About The Author:

"Roger, The Wine Guy" is Roger Yazell, CWS. He is a member of the International Wine Guild and has had a long time admiration of wine. After careers in broadcasting, advertising and marketing account management, he explored his love of wine in hospitality, wholesale and retail sales. The intent of Roger's Grapevine is to share stories, history and information that will add to the reader's love, enjoyment and appreciation of wine and sake'.

Questions, requests for topics and comments are always welcome via email: rogerthewineguy@gmail.com.

(Note: The Wine Guy is currently undergoing chemotherapy and this blog will be on hiatus for the duration and into a recovery period. The Wine Guy is planning to celebrate his recovery with a trip to the two wine producing regions in Argentina and that should provide for some interesting new blogs. Meanwhile please enjoy the archives and feel free to email in the interim.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Wine Guy Seeks Out Wine in Thailand!

The Wine Guy in Thailand
I recently returned from a one month stay in Thailand where I got to spend time in seven different provinces.  It was my intention to visit at least two Thai wineries during my stay.  A winery we drove by while motoring from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai and back was not open. Toward the end of my stay, flooding between Bangkok and Hua Hin made a planned drive to Siam Wineries Hua Hin Hills Vineyard impractical and ill-advised.   While my winery visits didn't happen,  rest assured I did manage to sample some wine during my journeys in this country.  This included products from three different Thai producers.   There were also some surprises along the way as I examined wine availability and practices both on and off premise in Thailand.  In this blog I'll be rambling somewhat as I give you an overview of my wine experiences and reactions as I chris-crossed Thailand.

The two largest wine producers in Thailand are Siam Winery and PB Valley Winery.  Both have interesting histories with principals who have history in other segments of the beverage industry:

  Siam Winery, producer of Monsoon Valley Wines and located south of Bangkok on the Gulf of Thailand pennisula is Thailand's largest exporter of wine and was founded by the creator of Red Bull energy drink.  His success in the international distribution of that beverage has probably contributed to the winery's success in the export of his products.  The Wine Guy blogged about Monsoon Valley Wines nearly two years ago when my son brought back a bottle from one of his first visits to Thailand (see the Roger's Grapevine archives:  "A New Latitude Shiraz" dated 12/2209).  While I didn't get to visit the winery due to road conditions, I did get to pick up a bottle of their Shiraz Cabernet blend and reconfirm that these folks do a respectable job in growing the shiraz grape in that tropical climate.  I was disappointed, however, I was unable to find a sample of any of their wines utilizing a grape they especially developed for the climate in Thailand: the Podkum.  I'm not even sure it is still being produced.  Hopefully, I'll be able to report more fully on a future trip to Thailand.   Siam Winery is also an importer of St Clair Wines from South Africa and those are commonly found wherever wines are sold at retail in Thailand including the ubiquitous 7-Eleven stores.  They are quite drinkable and affordable.  I also discovered that St. Clair wines are commonly found on many restaurant and wine bar wine lists, frequently available by the glass.  Their Shiraz, Shiraz-Cabernet and their Chardonnay-Chenin Blanc are safe, affordable choices if you're dining out

PB Valley Winery Log (courtesy of winery website)
PB Valley Winery was founded in 1989 by a former President of the brewery that produces Thailand's most renown beer: Singha.  Their vineyards are in the PB Valley northeast of Bangkok adjacent to the Khoo Yai National Park and they probably enjoy the greatest domestic distribution among the five Thai producers I'm familiar with.  They produce three labels  Sawadee, a collection of everyday table wines,  P.B. Khoo Yai Reserve, slightly better and more aged wines and their limited production label, Pirom Khoo Yai Reserve, which includes selected grapes, limited production and extra reserve aging.   They are commonly found at retail especially at the the popular Tops Grocery chain in Thailand.  Their Sawasdee Shiraz is affordable and drinkable but I found I preferred the St. Clair or Monsoon Valley when available.  The PB Khoo Yai Reserve was a definite step up up in quality but was also  a fairly significant step up in price .  Unfortunately, I did not get to sample the Pirom Reserve (again, something to explore on my next Thailand adventure).
One of the few wines The Wine Guy will never consume again.

