Make Chiangmai Mail | your Homepage | Bookmark

Chiangmai 's First English Language Newspaper

Pattaya Blatt | Pattaya Mail | Pattaya Mail TV


On the Grapevine  by Colin Kaye


Update February 21, 2015

Iberian Delights

Castell del Remei, Catalonia (Photo: Joan Carles Hinojosa)

A good many years ago, while wandering aimlessly in the streets of South London, I found myself in a small and dimly-lit wine-shop which could have come out of a Dickens novel. I noticed some bottles of Spanish Rioja, so I bought one. We tend to think of Rioja as big oaky red wines, but some white is also made. And this was one of them. The wine came from a company called CVNE which it transpired, stood for Compania Vinicola del Norte de España. The tall elegant bottle had the word “Monopole” printed across the label and displayed a surprisingly ancient vintage year. But I later discovered that the wine was still superb, full yet refreshing with a lovely aroma of white fruit and wild herbs. The next day I returned to the shop and bought the remaining bottles. Perhaps I was being a bit selfish, but the price was absurdly low and I could never resist a bargain. I was consoled by the fact that the bottles were covered in dust and must have been there for months. Probably no one else would have bought them.

We see very little Spanish wine in Thailand but I’ve noticed two well-known brands of Rioja in various places, Marques de Riscal and Marqués de Murrieta. These two companies both make excellent, reliable wines so if you enjoy generous fruity reds, you’ll probably enjoy them.

Castell del Remei Gotim Blanc 2013 (white), Spain

This is an interesting wine which is an equal blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Macabeo. Of course, you’ll be familiar with Sauvignon Blanc but the name Macabeo might be a bit of a mystery. It’s a white grape that grows on either side of the Pyrenees and it’s cultivated all over Catalonia, which lies up in the top right-hand corner of Spain. Castell del Remei is in Lleida, a couple of hours’ drive east of Barcelona and the winery dates back to 1780, the first year when vines were planted on the estate. By the end of the nineteenth century, Castell del Remei had become the largest quality wine producer in Catalonia.

This wine is bright gold with greenish reflections and has an intense flowery aroma of white fruit, pineapple, mango and citrus with a faint hint of fennel and green apples. It has a light refreshing taste with plenty of fruit and it’s smooth, crisp and dry with a long finish. There’s a dash of acidity but quite a bit less than I expected. As far as I am concerned, this is good news. I enjoy acidity in white wine because it adds freshness and zest, but some New Zealand Sauvignons are so acidic you wonder whether your teeth are going to dissolve. This wine is beautifully balanced and the Macabeo in the blend brings a pleasingly smooth texture.

This attractive, easy-to-drink wine would make an exciting apéritif but it would also be a good partner for salads, cream soups, rice dishes or light Thai meals. You can taste this wine at the Sofitel Bangkok and it will evidently be on sale in Pattaya soon. The bottle price is in the region of Bt. 1,200 - 2,200 depending on the hotel or restaurant. This wine is certainly worth watching out for. That is, if you don’t mind a preposition at the end of a sentence.

Amoras Reserva 2009 (red), Portugal

If Spanish wines are rare in Thailand, Portuguese wines are even rarer with the exception of the ubiquitous Mateus Rosé, once described as “the bottle that launched a thousand lamp-shades”. This wine is from Casa Santos Lima, an old family company that’s been in business for many generations. The vineyards are based about thirty miles north of Lisbon in a hilly rural region where the tradition of wine making is centuries old. In the clay and limestone soils, dinosaur bones have evidently been found. Apatosaurus alenquerensis, since you asked.

The wine is a very dark red with a purplish hue and flecks of orange, which usually indicate that the wine is starting to show its age. But then so am I, so I can hardly complain. It has an incredibly rich and sensuous aroma of black fruit, dry herbs, a dash of pepper and an array of quite complex background aromas. But you need to give the wine a bit of time to recover because it’s been stuck in a bottle for five years. This is a big, full-bodied wine with a smooth and silky texture yet there’s a feeling of authority there. It’s a dry wine, not as dry as dinosaur bones but dry all the same. It has loads of fruit on the palate and a satisfying foundation of tannin.

