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Wine World  by Colin Kaye

Persistent Myth

Few wines are made for ageing.

Some time ago, I was having dinner at one of my favourite restaurants (now sadly gone) and I noticed someone at a nearby table ordering a bottle of wine. My ears instinctively switched into bionic mode and I realized that he was ordering a fairly ordinary but reliable French wine, often seen in these parts. A few minutes later, the waitress appeared, opened the bottle and poured a sample. This was airily dismissed with something like, “Oh, I know this wine; I don’t need to taste it.” Of course, the man had missed the point entirely. He wasn’t being given a sample to see if he liked it because by ordering the wine, he had already bought it. The sample is to check that the wine has not been damaged or “gone off” in some way. It’s merely a quality check. In any case, tasting is not strictly necessary. With experience, a few quick sniffs reveal whether the wine is acceptable.

There’s a raft-load of other misconceptions and wine myths that have been around far too long. Here are six of them in no particular order.

Myth No 1: Leave the opened bottle of wine to stand before serving.

This is a common belief held by waiters who have presumably been instructed by the management to let the bottle stand for a few minutes on the table “to let the air in”. This is nonsense, because the air can reach only a tiny surface area of the wine in the narrow neck of the bottle. If the wine needs aerating (and some don’t), it’s better to pour it and then let it rest in the glass for a few minutes.

Myth No 2: Screw top closures signify cheap wine.

At one time, almost all wine bottles were sealed with cork but today screw caps have become so reliable that most everyday wines use them. The majority of Australian and New Zealand wines use them regardless of quality. Screw caps are preferred by many European wine producers too. It is only a comparatively tiny percentage of wine intended for long-term ageing that are thought to benefit from a cork closure.

Myth No 3: “Legs” in the glass indicate high quality wine.

You’ve probably seen those rivulets of liquid that adhere to the inside of the glass. They’re caused by a rather complex physical phenomenon involving surface tension and alcohol evaporation and often found in wine with either high alcohol or sugar content. It’s known as the Marangoni Effect has nothing to do with quality. A thesis on the subject brought the eponymous Carlo Marangoni his doctorate degree in 1865.

Myth No 4: Wine always improves with age.

Most of the wine in the world is made for consumption within a couple of years. After that it’ll lose much of its freshness; the taste will start to fade and the wine will sadly become a shadow of its former self. The majority of wines deteriorate with age. The exceptions are the small percentage of wines made for ageing, such as top quality wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy.

Myth No 4: Blended wines are inferior.

Almost every wine is blended. Classic Bordeaux for example, is usually a blend of at least three grapes. Wine made from a single grape variety is called a varietal and usually (but not always) has the name of the grape on the label. However, regulations allow a proportion of other grapes to be used. In Europe a varietal must contain 85 percent of the grape shown on the label but in America it’s only 75 percent. Relatively few wines are made entirely from a single grape variety.

Myth No 5: Red wine should always be served at room temperature.

This myth implies that all red wines should be served at the same temperature, which is simply untrue. Both humidity and temperature have a significant impact on how a wine smells and tastes. And in any case, what is the temperature of a room? Most red wines are at their best when the temperature is below 70°F (or 21°C) which is lower than most domestic temperatures, especially in this part of the world. Here, red wine should feel slightly cool, but not cold. Full-bodied reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot should be about 64°F. Light, fruity Beaujolais is always served distinctly cool in its home country at about 53°F. For the best advice, look at the back label on the bottle. If in doubt, cooler is better for the wine will soon heat up in the glass.

Myth No 6: Always drink red wine with cheese.

Yes, Pinot Noir works well with Emmenthal or Gruyère, while Edam (AY-dum) and Gouda (HOW-dah) can go well with Cabernet Sauvignon. But these two Dutch favourites also work superbly with dry Riesling. Many cheeses taste better with white wine rather than red. Brie and Camembert work perfectly with Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc or even Sauvignon Blanc. Blue cheese often calls for sweet white wine and amontillado sherry will probably go with many varieties of cheese. The best means of discovery is to have a cheese and wine pairing experiment yourself and find out what combinations work. Assuming of course, that you have the time, the inclination and the money.

Sweet Talk

Banrock Station Wine and Wetland Centre.

I was in Hungary at the time - Budapest to be exact - staying at a cheap lodging in a rather run-down part of town. It was here, one evening that I had my first taste of classic sweet wine. It was Hungarian Tokay Aszú, the world-famous and somewhat mystical golden wine known throughout the English-speaking world as Tokay (tock-eye).

It was ravishingly sweet. For hundreds of years it was the favourite wine of the wealthy aristocracy of Europe, Russia and Poland. Earlier in the day, I had chanced upon a small wine shop where the enthusiastic owner persuaded me to buy a bottle. In those days I was not used to drinking wine regularly and this unfamiliar yet sumptuous wine turned out to be higher in alcohol than I had expected. Later that night, I found myself effortlessly levitating inside the vast spaciousness of St Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest.

To wine enthusiasts, the mention of sweet wine brings memories of German Eiswein or those two splendid French dessert wines, Sauternes and the rather lesser-known Barsac, both of which come from the Bordeaux region. Because of the high sugar content they age well and have a lovely soft, slightly syrupy texture though they are rarely cloying.

The most famous is Château d'Yquem which is regarded with reverence among wine connoisseurs. Vines have been planted at the château since 1711 and the legendary sweet wines are noted for their concentration and complexity of taste. They are long-lasting wines which can develop in the bottle for over a hundred years and some remarkably old vintages are still available – if you can afford them. You can buy Château d'Yquem in Thailand although a single bottle of the relatively recent 2007 vintage will set you back Bt 55,000. I tend not to drink it very often.

Although sweet wines are usually served only at the end of formal dinners, they can bring an extra dimension to your desserts at home. You’ll probably be pleased to know there are cheaper alternatives to Château d'Yquem. You can buy a decent bottle of Sauternes at more earthly prices and the sumptuous, fruity and honeyed Barton & Guestier Passeport Sauternes is about Bt 1,500 from Wine Now Asia. I’ve also seen the excellent Louis Eschenauer Sauternes in Villa for about Bt 900.

If you’re looking for something even cheaper to liven up your dessert, the Muscat grape can come to your rescue. Surprisingly there are over two hundred different varieties of Muscat (or Moscato) and they have been around for centuries. In more recent years the grape has been grown successfully in Australia.

Banrock Station Moscato 2019 (white), Australia. Bt 550 @ various outlets 

The curiously named Banrock Station has acquired something of a reputation for popular fruit-forward wines which are easy on the palate. This one is a straw colour with attractive hints of green. It looks inviting and although the first sniff might possibly remind you of Sprite, more subtle aromas of pomelo and melon soon come through. You’ll probably pick up the distinctive Muscat aroma too.

This is a lively easy-drinker which tickles the tongue with its delicate sprizty quality. There’s a surprisingly long and satisfying finish too; unusual for a wine at this price tag. The wine is only 5.5% ABV which is about the same as our local beer. You can serve dessert wines as cold as you dare. I’d prefer this straight out of the fridge and even then I might give it another twenty minutes in the freezer. In our sultry climate it’ll soon warm up and allow the aromas to emerge. Not only will this work well as a dessert wine, you could also try this light and easy wine as an apéritif.

Deakin Estate Moscato 2014 (white), Australia. Bt 550 @ Wine Connection

This is a really easy drinker and although it comes in the “sweet” class it would be more accurately described as “semi-sweet”. Deakin Estate is a relative newcomer to the Australian wine scene. Although the land was bought in 1967, the company didn’t start producing wine until the 1990s by which time some of the vines had achieved a venerable age. This particular wine has won several prestigious awards including a bronze medal at the UK’s International Wine Challenge.

To my mind, this is a splendid dessert wine if you want to keep the price as low as possible. It’s a pale yellow wine with faint hint of lime on the aroma and the distinctive smell of sweet raisins. And this incidentally is one of the hallmarks of Moscato because as far as I know, it’s the only wine that actually smells of grapes. The taste has a delicate acidity and a slightly spritzy quality which makes it delightful refreshing. At only 6% ABV this wine is remarkably low in alcohol and there’s an attractively long finish too. There are hints of green apples on the palate and this proved a perfect match for my home-made apple pie. I use a recipe from my Scottish grandmother, who in all probability received the recipe from her Scottish grandmother. The apple pie could have even been a favourite of Robert Burns. It would be pleasing to imagine that old Rabbie washed it down with a few glasses of sweet Hungarian Tokay.

Wine from a long, thin country

The Andes dominate Chilean vineyards.

In recent months, several bargain-basement Chilean wines have started to appear, giving locally-produced fruit wines a run for their money. There’s a good selection at Big C in South Pattaya where they offer several wines well under Bt 400, most of which were produced and bottled by the same Chilean company. They can often be recognized by their outlandish names.

The long, thin country of Chile is confined between the Andes Mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Its vineyards lie along an 800-mile stretch of land that has a temperate climate similar to that of California. You might be surprised to know that they’ve been growing vines in Chile since the sixteenth century, after the country was colonized (or invaded, if you prefer) by the Spanish around 1554.  You’d have thought that the Spanish would have encouraged the locals to develop their own wine industry. But no such luck. During Spanish rule, Chilean vineyards were restricted in production and the Chileans were instructed to buy all their wine from Spain. To their credit, most of them didn’t because they preferred their own wine. In any case, after a rough voyage across the Atlantic, much of the Spanish wine would probably be oxidized and barely drinkable. In 1641, in the true spirit of imperial colonialism, the mean-minded Spanish banned Chile from exporting its wine, but this unfair ruling was also largely ignored.

