On the Grapevine
by Colin Kaye
Vineyards in Bordeaux (Photo: Michael Clarke)
In recent weeks, I’ve
been trying quite a few South American reds and nearly always been impressed
by their high quality. Chile of course has been making excellent wines for
years and more recently Argentina has appeared on the international wine
scene with some very fine wines, especially those made from Malbec, its
signature grape. South American wines are mentioned regularly wine magazines
like Wine Spectator and often receive high ratings from that most
influential of wine critics, Robert Parker. And I’ll tell you why.
Mr Parker tends to
prefer big authoritative, fruity wines with loads of body and character.
When they’re good, he gives them a high rating which invariably encourages
other wine makers to produce wines of a similar style. And so it goes on in
a vicious circle. They sell like hot cakes in America and also presumably in
Australia where there is a taste for hefty wines. It won’t last, you know.
Fashions come and go, especially in the wine world and I bet you that during
the coming years, public taste will drift towards lighter and fresher styles
of wine which have always been popular in France and Italy.
I can’t say that I
share Mr Parker’s enthusiasm for these big reds. Sometimes they have an
alcoholic content so high that after a couple of glasses you think twice
about climbing on the water-buffalo, let alone the push-bike. Given the
choice, I would invariably opt for a light French red. A decent bottle of
Bordeaux will do me fine, thank you. Or even some of those attractive light
and refreshing wines from the South of France which have become so much
better in recent years. So this week, I’m returning to a couple of very
pleasant French reds which make excellent everyday wines, or least they
would have done in the Good Old Days when they cost about two hundred baht
These two L’Esprit
de Bacchus (Spirit of Bacchus) wines are produced by Seignouret Frčres,
a distinguished company founded in 1830 and one of the oldest trading houses
in Bordeaux, exporting wines world-wide. It’s actually a négociant, which is
the French name for a company that buys grapes, juice or bulk wine which it
then produces, bottles and markets on a larger scale under the its own
label. A single négociant will invariably buy wines from almost anywhere in
France and may have any number of different brands and labels. I have found
that these wines tend to be reliable and not excessively expensive. Some of
the best-known Burgundy producers are actually négociants, including top
names like Jadot, Drouhin, and Bouchard Pčre & Fils. You’ve probably seen
these wines in many outlets and they’re invariably good value.
L’Esprit de Bacchus,
Graves 2012 (red) France (Bt. 739 @ Foodland)
The label of this wine
carries the old-style Appellation Graves Contrôlée designation, which
puts it a cut above the more basic Appellation Bordeaux Contrôlée.
Since the French revised their wine classification system, the top category
is now AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) which indicates the
geographical origin, quality and style of the wine. You’ll see the older AOC
(like this one) for many years to come, especially on wines with a long
life. Although it’s sold under a brand name, it actually originates at
Château Saint Loubert, a family estate of about eighty acres and one of the
oldest châteaux in the region. The wine is made by traditional methods and
the vineyard has typical sandy, gravelly soil. In fact, it’s this gravelly
soil that gives Graves its name. It has nothing to do with graves for the
deceased, although no doubt some people make that assumption.
The wine is a lovely,
deep red and long legs appear inside the glass when you swirl it around.
You’ll probably pick up that typical Cabernet Sauvignon aroma of black
fruit, cherry, a dash of spice and dried herbs. You might even notice a hint
of dark chocolate which is one of the many surprising aromas that Cabernet
Made from a blend of
50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Merlot the wine has a smooth, silky texture.
It’s medium-bodied and as dry as they come, but the plentiful soft fruit
balances the dryness. There’s a good foundation of supple tannin which
persists beautifully through the long finish. At just 13% alcohol content,
it would make a good partner for red meats, many Asian dishes and fairly
strong cheeses. This wine even has ageing potential and you could probably
keep it for up to five years if you have the somewhere cool enough.
