Thai me up, Thai me down

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Indy Lifestyle Online

It would be nice to report that Monsoon Valley, "a Thai wine for Thai Food grown on the 'Floating Vineyards' of the Chao Phraya Delta" really does go brilliantly with Thai food.

It would be nice to report that Monsoon Valley, "a Thai wine for Thai Food grown on the 'Floating Vineyards' of the Chao Phraya Delta" really does go brilliantly with Thai food. Especially as the founder of the Siam Winery, Khun Chalerm Yoovidhya, whose family is behind Red Bull, has made it his personal mission to be a driving force for the Thai wine industry. Apparently, Monsoon Valley is the house wine in over 200 Thai restaurants in the UK - and according to a recent poll more than a quarter of the population eat Thai on a regular basis. As I said, it would be nice to recommend Thai wine, but I'm afraid that the idea is better than the execution.

If that many of us eat Thai out, how many I wonder try it at home in ready meal or DIY form. According to Rosemary Brissenden in her book, South East Asian Food (Penguin): "Of all southeast Asian cuisines, Thai is the one which most captures the Western imagination today." Why wouldn't it? It's delicious and healthy, except of course if you overdo the coconut milk. In Thailand itself, the range of choice is regionally diverse, from mainstream, Chinese-influenced Bangkok to the fiery, chilli-loving north. It can be fragrant, fresh, fishy, salty, sweet or sour and often smooth and coconutty. It can be rich, exotically spicy or herby, and deceptively laced with chilli.

All of which of course doesn't make Thai an obvious or easy match for wine. There may be no place for wine in the traditional cooking of Thailand, but the experience of wine-producing countries that have adopted Thai cuisine - such as Australia and America - shows that matching Thai food and wine can be highly successful. I don't want to be prescriptive, but there are a few guidelines to follow when searching for your own ideal match.

In Thai restaurants, you're restricted to the wine list, which is all very well in a place like Nahm at the Halkin. This Michelin-starred London restaurant boasts one of the best-chosen lists in the country with a huge number of rieslings, pinot gris and viogniers, even if too many of the reds, especially the Bordeaux, look like so many fish out of water. According to Troy Sutton, Nahm's Australian sommelier, "Some dishes won't go with any wine at all, and some wines, heavy reds especially, just don't work. Others do. For me the best matches are often gewürztraminer, pinot gris, riesling and in the case of reds, fruit-driven wines with low tannins, like pinot noir, grenache or beaujolais."

In supermarkets, Thai fare is pretty standardised with cover versions of old favourites such as green chicken curry and Pad Thai predominating. Ironically, the fact that Thai ready meals tend to be high on gloop and low on chilli makes them relatively easy to match with wine. Better still, go to a specialist online service such as Deliverance ( or a BYO like my local, Amaranth in Earlsfield, south-west London, and you can enjoy an affordable taste of Thai and drink your own wine at the same time.

My own experience shows that, chilled down, the best matches are styles that can match Thai food for sweet and sour: typically, chenin blanc, pinot gris, muscat, gewürztraminer, riesling and Hunter Valley semillon. The best match for the freshness and aromatics of lemongrass and lime is riesling, and where the dish is predominantly sweet, a German spätlese or vouvray moelleux can be a match made in heaven. Ultimately, it's the wine style rather than its absolute quality that counts, so there's no need to dust down your precious vintage claret or burgundy to enjoy wine with Thai food.