominant flavors in Thai cooking are sweet, sour, spicy, and savory — slightly different than the warming spice in many Indian curries, or the more aromatic, herbaceous notes in Vietnamese.    

Thai food can be hot, salty, sweet, or sour – and that is also often at once – making it difficult to properly match it to wine. its intense flavors, raging spices, and ever-present chili, can make choosing the right wine to go with it a little tricky. Thai dishes are known to be paired with white wines with sweetness, such as Riesling — but these serve only to dull the intense textures and spices. Light, crisp white wines that have some sweetness to them (like off-dry Riesling) are safer zones to go in with Thai. An off-dry Riesling remains the best overall option when pairing with Thai because it gives you enough sweetness without overpowering flavors.

The low-alcohol, smoother varieties are going to be ideal to pair with the rich dishes and umami flavors found in such staples of Thai takeout. What I found amazing over the years is that a smooth, mid-full-bodied red is an excellent match for spicy dishes.   

On a Sour note

Remember that sour wines combine brilliantly with Thai dishes. Since the heat from spicy green curry also can overwhelm your palate, a high-acidity wine such as a Gewurztraminer would pair well with the dish. Green curry is the most pungent of the Thai curries, and it needs to be paired with a sweeter wine–one that not only cuts through the heat but will stand up to the bold flavors of the dish. Green chilies add an extra-sharp spice profile that can break the structure of many white wines, but the bold flavors and high alcohol content of Gewurztraminer are a fearsome pairing with even the spiciest of Thai green curries.   

Crisp, citrusy white wines such as Sauvignon blanc, Riesling, and Sylvaner are best paired together since they deliver the tangy notes of lime and lemon which electrify all of the tasty flavors of dishes like pad Thai.   

Sparkling

We mostly focused on still wines for this list, but Thai foods are also fine with sparkling wines such as Prosecco. While this sparkling style is versatile enough to pair with all of your reliable favorites, it is especially suited for vegetable and fruit-forward dishes such as spring rolls, spicy eggplant, green curry, or green papaya salad, making this an ideal Thai-food wine pairing.

Sauvignon blanc, Chenin blanc, and lesser-known varieties such as Sylvaner, Gruner Veltliner, Muscadet, and Sancerre are also great wines to pair with Thai dishes. In general, a fragrant wine such as (off-dry) Riesling is an excellent option for pairing with Thai dishes involving lots of herbs such as cilantro and lemongrass, since these sweet flavors pair nicely with the bright, aromatic grapes.

Thai food is about balance, both within individual dishes as well as a banquet overall, and the wine that is the best fit will keep things harmonious while providing some added freshness or depth where needed.

When pairing wines with Thai food, a good off-dry Riesling (or another high-acid, aromatic white) is the obvious choice, matching the intensity and body of the dish with the intensity and body of the wine. The more delicate ingredients, even a rustic dish such as a Northern Thai pork curry, the more delicate the wine.    

With Thai, Indian, Szechuan, or other very-spicy, highly-seasoned foods, low alcohol, low tannins if red, a bit of sweetness if white, and in both cases, a focus on the fruits. The classic pairing of wine with spicy food is light-bodied reds like Pinot Noir, or a very light Shiraz like that from Australia, which works particularly well when the wine has fruity finishes.  

Conclusion

 As an overall rule, white wines generally do a better job than reds when it comes to pairing them with spicy foods such as Thai, and whites with some residual sugar do an even better job since the sugar counteracts and cools down the spicy palate. Ultra-dry wines of any color struggle against the sweetness-sour-spicy-bitter factors of these types of dishes, so are best avoided. A rule of thumb is to pick a wine that has the same level of sweetness as your dish. If you have a very sweet curry, then go for a sweet white like Gewurztraminer. Gewurztraminer is also a great choice with green Thai curry and Sauvignon blanc works across a whole range of Thai dishes, thanks to its citrusy lemon and lime crispness.

Check out our post on the best wine for Chinese food here.