The disastrous appearance of the phylloxera epidemic in mid-19th century Europe brought an unexpected bonus to the Chilean wine industry. With countless French vineyards in ruin, many wine makers moved to South America bringing their experience and techniques with them. As a result, the history of wine making in Chile was largely influenced by the French, especially the wine-making traditions of Bordeaux. Even so, during the first half of the 20th century, Chilean wine was considered rather low quality but substantial foreign investment and technical advances had an enormous impact with the result that by the end of the 20th century, Chile was producing some world-class wines.

Quincho Dry White (Chile) Bt 345 @ Big C

They don’t come much cheaper than this, an entry-level wine produced and bottled in Chile. In case you’re wondering, quincho (KEEN-cho) is the Spanish word for barbecue. There’s a picture of one on the back label, which also contains the mystifying expression “Secret Dry White” though what the secret is I have yet to discover.

The wine is a pale straw colour with an attractive fruity aroma of honey, pomelo and dusty pineapple, if you can imagine dusty pineapple. The wine smells more expensive than it actually is and if someone gave me a glass of this to taste, on the aroma alone I’d estimate the price to be around Bt 700. And yet, I often see people trying a wine for the first time and not bothering to sniff it first. It seems such a dreadful omission.

There’s much more fruit on the palate than I expected, dominated by honey and pineapple. The taste blooms in the mouth too, something you wouldn’t normally expect with a wine at this price. It’s quite a dry wine, though the dryness is offset by generous fruit. The acidity is quite low too and at just 11.5% ABV this wine could be enjoyed on its own.

Quincho Dry Red (Chile) Bt 345 @ Big C

To my surprise, this bottle was closed with a cork, albeit a synthetic one. Nearly all wine bottles these days are sealed with the so-called Stelvin closure which is the fancy name for the familiar screw-cap. The cork was rather reticent too, and I had to ferret out my strong twin-lever bottle opener which can deal with the most stubborn corks. I doubt whether a simple cork screw would stand much of a chance.

This entry-level wine is a rich dark red with a distinctive purple hue. It has an aroma of plums and jammy fruit yet the body is quite light with plenty of tannin. I know that many people prefer loads of fruit on the palate but sometimes less is more, especially if you plan to drink this wine with food. And I hope you do, because to my mind this is a “food wine”, even if the food happens to be bread and cheese or a humble beef burger. It’s distinctively dry and the style slightly reminds me of simple Bordeaux, the sort that the French buy every day in large plastic bottles.

This wine is significantly cheaper than Mont Clair, the work-horse wine of almost every bar in town and I thought it might be interesting to compare them. The wines I mean, not the bars. The Quincho smells vaguely French whereas the Mont Clair smells like, well, Mont Clair. The Quincho feels firm, dry and slightly austere whereas the Mont Clair is slightly fuller, a little less dry and blended for smoothness. Other than that, there’s not a great deal of difference between them except fifty baht. And fifty baht is fifty baht.

Cheap Fizz

Cantina Montelliana, Treviso.

One of the enduring puzzles about Italian wine is that the name shown on the label can be one of four different things. It could be the name of the grape (e.g. Moscato), the name of the wine region (e.g. Chianti), the name of the town from which the wine comes (e.g. Bardolino) or in many cases, the name of the wine producer (e.g. Frescobaldi). But one wine springs to mind that is especially confusing in the nomenclature department. It’s Prosecco.

In the first place, Prosecco is the name of a style of wine. It’s often considered a cheap version of Champagne and indeed the taste profile shows a few broad similarities. But Prosecco is also a place. Many years ago it used to be a small village but has now been absorbed into the sprawling suburbs of Trieste and lies about 800 feet above the Mediterranean up in the extreme north east of Italy. Naturally, they make Prosecco wine there and have done so since the 16th century, but in more recent years the main production area for Prosecco has moved to a region about twenty miles north of Venice. The main town is Treviso.

Prosecco is also the name of the thin-skinned green grape that makes the wine. Or at least, it used to be until 2009 when the regional wine authority decided that the official name of the grape should be Glera, a name by which it had been known locally for generations.  Today the wine is made in nine provinces in the Conegliano-Valdobbiandene region, a lush, green and hilly area where the best vineyards lie on the south-facing slopes. Although a small quantity of still wine is produced, Prosecco is nearly always sparkling or semi-sparkling.

You might wonder why Prosecco is invariably cheaper than Champagne, especially when they sometimes taste slightly similar. The reason lies in the bubbles - or rather how they’re made. Prosecco is made using the so-called Charmat Method which although invented by an Italian at the end of the 19th century, was further developed by the French inventor Eugène Charmat in 1907. This method is used all over the world to produce cheap brands of sparkling wine. In Treviso, it’s often known as the Metodo Italiano an expression that hardly needs translation.

The wine is blended and initially fermented using stainless steel pressure tanks in which the bubbles form during the second fermentation.  This is less time-consuming (and therefore cheaper) than the more complicated and labour-intensive Champagne Method. Prosecco is often used as an apéritif but it’s surprisingly versatile and pairs successfully with a wide range of food. It works well with medium-intensity foods but can also matches the spicy curries and many other dishes of Southeast Asia.

Cornaro Prosecco Extra Dry DOC, Treviso, Italy (white) 644 THB @ Villa

This wine comes from the dauntingly named Cantina Montelliana e dei Colli Asolani, a cooperative of associated vine-growers founded in 1957. Its vineyards are located on the southern-facing hills around Montello and Colli Asolani several hundred feet above sea level. This example comes from the lower end of the price range though don’t let that put you off. Although it is one of the cheapest sparklers around, to my mind it’s jolly good value. The wine is a pale straw colour and has an attractive aroma of apple and peach. At just 11% ABV, it’s supple and light in body but quite an undemanding wine and not the kind of thing that requires elaborate descriptions. I’d describe it as a simple swigger and none the worse for that, because it would be ideal for social occasions or parties, if we are ever allowed to have them again.

Maschio Prosecco Extra Dry DOC, Treviso, Italy (white) 644 THB @ Villa

No, it’s not a typing error. The price of these two sparklers wines is exactly the same, though in England they cost about ten quid a bottle. Cantine Maschio is one of Italy’s top producers of quality Prosecco and makes some of the best-selling wines in Italy. This entry-level wine is almost colourless with subtle hints of green. There’s an interesting dusty floral aroma with the distinct smell of herbs and a hint of peaches. The wine is exceptionally light, dryish and refreshing with plenty of fruit of the palate and a pleasingly rounded taste with delicate acidity and lively bubbles. There’s also a surprisingly long finish and this charming little sparkler has a real touch of class. At just 11% ABV it would make a splendid aperitif, light and easy with not too much acidity.

Incidentally, if the label describes a sparkling wine as “extra dry” (which both these do) it’s not very dry at all. If you want a really dry sparkler, look for the word “Brut” on the label. Either way, Prosecco should always be served cold at around 3-6 °C which is pretty well out-of-the-fridge temperature. Most wine enthusiasts agree that sparkling wines should always be served in one of those tall, elongated tulip glasses, known technically as Champagne flutes. The shape helps preserve the bubbles for longer and it concentrates the wine’s fruity aromas at the top of the glass where your nose should be. Unless of course, you are some kind of alien being, with your nose in an unusual place.

A Sense of Place

The novel design of the Marqués de Riscal hotel.

Yesterday afternoon I was looking through a newsletter from a wine company in Bangkok and I was mildly surprised to see some Rioja among their offerings. You might not be familiar with the name and I have to admit you don’t see them around here very often. For many people, the name itself is a bit of a challenge. Being Spanish, the “j” is pronounced like the “ch” in the Scottish word “loch” or a bit like the “ch” that occurs in many German words. The entire word should come out something like ree-OCH-ah but I don’t suppose it matters very much how you say it around here.

You could be forgiven for assuming that Rioja is the name of a grape, but it’s a place, or more accurately, a wine region. The name comes from the river that flows through the region, the Rio Oja. Here they produce some of the best wines in Spain. Rioja lies in the far north of the country, not far from the border with France and about 120 miles south of Bilbao. Wine making in this region has a long history, so long in fact that no one is really sure exactly when it began. The origins of Rioja go back to the Phoenicians and there is certain evidence that grapes were grown in La Rioja during the ninth century. In medieval times, La Rioja had many vineyards which were tended by monks, a common practice at the time. Today the vineyards cover about 160,000 acres. Most of the region produces red wine but the whites are also interesting.

I first discovered Rioja about forty years ago and intrigued by the elegant Bordeaux-shaped bottle surrounded by its traditional golden wire mesh.  I took the bottle home and thus began a long love affair with this splendid wine which, along with Sherry, seems to me the epitome of Spain. The Bordeaux-shaped bottle is perhaps not a coincidence because at first the wine reminded me of Cabernet Sauvignon. But there was something else. It reminded me of Spain, the gloomy interiors of the country houses, the dark and heavy furniture and the rich textures of traditional Iberian fabrics. The wine had a “sense of place” which I found captivating. Perhaps it’s something to do with the grape variety. You see, Rioja’s dominant grape is the Tempranillo, the great red grape of Spain.  It’s been grown there for over two thousand years and shows up all over the country with the result that it has several local names including Abundante, Tinto Fino and Tinta de Toro. Sometimes another grape, the garnacha (known in France as the Grenache) as added to Rioja to create a richer fruitier taste.  In 2007, the wine regulating body for the Rioja region decided to allow several more local grapes to be used in the making of Rioja.