L’Esprit de Bacchus,
Merlot 2012 (red), France (Bt. 569 @ Foodland)
From the south of
France, this is an attractive ruby-red wine. It’s a Vin de Pays,
which is the older classification for French country wines from a specific
region and a notch up from basic table wines. Vin de Pays means “wine
of the land” or “country wine” but these days they’re usually labelled
Indication Géographique Protégée (“Protected Geographical Region”)
usually known as IGP. This bright ruby red wine is made from 100 percent
Merlot grapes and has a lovely floral aroma of raspberry, dark fruit, dusty
herbs and hints of leather. The wine has a good, dry medium body with mild
tannins up front and plenty of fruit on the palette. There’s an attractive
dry finish too, with tannic overtones. This is really quite an easy-drinker
and would be fine with pizza, grilled meats or richly flavoured cheeses. It
has an attractive traditional-looking label too, making the bottle appear
rather more expensive than it actually is.
This is the style of
easy-drinking earthy wine that you find in many a French bistro and a far
removed from the big wines of South America. Quite honestly, this would be
my choice for a daily red, if I could buy it at French prices. But sadly,
the taxes on wine here push the prices ever skywards. There are only two
choices of course: pay up or do without.
Big Wines with a Light Touch
Winemaker John Quarisa
taste in wine runs to full and fruity reds then perhaps you should look out
for Shiraz. The dark red grapes that make Shiraz (SHEE-raz)
originally became famous in France, or to be more exact the northern parts
of the Rhône Valley where they’re known as Syrah (see-RAH). The
biggest, fruitiest Shiraz wines tend to come from Australia where the grapes
have become a huge favourite among winemakers. They’re relatively easy to
grow too and they can produce many styles of wine ranging from fruity
easy-drinkers to richer, more concentrated wines resplendent with dense
flavours of red and black berries, violet, pepper and spices.
made from the Shiraz grape are invariably rather full-bodied. And just in
case you’re new to these things, perhaps I should mention that the “body” of
a wine refers to the texture and “weight” of the wine in the mouth. Full
bodied wines tend to feel rather more viscous, in the same way that
full-cream milk feels “thicker” in the mouth than non-fat milk. Full bodied
wines get their weighty quality in three ways; through higher residual sugar
content, higher alcohol and lower acidity. Actually, alcohol content is the
primary contributor to the body of a wine, which it why high levels of
alcohol are found in many wines today, in order to meet perceived consumer
demands for heavier, fruitier products. Although big fruity Shiraz wines
tend to be dry, they often have sweetish overtones because of the low
acidity and they may also be oaked to infuse them with secondary aromas and
flavours. Some grape varieties contain more sugar than others, which leads
to higher residual sugar content and of course, more alcohol.
know, full-bodied wines don’t have to hit you in the face like a sack of
cherries. Some of the better quality full-bodied wines can also have a
beguiling lightness of touch and gentleness to their character. This week
I’ve found two such wines that might interest you. They’re available at Wine
Connection which incidentally, opened a new branch in Jomtien some time ago,
fairly close to Pattaya Provincial Court.
30 Mile Shiraz 2012 (red), Australia (Bt. 590 @ Wine
is a rich, dark crimson with hints of purple and a slightly oily appearance,
which always seems to me a good sign. The aroma is quite complex with rich
black cherries, spices and fresh pepper which will probably come through
first. If you concentrate you might pick up wine gums and raspberry jam. I
thought I could detect a whiff of licorice too. Open the bottle about half
an hour in advance, so that the wine has a chance to reveal its aromatic
was made by the lively and enthusiastic John Quarisa who has consistently
been recognised for his winemaking skills for over twenty years. He has
received some of Australia’s top wine honours. He’s made wines for some of
Australia’s largest and most well-known brands and developed a reputation as
a committed, quality winemaker who knows how to make a wine that people will
showed every sign of being a super-powerful Shiraz and I was expecting it to
hit the palette like a torpedo. To my surprise and delight, even though it’s
full-bodied it has a lovely gentle touch. The wine is very dry of course but
it has a soft, almost silky mouth-feel and a satisfying smooth foundation of
tannin with beautifully balanced fruit flavours. There’s a long, soft and
satisfying dry cherry finish too. This is a real beauty, no doubt about it.
If you like a big, bold and luscious Australian Shiraz with over 14% alcohol
content, give this a try. You will not be disappointed. Neither were the
wine professionals, for it has already won several prestigious awards. Try
it with grilled red meat or bring it out for that special barbeque.