It’s actually quite an easy drinker, but within a year or so I’d guess it will start to decline. Incidentally, in 2012 this wine was awarded a Gold Medal at the Berlin Wine Trophy. It’s not available in the shops yet but you can taste it by the glass on Bangkok Airways international flights. I’m told that it’s also on sale at the Lobster Pot restaurant on Pattaya’s Walking Street if you don’t feel like making an international journey. The cost will be somewhere between Bt. 1000 and Bt. 2000 for a bottle.

Touriga Nacional is not, as you might assume, the name of Portugal’s National Cycling Club, but the country’s national grape. It’s used in this wine and also employed in the making of Port. Interestingly, over a hundred varieties of grapes are permitted for Port production, although only five or six are normally used. Touriga Nacional ages well; it brings floral complexity to the aroma and provides a decent foundation of tannin. The wine also contains a proportion of Castelão, another local grape which brings extra fruit to the taste. This grape has dozens of synonyms including the rather pretty Periquita (which means “parakeet” in Portuguese) and the rather less lovely Bastardo Castico, the meaning of which I shall let you ruminate on for yourself.

Update February 12, 2015

The Island of California

When Hernán Cortés and his group of weary seafarers made landfall on 3rd May 1535 on what is now known as Baja California, he was pretty sure that they were on an island. Perhaps Cortés thought that he’d stumbled upon the mythical Island of California, described in a well-known Spanish novel by Garcia Ordonez de Montalvo. It was entitled The Adventures of Esplandián and first printed, as far as we know in 1510. The author described a fictitious island which he named California, ruled by one Queen Calafia and her entourage of large and ferocious warrior-women. Despite this alarming prospect, or perhaps because of it, the myth evidently motivated Spanish explorers to find this exotic land.

A 1745 map of California, by R. W. Seale

Cortés established the ill-fated settlement of Santa Cruz, but no one knows how or why a fictitious name in a novel became the name of an actual place. The settlement didn’t survive for long, largely because the native Indians were understandably a bit miffed at the unwelcome intrusion. Within months many of the settlers had died of starvation or been killed off by the locals, and eventually the colony was abandoned. But the island myth prevailed and further expeditions seemed unable to prove conclusively the exact nature of the region. For years afterwards, many maritime charts perpetuated the island theory and it wasn’t until 1747 that the matter was settled by King Ferdinand VI of Spain. He issued a royal proclamation announcing that California was not an island after all.

At about this time much further north, Franciscan monks started making the first Californian wine. (I was wondering when we’d finally get there - Ed.) It was probably nothing more than rustic plonk but by the 1850s Californian wines were vastly improved. In the closing years of the 19th century the state was producing more than two million gallons every year.

Beringer (pronounced these days with a soft “g”) is an old-established company which, as the name implies, has German roots. In 1868 Jacob Beringer travelled from Germany to New York and eventually made his way to California. He and his brother bought a couple of hundred acres of land and started one of the first wineries in Napa Valley.

Beringer Founders’ Estate Chardonnay 2012 (white), California USA (Bt. 835 @ Q-Wine)

The Founders’ Estate range consists of twelve wines, mostly varietals which have been designed for easy enjoyment. This is a lovely bright, greenish-gold wine with that attractive oily appearance that you sometimes find in high-alcohol wines. This one comes at a rather high 13.8% ABV (alcohol by volume) although it took me ages to find out. I eventually discovered with the aid of my grandmother’s magnifying glass and it’s shown in minuscule print on the side of the label. When you come to think about it, 13.8% is strangely precise value. European wine labels show their ABV to the nearest whole or half percentage. In the USA however, higher taxes are levied on wines above 14% ABV, so perhaps this is the reason. Even so, American wineries are allowed a 1.5% leeway in their stated ABV so it might actually be even higher.