Young, red Rioja is a dark wine with medium acidity, substantial tannins and sometimes hints of jam and red fruit. Older wines have a complex aroma with hints of vanilla and coconut which comes from ageing in American oak. Some of the finest Riojas are, to my mind, almost on a par with good Bordeaux and certainly share some of the taste qualities. These older wines often have a silky, smooth texture brought about by several years maturing in oak barrels.

Although Rioja is produced in different parts of the region, that doesn’t really concern us here. It’s more important for the buyer to know the four quality levels of Rioja. The entry level is simply labeled “Rioja”. This has minimal ageing but is low in tannin and high in fruit. If you enjoy light fruity wines, you’ll probably enjoy it.  The next level up uses the word “crianza” on the label and it spends a year in oak and a few months in the bottle before it can be sold. This wine has more body and often hints of oak. The next rung of the ladder uses the word “reserva” and these are wines are of noticeably higher quality, having had three years in the barrel. Wines at the top of the tree are allowed to use the words “gran reserva” on the label. These are among the best Riojas that you can get and are required to have at least two years in oak barrels and three years in the bottle. If you are into beef steaks, this is a wine to try with them.

Several excellent brands of Rioja are available in Thailand and the widest choice comes through online sources. Marqués de Riscal have been producing top-class Rioja since 1858 and the winery also has a luxury hotel on site, designed by Frank Gehry using methods he previously employed in the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.  Marqués de Cáceras is also an old-established company and you can obtain their Rionja Crianza for under 900 baht. Wine Connection has the Federico Paternina Banda Azul Crianza for under 600 baht, which is an excellent bargain. Wine Garage sells the CVNE Rioja Crianza for Bt 900 and the excellent Contino Rioja Reserva for Bt 1,900. Wine Garage also has an unusual white Rioja, the CVNE Monopole at Bt 975. I first tasted the 1968 vintage of this wine sometime in the late 1970s and it had turned into a beautifully balanced, dry and elegant wine. I have not tasted recent vintages, but it is sure to make an interesting change from Chardonnay. Rioja wine has so much to offer and so easily available here that it would a shame not to try some of them.

Avoiding Expensive Mistakes

(Photo by Nenad Maric.)

by Colin Kirkpatrick

A few months ago, before the Days of the Great Pandemic, I was having an evening meal with some friends at an Italian place in Bangkok. There were several wines on the table including a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. Towards the end of the meal, someone ordered a desert, a kind of Italian apple and lemon pie with lashings of cream. To my astonishment he reached for the Cabernet Sauvignon, poured himself a glass and then happily swigged it with the desert. I assumed that a fuse must have blown in his gustatory system for the disastrous combination of dry, tannic wine, sweet apples, lemon and cream would have tasted revolting. The flavours must have been fighting each other to the death.


You probably know of several food and drink combinations that just seem that they don’t work. Could you for example, imagine eating a fried egg with a glass of rich, fruity Merlot? The thought makes me cringe. There might be a remote possibility that fried egg and Merlot is a taste made in heaven just waiting to be discovered but I somehow doubt it. Some wine enthusiasts claim that you can drink champagne with fried eggs because the acidity in the wine cuts the palate-coating taste of yolk. But it would just feel wrong. To my mind, the only successful partner to a fried egg is a cup of tea.

Food and wine have been close companions for centuries, because generally they go together so well. But there are a number of combinations that simply don’t work largely on account of the chemistry. Wine is expensive enough, without wasting a good bottle on the wrong food. It could ruin the evening. The whole business of food and wine pairing might seem like a minefield, but it boils down to a simple fact: you need the wine and the food to complement each other so that they both improve in each other’s company.

In a restaurant, choose a wine that fits your budget. And play it safe rather than risk a dodgy experiment with the unknown, especially if the unknown costs Bt 3,000 a bottle. I usually prefer to keep things simple with three rules of thumb: (1) match the weight and texture, (2) match the intensity, and (3) either contrast the flavours or let them complement each other.


If you were to drink a young white with a rich and fully flavoured beefy dish, the wine would probably taste thin and watery. Delicate flavours of fish dishes need a light, delicate wine. A hefty full-bodied red would overpower the food completely and render it pretty well tasteless. Even so, there’s no point in drinking dry-as-a-bone Sauvignon Blanc with lightly cooked shellfish – a classic combination by the way - if you loathe and detest Sauvignon Blanc.

And talking of fish, you may recall that much-quoted saying, “white wine with fish; red wine with meat.” It’s an over-simplification of course. Some light reds work well with rich, assertive fish dishes and many whites work well with veal or chicken. While some reds take on an unpleasant metallic quality when paired with fish, grilled salmon works really well with Pinot Noir. Some of the classic food pairings, tried and tested over generations are worth bearing in mind: Chablis or Muscadet with oysters; red Burgundy with coq au vin; Cabernet Sauvignon with steak; Sauternes with foie gras and Chardonnay with lobster. If you can afford caviar, bring out the Champagne.

For many of us, food choices are rather more mundane. What about fish and chips for example? You might be surprised to know that Champagne goes well with this British favourite, or Prosecco if you’re on a budget. My own choice would be Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio though I’ve heard that Chenin Blanc goes a treat with mushy peas.


For beef burgers, chose Pinot Noir or a fruity Merlot. Hot dogs go well with a cold fresh dry rosé or even a spritzy white. Veggie omelets complement light dry whites like Chablis or Soave but more robust omelet fillings need a simple country red. Indian food generally calls for low alcohol wines and Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc or Gewürztraminer are appropriate choices.

Thai food generally works well with light dry whites such as Pinot Grigio, Soave, Chenin Blanc or dry rosé. Leave the reds on the shelf. The choice of wine with chicken depends on how the meat cooked, but generally rich dry whites or light reds work well. Pinot Noir is the classic wine choice for duck.

Wine and cheese have long been traditional partners but there’s a persistent myth that cheese will go with almost any red wine. I disagree. Full-bodied reds and soft cheese (such as Brie or Camembert) don’t work because the tannins make the cheese taste chalky. Dry, crisp whites are far more suitable. Save the red for richer items. Riesling and Chardonnay usually go well with Swiss cheese. Riesling also works well with two popular Dutch cheeses, Gouda and Edam. British mature Cheddar can be a problem, and I’ve read all sorts of suggestions that range from Californian Zinfandel to late-bottled Port. My own preference, especially for a summer lunch, would be a cold beer.


Over the Hill

Bulk wine on the move.

The other week, someone asked me why there’s never a “best before” date on bottles of wine. It’s a good question. After all, they appear on almost all other consumables, even cans of dog food. So why not wine? Some boxed wines have the packing date stamped underneath but it’s often in minuscule print and you might need a magnifying glass to find it. You might be surprised to know that the concept of “best before” dates is relatively recent. They were first introduced in the UK in the 1950s but didn’t become established until about twenty years later. Contrary to popular belief, they are only approximate and according to Smithsonian Magazine, food expiration dates are often simply made up by the manufacturer. A few countries don’t use them at all.

There is a persistent myth that wine improves with age. Some optimistic people believe that if they leave a bottle of cheap plonk in the cupboard for a few years, the Wine Fairies will get to work and somehow turn it into liquid gold. Needless to say, it’s complete nonsense. Cheap plonk will always be cheap plonk however long it languishes at the back of your cupboard, which incidentally is the worst place you can possibly store it. Rather than improve, it will soon begin to decay and you will left with a dismal thing resembling vinegar. It might be useful for cleaning out the gearbox of a tractor, but not much else.

A few months ago, one of my friends offered to bring a “special” bottle over for us to try. “It’s been in the cupboard for years,” he enthused. “So it should be pretty good by now.” My heart sank. The wine turned out to be a once-decent Sauvignon Blanc but the label revealed that it was over seven years old. I tentatively opened the bottle and was greeted by the distinct aroma of rotting vegetables. The wine had turned a light brown and was undrinkable. My friend was clearly disappointed that his “old” wine was not just over the hill, but half way down the other side. Even the dogs turned it down.

You see, the vast majority of wine is made for early consumption, ideally within a year or so. Commercial table wine has a shelf-life of about two or three years, assuming that the storing conditions and temperature are appropriate. If you see ordinary table wine in the supermarket older than four years, it’s often safer to leave it on the shelf. Wine that comes in boxes or bags has a shelf-life of about a year. Some companies claim that once opened, a boxed wine is drinkable for up to six weeks but I’d take that with a pinch of Himalayan mountain salt.

In the case of top-quality Bordeaux or Burgundy intended for long-term ageing, “best before” dates would be pointless. When a fine vintage is bottled, no one is absolutely certain when it’ll be at its best - it could be decades into the future. The only way to check on a fine wine’s development is to taste a sample bottle from time to time, which in fact is exactly what happens.

You’d have thought that with ordinary table wines it would be easier to define a “best before” date. But not so. There are too many variables over which the wine-maker has no control. Unlike other food products, wine can be severely damaged by careless handling. A bottle of European table wine for example is likely to have a longer life if stored correctly in its home country than an identical bottle that has been transported by various means to a shop on the other side of the world.

I’ve found that in these parts, the two most common wine problems are oxidation and heat damage, despite the fact that nearly all commercial wines are heat-stabilized during the winemaking process. Wine writer Laura Burgess believes that the threshold for heat damage begins at about 70°F (21°C). Wine damaged by heat tastes rough or acidic and red wine acquires a kind of jammy sweetness, sometimes with astringent tannins.

