Notes from our trip to Thailand in 2016
Thailand has a thriving wine scene if one can call seven or so wineries thriving – intrepid is perhaps more accurate. That said, Shiraz is the grape that has proved itself most adaptable to Thai conditions, and the wines that we tried were most pleasant. The Thai Wine Association website lists most of the wineries - see here for a useful map.
We decided to go to the Khao Yai region, a couple of hours NNE of Bangkok where the biggest concentration of wineries is. The big variable is how long it takes one to get out of Bangkok – it took us 90 minutes from the airport car hire area to the highway heading north (less than 10 miles) one evening (broken down vehicle, volume of traffic and road works); the trip back was plain sailing. Driving in Thailand is not bad as the drivers are pretty good by Asian standards, so don’t be afraid of the trip.
We spent the night at the guesthouse at Granmonte winery www.granmonteguesthouse.com (book on a hotel website such as booking.com as they are not great at responding to messages on their website) – THB 2730 on special offer for the ‘green season’ as they call the quiet time. Unfortunately, we arrived way after their restaurant had closed but they managed to get someone to rustle up a seafood pasta for us (many thanks for that as we were starving) and a pretty good bottle of their Shiraz out the minibar went down like nectar (Heritage Syrah 2012 THB 890).
Prior to the trip we found a wine shop in Koh Samui that specialised in Thai wines (Thai Winery House in Lamai www.thaiwineryhouse.com).
Thai Winery House in Lamai
We bought a selection of whites and reds from Granmonte, Monsoon, Village Farm and Knight Black Horse. Both the Whites (Granmonte Sole 2012 (THB 900), a blend of Viognier and Chenin Blanc and the Monsoon Cuvee de Siam 2010 (THB 1595)) were oxidised. The Sole only slightly so we wondered if it was the house style. The Monsoon was undrinkable. We think that the moral of the story is don’t drink aged Thai whites. The Village Cellar 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon was simple and fruity. The Monsoon Valley 2010 Cuvee de Siam Rouge (primarily Shiraz) (THB1910) and the Granmonte 2012 Heritage Syrah (THB 920) were both pretty good and went well with the Thai food we had that night. To accompany the banana-based dessert we had the Knight Black Horse 2014 Lychee Sweet Fruit Wine (THB 250 for 500ml). It was as it said on the label and was very pleasant.
Thailand wine tasting
Thailand's Black Horse Lychee wine
Monsoon Valley Shiraz 2014 in the Tamarind Restaurant in Chiang Mai
Pre-dinner drinks looking out to Ko Pha Ngan from a hillside villa in Ko Samui
Granmonte cellar door
Granmonte tasting room and shop
Granmonte do everything along organic lines. We found that the Sole wine that we had in Koh Samui was a once off blend so we tasted the pure Viognier 2013 (THB 1240) which was also slightly oxidised. We commented on this to the cellar door staff and they called the winemaker Nikki Lohitnavy. She looked a photo of a glass of the Sole wine we had in Kho Samui and said that it was not supposed to be that dark. She also tasted the Viognier and called for a new bottle to opened – this was totally different; light in colour, not a hint of oxidation and very pleasant but not at all like one from the Rhone. Had a great chat with Nikki. Tasted the Orient Syrah 2012 (THB 1800). A considerable step up from the Heritage Syrah; full of rich fruits and integrated oak. They had another range of Syrah, Asoke, which was well over THB 2000. Didn’t taste their fizz, Verdelho, rosé or sticky. It is easy to see why many rate Granmonte the best Thai winery.
Alcidini cellar door
Alcidini tasting room and shop
The son of the owner and winemaker took us through a tasting of their range. The one thing that became really apparent was the extent to which they experiment; different grapes, different vineyard methods, different wine making approaches. They do everything along organic lines. We declined the rosé and started with the Ver 2 Shiraz. The 2011 (THB 590) was thin and somewhat nondescript; not surprising since 2011 was one of the wettest years on record (but see later). The 2012 (THB 790) was from a dry year and was a considerable step up; full of fruit and soft tannins, very good. Obviously there in not much of a winter in Thailand even at a height of about 500m above sea level and so the grapes try to give two crops a year. Every now and then this works but most times they stop this by hand picking the flowers off the vines. We then tried the 2011 Limited Release Shiraz (THB 790). For this they tried a different wine making technique to the first 2011. They removed a half of the grape juice and left the remainder in contact with all the skins etc. It spent 24 months in oak and was bottled unfiltered. This produced a far more intense and concentrated wine however we preferred the 2012. (The removed juice was bottled as grape juice.) We then tried their SMB which is a non-vintage blend of Shiraz and the German white grape Muscat Bleu. It is non-vintage because they use a type of solera system whereby they only bottle 2/3 of the barrel at a time and then fill it again with fresh juice. It was tropical flowers and spicy, fruity; he thought that it would go well with duck dishes. Then it was the turn of the sweet red Recioto 2013 which was made in the Amarone style by letting the Shiraz grapes hang on the vine till raisinated; very spicy but not overly sweet. Finally, we tried a wine that had just been bottled, a 2011 Special Cuvee made from selected barrels of Shiraz, SMB and Recioto, 70:20:10. The overriding sensation was tannins probably from the oak. They were not going to release this for a while to give it a chance to integrate properly. And the grape juice was not bad either.
We were going to also go to Village Farm www.www.villagefarm.co.th but ran out of time as it was about an hour away in the wrong direction so we headed back to Bangkok via PB Valley.
PB ValleyPB Valley website
PB Valley restaurant chilli prawn 'tapas'
PB Valley cellar door
PB Valley is tourism; villas, restaurant, winery and tours; we only discovered the cellar door as we were leaving. In the restaurant they charge quite a bit for tasting; we paid THB 480 to taste 3 reds (3 x 75ml), being more than half the price for a bottle. We had a couple of prawn tapas (THB 100 each) which were very nice for lunch. We tasted two Shiraz, the unoaked Sawasdee (THB 670) and the oaked PB Khao Yai Reserve (THB 790) and a Tempranillo the Pirom Khaoyai Reserve (THB 1870). The wines were plonked on the table with some poor tasting notes that excluded the vintages (apparently unnecessary for wine tourists). There was some serious chilli in one of the prawn tapas so this was a good test for the wines. The unoaked Shriaz was light and fruity and stood the test of the chilli. The Reserve Shiraz was far more complex and pretty good, also standing the test of the chilli. As for the Tempranillo, it was ok but we wondered why bother.
So the conclusion overall was that Thai Shiraz is worth its price relative to the imports and goes really well with the local cuisine.