Thai Food Pairings
Updated: Nov 24, 2019
Time to pair some wine. With Thai!
There are some foods that wine is just difficult to pair with. Asparagus. Blue Cheese. Broccoli. Mushrooms. Cabbage. The list of very flavourful (or disgusting, depends on your view) vegetables goes on. Difficult pairings also exist for very spicy food, curry, and even very sweet desserts. And then there's the very elusive Thai food. Thai cuisine is just about one of the most difficult pairings because not only does Thai food have a lot of heat and Indian spice influences, but Thai food often has a lot of umami and uses a lot of vegetables in their cuisine.
To understand what makes pairings just that difficult, we need to understand that this all has to do with the tastes. There are six different tastes that our palates experience, and all of which contribute to the interactions of food and wine as we enjoy them. There's sweetness, bitterness, acidity, salt, heat (chili), and lastly umami.
What is umami?
Umami is a taste and distinct from all primary tastes. Often hard to pinpoint, it can be described as brothy or meaty.
The general consensus is that the higher the bitterness and umami of a certain food, the harder it is to pair with wine.
Why that is you ask?
The more bitter your food, it enhances the bitterness in your wine. If you already have a more bitter and tannic wine, it can be rendered far too bitter.
The more umami in your food, more bitterness, astringency and alcohol will be perceived in your wine as you lose body, sweetness and fruitiness.
Circling back to Thai food. Thai food uses a lot of curry, fish paste, and other strong flavours. Curry is aromatic, and fish paste is very umami-full (wow, that's a mouthful). Thai food is also known to use chilies which often also contributes to difficulty pairing your wine. (Note: the spicier your food, the higher perception of alcohol in wine. Think taking a shot of whisky, or in the case of already high alcohol wines, taking a shot of Fireball).
What would make a good pairing with Thai food?
Wines that are relatively low alcohol, have low (or no) tannin levels, fruitiness to stand up to the strong flavours of curry, residual sugar to offset heat and bitterness of the food, and preferably no oak.
So where does that leave us?
One of my favourite wines is the classic Gewurztraminer. This grape is done in a lot of styles, and most famous from Germany and Alsace in France. Ontario is growing some amazing Gewurztraminer as well. Wines can range from sweet to extremely dry, and are very aromatic with high acidity.
One region that is relatively unknown for Gew is California. California is famed for their Chardonnay and Fumé Blanc, but Gewurztraminer is grown along the northern coast. California Gew is highly aromatic, is relatively light bodied, and express riper fruit, therefore feeling more sweet.
My favourite California Gewurztraminer is the Fetzer Gewurztraminer. Grown on the Monterey County of the Northern California coast, this wine is elegant and only 12% alcohol. It is peachy and pear-y on the nose with aromas of orange spice, and on the palate tropical with notes of pineapple, baked apple and cinnamon. While this wine is less than 3g sugar per liter, its ripe profile does the trick.
To test my theory, I made Tom Kha Gai soup (spicy thai soup with chicken, shrimp, mushrooms and coconut milk) and I have to say - the pairing was awesome. The orange spice and cinnamon notes in the wine complemented the galangal in the soup and the sweetness offset the chili.
To make sure my theory was iron clad - the next day I ordered a very spicy Thai beef salad. (Shout out to Foodora for delivering this so quickly to this mama's house). The tropical notes paired with the mango in the salad perfectly, and the acidity cut the fat of the Thai spring rolls. Yum.
No wonder everyone loves this wine. Available at the LCBO for $12.95 it's a steal. Not only does it pair with Thai food but it's a pretty stylin' bottle.
To learn more about Fetzer visit them here: http://fetzer.com/