Oxidized wine is a more common problem, especially in restaurants. Once a bottle has been opened and partially used, the remaining wine oxidizes rapidly. It’s the same chemical process - more or less - that changes the colour of apple slices from white to brown. And like apples, white wines go brown too, whereas reds take on a sherry-like aroma of stewed fruit.

Of course, a bottle of wine does not suddenly “go off” because it’s a gradual process. The aromas and flavours slowly fade and the freshness diminishes. Chemical changes sometimes cause unwelcome odours to develop. There is no single cut-off date. And all this, in a rather small and simplified nutshell, is why there can be no reliable “best before” date for wine.

To avoid buying a duff bottle in the supermarket, remember that as far as commercial wine is concerned, younger is safer. And let’s face it; a lot depends on the experience of the consumer. Would you really notice for example, if your glass of wine was mildly oxidized or heat damaged? Possibly not.

Not long ago, I was in a local restaurant with a group of friends (yes, I do have some). We’d opted for a large carafe of house red but it turned out to be ever-so-slightly oxidized. The faded colour and dodgy aroma gave it away. But my merry friends were clearly none the wiser and knocking it back with abandon. It would have seemed churlish to make a comment.

The Green and Pleasant Land

Hush Heath vineyard in Kent.

In 2002, the British Broadcasting Corporation organized a poll to find out who were considered the greatest British people who ever lived. You can probably guess a few of them yourself. It turned out that William Blake, the slightly eccentric English poet and painter was placed at Number 38. If these things interest you, I shall leave you to find out who the others were but sadly, I am not among them.

William Blake was unrecognized during his lifetime but he’s now considered a key figure in Romantic art and poetry. It is he who gave us the expression “England’s green and pleasant land” which first appeared in the rather surreal and supposedly prophetic poem of 1804 entitled Jerusalem. It was written when Blake was living in his cottage in Felpham, a small village near the Sussex town of Bognor Regis. The village lies in the heart of England’s wine country.

Wine making was introduced to Britain by the Romans, who occupied the country for well over three hundred years. The Domesday Book of 1085 lists over 40 vineyards in England and by the time Henry VIII was crowned at the turn of the 16th century there were 139 vineyards in the country. Today there are more than 500 in England and also a couple of dozen in Wales.

For a variety of economic and political reasons, English wine had entered a dark age during the 19th century and by the First World War, wine production had ceased completely. Although attempts were made to kick-start the wine industry in the 1930s, it wasn’t until the 1960s that it started to get back on its feet.

In subsequent years things improved, largely due to increased expertise, climate change and market demands. Today, many parts of southern Britain are dry and warm enough to grow high quality grapes and the soil seems to suit them too. It’s in the interest of farmers as well, because grapes produce far more income per acre than traditional English crops such as wheat.

Generally, cool-climate grapes are best suited to England, including Seyval Blanc, Reichensteiner and the cross-breed variety Müller-Thurgau. Bacchus is a German hybrid white grape created in the 1930s and it’s the grape of choice for many English wine-makers.

Initially, only white grapes could be grown there, but the warmer climate is allowing the production of red wines too. The red grapes Pinot Noir, Gamay and Dornfelder are now appearing in English vineyards.

The counties along the southern coast - Kent, Sussex and Hampshire - are the home of some of England’s best-known vineyards. Kent currently has the largest area under vine, its largest producers being Gusbourne Estate and Chapel Down.

England is also producing world-class sparkling wines from traditional Champagne grapes such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

Award-winning sommelier Marc Almert writes, “British sparkling wines are currently on everyone’s lips in the international wine world. On average, the climate in southern England today is like that of Champagne twenty years ago. The soils of the vineyards around Sussex and Kent also have high lime content, similar to that in Champagne. No wonder that England is currently one of the most dynamic sparkling wine regions in the world.”

The French Champagne companies must have been eyeing this English success with interest, to say the least. Three years ago, the distinguished French Champagne house Taittinger planted its first vines in 170 acres of farmland near Selling Court Farm in Kent. Some of the locals may have wondered whether this was a portent of a second Norman invasion.

Many English wine companies have been tremendously successful. One of them is Nyetimber Wines. Thirty years ago, Stuart and Sandy Moss planted a vineyard in the district of Nyetimber in West Sussex, not far from where William Blake wrote his famous poem. Their first wines were released in 1997 and promptly won a Gold Medal at the International Wine and Spirit Competition. The company has gone from strength to strength and a few weeks ago announced a major planting of over 100 acres near the village of Thurnham in Kent. Two hundred thousand Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines have already been planted.

So which are the best English wines to look out for? Well, I am afraid the bad news is that you’ll probably have to go there to buy them. As far as I am aware, there are no UK wines yet available in Thailand. If however, you can persuade someone to bring you a sample when all the current problems subside, there are several excellent outlets in the UK all of which offer online service.

Majestic Wine is a well-established company that offers an excellent selection of English wine. Other important outlets are Grape Britannia, Elizabeth Rose English Wines, Hawkins Brothers, The British Wine Cellar, The English Wine Collection and Hennings Wine. These companies together offer an incredible selection of fine wine. If you are planning a future trip there, be sure to seek out some of the superb wines that the UK has to offer.


North of the Border

Sainte-Eulalie de Cruzy. (Photo: Francois Werth)

Next time you visit Toulouse to see how they’re getting along with your custom-built Airbus, you can pass the time by renting a car for the day. If you were to drive down the A61 or the A64 for a few miles, you would soon find yourself in the Comté Tolosan.

This is a massive wine-growing region that covers the whole of South-Western France and reaches down to the Spanish border. They produce more than five million gallons of wine every year there using the usual well-known grape varieties but also many local varieties.

You might never have heard of Gros Manseng, Loin de l’Oeil, Duras, Fer Servadou or Négrette but they all hang out in Comté Tolosan and almost nowhere else in the world. The region is a part of the so-called Aquitaine Basin, which includes the plains that fall between the Pyrenees, the Massif Central to the East and the Atlantic Ocean to the west.

I don’t want to bore you comatose with technical stuff, but there’s something you need to know. Between 2006 and 2012 the French revised their traditional system of wine classification. If this is news to you, please sit up and listen carefully because I am not going to bother explaining it all again. In a nutshell, the result was that wines previously classed simply as Vin de Pays (“country wines”) had to show the rather more prosaic classification of Indication Géographique Protégée (IGP) on their labels. The rock-bottom category of Vin de Table (which hardly needs translation) was changed to Vin de France. The top designation, which used to be Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) was replaced with Appellation d'Origine Protégée (AOP). In 2011, the rather useful classification of Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure (VDQS) which had been introduced in 1949 was given the old heave-ho and unceremoniously chucked out altogether.

Cuvée Montplo, Comté Tolosan IGP (white), France

Both today’s wines hail from the strangely-named Domaine Montplo which lies to the east of Comté Tolosan in the region known as l’Hérault (lair-OH). It stretches from the shores of the Mediterranean to the Cévennes Mountains in the north. At its centre lies the ancient town of Béziers, known among other things for the local obsession with bullfighting. Domaine Montplo is tucked away in Cruzy, a small wine village about thirty minutes’ drive north of Narbonne.

At first sniff, the wine smells a vaguely like a Chardonnay but it’s actually a blend of Colombard and Ugni Blanc. You may be unfamiliar with Ugni Blanc, but it hails from Italy, where it’s known by the more familiar name of Trebbiano.  This wine is pale yellow with hints of green and it has a lovely floral aroma of pineapple, melon, citrus fruits and honey.

When the air gets to the wine, you’ll find that both the aroma and taste open up beautifully. Comté Tolosan white wines are known for their aromatic qualities and this one is no exception. It has a soft, seductive and almost creamy mouth-feel, plenty of tropical fruit up-front and hardly any acidity. It’s not quite as dry as the proverbial bone, but it’s dry nonetheless and there’s a touch of pleasing acidity on the long finish.

It would work well with seafood but would be perfect with a simple salad. This is a really lovely wine and at only 11.5% alcohol content, I’d be quite happy to drink it on its own all evening. In fact, I think I will.

Domaine de Montplo, Pays d’Hérault IGP (red), France

The vineyards of Domaine de Montplo lie to the west of Béziers, on stony, clay-based soil. They are planted on hillsides at 200 metres altitude and benefit from proximity to the rocky scrubland and its wild herb aromas.  Mind you, the aroma of this attractive, dark red wine is a bit shy at first. But if you’d been stuck in a bottle for two years, hauled from France to Thailand then dumped in a storeroom for a couple of weeks, you’d probably feel a bit withdrawn too. Eventually, when the wine has had some air contact, you’ll pick up fruity aromas of blackberry, plum, blackcurrant and raspberry. It’s worth waiting for.

The wine has a beautifully soft texture with loads of fruit on the palate. It’s balanced, well-rounded and perfectly dry with a foundation of supple tannins. There’s a very satisfying long, dry finish with just enough tannin to remind you that this is a real French wine, not a Californian crowd-pleaser.

It’s made from two local grape varieties, Carignan and Grenache, the second of which also happens to be one of the most widely planted red grapes in the world. At just 12% alcohol content it would make an excellent partner for light meals, especially with cheese.

By the way, both these wines come with a very welcome screw cap (or “Stelvin closure”, if you want to impress your friends). I’ve grappled with so many corks in my time that a screw cap comes as a great relief. Yes, I know it lacks a certain mystique and romance, but there again, so does an Airbus.

The wines described in this column are generally available in Thailand, either from local outlets or from online wine suppliers.