Lane Shiraz 2013 (red), Australia (Bt. 549 @Wine Connection)
Lane wines hail from the Murray Darling wine region in New South Wales, a
state on the East Coast of Australia. This vast area is named after its two
major rivers, the Murray and the Darling. The wine is dark red and looks
inviting with a concentrated, sweet aroma of ripe black fruits, especially
black cherries, blackberries, herbs, mint and a faint reminder of chocolate.
A little later in the smelling session (for mine are always rather
prolonged) the characteristic spicy and peppery Shiraz aromas come through
as well as a hint of vanilla. If all this sounds a bit fanciful, these
aromas are quite common for Shiraz. It’s a complex aroma considering the
price of the wine, and smells a good deal more expensive than it actually
very smooth mouth-feel and the flavour is packed with fruit, giving it a
sense of sweetness. It also has an attractive dash of acidity and a
framework of soft tannins which help to give the wine a sense of balance.
It’s a medium bodied wine and there’s a persistent fruity and herb-like
finish. In many ways it’s a really well-crafted wine with a touch of
elegance. One Australian reviewer wrote, “Dollar for dollar, this is as good
as it gets...the nose is all ripe berries, black cherries, vanilla and
spice…flavours are rich and juicy and there is a nice savoury aftertaste to
ABV this seems to me something of a food wine and I’d be happy to drink this
with my very successful oven-baked lasagna, which is becoming a favourite of
the dogs. It would go a treat with dishes like roast beef or roasted rack of
lamb. Although I prefer Italian wines with pizza, this Shiraz was perfect
with a home-made pizza turbo-charged with capers, spicy salami and bits of
those hot little red Thai peppers. Incidentally, one of the wine-trade
websites claims that this wine also has the aroma of mulberries, but quite
honestly I really can’t remember what a mulberry smells like.
Vineyards at Valdobbiadene (Photo: Mruzzene).
Thailand you can’t get a decent bottle of champagne for less than around Bt.
3,000. If you want something with a bit of class like a Pol Roger or
Piper-Heidsieck, we’re talking about Bt. 4,000 baht and upwards. Champagne
is expensive because apart from the burden of tax, the production is
influenced by the choice of grapes, where they’re grown, the quality of the
harvest and the time-consuming, complicated and expensive process known as
the méthode champenoise. Even if you don’t speak French, that
shouldn’t be too tricky to translate.
course, there are cheaper alternatives and you’ve probably seen them lining
the supermarket shelves. Cheap sparklers are made in much the same way as
fizzy drinks, in which still wine is zonked with a dollop of carbon dioxide.
European wines made using this charmless process are obliged to use the
phrase “aerated sparkling wine” or “added carbon dioxide” on the labels.
They might not sound especially appetizing, but there are dozens of them
around and a logical choice if you’re on a tight budget. If a bottle of
sparkling wine is priced at under Bt. 1,000 it’s almost certainly aerated.
there is a middle way, known as the Charmat Method in which the secondary
fermentation takes place not in the bottle like Champagne, but in stainless
steel or glass tanks. The well-known Italian sparkler Prosecco is produced
using the Charmat method, because the short tank fermentation preserves the
freshness of the grapes. Prosecco comes from Italy’s Veneto region, up in
the north-east of the country.
temperature of sparkling wine is important and they’re best at between 4-9°C
(39-48°F) or slightly above refrigerator temperature. If in doubt, colder is
safer. After opening, stick the bottle in a wine bucket containing ice and
water and if possible, leave it corked until it's time to taste it. If you
don’t manage to finish a bottle of sparkling wine at one session, you can
leave it in the fridge for a short time if you can manage keep the air out.
There’s no way you’ll get the cork back in again because it expands so much
when it’s taken out, but you can buy plastic air-tight stoppers with a
pull-down lever that effectively seal the bottle. I’ve found that by
re-sealing in this way, the wine stays fresh and the bubbles remain active
for up to a couple of days.
Mionetto Prosecco DOC Treviso Brut (sparkling white), Italy.
(Bt. 789 @ various outlets)
looks a bit daunting so perhaps we’d better decode that first. Mionetto is
the name of the company, founded in 1887 by Francesco Mionetto in the small
village of Valdobbiadene in North East Italy. Prosecco of course is the
style of the wine, produced from vineyards among the hills north of Treviso.
