The Life of Wine

 |  July 29, 2011

I’ve got a small problem with Thai wine. Not that most of it tastes a bit nasty, but that the marketing people at the large wineries keep banging on about what a great accompaniment their product is to Thai cuisine. I understand why they do this, and why not use everything Thailand has to offer to market the wines being produced here?

But surely many of the winemakers in this country should be taking a bit more time making their wine taste nicer rather than insulting consumer intelligence by pretending their sub-standard product was made to taste terrible because that is what suits a plate of spicy beef salad.

It’s like having chips on your plate, being served a decanter of chilled vinegar and being told by the sommelier: ‘But monsieur, vinegar goes so well with this particular dish, everyone knows that.’ In fact it’s nothing like that terrible analogy, but I hope you get the point. Crap wine is crap wine and fobbing the drinker off with some half-arsed excuse that it tastes better with a certain type of food is just lazy. The whole food and wine matching thing in newer wine regions is allowing bad winemakers to get away with being bad. If a wine can’t stand up by itself, well, there’s enough good stuff out there to get it chucked off the shelves or struck from the menu.

The great thing about Thai food is that the variety of flavours pretty much means there is a dish that will go perfectly with virtually any bottle of wine being produced in the world today – sweet, dry, red, pink and white. Thailand is still very young when it comes to winemaking and is still finding its feet. There are a limited variety of grapes which will stomach the heat and humidity and the world’s best winemakers are still to take any interest in properly investing their time here.

So the following was a bit of pleasant shock. I never thought in 2011 I would say the next sentence, but here it is: There is very good wine currently being made in Thailand. I have just taken a swig of 1959 Chateau Haut Brion to wash that sentence away.

Let me explain. The majority of Thai wine is not good. However, I was recently invited out to have dinner with the father and daughter team who run the GranMonte vineyards and winery in the Asoke Valley in Khao Yai. Fully prepared to control a grimace while trying their wines and uttering a few platitudes; I popped on my smartest shirt and went to meet them.

Having tasted the Shiraz, what I wanted to say, with eyebrows heading skyward, was ‘Ahh, yes, it has that unmistakable fruity-spicy-cigary-smokiness that you would expect from a Shiraz (which it did) while holding the glass up to examine the colour on the rim (like the professionals do). But all I could splutter was: ‘Thailand! You made this stuff in Thailand?’ and fell off my chair. I’ll put a large bet that there are a few established winemakers from the New World and old who have tasted the wine and said with a slightly depressed frown: ‘Bugger me!’

It’s a brilliant example of what the Syrah grape should become. It’s not from the Rhone Valley, but it’s not far off the better new world efforts. I want to try it with a juicy steak and some good music.

My smart shirt and I were sitting next to GranMonte’s boss, Mr Visooth Lohitnavy: He owns a vineyard, produces great wines knows what he is talking about used to race very fast cars. He had me at ‘hello’. He also has a wide experience with the Thai wine industry – and used to race very fast cars! If he is an example of the future of Thai wine, it is in good hands.

The Chenin was also lovely. Chenin can be really dull, but is a versatile grape and copes well with the Thai environment, and daughter Nikki – who runs the show _ has managed to do an excellent job at grabbing the best of its versatility giving it that touch of sweetness which really does go with spicy dishes. The rose would not be out of place at any picnic with friends and again has just that hint of sweetidity which makes it a perfect drink to kick off a Thai meal.

Let me please point out that I am not required to market any company in this column and would never mention GranMonte if it wasn’t truly surprising (although I did get my dinner paid for – but have never had anything to do with Rupert Murdoch).

I am positive that the next decade will see other Thai winemakers continue to hone their craft and produce wines which will hold their own at wine events around the globe. After all, it was not in the too distant past that the idea of the New World producing wines that were little better than drain-cleaner was dismissed as heresy.

If Nikki can manage a winery, a vineyard, marketing, promotion, global wine fairs, pick up a raft of medals, continue her training, make some lovely jams, remain extremely charming while answering questions she has been asked a gazillion times before and produce something as good as is going into the bottles at GranMonte, then the more established wineries can bloody well blow their noses and come up with something better than the stuff they are currently getting away with under the veil of ‘Thai wine’. If Thailand is serious about its wine – a drink which is emerging as the tipple of choice in many other parts of Asia – then it should pull its socks up. GranMonte shows it can be done, so why not do it?

Learn more about GranMonte at: If you are interested in purchasing wines from GrandMonte, please contact us at, we are hoping to be able to bring some up from Khao Yai. If you have any comments you wish to make about this column or suggestions for future ones, please email