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Eat & Drink » Drink

Thai One On

Pair your Thai meal with the perfect libation

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As I mentioned in this week's Dine column, Thai cuisine is one of the most complex you'll ever encounter. Many dishes are simultaneously bitter, sweet, sour, salt, tangy, spicy and multi-textured. Depending on whether you're a "glass half full" or "glass half empty" sort of person, this can either pose problems when looking to pair alcoholic beverages with Thai foods, or it can launch an adventure.

As with most foods—but especially those that have heat from chilies and such—I recommend choosing lower-alcohol libations. High-alcohol drinks just make fiery foods more incendiary on the palate. The higher in alcohol the wine that you drink to extinguish the fire on your tongue, the worse things get, as alcohol creates the sensation of heat on its own. Plus, you'll get soused, which isn't the goal.

It's not surprising that you'll find Singha beer served at most Thai restaurants. Named for a powerful mythological lion, Singha beer is a 5 percent alcohol-by-volume lager produced by Thailand's Boon Rawd Brewery. Singha's relatively low alcohol content and light, crisp lager flavors make it an obvious choice to pair with a wide range of Thai dishes. For that matter, many lagers and IPAs work well with Thai cuisine.

Choosing wines to drink alongside Thai food is a little trickier. In doing so, I recommend keeping in mind the "weight" of the foods. That is, if you're enjoying a somewhat heavy dish with a dark, rich sauce, it might be a good candidate for a red wine. Something lighter—a rice noodle-wrapped vegetable spring roll such as those at Chabaar Beyond Thai (87 W. 7200 South, 801-566-5100, AnnysTakeOnThai.com), for example, would call for a light white wine or perhaps some bubbly. I was surprised and pleased to find Monkey Bay Sauvignon Blanc on Chabaar's wine list—it was a good pairing for many of the dishes there.

I think Champagne and other sparkling wines are too often overlooked in Asian eateries. The lightness, effervescence and relatively low alcohol of most Champagne, domestic sparklers, cava and prosecco make them great partners for a wide range of Asian dishes. Sparkling wine helps clean the palate of fats and spices, so it pairs well with Thai dishes ranging from tongue-coating coconut-milk-based curries to the ever-popular pad thai and beyond, even serving as a crisp, refreshing balance to the deep-fried honey-ginger duck at Pawit's Royale Thai (1968 E. Murray-Holladay Road, 801-277-3658,PawitsRoyaleThai.com).

Aromatic white wines with a touch of sweetness (off-dry) are often good choices to sip with Thai dishes. With that in mind, I'd lean toward Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Blanc, especially those from Alsace and Germany. Or, you might give a Grüner Veltliner from Austria a try. A good rosé would be an option, too, providing a little more heft and body than some of the aforementioned white wines.

As for reds, stay away from high-alcohol and high-tannin wines; they'll overpower almost everything on a Thai menu. You could, though, get away with lighter reds such as Beaujolais or even Merlot and Pinot Noir. The Oregon Ponzi Pinot Noir on the wine list at Bangkok Thai on Main (605 Main, Park City, 435-649-8424, BangkokThaiOnMain.com), for example, is an excellent pairing for their gang phed ped—sliced boneless duck simmered in red curry. And the cinnamon and spice notes of Stags' Leap Merlot work nicely with the pad see ew wheat noodles in a dark but sweet black-bean sauce.

Still, the main thing to remember when pairing Thai foods with wine or beer is to have fun.

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