The Chiang Rai Winery located south of the Northern Thai city of the same name (in the highlands near the famous Golden Triangle border with Burma and Laos) specializes in wines blended with herbal ingredients.  The vineyards and winery were closed as we stopped by on our return to Chiang Mai but a nut factory just a few kilometers down the road carried their wines.  I was  intrigued by a red wine (I believe with Shiraz as the informing grape) laced with black ginger root.  Regular ginger is utilized extensively in Thai cuisine and black ginger root, while less common, is used throughout Thailand in herbal remedies.   I've been a devotee of ginger root/honey tea so it was no surprise to Mrs. Wine Guy when I choose that wine to sample.  What DID surprise her was my total failure to even finish my first glass.  Those familiar with my wine preferences know I have a broad ranging palate for wine and I've often told my customers I could count the wines I would never pour again on my fingers with digits left over.  This very bitter concoction with a quite pungent nose made that list and probably is in prime contention with one western Chinese wine for the worst wine I've ever tasted!  Oh well, less than ten wines out of over 2,000....that's a pretty good track record for the industry.  It's unique taste and its medicinal properties probably give it a specialized following but the Chiang Rai La sante is one The Wine Guy will likely ever sample again.

The Wine Guy makes a surprise discovery!
Among the surprises The Wine Guy encountered while sampling the on and off premise selection of wine in Thailand was the selection I found at one specialty wine store in Chiang Mai, one of Thailand's cultural delights.  This store was where I purchased some PB Valley winery products.  The imported St. Clair distributed by Siam Winery was also in evidence there. However, this retailer also offered a very diverse selection of imports from around the world.  As one might suspect, Australian wines were available as they are throughout Thailand.  The surprise was the outstanding import selection from a number of countries but especially Italy and France.   I saw a vertical selection of Allegrini's Pallazo Della Torre (one of the Wine Guy's all time favorites, well rated Barolos, Chianti, a Brunello and even a Negramaro from Puglia (something you don't expect to find in the northern foothills of Thailand).  The French selections were just as diverse and surprising but the biggest surprise was a few bottles of 1982 Petrus, a hard wine to find anywhere!  I had hoped to return to revisit this unique shop before I left Chiang Mai but rising floodwaters isolated the section of town it was in.  I hope their excellent inventory was not jeopardized by the floodwaters!

Don't be surprised if you order a bottle of red wine in a fine restaurant in Thailand and the waiter shows up with an ice bucket.  It happened to the Wine Guy the first time he ordered a bottle of red wine while dining.  Locals generally prefer their red wine chilled and their beer is standardly served over ice.  If you spend significant time in this tropical clime, you'll understand why.  Actually establishments that encounter tourists regularly will usually ask for your preference in serving both wine and beer.  Overall, I was pleased and even surprised at both the quality and expertise of wine service.  Sommeliers are not in evidence but the level of service in many establishments suggests there must be some level of training in proper wine service.  You will encounter a lot of ignorance regarding wine but far less than what you might expect given the low consumption of wine in this country.

Inside the Writers Club and Wine Bar
Wine bars are not common outside of Bangkok except in resorts but they are there if you look for them...some of them are excellent sources of information and a delight to visit.  One of The Wine Guy's favorites during his one month sojourn in Thailand was The Writer's Club and Wine Bar in the heart of Chiang Mai's old city.  Founded by ex-patriot journalist Robert Tilley along with his Thai wife Thong, this place offers some great food (both authentic Thai and continental), decent wine by the glass and bottle as well as a wonderful spot to meet and socialize with people from all over the world.  In two visits there Mr. and Mrs. Wine Guy met folks from South Africa, Indonesia, Germany and Canada.  You will also find Bob and Thong to be among the most hospitable proprietors of any bar in the city!

Mr. and Mrs. Wine Guy thoroughly enjoyed
dinner and wine on the beach in Koh Samui.
If your travels to Thailand include a visit to any of its wonderful beaches, The Wine Guy heartily suggests you take time to enjoy dinner on the beach with a bottle of wine.  There is no more perfect way to celebrate your experiences in this wonderful country than to enjoy fine food and good wine while enjoying the sounds of the surf (not to mention wiggling your toes in the sand!)  If you're lucky, someone will be setting off fireworks or you'll have have chance to launch a candle-powered lucky balloon and make a wish.  Mr. and Mrs. Wine Guy enjoyed two such dinners on the beach while visiting Koh Samui and it will reign among our most cherished memories of the trip.

My wine experiences in thailand ranged from discovering what was probably the worst wine I've ever encountered to stumbling over one of the best and hardest wines to find in the world.  You don't get much more diversity in your experience than that and I will always cherish my exploration of wine there.

As always, great food, great times and great experiences are enhanced when you pair them with a great wine.  Here's hoping each of you have such an experience of your own soon!


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