Rose-Tinted Spectacles

Provence: home of fine rosé.

It’s a curious expression when you come to think about it, yet I suppose most English speakers know what it means. I think I was wearing them when I first visited Thailand over thirty years ago. Everything seemed so fresh, new and inviting; everyone warm and friendly and I became enchanted by the country. I don’t think I even noticed the dirt and piles of rubbish in the grubby sois of Bangkok. But why the colour “rose” I wonder?

In 2015, psychology researchers Andrew Elliot and Markus Maier wrote, “Given the prevalence of color, one would expect color psychology to be a well-developed area. Surprisingly, little theoretical or empirical work has been conducted to date on color’s influence on psychological functioning, and the work that has been done has been driven mostly by practical concerns, not scientific rigour.”

Even so, in popular imagination colours often tend to be associated with human feelings or emotion. Past experiences, cultural influences, personal taste, and other factors probably influence how individuals respond to particular colours. In many cultures, rose-pink is often considered a peaceful colour associated with love, kindness, and femininity. Remember the old wives’ adage about “blue for a boy and pink for a girl”? It seems that colour associations are reinforced from an early age.

So what about pink wine? It’s usually described as rosé, a French word meaning much the same thing. If you are of a certain age you may recall Mateus Rosé, a brand created in 1945 and designed for mass market appeal. It’s sweet and slightly fizzy and still going strong in its distinctive flask-shaped bottle. Rosé wine has come a long way from being the simple glugger of the 1970s, when Hugh Johnson wrote, “Buy the cheapest rosé you can find, for there is not much to choose between them.”  Today of course, that is no longer true. Rosé has achieved popularity largely because it has become so much more interesting. It is no longer chic to be sniffy about rosé. In France, more than one in five bottles of wine sold is rosé where it has become a popular light drink or apéritif.

Anyway, let’s get to business. By definition, rosé is a type of wine that incorporates some of the colour from the skins of red grapes. Almost any variety of red grapes can be used to make it, though Shiraz and Grenache are popular among winemakers. Rosé is aromatic, light and fragrant (or should be) with reminders of fresh cut flowers and ripe red fruits like strawberry and cherry. Sometimes there are tantalizing hints of delicate floral aromas, oranges, grapefruit or lychee. Rosé works well with most foods and for something to accompany a light snack it’s perfect, especially when served ice-cold.  European rosé tends to be dry especially the dry-as-a-bone rosé from the South of France. If you prefer dry wine, stay with European rosé because many New World examples are usually on the sweet side. Many companies also make sparkling rosé.

You might be surprised to know that both red and white grapes produce clear, colourless juice when pressed. The colour comes almost entirely from the grape skins. There are several ways to make rosé but the most common is known as maceration (or soaking), which involves leaving the skins to soak in the newly-crushed grape juice for a limited amount of time. It can be anywhere between six to forty-eight hours, depending on the style of wine needed. And incidentally, rosé is rarely a simple pink. The colour can range from a pale “onion-skin” orange to a vivid near-purple, depending on the grape used and the length of the maceration.

You may be wondering where you can buy rosé in this neck of the woods. Rosé should always be consumed when it’s young and fresh, so it’s generally safer to buy it where you can be reasonably sure of a rapid turnover. Wine Connection has several branches in Pattaya and they have a few interesting rosé wines on offer including a couple of typical dry ones from the South of France. The online wine company Wine-Now.Asia appears to have a splendid selection of rosés from all over the world. There are many interesting examples under Bt 750 including the excellent Paul Jaboulet Parallèle 45 Rosé. If you’re prepared to fork out up to Bt 900 there some even more tempting offers from this company.

You might be surprised to know that rosé is also made in Thailand. One of the entry-level examples is Monsoon Valley Rosé which comes from Siam Winery. A bit further up-market is the excellent PB Valley Khao Yai Reserve Rosé which is a lovely dusky pink with tantalizing hints of orange. One of the most fascinating Thai rosés I have come across is the award-winning GranMonte Sukana Syrah Rosé, made from 100% Syrah grapes grown in Central Thailand. It’s a lively and refreshing wine with delightful fruity aromas and available online via the GranMonte website at about Bt 940. This is one of the best examples of a quality Thai rosé that you are likely to encounter. But don’t forget, always serve rosé really cold.

Clochemerle Country

Gamay grapes on the vine.

If you’re over a certain age, you may recall the French satirical novel Clochemerle. It was written by Gabriel Chevallier and first published in 1934 though the English translation didn’t appear until some years later. The book is set in a fictional Beaujolais hamlet of the same name and the story revolves around the local squabbles surrounding the installation of a public urinal. In 1972, BBC television produced a popular series based on the novel, much of it filmed on location in France. The British viewers must have thought they were being given a glimpse of The Real Beaujolais but the location sequences were actually filmed in the village of Colombier-le-Vieux over ninety miles to the south in the Ardèche region.

The area known as Beaujolais (boh-zjuh-LAY) lies south of Burgundy and extends about thirty-five miles from the rolling hills south of Mâcon to the flatter lands north of Lyon. The region was first cultivated by the Romans, who sensibly planted vines along their trading route up the Saône River valley to provide sustenance for travelers. Unlike the red wines of Burgundy which rely totally on the Pinot Noir grape, Beaujolais is made solely from Gamay, a purple thin-skinned grape which is low in tannins. Almost all the wines made there are red, full of fruit, easy to drink and food-friendly.

Beaujolais Nouveau is wine which has been fermented for just a few days and released on the third Thursday every November. Technically it’s known as a vin de primeur and it has become famous for the races by distributors to get the first bottles to different consumers around the world. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not a modern fad because the origins of Beaujolais Nouveau date back to the 19th century when the young became all the rage in Paris. These sprightly wines are meant to be enjoyed as young as possible, when they’re at their freshest and fruitiest.

In his splendid book Adventures on the Wine Route, Kermit Lynch writes, “What a concept, downing a newborn wine that has barely left the grape, a wine that retains the cornucopian spirit of the harvest past.” But Beaujolais has changed, much to the chagrin of the Old Guard. Fifty years ago it was simpler stuff, sometimes a bit rough at the edges and rarely exceeded 10-11% alcohol content. Today it is more likely to be 12.5% and crafted for more sophisticated customers who demand fuller flavour, smoothness of texture and – let’s face it - a bit of class.

The quality levels of Beaujolais are easy to understand because there are only three. The lowest is labeled simply Beaujolais and it’s a basic blend using cheap grapes from anywhere in the region. A wine labelled Beaujolais Villages is at the middle level and covers blends from any of thirty-nine small villages in the northern part of the region. Wines from these villages are considered superior to ordinary Beaujolais in that they have more complex aromas and a more satisfying concentration of flavours.

The top-level wines are known as Cru Beaujolais and come from just ten villages in the foothills of the Beaujolais Mountains. The hilly terrain, granite base and sandy clay soil provide an ideal environment for Gamay to express itself to perfection. The name of the individual village usually dominates the label and sometimes the name Beaujolais is omitted altogether. These are the most interesting Beaujolais wines you can buy because each village produces wine with its own special characteristics. In Thailand you might – if you’re lucky – come across Brouilly, Chénas, Fleurie, Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent. These are longer-lasting wines and unlike ordinary Beaujolais, they can keep for several years.


I once found some half-bottles of quite old Moulin-à-Vent in an old and dusty wine shop in South London. They were well over ten years old but still youthful by Moulin standards – some of which can age for decades. The wine was superb: rich dark fruit, earthy woodland aromas and a stunning velvety texture. The next morning I drove back the shop and bought the few bottles that they had left.

You’re unlikely to come across such treasures in these parts but if you buy Beaujolais, look out for the respected names of Bouchard, Drouhin, Duboeuf and Jadot. If you’ve not yet had to opportunity to taste Beaujolais, you might be wondering what it tastes like. Well, Beaujolais is made to be enjoyed young, when it’s full of youthful exuberance. Part from the distinguished Cru Beaujolais, most of the wines are typically youthful, light-bodied and with fresh acidity. Beaujolais tends to have soft, jammy aromas of red fruits such as strawberry, raspberry or redcurrants and the better quality ones come with forest aromas which might even remind you of Pinot Noir. They usually have a gentle mouth-feel and light tannins.  These charming wines make a lovely accompaniment for summer or al fresco meals. Ordinary Beaujolais goes perfectly with light meals, omelets, vegetarian dishes and salads and even with light chicken dishes. But do as the French do, and always drink it slightly chilled. Of course in that part of France, it’s the daily swig for in those rustic regions they consume little else.

Air Power

Decanting wine.

One of the most heated arguments among wine enthusiasts is not really about wine at all. It’s about whether you should pour it directly from the bottle into the glass, or whether you should first pour it into a decanter. Red wines that have been in the bottle for several years sometimes develop sediment. White wines rarely do, though tartrate crystals are sometimes found in older whites. There’s nothing wrong with sediment, it’s just the dead yeast cells and other tiny insoluble fragments that settle to the bottom of any wine container. However, it looks a bit unsightly and few people like to encounter black grit at the bottom of their glass. Decanting is the process of separating the wine from the sediment. But more of that in a moment.

Aeration is a simple process which enables the oxygen in the air to react with the wine and enhance the flavors and aromas. Some people (and many waiters) seem to believe that having opened the bottle, it should then be left to stand for a couple of minutes “to breathe”. This is nonsense, and I shall tell you why. When the bottle is standing on the table, only the wine in the narrow neck of the bottle is exposed to the air. This tiny surface area is far too small to make any significant difference. It’s better to simply pour the wine into the glasses and let it rest for a few minutes.

