The Grape Trail
Wines from the Big Mountain
by Danny Davino
If you were to drive up Highway 2 from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima, you’d eventually pass a small turn-off to the right into Highway 1060 which meanders into the hills of Khao Yai National Park. A little to the south, in the lush and fertile Asoke Valley you’d find GranMonte vineyards and winery. Up here, it’s 350m (over 1,000 feet) above sea level although you’d never guess. GranMonte is pronounced “Gran-montay” and it’s the Italianized translation of Khao Yai (big mountain), which is the home to several Thai wineries. Khao Yai National Park is also home to several hundred wild elephants and many other exotic animals, including the barking deer, the Malayan sun bear and the gaur which is an odd-looking kind of cow, though it doesn’t look much like one.
You might be surprised to know that quality wine is produced in Thailand, and a handful of wineries are turning out superb award-winning wines made from locally-grown grapes. Traditionally, wine grapes are grown between the latitudes of 30° and 50° in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. In contrast, most of Thailand’s vineyards are found in a narrow band between 14° and 18° N. For a long time it was thought that wine grapes simply wouldn’t grow so far south, until a royal project began experiments with grape planting about thirty years ago.
GranMonte has a state-of-the-art winery and uses winemaking equipment imported from France, Germany, Italy and Australia. In recent years, their wines have won dozens of prestigious international prizes. The wine-maker is Nikki Lohitnavy, the daughter of Visooth and Sakuna Lohitnavy, the owners of GranMonte Vineyard and Winery. Nikki studied at the University of Adelaide and she’s the first fully-qualified winemaker in Thailand with a bachelor’s degree in oenology and honours in viticulture. In 2016, Nikki was listed as one of Forbes Asia’s 30 Under 30 for her work in rapidly developing GranMonte’s products, innovating techniques for tropical viticulture and winemaking, and helping to boost the position of Thailand’s wine industry on the world stage.
GranMonte Asoke Valley Verdelho 2017 (white), Thailand (Bt. 995 @ Passion Delivery)
This splendid wine has an attractive, slightly oily appearance in the glass. This is a sign of the Portuguese Verdelho grape, which in Thailand is cultivated only at GranMonte. It’s often confused with the Italian Verdello grape but despite the similarity in names they are completely unrelated. There’s a sumptuous aroma with hints of white flowers, mango and ripe guava. Take your time sniffing because the aroma has so much to offer. On the palate, you’ll notice the rich, silky-smooth mouth-feel with luscious papaya fruit together with a dash of white pepper. It’s as dry as the proverbial bone and there’s a pleasing dash of natural acidity although the rich fruit offsets the dryness. This wine won the coveted award of Best Wine from Southeast Asia in the prestigious Hong Kong International Wine and Spirit Competition. It really is a cracker of a wine, and as a bonus there’s a long dry finish of around forty-five seconds.
Drink it cold of course. It comes at a decent 14% ABV (alcohol by volume) and you could enjoy it straight out of the fridge because in our tropical climate it will warm up fast enough. After the bottle has been open for about twenty-five minutes, the flavours will intensify. This would make a terrific aperitif and its fresh clean quality would make a splendid partner for many Thai dishes.
GranMonte Asoke Valley Heritage Syrah 2014 (red), Thailand (Bt. 890 @ Passion Delivery)
The Syrah grape, also known as the Shiraz is grown all over the world but its traditional home is the Rhône region of south eastern France. This one is a rich dark red with an intense spicy aroma that wafts out of the glass. You’ll probably pick up jammy succulent black fruit and berries with the characteristic Syrah peppery quality. This award-winning wine feels lean and clean on the palate and it’s quite full bodied. Some Australian Shiraz wines taste as though you’ve been hit in the face with a sack of cherries. In contrast, winemaker Nikki Lohitnavy has crafted a more refined wine which rather reminds me of the traditional French style. There’s plenty of flavour but the firm texture and fine tannins hold the fruit in place. You might notice a hint of vanilla on the lingering finish. It’s an elegant and well-balanced wine and as dry as they come.
At 13.5% ABV it would make a perfect food partner but authoritative wines needs to be paired with full-bodied flavours. Assertive meat dishes will work well, such as rib eye steak, beef stew, venison, spicy sausages or a ragout with olives and peppers.
After the wine has been open for twenty minutes or so, you’ll probably notice the secondary aromas appearing with hints of cherry, plums and olives. Forget that nonsense about leaving the opened bottle on the table for a bit, because it won’t make a scrap of difference. Simply pour the wine into the glasses and leave them untouched for a few minutes because it will get far more oxygen that way. Just try and resist the temptation to have a swig.
These two GranMonte wines are available to purcahse online from www.passiondelivery.com . The company also provides a wide range of other culinary products.