Ask a Sommelier: The Best Wine for Thai Food

Phat Thai Shrimp Tofu on a banana leaf.
Wine experts recommend their picks for Thai food. Austin Bush

Can you pair wine with Thai food? Say you're eating spicy duck larb, a fresh green papaya salad with chilies, fish sauce, and lime juice, plus rich pad thai with shrimp, and a green curry with eggplant. Is there a wine that will taste good with all those dishes? We asked our crew of sommeliers for advice on picking a wine that will work. Here are their top wine choices for pairing with a Thai feast.

"Riesling from Germany. Always and forever. Off-dry wines with acidity really cut the spice, and the 9% alcohol means you can chugalug!"—Patrick Cappiello (Pearl & Ash)

"Gruner Veltliner! A rich, savory Gruner like Brundlmayer 2008 'Lamm' would be perfect—the ripeness and richness to the fruit will stand up to the heat while the inherent savory character of Gruner won't compete with bold Thai flavors."—Carlin Karr (Frasca)

"Riesling is great with Thai food, particularly wines with a bit of sweetness. Although not all Riesling is sweet, when you eat something spicy and drink something with residual sugar, the sugar goes to the background and the fruit comes forward. At Kin Shop, we love to have people try it, especially if they don't like sweet wines, since it often changes their minds. Over the years, what I've found surprising is smooth, medium-full red wines are a great pairing for spicy dishes. We have a lovely merlot from Neyers that just is perfect with spicy meat dishes."—Alicia Nosenzo (Kin Shop, Perilla, The Marrow)

A green papaya salad piled high on a rectangular plate.
Luk Thys

"A lot of aromatic and bold flavors coming from this spread of Thai dishes! Pairing wine with multiple dishes, especially when the flavors are all over the places and the protein or the preparation are not too heavy, I would always go with wines that have higher acidity naturally. Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay (to certain extent), will be the go-to recommendations in most wine shops. In reality, though, not everyone is a fan of residual sugar in white wine. Therefore, I tend to find myself recommending white wines made from grapes that have more fruitier characters but tend to be made in dry styles, i.e. Kerner (a Riesling & Trollinger cross), Sylvaner, and Scheurebe. If you are dedicated red-only drinkers, I will go with light to medium bodied red wine with ample acidity, and no new oak regimen preferred. Schiava from Alto Adige will work really well in this case, and basic Southern Italian reds that are made in stainless steel vessels or concrete; or Pinot Noir from a cool climate, such as Germany, Austria, or uptate New York."—Arthur Hon (Sepia)

"With a variety of dishes on the table, you can either choose to have a great pairing with one thing (that doesn't necessarily work perfectly with every dish), or something that is a little safer and goes okay with everything. If you are going for the first game plan, I would choose a bright, tart wine to go with the papaya salad, perhaps white or rosé Txakoli from the Basque country in Spain or a fresh, low alcohol and low tannin red like Rossese from Liguria in Italy to go with the spicy duck laarb. If I had to pick one wine for everything, it would be probably be an off-dry Riesling from Alsace or Germany or Vouvray (Chenin Blanc) with just a hint of sugar. If you are in the mood for red wine, you would want to avoid something with too much alcohol or oak."—Stacey Gibson (Olympic Provisions)

"Look for wines styles that may share some similar flavors to the food to allow them to stand up to the bold flavors and distinct spices, such as white wines from Austria, Germany and Alsace. Varietals like Riesling, Gewurtztraminer and Pinot Blanc from these regions often carry vibrantly aromatic tropical fruit notes, are solidly structured and carry a distinct spiciness unto themselves. Be careful with light bodied, dry whites as well as red wines as they run the risk of creating an unsavory discord of flavors on the palate or getting lost to the food all together."—Colleen Hein (Eastern Standard)

"Less expensive off-dry bubbly options like Bugey-Cérdon are refreshing and great foils for the spice. Red wines get overlooked, but juicy red wines with soft (or no) tannins can be delicious with Thai food as well. Some that jump to mind: Beaujolais (I'm loving Jean Foillard's "Nouveau") American Grenache (Vallin Grenache, Tribute to Grace), and other light, aromatic red wines made from grapes such as Frappato, Gamay and Pineau d'Aunis. Poulsard and Trousseau are great, too. If you have not tried Arnot-Roberts' North Coast Trousseau, seek it out!"—Jordan Salcito (Momofuku)