They’re usually crisp, dry wines with a generous dose of acidity. The
expression DOC is a quality assurance classification and the word brut
is usually applied to a sparkling wine that is quite dry with less than
twelve grams of sugar per litre. There we are. Easy, wasn’t it?
is a pale gold colour with aromas of apple and a touch of citrus, peach and
pomelo. I thought I could pick up hints of dill and oregano in the
background. As expected, the wine is zesty and refreshing on the palate with
quite a bit of well-balanced acidity there too. It’s a lively young sort of
wine with a delicate touch of white fruit on the taste and a surprisingly
long clean, dry finish. At just 11% ABV it would make an excellent apéritif
but would also make a good partner for things like vegetable soups,
mushrooms or barbecued fish with a richly flavoured sauce.
used to be the name for both the wine and the grape. Confusingly, Prosecco
is also the name of a village near Trieste where the grape may have
originated. Or not, as the case may be. Then the Italian authorities changed
the regulations and ever since 2009, the Prosecco grape has been known
officially as the Glera. The reasons for the change are purely technical and
not especially interesting, but few things are simple in Italian wine
culture. Glera is not one variety but several and in the Euganean Hills, the
grape goes by its local synonym Serprina.
Mont Clair Sparkling Brut (white), Thailand. (Bt. 379 @
budget doesn’t stretch to the Mionetto, let alone real champagne, here’s a
good budget sparkler produced by Siam Winery. It’s a very light gold colour
with a plentiful supply of bubbles. There’s a lovely fresh, fruity aroma of
peaches and passion fruit with citrus and herbs in the background. It’s dry
and light-bodied, with a lively refreshing mouth-feel, plenty of fruit
up-front and a zesty dash of acidity that gives the taste a refreshing bite.
There’s also a long, dry finish with fruit and peppery overtones and it
actually tastes quite Champagne-like.
originates in South Africa’s Breede River Valley and it’s been blended in
Thailand with a small quantity of local fruit wine. But don’t let that put
you off, because this light-hearted easy-drinker would be terrific for any
social event. At just 12.5% alcohol, it would make a lively pre-dinner drink
too, but be sure to serve it really cold. I know this tends to subdue the
aroma but the wine will soon warm up. Of course, you can drink it with food
if you want, but I think sparklers are invariably better on their own,
enjoyed with lively conversation.
bottle has a sensible plastic stopper, so if you don’t finish the wine, you
can bash the stopper back and put the bottle back in the fridge. This way,
the wine will keep its fizz for a couple of days. Far be it from me to
encourage dishonesty, but if you conceal the label with a tasteful white
cloth, your friends might assume that you’re dishing up The Real Thing.
The Song of the Earth
Mayer Amschel Rothschild: founder of the dynasty
title seems familiar, it’s probably because the Austrian composer Gustav
Mahler used it for his 1909 work Das Lied von der Erde. The previous
year saw the publication of a collection of early Chinese poetry translated
into German. It included poems by the eighth century poet Li Bai of the Tang
Dynasty. Mahler was so impressed with the lightness of touch that he set
seven of the poems to music in an impressive work for voices and orchestra
lasting for over an hour. It was performed in London in 1913 under the
conductor Henry Wood, who evidently thought that it sounded “excessively
modern”. But that was a hundred years ago.
movement is an ode to the joy of wine: “a goblet of wine at the right time
is worth more than all the kingdoms of this earth”. That might sound a bit
exaggerated but perhaps Chinese poets used more than their share of poetic
licence. I wish I could tell you that Li Bai also wrote, “The vines draw
water from the earth and bear its fruit: wine is the song of the earth”.
Sadly, he didn’t. I made it up. It would have been immensely satisfying to
have a connection between songs, earth and wine. However, Liu Yuxi, another
poet from the Tang Dynasty actually did write a poem called The Song of
the Grape but the title rather lacks gravitas.
Incidentally, we know precious little about wine in ancient China except
that during the Tang Dynasty, the consumption of grape wine was quite
common. Of course, what the wine actually tasted like is anyone’s guess.
Baron Philippe de Rothschild Mapu Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (white), Chile
(Bt. [email protected] Foodland)
language of the indigenous people of Chile, the word mapu means
“earth” and the word Mapuche, which is what they call themselves,
literally means “people of the earth”. The range of superb Mapu wines is
made in Chile’s Maipo Valley under the supervision of Rothschild
be few people who’ve never encountered the name of Rothschild. The family
started their banking business in the 1760s and is believed to be the
wealthiest family in human history. Wine lovers everywhere know the name
Château Mouton Rothschild, even if they haven’t managed to scrape enough
money together to buy a bottle.