If you are at home rather than in a restaurant, you can aerate the wine by tipping the whole lot into a wine jug or decanter. But if you drink only a couple of glasses at a time rather than an entire bottle, consider buying a device called an aerator. There are two main types and both are inexpensive. One type is held above the glass while you pour the wine through it, but the process can be messy especially if your eyesight is not so good. It’s probably safer is to use the other type of aerator that fits into neck of the bottle and also acts as a stopper.

Aeration is something of a battle-ground among some wine experts. Professor Emile Peynaud, the distinguished French enologist believes that any oxygen damages wine and you should always pour wine straight out of the bottle into the glass. I have to say that few other experts would agree with him. I usually taste the wine first before I decide whether to aerate it. Nine times out of ten, I prefer aeration unless of course it’s sparkling wine which is never decanted nor aerated. If you use boxed wine, a decanter is pretty well essential. It doesn’t need to be an expensive one either. I use plain, simple glass decanters, made by Ocean and available at any decent kitchen shop for well under 100 baht each. They come in a variety of sizes.  If you are sharing a bottle with two other people, you can pour the entire contents into three 25cl decanters. This ensures that everyone receives their fair share and avoids unseemly fist-fights later.

You don’t need to pour cheap wines gingerly as though they’re liquid gold, once you’ve got the top of the bottle over the decanter, just let the wine slosh in, so that the oxygen can really get to work. This is probably best done in the kitchen rather than at the table, in case you make a complete hash of it. And here you may detect the voice of experience.

Nearly all the world’s wine is made for early consumption and not intended for ageing, so sediment is unlikely in any wine you pick up at the supermarket. Unless you drink vintage port or old and expensive wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy or Italy you’ll probably never need to bother decanting. There’s no mystique in decanting, but it does require a little practice.  If your wine has been stored horizontally (which it should have been) place the bottle upright at least a day before opening. This ensures that any sediment settles at the bottom. When you’re ready, gently remove the cork, grasping the bottle as steadily as possible. Then hold it over the neck of the decanter (the bottle, not the cork). Pour in the contents gently and steadily until the bottle is almost horizontal. As soon as you see sediment approaching the neck of the bottle, stop. It’s easier if there’s a bright light behind the bottle. Traditionally, a candle was used (no doubt with many cases of burnt fingers) but a small LCD torch is even better.

I suppose in the end, while decanting is a necessary chore for many older red wines, aeration is partly a matter of personal taste. If you prefer your wine tasting tight and firm, pour it straight from the bottle, but if you want it to open up a bit pour it first into a decanter or wine jug.  You may want to use a decanter when the wine bottle has an especially ugly or cheap-looking label, or you may want to conceal the fact that you are dishing up cheap plonk. Far be it from me encourage dishonesty, but an elegant decanter will help to preserve your guilty secret.

Pizza Wine

Pizzeria in Capri (Photo: Elijah Lovkoff).

The entrepreneur, restaurateur and author Peter Boizot once wrote, “After one of his rapturously received performances at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the great tenor Enrico Caruso was asked for his secret. How did he control such power and passion and project such lush sweeps of melody? Looking his questioner straight in the eye, Caruso replied È la pizza, la pizza, caro mio. (“It’s the pizza, the pizza, my dear.”) Caruso was paying unusual tribute to a great national dish of his own country which was not particularly well-known outside Italy at that time – except, as it happened in New York itself, where Italian immigrants had introduced the tradition of the pizza.”

Many years ago in London, I used to visit some of the original Pizza Express restaurants which were founded by Peter Boizot in 1965. One of them was a stone’s throw from the British Museum in a dark, narrow side street that probably hadn’t changed very much since the time of Charles Dickens. On one occasion at the restaurant, an earnest young Spanish waiter informed me that because there were some slices of mushroom on my pizza, I should be drinking white wine with it, not red. This of course was absolute and total nonsense and exuding as much sweetness and charm that I could muster, I told him so.

Wine has always been the traditional accompaniment to pizza. Indeed, in many European countries, wine has always been a staple item at the dinner table partly because it was considerably safer to drink than water. Pizza was sold in the taverns and on the streets of Naples in the sixteenth century, though Peter Boizot hinted at its Neolithic origins when he wrote, “in its simplest form, the pizza…could have been invented by anyone who had learned the secret of mixing flour with water and heating it on a hot stone.”

Pizza has come a long way since then but it remains a simple dish, though it can have countless variations and fascinating flavours. It’s relatively easy to make too. I’ve been making my own for years, though the dough-kneading process can be a bit of a bore. To my mind, simple food needs simple wine. And wine it must be, because pizza cries out for wine. It’s unlikely that people in sixteenth century Naples spent much time discussing the most appropriate wines. They’d simply drink whatever happened to be available locally. And there would have been plenty of choice, because Naples lies in Italy’s Campania region where wine has been produced since the 12th century BC. It’s one of Italy’s most ancient wine regions with a vast number of grape varieties, some of which are found almost nowhere else on earth. Today’s wines from the Campania region tend to be fruit-forward and youthful and many of them would make perfect matches for pizza. However, you’ll probably be hard-pressed to find Campania wine in these parts.

The ideal pizza wine is what the Italians call vino da pasta, which is any inexpensive light table wine knocked back with almost every meal and usually served on the cool side. Yes, I know that some people prefer to drink beer with pizza, but if you must, try to find a strong Italian beer like Nastro Azzuro.

With simple food like pizza, almost any crisp, dry, wine will do. It can be red or white but if it also happens to be Italian, so much the better. Italian wine is made for food. Although some people like hearty wines with pizza, I prefer to drink light-bodied wines regardless of the toppings. My preference would be a Valpolicella or a Bardolino (red) or a crisp dry Frascati or Soave (white). I should stress here that these are merely my wines of preference, not what I actually get to drink.  If you like something a little more assertive, basic Chianti would work well with its savoury, herbal hints that come from the Sangiovese grape. There’s no need to choose a white wine just because your pizza has a few bits of chicken on the top. It’s the dominant flavours that count. But if you are having a seafood or vegetarian pizza Sauvignon Blanc or a light, dry rosé would be excellent choices.

The whole business of pairing pizza and wine is pretty basic and boils down largely to whether you want the food and wine to complement each other or whether like me, you prefer contrast. For example, if you’re having a “heavy” pizza with lots of rich meat, you can match like-with-like by selecting a full-bodied wine like a warm-climate Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz. Alternatively, you can contrast your “heavy” pizza with a light-bodied wine. It’s entirely up to you. Feel free to be adventurous and try to experiment. Perhaps in these challenging times, you might even finish up, as I so often do, with Mont Clair. But that’s better than nothing, and with a bit of determination and will-power you can almost convince yourself that it’s actually Valpolicella from sunny Italy.

Classic Reds

Château Margaux (Photo: Colin Burbidge).

If you mention the name “Bordeaux” to wine lovers, don’t be surprised if their eyes glaze over and their salivary glands get to work like those of Pavlov’s slobbering dogs. Because you see, for wine enthusiasts Bordeaux is rather special. Any red wine from the Bordeaux region used to be called “claret” in Britain, regardless of its origin or pedigree. The British have used this word for the last three hundred years yet today it’s unknown in France. It’s always pronounced “cla-rett” and never, as some nitwit once told me, “cla-ray”.  I suppose the word will eventually join the mausoleum of other defunct but delightful English words along with hobgoblin, postilion, whirligig and quagswagging, which in case you’re wondering, means shaking something to and fro. My parents always used to speak of “listening to the wireless” and avoided the word “radio” as though it was slightly vulgar. Future generations will probably regard anyone who talks about “the wireless” as faintly dotty if not actually barking mad.

So what can I tell you about Bordeaux that you don’t already know? Well, Bordeaux is in France. Of course, you knew that. Even my dogs know that. I suppose Pavlov’s dogs knew that too. Furthermore, Bordeaux is almost half way between the North Pole and the Equator. To be more precise, it’s two-thirds of the way down France’s Atlantic coast and the city of Bordeaux lies on the 44th parallel along with Minneapolis and Montreal.

The Atlantic Ocean and the rivers Gironde and Dordogne, together with the warming effect of the Gulf Stream have a significant impact the climate of Bordeaux. The name itself is a contraction of the French expression au bord de l’eau which translates roughly as “next to the waters”. They’ve been making wine there since the 8th century and today this region of 400 square miles is home to ten thousand wine producers. Bordeaux wine is available at all levels of quality and price. The prices of top quality Bordeaux wine vary from year to year depending on the weather and therefore the quality of the vintage. For example, the years 1961, 1982, 1990, 2000 and 2009 produced superb wine while the 1991 and 1992 vintages were a complete washout.

We can’t talk about Bordeaux wine without mentioning the so-called 1855 Classification. It was created at the request of Napoleon III (the eponymous nephew of the famous one) who wanted to showcase Bordeaux wine at the 1855 Paris World Exhibition. Local experts ranked what they considered the Top Sixty reds of the Gironde region of Bordeaux in order of importance from first growths (or cru) to fifth growths. Surprisingly, the classification still holds today with only a few minor changes. Every wine professional knows this list of Grands Crus by heart. The five chateau named among the First Growths (Premiers Crus) include such illustrious names as Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Latour and Château Margaux which together produce some of the finest red wines in the world. When aged, they develop into sensational wines, each with its unique character.

