Wine Culture

 |  March 1, 2011

Only a few years ago getting your hands on a glass of wine outside of an expensive restaurant was no easy task. Wine was underground, limited to a few hotels, the odd pub menu, or hidden in the walls, covered in years of dust, in the backs of booze shops. Even then the selection was pretty poor, often the only wines available were those oversized bottles from California that only a builder’s wrist could support, or you might come across a French reject that had fallen off the back of a truck. Though not anymore. Since the arrival of wine wholesalers, retailers, and a growing number of wine bars in the city – whose existence now not only depends on the oenophile’s from abroad, but the growing ranks of the Thai nouveau riche – Chiang Mai offers some serious spots to sip wines from all over the globe. We visited some of Chiang Mai’s best wine bars:

The Box has not been open long, though shortly after landing on the Nimmanhaemin strip it became popular with mostly Chiang Mai’s business people, trendy students, Bangkok yuppies and basically any local with enough money to consume more than Leo and free peanuts. There is also quite a regular expat clientele which makes it an interesting place to mix with all kinds of different people. There is often live music playing, indoors (quiet) and outdoors (loud) areas, while the whole place is designed very stylishly, right down to the toilets.

The wine list consists of new and old world wines, ranging in price from about 750 – 1,900 baht a bottle. You can also select some wines by the glass. They have sparkling wines, rose, and champagne, too. On why Chiang Mai is becoming a wine lover’s utopia the manager of The Box told us that “in the past wine was too expensive, but nowadays the price is not so bad. Everyone can drink wine.”

The Box also has a big selection of imported European wheat beers, the kind that have just become fashionable in the city. They have a Japanese sushi bar, or you can order Italian food from Koh Lanta restaurant around the corner.

Open every day 6 p.m. – 1 a.m.
1 Nimmanhaemin Road, Soi 5
Tel: 053 218 315

A favourite to those who know it, The Glass Onion has to be a contender for Chiang Mai’s best looking – and most comfortable – bar. Full of glittering lights, long soft sofas, cushions, funky chairs and an all round cool as hell sheen, Glass Onion would stand out in any city. This bar has long been misrepresented: First of all, it’s not exclusively a gay bar, though a gay crowd drink there. Gay friendly would be a rather silly term, as what exactly is ‘gay unfriendly’ in Chiang Mai? Another myth is that it is very expensive. The wine might be 200 baht a glass but the glasses are very generously filled compared to elsewhere and the wine is not decanted from a container the size of a medium-sized dog. Their wine list is not as large as the other places in this article, but they are well chosen wines. All other manner of drinks are also available. Music-wise the Glass onion is usually in-the-know and plays some pretty cool stuff, from disco to electro to lounge or jazz. We are told that opposite the Glass Onion the owners will soon open a small restaurant.

Open 8 p.m. – late (closed on Sundays)
Rooms, The Boutique Mall, Soi 17 Nimmanheamin (opposite-ish Warm Up)
Tel: 053 218 479

This new addition to Chiang Mai is smart, sophisticated and already attracting a fair bit of custom. You can sit under the canopy of large trees in the main part, hang out on low comfortable sofa seats or head up to the rooftop where you can sit under the stars. The wine list, says Nawee Wattanasongsuet, consultant manager of Wine Bar, is a work in progress.
He aims to provide everyone with a suitable wine, from those looking to spend only about 500 baht to those who don’t mind forking out much more for a bottle. The new wine list he says will be very comprehensive. If you prefer imported beers or cocktails then a wide variety is available. Wine Bar has also started serving food: imported cheeses, meats, canapés, and other finger snacks. They will soon start selling a range of fine cigars.
In the near future live jazz bands will play. Another event they intend to start is a ‘live chef’, who will cook in the Kitchen Culture showroom that is next to Wine Bar.

“About 80% of our customers are Thai,” says Nawee, “some of them have been drinking wine a long time, but some are experimenting for the first time.” The crowd, he says, is made up of locals and many people from Bangkok, as well as the odd tourist. “It’s already packed every night,” he added.

Kantary Terrace, Nimmanheamin Soi 12
Tel: 081 784 8282

This very cool shop is an excellent choice for anyone wanting to test a variety of wines, mainly from Italy, or many other alcohol drinks. Italasia is a wholesaler and retailer but inside their shop there’s a very cozy bar where you can – only in small groups – imbibe the wine you have chosen from their huge selection. You might choose to drink other well known nectars such as famous Scottish malt whiskies, or lesser known tequilas, rums, vodkas and many other kinds of drinks including many a drinker’s downfall, Absinthe! Italasia is home to a coffee shop selling hot and iced Illy coffee, and all sorts of other treats are on offer for you to browse while you find your favourite bottle of wine. If you have a liking for any particular wine you can buy it by the crate at reduced cost which can then be delivered to your home. You can also buy one white, and one red wine, by the glass.

Open 9.30 a.m. – 9.30 p.m.
193/1 Chang Klan Road
Tel: 053 270 736,

Wine Connection is a wine shop but does a lot of business on the premises selling wine to the customers of Nim City Daily plaza. During the evenings they have a crowd almost every night of the week where people sit outside in the pleasant surrounds and eat, drink and chat the night away. A huge selection of wines is available plus wheat beers, spirits, Ouzo, Pastis and more. Next door is the ‘Bistro’ restaurant that sells tasty Thai food and plenty of English staples like fish and chips, Cumberland sausage and steak and kidney pies that you can eat with your wine. There is also a sushi and salad restaurant close by. All food can be ordered and eaten on the outside tables, which makes for a nice evening considering you can also buy your wine at such low cost. The manager of Wine Connection told us that “This is not only a place where people come to enjoy wine, but to talk about wine, people can sit here and share opinions.”

Open 10.30 a.m. – 9.30 p.m.
Nim City Daily, Mahidol Road