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Update January 2019

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On the Grapevine  by Colin Kaye


All in the Air

Pinot noir grapes.

Vineyards in the Pyrenees.

Wolf Blass vineyards.

Some people – and evidently quite a few waiters – seem to believe that having removed the cork from a wine bottle, the bottle must then be allowed to stand for a couple of minutes to let the air get inside. Now if you give this a moment’s thought you’ll realize that it’s complete nonsense. When a bottle is opened, only a tiny surface area of wine in the neck of the bottle – less than two centimeters in diameter - is exposed to the air. This is nowhere near sufficient time to make a significant difference to the taste. It’s far better to tip the wine into a decanter or wine jug. If there isn’t one, just pour it into the glasses and let it rest for five minutes giving it the occasional swirl.

There’s only one reason to wait for a few seconds before pouring the wine and that’s to let any residual sulphur dioxide escape. This chemical has been used in wine-making for centuries and on rare occasions there’s a whiff of sulphur dioxide when you open the bottle. It dissipates within seconds. Wine aeration is a bit of a battle-ground among wine experts. For example, Professor Emile Peynaud, the distinguished French enologist believes that any oxygen damages the aroma and you should pour wine straight out of the bottle into the glasses. In the opinion of British wine expert Hugh Johnson, most wines improve with aeration.

I nearly always pour wine into a decanter, unless of course it’s a sparkler. To my mind, wine seems to smell and taste better ten to twenty minutes after opening. If you want your wines tight and firm, pour them straight from the bottle but if you want them to open up a bit, pour them first into a decanter or wine jug. I use simple, plain decanters made of light glass, bought at the kitchen shop next door to Foodland. They come in a variety of sizes down to 25cl, which is a third of a bottle. If you are sharing a bottle with two other people, you can pour the entire contents into three 25cl decanters. This ensures that everyone gets a fair share and avoids unseemly fist-fights later in the evening.

Wolf Blass Chardonnay 2016 (white), Australia (Bt. 759 @

I expected the aromas of this rich, bright golden wine to really hit my nose but no, this is a lovely refined smell. If you give it a bit of time to develop, you’ll be rewarded with delicate reminders of citrus, melon, peach and fresh white flowers. Exactly what flowers I am afraid I have no idea. I am not too good on flowers, unlike my mother who could spot a Chrysosplenium alternifolium at three hundred yards. The mouth-feel of this wine is soft and silky with a lovely light, creamy texture which is often the hallmark of a decent Chardonnay (shar-dun-AY). There’s just the faintest touch of acidity which enhances the flavour and gives the wine a sense of firmness.

There’s plenty of rich white fruit on the palate and just a hint of oak but the makers have kept the fruit in balance. The long finish reminds me of peach and citrus. If you prefer Chardonnay with a bit of character, give this one a try. It works well with light, creamy pasta, seafood, chicken, roast turkey or pork. I’d be quite happy to drink this on its own all evening and so it seems, would the dogs. But that’s not going to happen, because for dinner they’re having beef chunks in a rich brown sauce. Cabernet Sauvignon will be much more appropriate.

Les Fumées Blanches Pinot Noir, IGP Pays d’Oc (red), France (Bt. 799 @ Wine Connection)

Let’s decode the label first. The trade name Les Fumées Blanches refers to the white morning mists which sometimes appear in the area. The abbreviation “IGP” means that this is a wine guaranteed to be from a specific area. The expression Pays d’Oc means that this is a southern French country wine. To be more precise, it’s from the Gers region in South West France not far from the Pyrenees Mountains. During the hot and dry summers, the vines are cooled by breezes from the Atlantic. Pinot Noir (PEE-noh NWAHR) is the traditional red wine grape of Burgundy but now has been adopted in wine regions all over the world.

This wine is a vibrant red and has an elegant aroma of dark berries, herbs, cherries and a dash of spiciness. In the background, there’s a kind of smoky, distant smell of woodland. Even though the wine is completely dry, you’ll probably notice the distinctive hint of strawberries and cherries. It has a very smooth texture, but there’s quite an assertive firmness on the palate. There’s a slight touch of acidity too and an exceptionally long, dry finish with a satisfying foundation of fine tannins. This is rather a serious and elegant wine with plenty of character and interest. If you enjoy dry, firm reds with a good balance of tannin, you could well enjoy this one.

Don’t just open the bottle and have a swig, because it takes a good thirty minutes for the aromas and taste to open up. Drink it cool as a perfect accompaniment to Beef Bourguignon, grilled meats, game or veal. It should work well with alpine cheeses like Emmenthal and Gruyčre or even mature Camembert and Brie. And don’t forget to buy a few of those glass decanters next time you get paid. The small ones cost less than seventy baht each, and should last you for years. Unless of course, you manage to drop them.

