On the Grapevine
by Colin Kaye
Castell del Remei, Catalonia (Photo: Joan Carles
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.
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
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
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.
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
Amoras Reserva 2009 (red), Portugal
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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)
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
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
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.
A Case of Negotiation
The Bouchard HQ in Beaune dates from 1743.
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.
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.
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.
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.
La Paz, 2011 Bordeaux, France (red) (Bt. 1,200 - 2,200 @ various outlets)
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.
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
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.
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.
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)
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.)
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)
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.
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.
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.