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The Grape Trail

by Danny Davino

Do you need glasses?

On Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok, there used to be a rather classy restaurant where they gave you an enormous wine glass if you ordered anything grander than the house plonk. Honestly, they were absolutely massive and could have made a desirable residence for a small goldfish. They were extremely heavy too and I was always scared of dropping one of the wretched things and causing an unseemly commotion.

At a push, you could drink wine out of a plastic mug but you’d lose most of the aroma. Wine invariably tastes best out of a well-designed glass. Shape, comfort, size and transparency are the four main issues. Price too, so don’t buy glasses that you can’t afford to break, for break they will sooner or later. For table wine, a tulip-shaped glass is best, because it concentrates the aroma near the rim. It should be well-balanced, with a long thin stem which is comfortable to hold. And incidentally, we always hold glasses by the stem, not by the bowl. This prevents the wine from warming up too quickly. Go for clear, plain glasses because those frosted or opaque things are useless.

Now I happen to like big ones - and you can take that foolish smirk off your face, that boy in the back row. Never buy tiny wine glasses. “Neither use nor ornament,” as one of my Yorkshire friends liked to say. You need to swirl the wine around in the glass to release the aroma. A big glass enables you to accomplish this without spilling the contents all over the table or worse, over yourself (and you might detect the voice of experience here). A capacity of 380-425ml is ideal for good wine because the glass should only filled a third full anyway. If you tend to drink table wines and nothing else, this type of glass will be fine for everything. For sparkling wine, the so-called champagne flute is ideal because it’s tall and thin. Forget that horrid traditional champagne glass that looks like a saucer on a stick. It’s completely useless for wine, especially sparkling wine.

The Thai-made Ocean range of glasses are excellent value and easily available. Their 425ml Madison Red Wine Glass is a large and elegant and I always use these for wine tasting. For ordinary cheap stuff the inexpensive Ocean Classic Red Wine glass is fine, with a capacity of 230ml. If money is no object and you drink expensive wines, you might prefer the Austrian Riedel glasses. In contrast, here are relatively inexpensive wines (by today’s standards) from Australia’s Eden Valley wine district.

Bandicoot Estate Premium White, Australia (c. Bt. 650 @ various outlets)

In case you’d forgotten or possibly never knew, a bandicoot is a small rat-like nocturnal marsupial, covered in grayish-brown fur with a pointed nose and a long tail. From a distance it looks like a rabbit, except perhaps to another bandicoot. This wine is a lovely, bright gold with an aroma that gives the impression that the wine is rather more expensive than it actually is. The wine is made from Chardonnay, the most popular of all white grapes. Chardonnay can produce a wide range of aromas and sometimes there are distinct notes of green apples, celery or even cucumber. In this wine, tropical fruit dominates with nectarine, apricot and lemon up front. In the background there’s an elusive hint of peppery lime. This is a light dry wine, not as dry as the proverbial bone but dry nonetheless. It has an attractive fresh, fruity taste with pleasing tang of acidity, which helps to give it a bit of shape and also adds another dimension to the taste. At 13.5% ABV this is a terrific little wine and tremendous value for money. It would make a splendid aperitif but would also make a good partner for light chicken or fish dishes.

Bandicoot Estate Premium Red, Australia (c. Bt. 650 @ various outlets)

This rich, dark red wine looks inviting. Get your snout into the glass (assuming that the glass is big enough) and you’ll pick up a sweet jammy aroma of black fruit. The wine is made primarily from Shiraz, or Syrah as it’s known in France. You might notice a background, dryer aroma too. I have to admit that I was expecting a hefty, beefy wine but to their credit, the winemakers have taken a more reserved approach. At 13.5% ABV there’s plenty of dark fruit on the palate and just a mild touch of tannin to give a sense of firmness. As you’d expect, it’s dry but the generous fruit helps to balance it out. The “finish” is the word used to describe the experience during the time the flavour lingers in the mouth after swallowing. Assuming the flavour is pleasing and satisfying; a long finish is generally considered a good thing and this wine has just that, which is unusual for a wine with this price tag. I’ve been reliably informed that it’s one the house wines at the Hilton, so that should say enough. As to food, Shiraz is fairly versatile but it’s the traditional partner for beef dishes. I tried it with one of my home-made spicy pizzas and it the combination worked perfectly.

You can try these excellent wines by bottle or glass (about Bt 120) at many Pattaya restaurants including Aroi Pub & Restaurant (Soi Talman), La Scala (Soi Rompho), Little Italy (Second Road) Grottino and Fusillo Restaurants (Naklua Rd) and Amber Restaurant (just off Thepprasit Soi 8). I’d certainly recommend giving these pleasant wines a try, assuming that you haven’t spent all your money on wine glasses.