This is a
light, bright gold and has a rich floral aroma of orange and peach with
fresh grassiness in the background. As the air gets to the wine the orange
aroma seems to intensify. Take a taste and the unmistakable Sauvignon Blanc
character asserts itself, for this is quite an assertive wine. The
mouth-feel is smooth and there’s a generous dash of typical grassy acidity
with hints of herbs and minerals. It’s completely dry of course but it’s
also crisp, fresh and aromatic with a long, lemony finish. This strikes me
as very much a food wine, although it would make a terrific pre-dinner drink
because there’s enough acidity to perk up the appetite. It would probably go
a treat with roast chicken or veal and would work with many Thai dishes too
and it has enough character to hold its own against brightly flavoured food.
This is a wine to enjoy and take your time over. It’s not a
“knock-it-back and gimme more” wine as I wrote of the 2009 vintage, but
something to think about, appreciate and enjoy. It’s a Mozart Piano Trio,
not a Strauss waltz. On further reflection, perhaps it’s more Poulenc than
Baron Philippe de Rothschild Mapu Cabernet Sauvignon
2013 (red), Chile (Bt. 649 @ Foodland)
you can recognise a quality wine just by the appearance, even before you get
to work on the aroma. This is one such wine. It looks positively inviting.
It’s a bright red with purple reflections and rich syrupy-looking legs but
give the aroma a bit of time because it’s worth waiting for. Swirl the glass
around for a bit and you’ll get that rich and unmistakable smell of black
cherry. There’s a tang of herbs and further in the background you might pick
up aromas of blackberry and moist tobacco. If all this sounds a bit
fanciful, these are typical aromas that come from Cabernet Sauvignon,
especially those from Chile.
seems rather French to me, and after the seductive aroma, the taste may take
you by surprise because it has a real “sit-up-and-listen” kind of character.
I happen to prefer wines that have something interesting to say, which I
suppose goes for people too. The mouth-feel is smooth with an attractive
bite at the start and the clean dry tannins come through well, giving way to
satisfying flavours of cherry and raspberry with a dash of white pepper
followed by a long and satisfying finish. The wine is completely dry with a
lean, firm body, a bit like I had a few years ago. Well, more than a few to
be perfectly honest, but let’s not quibble over trivialities. This is a
multi-dimensional wine both in aroma and taste and the flavours literally
change in your mouth. The makers suggest serving
it at 15°C, so in this neck of the woods you’ll need to chill it slightly –
but not too much.
This is a well-crafted wine but at just over 13% alcohol, I’d
prefer to drink it with food. If you like more fruit on the taste and a
little less tannin, open the bottle half an hour before you need it, or
better still tip the whole lot into a decanter. The air contact will soften
the wine and bring the fruit forward.
Oh, and by the way, for a time Gustav Mahler was the conductor of
the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1900 he took it to Paris for the
Exposition Universelle. The concerts were poorly attended and lost so
much money that Mahler had to borrow a substantial sum to pay the
orchestra’s fare home. The money, you might have guessed, came from the
The Green Grape of Veltlin
Gruber Röschitz label
know it sounds like the title of a rustic Slovak folk song, but it’s
actually the English translation of Grüner Veltliner, the most
widely-planted white wine grape in Austria. The grape is also found in
Slovakia and the Czech Republic and probably dates back to the days of the
ancient Rome. In case you’re wondering, Veltlin was a historical area in the
lower Alps but today it’s part of the commune of Valtellina in Northern
probably simplifying things a bit here, but there are two types of Grüner
Veltliner (GROO-ner FELT-lee-ner). The most common are the crisp,
young wines which have sprightly acidity and flavours of lime, lemon,
grapefruit or sometimes apple. They often have herby mineral flavours, hints
of white pepper and sometimes a distinctive touch of spritziness. The more
expensive, matured wines eventually take on a gold colour and a rich,
honeyed character. Incidentally, the Austrians often refer colloquially to
Grüner Veltliner as GrüVe. It’s also known by over seventy other different
names but I shall resist the temptation to list them. (That’s a relief –
Austria is the country’s largest quality wine-growing area and almost fifty
percent of it is planted with Grüner Veltliner. The local German name for
Lower Austria is Niederösterreich, which I mention only because the
word invariably appears on wine labels of the region. You might reasonably
assume that Lower Austria is down somewhere in the south, but it’s not.