The aroma is typical New World Chardonnay though richer than usual and with the distinct smell of pear drops. The tropical fruits are out in force, especially pineapple along with pear, apple, citrus and honeyed vanilla. I thought there might be a tingle of fresh herbs too. The mouth-feel is rich and unctuous with plenty of fruit and vanilla and there’s a satisfying balance of fruit and acidity with a lingering, dry finish. It’s a few degrees away from being completely dry and the fruit creates an illusion of sweetness. This is no pussy-footing wine - it’s a big-hearted Californian that’s made to please. Try to finish the bottle in one evening, because it tends to fade after a day or so. It’s probably best with food. We tend to think of pairing white wine with fish, but this would overpower many fish dishes. Try it with grilled salmon, roast pork or poultry.

Beringer Founders’ Estate Merlot 2011 (red),
California USA (Bt. 835 @ Q-Wine)

This is a very approachable wine; dark purple-red with thick syrupy legs, usually a sign of fairly high alcohol content, in this case 13.5% ABV. There’s a rich fruity aroma of blackberries and plums with a dash of spiciness and white pepper. You might notice a slightly sharp tang on the aroma at first, but this will probably drift away once the wine has had air contact for fifteen minutes or so. The wine is medium bodied and several degrees away from complete dryness with a very smooth mouth-feel and plenty of blackberry fruit on the palate. You might even notice a slight oaky character because half of the wine was aged in seasoned oak casks. A little bit of Petite Syrah and Syrah were added for complexity and depth of flavour.

The wine has virtually no tannin, at least I couldn’t detect very much. This of course, might come as good news if you are one of those people who don’t much care for tannin on the taste. Needless to say, it’s a wine that’s made for easy enjoyment and would work well with smoked chicken, grilled meats or hearty vegetable dishes.

At the moment these wines are available only at Q-Wine in Bangkok. They have a branch at Major Cineplex on Soi Sukhumvit 61, near to Ekamai and adjacent to Scoozi Italian Restaurant. There’s another Q-Wine branch out of town at The Paseo Shopping Mall at 318 Ladkrabang Road, next door to the local Toyota dealer and not far from Suvarnabhumi Airport.

Incidentally, you may be wondering how Garcia Ordonez de Montalvo got the name California in the first place. Some historians, notably Edward Everett Hale have suggested the word was derived from “caliph” - a person who is leader of an Islamic community. The irony is rich indeed.

Update February 5, 2015

A Case of Negotiation

The Bouchard HQ in Beaune dates from 1743.

You might be interested to know that most of the everyday wines of France come to you through the hands of either a cooperative or a négociant. Of course, you might not be interested in the slightest but I feel compelled to explain, because both the wines this week come from négociants. The French word négociant means a wine broker who buys grapes or wines in various states of completion then makes and bottles the finished product for the consumer. In the case of grapes or grape must (which is freshly pressed grape juice containing the skins, seeds, and stems of the fruit) the négociant deals with the remainder of the winemaking process. If a négociant buys already fermented wine in barrels or in bulk containers, it may decide to age the wine for a bit longer, blend in other wines or simply bottle it and sell the stuff as it is. Many small wine-makers can’t afford expensive wine-making equipment and bottling machinery, so it makes a great deal of sense for a négociant to do the work for them.

The finished wine is nearly always sold under the name of the négociant and very often under some kind of trade name. Those that contain the word “château” are very common, whether or not the château actually exists. This is not as surprising as it seems, because the majestically-named Fédération des Syndicats des Grands Vins de Bordeaux allows companies there to sell identical wines under different and totally fictitious châteaux names.

One of France’s biggest and most successful négociants is Bouchard Aîné & Fils. It’s one of the oldest too, boasting a history of over two centuries. Michel Bouchard settled in Burgundy in 1731 and had a flourishing enterprise in the fabric trade before becoming a wine broker. Perhaps there was more money in wine than there was in wool. Over the generations, the company learned to work closely with local wine-growers with a shared quest for perfection in quality and authenticity of style. Today you can find Bouchard wines all over the world and they stand as reliable symbols of quality.

