Pad Thai is a sweet and spicy dish typically consisting of noodles flavored with chili, fish sauce, tamarind, lime, nuts and shrimp, or sometimes chicken. Pad Thai has intensely contrasting flavors, focusing heavily on sweet, spicy, sour, salty and bitter elements all at the same time. While these diverse flavors are a reason for the dish’s popularity, they can also make wine pairing challenging. The lime flavors often prominent in pad Thai can also make the pairing of certain red wines difficult.
Throw the Old Rules out the Window
The old — and generally debunked — adage of “white wine with white meats” need not be a constraint on your wine selections with pad Thai. Furthermore, while whites such as Riesling and dry sparkling wines, due to their acidity, have been the 640 for Asian cuisine, reds can also pair well. The trick is to play off certain red-friendly flavors in pad Thai, while not conflicting with the other flavors. With reds you will want to find a wine that complements the spicy and umami flavors of pad Thai, without clashing with the dish’s lime and herbal flavors. Focus on the tamarind, Thai fish sauce and chilies, all of which play well with a number of red wines. Generally, look for fruit-forward red wines lacking in tannins.
Wines to Avoid
Chili tends to make tannins more pronounced in wine — typically excessively so– and tannins tend to make chili seem much hotter and more pronounced. Lime is also not known to go well with tannin as it will often make lime flavors overwhelming on the palate. Generally, avoid heavy young Shiraz, Barolo, Barbaresco, Cabernet Sauvignon, super-Tuscans, Bordeaux and Bordeaux style blends. One exception to this guideline is that some high-end, well-aged Bordeaux and Shiraz may have “calmed down” enough to effectively pair with pad Thai. However, the gorgeous subtleties that are so indicative of these typically expensive wines will most definitely be overcome by the strong flavors of pad Thai.
Some Excellent Red Choices
Beaujolais, with its near non-existent tannins and light, fruit-forward style, generally works very well with spicy, complex dishes like pad Thai. Other wines from around the world focusing on Gamay, the principal grape of red Beaujolais, work similarly well. Pinot noir, whether from its home in Burgundy or from other areas like California, Oregon and New Zealand, also can work well with pad Thai. Consider Rioja from Spain — it pairs perfectly with many of the heavily spiced and zesty dishes of that country, and can complement pad Thai as well.
Sparkling wines are generally known to be very food-friendly; they refresh the palate after strong flavors and typically cut nicely through heavy sauces. While dry white sparklers like Champagne and cava definitely pair well with pad Thai, also consider red sparkling Shiraz from Australia for an unusual pairing option.
References and ResourcesThe Globe Trotting Gourmet: A Guide to Thai Food and Wine
Curry Simple: Wine Pairing with Thai Flavors
Fiona Beckett-Matching Food and Wine: Pairings - What Wine Would You Drink With Pad Thai?
Windows on the World Complete Wine Course: Kevin Zraly