Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Pairing Thai Food and Wine

By Liza B. Zimmerman


The multiple layers of spice, and intensity, in Thai food can make you want to reach for a cool beer, but the right wine might be a better choice. The beer might give you an illusion of coolness but won't really slake you thirst, whereas the bright acidity and a touch of residual sugar in a white wine will do just the trick.

I just got back from a few weeks in Thailand, and the food in the North of the country is particularly delicious and full of simultaneous flavor bursts of sugar, vineyard, spice and fish sauce. While the wine selection isn't abundant there, they are some good choices. Chilean Sauvignon Blancs, are thankfully are in abundance. For Winfried Hancke, group director of operations and food and beverage  at the Bangkok-based Centara Resorts, which runs hotels and restaurants all over the country, Sauvignon Blanc would be his top pick with Thai cuisine.

Great picks should include the fresh and crisp Joel Gott Sauvignon Blanc from California and the Errazuriz or Lapostolle Sauvignons from Chile. A touch of white Bordeaux with Sauvignon base softened by Semillon would also work well.

The Sweet Side
Since Thai food can not only be spicy but sweet as well, as many Thais add extra sugar to their soup at the table, an off-dry wine is often a perfect match. "Beverages which have sweetness go well as the food itself contain sugar," notes Hancke, in a nod to the canisters of sugar on the table in almost any Thai restaurant. "The spiciness of the food is best cut by sweetness," he concludes. 

Off-dry Riesling with its balanced acid and ribbons of sugar is always a classic match for all types of chili-laced foods (feel free to try it with Chinese and Mexican as well). New York State and Canada are making some superb versions such as Cave Spring Estate from Ontario and Dr. Konstantin Franck's Salmon Run from the Finger Lakes.

Sparkling wine can cut through the grease with some of the fried street food the Thais love so much, whether it is squid on a stick or a butter-rich, roti bread packed with spicy chicken or eggs.

Red wines are going to be much harder to pair with these dishes as their tannins tend to flight with the spice and the sweetness of the dishes. If you really want some of the flavors of a red I would go with a rosé: some of my favorites are from Spain's Navarra and France's Bordeaux. I much prefer their strong flavors and intense colors over the pale versions coming out of Southern France. South Africa is also making some great roses such as Mulderbosch's rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Thailand does produce some of own wine in the Hau Hin Valley, where the grapes are amazingly harvested by elephants, but it is pretty rare to find anything from the Monsoon Valley label in this country.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza B. Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about wine and food for two decades. She is principal of the San Francisco-based Liza the Wine Chick wine writing, education and consulting firm. She has worked on staff and freelance at national magazines such as Wine Enthusiast, The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, Wine Spectator, Where SF and the Examiner. She currently contributes to Cheers, Wine Business Monthly and the Examiner, among others.

Zimmerman focuses on demystifying wine and transforming it into a tool for business and networking for companies all over the country. Past clients include Genentech, Roche and IBM.

She has visited all the world’s major wine regions and is one of select few in the U.S. to hold the Diploma of Wine & Spirits (D.W.S.), the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine.
Photo Credit: Centara Resorts

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