Pad thai is one of my all-time favorite comfort foods, but I never quite know what to pair with those complex, spicy dishes. I asked Todd Knoll, the executive estate chef at Jordan Vineyard & Winery for his take on wine pairings with three Thai dishes. Knoll was raised in Hawaii and draws upon flavors from his home state, as well as Asia.
Pad Thai: The classic noodle dish, often served with crushed peanuts.
Wine Pairing: Chardonnay (alternatives: Alsatian wines, Australian Semillon). "The 2008 Jordan Chardonnay is actually perfect, but any Chardonnay with low alcohol, high acids and balance can work great. Low alcohol is important, especially with spiciness. I like to clean my palate with wine—you're getting some oils, especially with pad thai."
Tom Yum: A hot and spicy soup.
Wine Pairing: Chardonnay again, but a more fruit-forward, unoaked version. (alternative: Reisling)
"You have to be careful with oaked chardonnay, because the spice will accent that, and it's just too much. Go with unoaked. A little residual sugar,and you'll have a better pairing. The balance of spice vs fruit, you want more fruit on the nose or more sugar in the glass.
Chicken Satay: Grilled meat in a peanut based sauce; originally an Indonesian dish but widely adopted on Thai menus.
Wine Pairing: Cabernet, (alternative: Reisling, Chardonnay)
"That's a tricky one. I would definitely go with a wine with some residual sugar. You're getting a spice so you're going to need a sweeter wine, but you don't' want to overpower the chicken. To be honest, beer is better with this dish than wine."
About the author: Kara Newman has written about wine and spirits for such publications as Wine Enthusiast and Sommelier Journal magazines, and is the author of Spice & Ice, which explores 60 tongue-tingling cocktails.