The nectar of the gods has never been closer to Earth (or at least to Bangkok).
- By Mrigaa Sethi
- | Aug 19, 2010
A few years ago, word on the street was that the massive import duties, excise and sin taxes had severely stunted the growth of the wine market in Thailand, even though it was flourishing in neighboring Singapore and Hong Kong. In combination with the increasingly stringent laws limiting the advertisement of alcoholic beverages and the overwhelming preference of most Thais for beer and whiskey, wine was predicted to stagger and languish indefinitely.
But things are turning out very differently. Wine sales are actually booming (sales nearly doubled from 2004-2009)—and not from sales to rich old dudes. They’re booming thanks to you, throngs of young, thirsty Bangkokians, who account for the forty minute waits it takes to get a table at Wine Connection on a Friday night. How did wine go from B6,500 bottles at Zanotti to B650 bottles at the mall? BK finds out.
The Wine Experience
One of the unexpected results of laws limiting advertisement has been the proliferation of wine-related events: harvest festivals at Thai wineries, six-course wine dinners of various price ranges that showcase vineyards from nearly every wine-growing region, themed wine tastings at restaurants and wine stores where alcohol importers show off their goods—the list goes on.
Admittedly, wine dinners have been around for decades—but they tended to be 5,000 baht affairs at the very least. Today? D’Sens just wrapped up a six-couse GranMonte dinner for B2,800 net per head. Grand Millenium just hosted one for B1,890. Restaurant manager of D’Sens, Thomas Deledalle says, “The prices are attractive, the chef prepares a special menu to match the wine and the winemaker is usually available to answer questions, so it’s a great evening for our guests.”
The gradual development of local wineries (Siam Winery opened in 1982, GranMonte in 1999) means there’s now finally a local face to wine, which was lacking when it was still exclusively an import product. Of the logic behind promoting holiday packages and winery tours at the Hua Hin Hills Vineyard, director of business development Kim Wachtveitl says, “The impact of a wine is not just what’s in the bottle. It’s also where you are, who you are with, what occasion you’re celebrating. Our wine is of a good quality, but you should have a good ambience to enjoy it in.”
The Price is Right
The opening of the Pullman’s Wine Pub in 2007 remains a turning point in wine consumption in Bangkok. With its DJs, tapas and bar seating, Wine Pub sent a clear message: “Wine isn’t just for your dad.” Suddenly, you could get a drinkable bottle of wine starting from B900 and glasses at B100 net, which they advertised as “retail prices.” The place was positively packed—and often still is—with young professionals in search of something different from the usual mix of beer and whiskey soda or coke. These days, even 7-Eleven stocks wine (though we can’t say how they’re storing the bottles).
But it’s perhaps the hugely popular Wine Connection that connected Bangkokians with wine and dining. It’s not hard to see why the concept is attractive to large groups: simple, chic décor, super cheap wines by the bottle served at your table and a simple menu of our favorite cuisine, Italian. It’s gotten us browsing labels at their store, nodding at the waiter as he presents the bottle, swirling the stuff in our glass, toasting with our friends and downing it with cheese, charcuterie and steak. Finally, we’re drinking wines the civilized way, with a meal—not just to get plastered.
So now that wine is abundant, cheaply available and there are numerous venues to learn about it, there’s nothing holding us back from enjoying it to its full potential. Except shyness, maybe? Fear not. We’ve got everything you need here—tasting tips, advice from an expert or read more HERE for a round up of wine events to practice at—to hold your own in a conversation about wine. And to order a nice bottle for your friends.
TASTING FOR DUMMIES
See: Wine experts say you need good daylight and a white surface to assess wine. We say it’s an excuse to drink in the day. Tip your glass at about 45 degrees, and examine the color.
What to look for: Clarity—is it clear or cloudy? A cloudy wine could be faulty. Intensity—is the color pale or dark? For example a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is usually much paler than a French Chardonnay. Color—is your white wine straw-like in color? Gold? Tints of green can indicate a young wine. Unlike white wine, red wine gets paler with age, starting out dark purple and moving from ruby through to tawny.
Swirl: Swirling brings the wine into contact with air, releasing aromatic compounds. It’s a good idea to do this immediately before you sniff. Only fill the wine glass a third of the way or else you’re gonna spill.
What to look for: See how the wine drips down the inside of the glass in rivulets? These are called the legs or the tears. Are they thin or fat? Do they fall slowly or quickly? These signs indicate the sugar and/or alcohol levels in the wine. The fatter and slower the legs, the higher the levels and the fuller the body of the wine once it’s in your mouth.
Smell: Need we remind you that taste has largely to do with smell? So pay attention. Get your nose right in there.
What to look for: Don’t be disheartened if the experts say “butterscotch” and “freshly-cut grass” and all you come up with is “yummy.” It gets easier with practice. If you’re having a hard time pinpointing what you’re smelling, start by categories. Does it smell flowery? Fruity? Spicy? Which flowers, which fruits, which spices?
Sip: And finally, you drink. A good wine should confirm on the tongue what you have already smelled. Suck in a bit of air with your mouth half-full of wine, which will whoosh the aromatic compounds to the nasal engineering in the back of your mouth. Swoosh the wine around so it touches all parts of your tongue. It may seem counterintuitive to spit out the wine, instead of swallowing it, but trust us, you’ll need your wits about you, especially if you’re at a tasting.
What to look for: Acidity—a good wine needs some to make it taste fresh and balance the fruitiness. Sweetness—is it sweet or is it dry? Use the tip of your tongue for this. Tannins—an astringent quality, like you’ve just drunk super strong tea, in moderate amounts is essential to balance in red wines. Finish—how long does the taste stay in your mouth? A good wine will last.