"As a society we are afraid of wines that aren't completely dry. We need to get over that. I'll blame white zin to some extent, but that craze is long gone. Thai food with Riesling or Chenin Blanc is just bulletproof. For the combination of foods above, I'd probably go with something on the earthy and spicy side of either of those varieties, so a Spätlese (frequently off-dry late-harvest style) Riesling from the Rheingau, maybe something from Robert Weil, or Demi-Sec (off-dry) Vouvray from a solid producer like Huet would be fantastic. Spice is mediated by a little sweetness, while Chenin and Riesling are both high-acid grapes, so they cut through the fat of the dishes."—David Keck (Camerata at Paulie's)

Green Curry Fish Balls with Eggplant
Austin Bush

"I find Gewürztraminer to be my personal favorite. Especially those from Albert Boxler. His ability to balance acidity and sugar while providing exceptional tropical fruit flavors make this a slam dunk pairing."—Chris Nelson (Union Square Cafe)

"Many sommeliers will recommend off-dry Riesling to pair with spicy dishes; while I think this can be a great pairing (especially with an off-dry Riesling from the Mosel in Germany or New York's Finger Lakes), Champagne comes in for the win yet again! Crisp, yeasty, and refreshingly carbonated, Champagne helps to clean-off your palate of oil, spice, and fat. It's also versatile enough to pair with meats like duck, lamb, and yet light enough to balance seafood really well. Look to a producer like R.H. Coutier from Ambonnay in Champagne for a rich, doughy Champagne that will work wonders with these dishes."—Thomas Pastuszak (NoMad)

"Any aromatic white, especially from Alsace (Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Gewurtztraminer or field blends that include all of them). As an alternative, a dry rose from Provence would be a nice choice. I'd definitely avoid any strong tannic red wine."—Roberto Paris (il Buco and il Buco Alimentari)

"With Thai or Indian or Szechuan or other highly seasoned, potentially spicy food, the key is low alcohol, low tannin if red, and a touch of sweetness if white, and in either case fruit-forward. Ultra-dry wine of any color fights with the sweet-sour-spicy-bitter factors in this kind of cooking; and those same dishes also magnify the alcoholic feel of any wine. Think Riesling or Chenin Blanc, but not rippingly dry versions of either."—Juliette Pope (Gramercy Tavern)

"It may defy conventional wisdom, but I would pair Sauvignon Blanc with that meal. Not one that is too austere or mineral-driven, but one with more expressive fruit. Obviously, new world Sauvignon Blanc, especially from New Zealand, is bursting with ripe fruit and citrus: lime zest, grapefruit. But I have tasted a great deal of Sancerre and Loire Sauvignon Blanc lately that I think would pair wonderfully with a spicy Thai meal like this."—Lara Creasy (King + Duke)

A platter of duck larb on romaine lettuce leaves.
J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

"When pairing wine with Thai food, Riesling (or other highly aromatic, high acid white wines) is the obvious go-to, matching intensity and weight of a dish with intensity and weight of the wine. Generally, lower alcohol whites with a little sweetness and a strong backbone of acidity stand up to the heat and intensity of Thai dishes but I find drier whites pairing well with many Thai dishes as well. A rosé, Pinot noir, or Gamay noir can be fun as well, especially with a green curry and eggplant dish. Try Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Majoratsfullung Riesling Sekt Brut, Love & Squalor Willamette Valley Riesling, an Oregon Pinot noir, or a Cru Beaujolais."—Christopher Sky Westmoreland (Levant)

"Go for off-dry wines made with Alsatian varieties like Pinot Gris or Gewürztraminer. There are some really nice Alsatian varieties growing in California's Anderson Valley now, and of course, you can rarely go wrong with a bottle of bubbles."—Courtney Humiston (Dry Creek Kitchen)

"I can't talk about Thai food and wine without mentioning German riesling, and for multiple reasons: the lower alcohol calms the spice, the residual sweetness hits the sugary notes of tamarind, lime and coconut, and the clean mineral tones don't clash with fish sauce. Maximin Grünhäuser's 2010 Abtsberg Kabinett is a knockout pairing. Weingut Knoll from Austria makes a delicious Loibner Riesling Federspiel as well, if you're looking for a drier style. For Thai food in general, pick something low in alcohol with tropical fruit and herbal notes. Grüner Veltliner, Verdejo, and Sancerre always fit the bill."—Jackson Rohrbaugh (Aragona)

"If Riesling really isn't your thing try an array of whites from France's Loire Valley. Muscadet is a nice refreshing white from the eastern Loire Valley that is light on the palate with a nice touch of minerality. Further west in the Loire Valley you'll find Sancerre, here Sauvignon Blanc is king, from soft delicate white wines with hints of smoke, tropical fruit, and slate, too big boisterous white wines overflowing fragrances of honeysuckle."—Jeremy Wilson (Ned Ludd)

"Outside of Riesling, personally I'd be going for a beer."—Evan Hufford (Saison)