Bouchard Aîné & Fils Pinot Noir 2012 (red), France (Bt. 794 @ Villa and others)

If I had any choice in the matter, I’d be happy to drink Pinot Noir (PEE-noh NWAHR) most of the time, especially the voluptuous earthy reds of Burgundy, which is the grape’s spiritual home. It’s one of the great wine grapes of the world, often lighter and less tannic that Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The finest Pinot Noirs shine with the aromas of cherries and plums, damp earth and mushrooms. The grapes can be tricky to grow, but the best of the wines are sensuous and aromatic and have a silky mouth-feel. You may be surprised to know that New Zealand has a reputation for producing some splendid Pinots, predominantly in the cooler southerly regions.

This wine hails from the South of France and has aromas of cherries with a dash of citrus and mint. It has a smooth beguiling mouth-feel with soft supple tannins, cherries and dark fruit on the taste and a hint of oaky wood. There’s a spicy, herbal earthiness with a long, dry fruity finish. I thought I could just pick up a hint of dark chocolate too.

The wine is as dry as they come, but there’s plenty of fruit on the taste, giving the illusion of a hint of sweetness. It’s a very pleasing, fairly full-bodied easy-drinker and with an alcohol content of 13% it would make a good food wine. Pinot Noir is usually something of an all-rounder and a good match for meats, barbeques, pizzas, light game or vegetable dishes.

Château La Paz, 2011 Bordeaux, France (red) (Bt. 1,200 - 2,200 @ various outlets)

Château La Paz is produced by a négociant called Borie-Manoux, founded in 1870 and now based in the city of Bordeaux. The company owns ten Bordeaux châteaux which include several well-known names such as Ch. Batailley and Château Trotte-Vieille. It also has close ties to the old-established London wine merchant Berry Bros. & Rudd and makes one of their top-selling brands.

The label says that the wine comes from Asques, which is a small, sleepy town lying about twenty miles north-east of Bordeaux on the right bank of the River Dordogne. If you find the expression “right bank” a bit meaningless, perhaps I should explain that the right bank of a river is on your right only when you are heading down-stream towards the sea. If you were swimming in the opposite direction, the right bank would be on your left. Or perhaps that’s obvious. Never mind, I’ll say it anyway. People often get confused about these things.

The wine is a very dark red and if you swirl it around in the glass, those little rivulets called “legs” will appear. Merlot aromas dominate because on the right bank, Merlot usually makes up the largest proportion of the blend in red wines, with lesser proportions of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The taste comes as something of a surprise because it has quite a bit more “edge” on the palate than I was expecting. It’s a very dry, medium-bodied wine with a pleasingly soft texture and a firm foundation of tannin. I’d guess that the wine was matured in stainless steel vats which are now increasingly common, because they preserve the freshness more effectively than oak barrels.

This 15% ABV wine has a longish dry finish with more flavours of tannin. There’s also a dash of acidity on the palate which makes me feel that it would show best with food. The obvious choice would be beef dishes with rich sauce but I think it would work with pasta too. I’ve been told by the importers that this wine is not yet available at local retail outlets, but you can find it at the Sofitel Bangkok and - probably a good deal cheaper - at the Anytime Café near Pattaya’s Bali Hai Pier.

Update February 1, 2015

Categorically Speaking

The centre of Hyères (Photo: Bichot de Paris).

The other night we were talking about wine yet again, and someone brought up the subject of French VDQS wines. The category was created in 1949 and must have seemed a good idea at the time, because it filled an awkward gap between the cheap Vin de Table wines and those of higher quality. As things turned out, it didn’t really catch on with the result that in 2011 the VDQS category was ditched completely. But that wasn’t all. The old Vin de Table category, which had been struggling on for years, was also given the heave-ho in 2010.

Incidentally, I’ve noticed that many specialist wine websites still haven’t got the facts right and provide information that’s already five years out of date. Let’s get it sorted out once and for all. So please sit up straight and try and look as though you’re interested, for I shall explain this only once.

