"To take wine into our mouths is to savour a droplet of the river of human history," wrote Clifton Fadiman. If that’s the case, to partake in human history is an expensive endeavour for those living in Thailand. The problem is certainly not that you can’t buy some excellent wines here – you can. But by the time you add together excise, customs, interior and value-added taxes, you’re looking at a whopping 335 per cent tax on an item that many health experts now agree can be beneficial in moderate amounts.
What makes a "good value" wine in such a hostile economic environment? Bangkok Fine Wines’ Jonathan Glonek says, "If we can provide well-made chardonnays and shirazes for 600 to 800 baht, then people are willing to pay for it. If you can get the wine right, that’s considered good value."
At the moment, Glonek says the small family estate vineyards in Australia represent reasonable value. In particular, he suggests Brokenhills Estate’s 1999 Colombard Chardonnay and Shiraz Cabernet, each priced at Bt370+ per bottle. "These wines came in strongly during a blind tasting of wines in the Bt200 to 900 range."
Tom Westbury of PTK Management & Marketing, suppliers to the corporate market, says he can’t single out any particular wines as being of good value, but he does edge towards those coming from the Hunter Valley and Margaret River regions of Australia, Hawkes Bay in New Zealand, and recommends wineries such as Rosemount Estate, Tyrells and CJ Pask. "The market is better educated than it was a couple of years ago," he says. "Five to six years ago, French wines would have made up 45 per cent of the market, but now they’ve lost a lot of that market share. You can pay Bt300 to 400 a bottle for French wines – which is expensive – but you don’t get wines of good quality compared to wines from Australia and other ‘new world’ countries."
French wines are now on the outer
Vichai Kanchanasevee from distributors Vanichwathana has also found that consumers are buying more new world wines as they are reasonably priced and represent reasonable quality. "Wines which are losing popularity are complex and elegant wines such as Burgundy, Rhone and other premium quality wines." Vichai suggests trying wines from Chile, South Africa and Argentina, and for those still keen on French wines, he recommends Bordeaux petit Chateau and Languedoc-Roussillon.
Education is important
Managing director of Wine Cellar, Uthorn Budhijalananda, advises those who wish to develop an understanding of the value of wine to educate themselves. "Study by tasting," he says. "Get guidelines from as many sources as possible, such as Robert Parker Jr’s notes, and read the Wine Spectator and other magazines. Use those as a guide, but trust your own tongue and mouth. Compare what you think to what others have written. In two to three years, you’ll know a lot more than when you started out."
His cellar mainly sells wine in the "exclusive" bracket, from Bt2000 upwards, and his mostly Thai clientele buys almost exclusively red wine. His picks are Australian Fox Creek’s 1999 JSM Cabernet Sauvignon at Bt2,000, Maxwell Limecave’s 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon, also priced at Bt2,000, or Californian Modavi’s 1995 Cabernet Sauvignon at Bt1,800. Moving higher up the price scale still, Uthorn suggests the Mondavi 1991 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, but warns that at Bt5,400 it will run out soon. "Keep it or drink it – you can buy this wine as an investment."
If these prices are out of your league, he suggests developing your taste by trying the wines available at places like Villa and Foodland. "The quality is not quite the same, but they are quite cheap. But if you want to find a bottle for a special occasion, head to a wine shop – one that can tell you all about the wine, its vintages and its taste."