They don’t come cheap. For example, the UK price of a bottle of the year 2000 Ch. Latour is the equivalent of 39,000 baht and a bottle of Ch. Mouton Rothschild of the same year will set you back 88,000 baht. You can double these prices for Thailand. But because of the enormous world-wide demand, you would be hard-pressed to find any grand cru wines in this country except at the most exclusive places.

However, you don’t need to sell the family car (or the family) to buy a bottle of Bordeaux.  The annual output is about 900 million bottles and apart from that tiny minority of grand cru wines, many of them are entry-level wines intended for everyday drinking and labeled either Bordeaux AOC (Appellation d’origine contrôlée) or Bordeaux Supérieur. The Bordeaux locals drink little else. You can easily find this style of wine in Thailand and the online companies Wine-Now.Asia and Wine Connection stock a decent selection of everyday Bordeaux starting at under Bt 1,000.

If you’ve never tasted Bordeaux, you might be wondering what to expect. Well, the signature grapes of Bordeaux are always Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. Many winemakers use a blend of these two grapes and nothing else. Sometimes other grapes are added to improve the blend, notably Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Good ordinary Bordeaux tends to be dry and firm-bodied with aromas of plum and blackcurrant. It’s restrained in style and is usually high in tannins giving it a firm structure. Sometimes there are touches of spice and hints of soft fruit but these are always subtle and the polar opposite to some of the Cabernet Sauvignon fruit bombs from Australia.

Many entry-level Bordeaux wines are labeled Château something-or-other giving the impression of a stately home surrounded by immaculate gardens and vineyards. This is merely a marketing ploy. A wine company can legally sell identical wines under different and totally fictitious châteaux names. It’s estimated that there are ten thousand château names in use today. The wine in a bottle of cheap Bordeaux may be perfectly good, but the picturesque château shown on the label probably doesn’t exist.


Changing Latitudes

Map showing 30°-50° latitudes.

If you wander through the wine section of a typical supermarket you might get the impression that wine comes from all over the world. But you’d be wrong. The bulk of the world’s wine originates from grapes grown between 30 and 50 degrees of latitude in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. The Northern Hemisphere is by far the larger wine producer because this band covers much more land, whereas the Southern 30-50 degree band is mostly over oceans.

But perhaps you have forgotten what “latitude” means, especially if your geography is a bit hazy. So let me explain. On a map or globe of the Earth, latitude is shown by imaginary horizontal lines like hula hoops around the surface from the equator to the two poles. On a map, like the one shown here, they appear as straight lines. They’re sometimes called “parallels” because they run parallel to the equator which is the starting point for measuring latitude so it’s considered as zero degrees. Thailand is comparatively near the equator and Pattaya lies 12° North. One degree of latitude is around 69 miles (or 110 kms) so Chiang Mai is almost 19° N. London is about 51.5° N whereas on the opposite side of the world, Sydney is about 35° South (usually shown as -35°). This of course is within the southern grape-growing comfort zone.

The vertical lines on a map or globe indicate longitude and knowing both these values you can pin-point anywhere on the globe. This is partly how your GPS device works. Surprisingly perhaps, the concepts of latitude and longitude have been known since ancient times. Mariners of old could determine their latitude from the position of the sun, or at night from the positions of the stars. Finding longitude however, proved a spectacularly difficult problem. In 1707 the British Government offered a reward of twenty thousand pounds (equivalent to four million dollars in 2020) to anyone who could devise an accurate way of accurately determining longitude. But that’s another story. And a good one, too.

But back to wine. Fifty years ago, it was assumed that wine grapes would grow only between 30 and 50 degrees and nowhere else. We know now that grapes can grow far beyond this range in places like India, Vietnam, Indonesia and Namibia. In the 1980s Thailand pioneered wine production in a narrow band between 14-18°N. Today several Thai wineries are producing award-winning wines from grapes grown at these latitudes.

Latitude is only part of a complex equation. The wine in your glass is the result of several other factors such as climate, weather, soil, terrain and wine-making techniques. These are often described as terroir (tair-WAH) a convenient French word for which there is no exact English equivalent. Merlot grown in Bordeaux doesn’t taste the same as Merlot grown in the Napa Valley because the terroir is different. Climate is critical too and you’ll hear expressions like “cool” and “hot” climate wines. Generally speaking, cool climate wines tend to be light bodied with low alcohol, crisp acidity and bright fruit flavors. Hot climate wines are usually fuller bodied with higher alcohol, softer acidity and more lush fruit flavours. So you see, your personal choice of wine might depend largely on climate.

Confused about climate and weather? The American writer Robert A. Heinlein has the answer: “Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get.” Few would disagree that our climate is changing and this has an impact on viticulture. Eric Asimov is the wine columnist for the New York Times. Last year he wrote, “Grape growers especially have been noting profound changes in weather patterns since the 1990s. In the short term, some of these changes have actually benefited certain regions.” He is right. While some wine areas have recently experienced drought, heat waves and unexpected hail, others have been more fortunate. For example, top quality English sparkling wine was unheard of in the 1980s but today’s warmer climate is allowing English wine-makers to produce world-class sparklers using the méthode champenoise. Not surprisingly, new vineyards are being planted with enthusiasm in England’s southern counties.

Climate change is providing opportunities for more northerly regions to develop a wine industry and grapes are now being planted in Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and even Finland. Thirty years ago, only a lunatic would have contemplated planting grapes at 59° N.

Winemakers have another problem relating to climate change. Higher temperatures cause grapes to ripen earlier. The sugar in the grapes turns into alcohol too quickly before the all-important phenols have had sufficient time to develop. These phenols include several hundred chemical compounds that enhance the colour, taste and mouth-feel. Wine-makers now have to decide whether to harvest grapes early, producing wine with acceptable alcohol levels but with less interest and complexity. The alternative is to leave the grapes on the vine and wait for the development of the phenolic compounds, risking wine which is too high in alcohol.

And in case you’re wondering, the wine industry produces only about 0.1 percent of global carbon emissions. Now if you ask me that’s welcome news. Perhaps we should open another bottle.

Stone cold

GE® Brand Wine Center.

Down at the watering hole the other night, the subject of wine came up again. One of my companions quoted that tired old cliché that he prefers “red wine at room temperature”. I resisted the temptation to make an issue of it, but a moment’s thought reveals that the statement is nonsense. For a start, it implies that all red wine should be served at the same temperature which is simply not true. More importantly the temperature of a room depends on many variables, especially in this part of the world. As I am typing this, the temperature in my study - with all the windows open is about 33°C (91° F). Only a lunatic would drink wine as warm as that.

Wine temperature is critical. And before you protest about this being a subjective matter, remember that we are not talking about personal taste here, but how to taste the wine at its best. Experts agree that every wine has its optimum serving temperature. One of the biggest mistakes people make is drinking wine too warm, or more usually in these parts, too cold. Even the cheapest plonk taste better at the appropriate temperature.

Generally speaking, young or light-bodied wines taste better at lower temperatures whereas full-bodied wines are at their best several degrees higher. The “body” or “boldness” of the wine is the result of several factors including grape variety, climate, vintage, alcohol level and tannins. In case you’re wondering, tannins occur naturally in vines and in oak barrels and have a distinctive taste that makes your tongue feel dry. On the positive side, they add body and character and they’re most noticeable in red wines.

Right then, let’s be a bit more specific and start with some popular reds. If a full-bodied red is served too cold the tannins taste rough and unpleasant, the aromas lie hidden and the flavour feels unyielding. On the other hand, nothing ruins a red wine more quickly than serving it too warm. Full-bodied reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Malbec are best at 16-17°C (61-63°F). You can include virtually all Bordeaux, Burgundy or Rhône in this category. In cold-climate areas such as Northern Europe, reds of this type are normally served at the prevailing ambient temperature. Medium-bodied reds such as Chianti and Valpolicella are best a little cooler at 13-15°C (55-59°F) and very light reds such as Bardolino, Lambrusco or Beaujolais taste freshest when they’re distinctly cool at 12°C (54°F). Rosé wines should always be well-chilled around 8°C (46°F).

White wines also range from full-bodied to light-bodied but unlike reds, they can also be sweet or dry. Whites invariably taste better when they’re chilled because warm white wine always feels flabby and dull. Full-bodied whites such hot-climate Chardonnay should be slightly chilled at 9-10°C (48-50°F) and lighter whites such as Orvieto, Pinot Grigio or Soave well-chilled at 8°C (47°F). Champagne and Prosecco along with many sweet wines taste best when they are decidedly cold at about 7°C (45°F) which is pretty well straight out of the fridge. Sherry is technically a white wine and it’s still a popular drink in the UK though almost everyone makes the mistake of serving it too warm. In its home country of Spain, it’s always well chilled to bring out the freshness. Don’t worry about serving white wine too cold, because in our tropical climate it’ll warm up all too quickly.

You’d be surprised at how rapidly this occurs. As an experiment, I checked the temperature of a Chilean Chardonnay straight out of the fridge. It was 3°C (37°F) and too cold for drinking. Having sloshed the wine into a decanter to aerate it, I then poured a sample. During this process, which took less than a couple of minutes the wine’s temperature shot up to 10°C (50°F) which as luck would have it, is just about right for Chilean Chardonnay. But then the glass of wine was left unattended for five minutes during which time the temperature increased to an amazing 15°C (59°F); far too warm to taste at its best. It was heating up at one degree Celsius - or roughly two degrees Fahrenheit - every sixty seconds. At a social occasion, the wine could be too warm before you reach the end of the glass, especially there’s the usual chok dee routine to endure before every swig. I should add that during my not-too-scientific experiment in the kitchen, the air-conditioner was off, because being half Scottish I tend to avoid reckless spending. In an air-conditioned room of course, the rise in temperature would be a little slower.