Strangely enough, it’s the most northern province of the country. The name
evidently derives from its down-river position on the Danube.
hard-pressed to find any Austrian wines of in most retail outlets in
Thailand. Wine Garage, however, offers an interesting selection from around
Bt. 740 upwards. If you are getting a bit jaded with the usual commercial
wines in the supermarkets, you might be pleased to know that Wine Garage
specialises in artisanal wines. They also have some interesting boutique
wines from Germany. You can order online and pay by bank transfer or PayPal,
which makes things ever so easy. They’ll deliver anywhere in Thailand and
the QR code shown will take you to their website.
Gruber Grüner Veltliner, Röschitz 2013 (white), Austria (Bt.
950 @ Wine Garage)
begin by deciphering the label. Gruber (GROO-ber) is the name of the
company and it’s been producing wine since 1814. If you have been
concentrating, you’ll already know what Grüner Veltliner means. Röschitz (RER-shitz)
is a small village in Lower Austria about fifty miles from Vienna.
thing you’ll probably notice about this wine is the playful label with
whimsical drawings of the “Gruber Wine Spirits”. The drawings are apparently
inspired by the micro-organisms which exist on the vines and in the
fermenting wine, and they’re visible only under a microscope. They have
become the mascots of the company and appear in various fanciful forms on
all their wine labels and on their web site.
straw colour, the wine looks bright and invitingly oily in the glass. The
aroma is even more inviting, though you’ll need to give it a bit of time to
develop. I found that five minutes in the decanter made all the difference.
It has a “clean and lean” bright, floral aroma with a touch of tropical
fruit, a dash of citrus, herby minerals and something else which I couldn’t
quite identity. Never mind, I’ll get it in a minute.
is well forward, giving a hint of sweetness. But after this brief first
impression a more powerful drier taste comes through and leads to a long,
rich and dry finish. It’s really quite a fascinating tasting experience
which makes you sit up and take notice, because the taste actually changes
in your mouth. At just 12.5% ABV this would make a splendid apéritif if you
can share it with people who appreciate these things. The wine would make an
excellent partner for chicken dishes or ham, but I’d be perfectly happy to
enjoy it on its own. Oh yes, I have just realised what I missed in the aroma
earlier. Do you remember the song Little Green Apples, made famous by
one Ocie Lee Smith in 1968? He sold over a million copies and the song was
recorded the same year by others in the trade, including Frank Sinatra.
That’s what the aroma reminds me of. Apples I mean, not Frank Sinatra.
Ott Grüner Veltliner, Am Berg 2013 (white), Austria
(Bt. 1,150 @ Wine Garage)
the small village of Feuersbrunn in Lower Austria, the distinguished Ott
family has been producing wine since 1889. Bernhard Ott is the fourth
generation of wine makers and has managed the winery since 1995, when he
took over from his father. The Am Berg (“On the mountain”) wines are
their entry-level range but even so, this wine is worth the extra two
hundred baht, which I suppose is one of the first questions that might
spring to mind.
couldn’t resist comparing this wine with the Gruber. In the glass, they look
more-or-less identical, but there the similarity ends. The Ott has a richer,
more unctuous aroma with a delicate sweet floral touch. It has a lovely
“come-and-get-me” sort of smell and this follows through on the palate.
There’s a hint of sweetness too, soon replaced by a firmer, more
authoritative flavour. Somehow you can sense the experience behind this
wine. It feels more “grown-up”, although it’s joyfully young at heart. It’s
finely-balanced, crisp, light and refreshing which is what a young Grüner
Veltliner is supposed to be. There’s a satisfying long, dry finish as well
as a very soft touch of acidity.
both splendid wines. The Ott is slightly softer on the palate but if you
want to try an interesting Grüner Veltliner you won’t go wrong with either
of these. I don’t want to sound ungenerous, but I think I’ll keep these two
bottles to myself. The dogs won’t even get a sniff. Well, maybe just one.