Italian Pleasures

Bardolino Town Lake Garda Italy.

Harbor at Bardolino Italy.

Sangiovese grapes Italy.

Vineyards in Chianti Italy.

 Italy is probably the oldest wine-producing region in the world and there are many hundreds of different wines made there, often from grape varieties that are rarely seen anywhere else. Mind you, Italian wines can vary enormously in quality and you have to take a good look at label to avoid getting caught out. The labels can sometimes be confusing because the dominant name on the label could be that of the grape variety (like Pinot Grigio); it could be the name of the place the wine comes from (like Soave) or it could be the name of a broad wine region (like Chianti). It could also be the name of the producer (like Cecchi). Then there are those mysterious letters like DOCG that are tacked on like an academic degree. Actually, that’s almost what they are, because they’re guarantees of quality and authenticity.

At the risk of boring you comatose, I’ll try to explain what all the letters mean but I shall keep it short and leave out the complicated bits. So sit up straight and try to look as though you’re interested. The letters DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) are the highest classification and mean that winemakers have to follow strict rules covering things like grape varieties, yield limits, and winemaking procedures. Partly as a result of all this palaver, DOCG wines are generally more expensive than others.

A bit further down the ladder are the wines labeled DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) which are usually good and reliable, but the rules governing their production are not quite so strict. Sometimes you’ll see IGT or IGP on the label and this classification focuses on the region of origin, rather than grape varieties, production methods or wine styles. Some of them are good wines. Finally, at the bottom of the pile there’s Vino da Tavola (“table wine”), which is usually simple rustic plonk, often sold in those huge glass bottles that weigh as much as a small dog. I usually avoid them (the wines, I mean) because the quality can be disappointing.

Palazzo Grimani Bardolino (red), Italy (Bt 773 @ Big C Extra)

Although you could be forgiven for assuming that Bardolino is the name of an Italian grape, it’s actually a place. It’s a small and pleasant town on the Eastern shores of Lake Garda about 100 miles west of Venice. The cool and fresh climate there produces wines that are light and fruity (or supposed to be) with sharp cherry-like flavours.

Named after the sixteenth-century Venetian palace of the Grimani family, this wine is a medium ruby-red with the aromas of redcurrants, cherries and a typical herby aroma of brambles. The wine is very dry, light-bodied and with a touch of sharpness, giving it a refreshing quality. There’s quite a bit of red fruit on the palate and just the slightest touch of soft tannins.  It’s only 12.5% ABV but I always think of Bardolino as a food wine because of the inherent sharpness of the taste. If you enjoy pasta in a creamy sauce, this wine makes an excellent accompaniment. It was a perfect partner for a recent plate of Tagliatelle with a rich, creamy home-made bacon and mushroom sauce to which a few bits of red chili had been added to jazz up the flavour. For colour and extra depth, I sprinkled a few fresh bergamot leaves on the top. I know it’s a Festival of Cholesterol but it’s only once in a while.

Cecchi Chianti DOCG (red), Italy (Bt. 729 @ Tesco-Lotus)

Cecchi (CHECK-ee) is a well-known family wine maker which has been producing wine since 1893. Chianti (kee-AHN-tee) is the most famous red wine from Tuscany and its name refers to a wine-producing area that runs roughly from Florence down to Siena a bit further to the south. At one time, Chianti was instantly recognizable by its traditional straw-covered bottle, called a fiasco. They were used in their dozens to decorate the ceilings of many an Italian restaurant. In my student days, it was considered terribly Bohemian to have a few of these bottles around one’s room, ideally with a candle stuck in the top of each one.

This is an attractive and typical Chianti. It has the DOCG tag and if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know what that means. The wine is a dark ruby-red with the characteristic smell of sharp, sour cherries, herbs, rhubarb and violets. You might even pick up the faint aroma of moist tobacco. These interesting aromas come largely from the Sangiovese grape which makes up 90 percent of the blend. The taste is dry, sharp and fruity with a good balance of acidity. Like so many other Italian wines, it makes an excellent food partner. It comes at 12.5% ABV and would work well with rich roasted meats.

Of course, pizza and pasta always go well with Chianti because the tangy wine contrasts well with the textures and flavours. Just to make sure, I tried it with a home-made mushroom pizza prepared specially for the tasting. The two of them worked perfectly together and made a perfect match. I just hope you appreciate the trouble I go to. Most people wouldn’t bother,  you know.

White Fright

Gruber Grüner Veltliner grapes.

