Sunday, May 14, 2006

Wine Tasting in Thailand

Wine field Kao Yai

A Wine tasting trip to Kao Yai National Park

Inspired by the movie Sideways, Bangkokrecorder took a road trip to the wineries of Khao Yai to marvel at the mountainous countryside, knock back some wine, and crash our rental car.

As you probably noticed the first time you ordered wine in Thailand, a bottle is often more expensive than a bountiful dinner. Stupendously high taxes ensure that anything more than the house red or white usually stays down in the cellar. Unscrupulous importing methods and over-zealous domestic tax inspection have created an unlevel playing field for Thai wines. The kingdom’s general wine consumption had been rising steadily until the economic crash of ninety-seven turned everyone back onto whisky. However, in the last few years, Thailand has been rekindling its love of wine, and even making some decent vino itself. Traditionally, grapes used for wine-making have only been grown between the 30th and 50th parallels in the northern and southern hemispheres. However, Thailand has managed to produce wine in a narrow band in the north between the 14th and 18th parallels. Years of research, testing and development have pushed the boundaries of viticulture, and given us ‘New Latitude Wines’.

To borrow a verdict from Sideways' Miles Raymond, the general consensus on Thai wine so far, has been: “quaffable, but uh... far from transcendent.” However, this view is definitely changing as Thai wine-making comes of age. The country's grape wine industry is still in the early stages: the first wine grape vines were only planted in Loei Province in 1991. However, Khao Yai followed two years later and is now expanding to become the home of Thai wine. The region has always been a popular weekend getaway for Bangkokers, lying a neighbourly 150km away. We hopped in a rental from Lumpini Car Rent for 1000 THB-a-day and hit the open road. The drive to Khao Yai is surprisingly pleasant and straight-forward, taking less than two hours. Just don’t forget to bring a car adaptor for your iPod, unless you are uncommonly keen on ‘Country FM’.

The GranMonte Family Vineyard in Khao Yai’s Asoke Valley was first on our trail. Stepping out of the car into a serene vineyard flanked with mountains after several weeks trapped in Bangkok was quite a shock to the system. GranMonte’s home cooking style restaurant, Vin Cotto, acts as a great decompression chamber from the city. The food and warm service are better than most places in Bangkok, and you can take in the scenery of Khao Yai Park’s mountain range as you try the various wines. The prevailing opinion is that GranMonte produces the best white wine in Thailand. It’s 2004 Kirimaya Chenin Blanc has a toasty, nutty scent and goes very well with Vin Cotto’s duck salad. It seems extraordinary that the vineyard began as an idea for GranMonte’s CEO, Khun Visooth Lohitnavy, just ten years ago. It’s all in the grapes, according to Khun Visooth: “The winemaker can only make good wine from good grapes. He can also make bad wine from good grapes if he is lousy.” The vineyard hosts a Wine Festival in October and a Harvest Festival in February, where you can join in picking the grapes before a judging of the best picks.

Wine cellar source:

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