The French have been re-thinking their wine classification system since 2006 and new categories came into force in 2012. There are now three French wine categories rather than the previous four, so that in itself is good news. Let’s start at the top of the three and work down, for it won’t take long. The top category is the new AOP (Appellation d'Origine Protégée) which indicates the geographical origin, quality and style of the wine, but you’ll see the older AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) for years to come especially on wines with a long life. The best wines of France come into this category and you might sometimes see the words Grand Cru, Premier Cru or Premier Grand Cru Classé on more expensive bottles. These refer either the plot of land where the grapes were grown or the château where the wine was made.

At the next level down we have wines labelled Indication Géographique Protégée (“Protected Geographical Region”) usually known as IGP. This category is used throughout Europe and focuses on geographical origin, giving winemakers greater stylistic freedom than AOP. Vin de Pays wines, meaning “wine of the land” or “country wine” have been absorbed into this IGP category. Wine-makers can choose whether to show Vin de Pays or IGP on their labels but many show both.

At the bottom of the tree, there’s the Vin de France category, which represents the most basic wines and replaces the defunct Vin de Table. Wine-makers are allowed to show a grape variety and a vintage year on the label but not any specific region. These wines are nearly always sold under a brand name and they can offer excellent value.\

Château Castel des Maures 2013, Côtes de Provence AOP (rosé), France (Bt. 695 @ Foodland)

Provence has specialised in making rosé for centuries and it’s the home to some of the best rosés you can buy. This splendid AOP wine comes from a vineyard at Hyères on the French Riviera, close to the Forêt des Maures. The wine is a very pale pink-orange colour and one of the most delicate shades of pink I have come across in rosé. It looks gorgeous in the glass - a lovely bright liquid with a silky looking texture. As I was contemplating these delights, a small anonymous insect suddenly dive-bombed into the glass and had to be fished out. In fairness, I should explain that the insect was anonymous only to me, for it might have been something of a celebrity among its acquaintances. But sadly no more, for the poor thing has expired. Perhaps its last words were, “Hey guys! Watch me do a two-and-a-half somersault dive into that pink stuff.” (Oh, for heaven’s sake, get on with it - Ed.)

The wine comes from an exceptional part of the Château Castel des Maures estate and it’s a blend of Cinsault, Grenache and Syrah. There’s a delightful floral aroma with hints of pomegranate and watermelon. It’s totally dry and light as a feather, with a lovely soft mouth-feel and a clean, refreshing dash of red fruit on the palate. Low in acidity, there’s a lingering dry finish which is invariably the sign of an exceptional wine. At just 12.5% ABV, this would make a superb apéritif, but it would also be an excellent partner for light meals, quiches, lightly-flavoured fish or even pasta. It would work well with many Thai dishes including spicy curries. It’s also amazingly good value for money.

Bouchard Aîné Blanc de Blancs (white), France. (Bt. 645 @ Villa and others) 

The French firm of Bouchard in based in Beaune and has been making wine for over 250 years. This is one of their entry-level Vin de France wines; it’s basic but quite assertive and typically bistro-French. In the glass, the clear pale yellow wine looks more expensive than it is, with a pleasing oily appearance. There’s an aroma of fresh fruit, vanilla and a faint flowery citrus aroma in the background with hints of herbs. On the palate there’s plenty of citrus and a good dash of acidity. It’s quite a light-bodied wine but very dry with a satisfying crisp finish.

In case you’re wondering, “Blanc de blancs” (blahn duh BLAHN) means a white wine made entirely from white grapes. This might seem obvious, but in fact white wine can be made from either white or red grapes. The colour comes from the skins and when red grapes are used for making white wine, the skins are separated from their juice as soon as possible. This is a blend of Chardonnay and Ugni Blanc and although the latter might sound unfamiliar, it’s the most widely-planted white grape in France, better known by its Italian name, Trebbiano.

This elegant wine is only 12% alcohol, but it’s very much a food wine and would be excellent with grilled fish and seafood dishes, assuming that you like your whites dry, sharp and zingy. This lively white would probably go well with chicken in a creamy sauce, but serve it as cold as you dare. The wine I mean, not the chicken.

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Iberian Delights

The Island of California

A Case of Negotiation

Categorically Speaking