There’s a friend of mine who will never touch white wine. Ever. I really don’t know why. I can understand people avoiding red because it can sometimes bring on a migraine. But if you refuse to drink white wine, you’re missing out on some of the great wines of the world.  Some of my favourite whites come from the French region of Alsace, known for its splendid Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and the bone-dry Riesling which is completely different to its German cousin. The legendary white wines of Burgundy are probably the best whites you’re likely to find anywhere in terms of richness, depth and complexity. And you know the classic grape variety that’s used to make them, don’t you? Yes, of course you do. Even my dogs know that. It’s Chardonnay and in Burgundy they make about the best you can get. Unfortunately, in this part of the world it’s dreadfully expensive. A good white Burgundy will cost you an arm and a leg; possibly two of each.

For many years Germany and Austria had a reputation for dull and boring wines but all that changed dramatically about thirty years ago. A new generation of artisan wine makers has changed the wine production in Germany in Austria out of all recognition. They are exploring interesting local grapes rather than relying on international varieties and giving a completely new look to traditional Riesling. Austrian wine-makers are developing their national grape Grüner Veltliner (GROO-ner FELT-lee-ner). With this grape, they’re making crisp, young wines which have sprightly acidity and flavours of lime, lemon, grapefruit or sometimes apple. They often have herby mineral flavours, hints of white pepper and sometimes a distinctive touch of spritziness. The more expensive, matured wines eventually take on a gold colour and a rich, honeyed character.

Lower Austria is the country’s largest quality wine-growing area and almost fifty percent of it is planted with Grüner Veltliner. The local German name for Lower Austria is Niederösterreich, which I mention only because the word invariably appears on wine labels of the region. You might reasonably assume that Lower Austria is somewhere in the south, but it’s not. Strangely enough, it’s the most northern province of the country.

Gruber Grüner Veltliner, Röschitz 2016 (white), Austria (Bt. 890 @ Wine Garage)

Let’s begin by deciphering the label. Gruber (GROO-ber) is the name of the company and it’s been producing wine since 1814. If you have been concentrating, you’ll already know that Grüner Veltliner is the grape variety. Röschitz (RER-shitz) is a small village in Lower Austria about fifty miles from Vienna.

The first thing you’ll probably notice about this wine is the playful label with whimsical drawings of the “Gruber Wine Spirits”. The drawings are apparently inspired by the micro-organisms which exist on the vines and in the fermenting wine, and they’re visible only under a microscope. They have become the mascots of the company and appear in various fanciful forms on all their wine labels and on their web site.

A pale straw colour, the wine looks bright and invitingly oily in the glass. The aroma is even more inviting, though you’ll need to give it a bit of time to develop. I found that five minutes in the decanter made all the difference. It has a “clean and lean” bright, floral aroma with a touch of tropical fruit, a dash of citrus, herby minerals and green apples.  The fruit is well forward, giving a hint of sweetness. But after this brief first impression a more powerful drier taste comes through and leads to a long, rich and dry finish. It’s really quite a fascinating tasting experience which makes you sit up and take notice because the taste actually changes in your mouth.

At just 12.5% ABV this would make a splendid apéritif if you can share it with people who appreciate these things. The wine would make an excellent partner for chicken dishes or ham, but I’d be perfectly happy to enjoy it on its own. Wine Garage offers an interesting selection of Austrian wines and they also have some splendid boutique wines from Germany. You can order online and pay by bank transfer or PayPal, which makes things ever so easy. They’ll deliver anywhere in Thailand.

Le Grand Pinot Noir 2017 (red), France (Bt. 850 @ Wine Connection)

Pinot Noir is one of my favourite grapes and it reaches is finest expression in the red wines of Burgundy but like the whites, they’re absurdly expensive here. The aromas of Pinot Noir (PEE-noh NWAH) can sometimes be a bit enigmatic. Red fruits such as cranberry and raspberry often dominate the aroma but sometimes the wine has more elemental smells, earthy, tree-bark aromas or reminders of stalks and sap.

This wine comes from grapes grown in the foothills of the Pyrenees, near the town of Limoux in south-west France. The label shows a drawing of a large black sheep under which the words “black sheep” are helpfully printed, presumably in case you fail to recognise it. The wine is lighter than I expected and it’s a blend of Pinot Noir (88%) and Grenache (12%) with an aroma of cherries, currants, a dash of citrus and herby spices. With an ABV of 13% it’s a bone-dry wine with a tang of acidity but the taste struck me as rather unusual and quite different in style to a Pinot Noir from Burgundy. The fruit is restrained, the tannins are very soft and there’s a long, dry finish. I’d describe it as a food wine because it would go well with pork dishes and a variety of cheeses. Unusually for a red wine, you could even try pairing it with tuna or salmon. There are branches of Wine Connection in Pattaya but you can also buy online. If like me, you live out in the sticks it would save you a hike into town.

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

All in the Air

Italian Pleasures

White Fright