You can’t really check the temperature by sticking your finger in the glass, though with practice you can become quite proficient at estimating temperature. If you want to get it consistently right, buy a wine or cooking thermometer. Lazada has a good selection, including some cheap LCD bracelets that conveniently fit around bottles.

Although different wines should be served at different temperatures, all wines should be stored at the same constant temperature which is about 13°C (55°F). Unless you can afford an expensive wine storage cooler it’s probably unrealistic in this country to store wine at home. The sensible solution is probably to buy wine when you need it then stick it in the fridge before the bottle is opened. Then let the bottle rest in an ice-bucket containing water (and some ice if necessary) at roughly the right temperature. You can help white wine by serving it in cold glasses, but not so cold that your guests drop them in shock.

Glass Conscious

Madison red wine glass (L) and Champagne flute from Ocean.

At a push, you could probably drink wine out of a plastic mug, but you’d lose most of the aroma and a good deal of the pleasure. Wine always tastes best out of a well-designed glass but they come in a bewildering variety of shapes and sizes. The distinguished Austrian firm of Riedel (REE-dull) was established in the same year that Mozart was born and it has revolutionized glassware by customizing the shape of wine glasses to a particular type of wine. There’s a range of glasses for Cabernet Sauvignon, another type for Shiraz, another for Riesling and so on. Wine expert Robert Parker considers them the finest available. “The effect of these glasses on fine wine is profound,” he writes, “I cannot emphasize enough what a difference they make.” But quality doesn’t come cheap. Even one of Riedel’s cheapest glasses can set you back 2,000 baht. And that’s just for one of them. Needless to say, these are products for wine professionals and top-class restaurants. Most of us usually have to settle for something a little more modest.

Even so, if you enjoy a variety of different wines you really need three or four different types of glass: (1) a medium-sized one for everyday plonk, (2) a larger one for quality wines, and (3) a tall one for sparkling wines. You can safely forget about serving white wine in a smaller glass, for a decently designed glass will do for both red and white. If you drink Sherry a small copita is a useful addition.

There are four main issues to consider: shape, comfort, transparency and size. You may also be concerned about price, so don’t buy glasses that you can’t afford to break. A tulip-shaped glass is best, because it concentrates the aroma near the rim. The glass should be well-balanced and not uncomfortably heavy, with a thin stem. The rim should be wide enough to get your nose inside. A plain, transparent glass is best because any form of colour or decoration is distracting. As to size, it rather depends on the quality of the wine. Regardless of size, I’d recommend the glasses produced by the Thai company Ocean Glass. It produces an extensive range of wine glasses which are good value and widely available.

For ordinary table wine the Ocean Duchess range is fine. The 255ml (9oz) red wine glass is 19cm (7.50 in) high and a pack of two is about 325 baht. If you crave something a bit more classy and money is no object, you might be interested in Ocean’s superb range of Lucaris crystal glasses, some of which are varietal specific.

Quality wines require larger glasses because you need to swirl the wine around to release the complex aroma. This is why the glass shouldn’t be more than about a third full. The Ocean 425ml (15oz) Madison red wine glass is a large elegant design standing at 22cm (8.6 in). I always use this for wine tasting and a pack of two costs around 325 baht. If you prefer something a little cheaper and more compact, Ocean’s Lexington range might meet your needs.

For sparkling wines you’ll need something different. Forget those absurd saucers-on-sticks that were once popular. They are useless for sparkling wine, or any wine for that matter. Far better is the glass known as a Champagne flute. It’s an elongated version of a standard glass and its extra height allows the bubbles to develop so you can feel their tingle on your tongue. Ocean’s elegant Madison Champagne flute is excellent. This 210ml (7.25oz) glass stands at 23cm (9 in) and it’s beautifully tapered to show a sparkler at its best. A pack of two is also about 325 baht.

But I must tell you that there’s one thing that I find intensely irritating. Well, there are several things actually, but the others can wait. It’s the sight of a person nonchalantly holding a wine glass by the bowl, as though cradling a mug of hot cocoa. You see, we should always hold our wine glass by the stem - ideally between the thumb and first two fingers. That’s what the stem is for. It is most definitely un-chic and socially taboo to grasp the glass by the bowl. Apart from that, the physical appearance of the wine provides information but not if your hand is covering the bowl and the glass is smeared with greasy fingerprints. The serving temperature is usually critical and if you insist on holding the bowl, the heat from your hand pushes up the wine’s temperature. You’d be surprised how rapidly this occurs. Greasy fingerprints also render the glasses more difficult to wash, and I speak from bitter experience.

At wine tastings, you sometimes see wine professionals holding the glass by the base, pinching it between the thumb and forefinger. This looks slightly odd but it keeps the hand as far as possible from the bowl. I sometimes find myself doing this but it’s rather impractical, because you have to use your other hand to put the glass down. Anyway, don’t let me catch you holding your glass by the bowl, or I shall send the dogs around to sort you out. Just don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Grape Expectations

Sketch of Dickens
in 1842.

On 7 February 1812, at Mile End Terrace in Portsmouth, Charles John Huffam Dickens was born. He was to become one of the world’s best-known English authors and regarded as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. He created some of the world’s best-known fictional characters and during his lifetime, his novels enjoyed unprecedented popularity. Even today, his books are still widely read.

Charles Dickens was not only a novelist, newspaper editor and social critic; he was also a connoisseur of fine wine. Ironically, although he wrote timeless classics such as Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, and A Tale of Two Cities, his last piece of writing a few days before he died in 1870 was a bit more mundane. It was a wine list. It took the form of a single, rather untidy hand-written sheet summarizing all the drinks that he had in the cellar at his splendid mansion called Gad’s Hill Place in Kent. The quantity of beer, wine and spirits was enormous but included some of the finest wines and liqueurs of the day. Recently this single piece of paper was sold at Sotheby’s for over fourteen thousand dollars. You could buy a lot of Mont Clair for that.

Among the drinks listed were a fifty gallon cask of ale, an eighteen gallon cask of gin, a nine gallon cask of brandy and a nine gallon cask of rum. The cellar also included dozens of bottles of champagne and table wines. Dickens bought almost all of his wine from the wine merchants Joseph Ellis & Son of Hill Street in Richmond, originally founded in 1831. He must have been regarded as a good customer because his wine list includes four dozen bottles of Champagne, five dozen of Chablis, five dozen of Sauternes, six dozen of Claret and countless other delights. But you get the idea. He wasn’t short of a bottle or two.

Interestingly, Dickens listed many of wines by their place of origin such as “Volnay” or “Sauternes” rather than by the name of their producer. This indicates that they were almost certainly shipped to England in bulk and bottled by the wine merchant – a common practice at the time. Dickens had good taste in Clarets – the generic name still used in Britain for red wines from the Bordeaux region of France. He had a few dozen bottles of top quality claret that even in those days must have been expensive.

Yet, despite this wealth of booze in the cellar, he was a moderate drinker for the time. One of my favourite Dickens books is Pictures from Italy where the author took his family for an extended stay in 1844. He had already achieved international fame as a novelist, and his relentless energy drove him to explore many different parts of Italy. It would have also presented him with the opportunity to try to local vino. Wine is produced in every region of Italy, so Dickens would have had plenty to choose from, though by modern standards, much of the wine would have been fairly rustic. It would also have been cheap. In his book The Wine Atlas of Italy, Burton Anderson explains that in those days, a daily supply of village wine cost Italians less than their daily supply of bread.

In Italy today, over eight hundred different grape varieties are grown. If this strikes you as rather a lot, it’s actually only the tip of the iceberg. It’s generally accepted that there are about 24,000 different varieties of wine grape in the world. Many of the less important varieties have remained in their places or origin and never left. For example, the Ruzica Crvena, the Crljenak Kastelanski and the Svrdlovina Crna have remained in Croatia, but perhaps this is because nobody but the Croatians can pronounce the names.

On the other hand, some grapes have boldly gone where no grapes have gone before. Take Chardonnay for example. Its spiritual home is in Burgundy but it thrives almost anywhere wine is produced and Bordeaux’s Cabernet Sauvignon shows up in nearly every major wine-producing country in the world.

Only about 150 different grape varieties are produced in commercial quantities and we can boil down this number even further to the nine or ten so-called “classic” grapes, also known as “international grapes”. These are the big names you should know. Sometimes they’re made into ordinary wines, but in the right hands, the right places and given the right time, they can produce some of the finest wines in the world.

A few years ago, a survey was carried out in the UK in which customers in wine shops were asked to name as many grape varieties as they could. The amazing result revealed that few people could name more than one or two grape varieties and some people couldn’t think of any at all. And remember, these were not people picked off the street - they were customers in wine shops. To my mind this level of ignorance is staggering.

But I wonder how many of the “classic” grape varieties you can bring to mind. Well, there’s Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon to give you a start. Can you name any of the others? I bet Charles Dickens could.

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Persistent Myth

Sweet Talk

Wine from a long, thin country

Cheap Fizz

A Sense of Place

Avoiding Expensive Mistakes

Over the Hill

The Green and Pleasant Land

North of the Border

Rose-Tinted Spectacles

Clochemerle Country

Air Power

Pizza Wine

Classic Reds

Changing Latitudes

Stone cold

Glass Conscious

Grape Expectations


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