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The Grape Trail

by Danny Davino

A White Christmas?

Last night down at the village watering hole, the subject turned to Christmas, which considering the time of year is hardly surprising. In Thailand, much of the tiresome Yuletide grind can be escaped if you can manage to ignore the squawking renditions of Jinger Ben in some of the supermarkets. Even so, it’s possible you’ll have Christmas dinner somewhere on the agenda, especially if you are a creature of tradition. Whether it’s at a restaurant or a do-it-yourself job at home, at some point you’ll have to choose the wine. So this month, I’m going to suggest some wines that you might like to try for the Christmas bash. If you’re having dinner with friends or family so much the better, because you can hopefully buy a few different bottles to offer some variety.

Partnering food and wine is not as subjective as some people would have you believe. It generally boils down to this: either try to match the character of the food with that of the wine, or go for contrast, which is probably easier. This might be a bit simplistic by sommelier standards but it’s good enough to get us by. The other factor of course is personal choice, because there’s no point in choosing Sauvignon Blanc to drink with the turkey if you hate, loathe and detest Sauvignon Blanc.

Let’s start at the very beginning - as the song goes – the pre-dinner drinks. They’re intended to stimulate the appetite, so go for dry wines because sweet ones do the opposite. I’ve always associated Christmas with sherry. Even a whiff of the stuff evokes distant memories of Christmases of long ago in the Old Country. The name “sherry” is derived from Jerez de la Frontera, its home-town in Southern Spain. Sadly, in Britain these days, sherry is too often regarded as the preserve of dotty old country vicars and maiden aunts. In its native country it’s the drink of bull-fighters. Before a traditional Christmas dinner, a cold, dry and crisp fino would be my first choice for an apéritif. Yes, cold. Being a white wine, even though it’s a fortified one, dry sherry always tastes brighter, crisper and fresher when it’s chilled. You can serve it straight out of the fridge, for in these parts it’ll warm up all too quickly. The best dry sherry you’re likely to find around here is the full-flavoured Tío Pepe (TEE-oh PEH-pay) from González Byass available at THB 1,130 at Friendship Supermarket. The cheaper Custer’s Fino Sherry (THB 465) is surprisingly good value.

A good alternative to sherry is a dry white sparkler. Cheap sparklers start at around THB 800 but genuine French champagne made the traditional way starts at about THB 3,000 and widely available. Top brand names of course, are many times that figure. The dry, zesty Italian sparkler known as Prosecco (pro-SEK-oh) is a cheaper alternative and Nua Prosecco sells at around THB 500 at Friendship. If the budget is tight, Mont Clair Sparkling Brut (THB 359 at Villa) is off-dry and crisp with a surprisingly elegant flavour. Far be it from me to encourage dishonesty, but if you have guests, you can conceal the Mont Clair label by wrapping a smart white cloth around the bottle, revealing only the champagne-like foil near the top. Some people won’t be able to tell it from The Real Thing and hopefully will be too polite to ask.

Smoked salmon is a popular starter, but it’s tricky to find wine that goes well with it. If you want contrast, a dry white will off-set the oiliness and Gewürztraminer (guh-VOORTS-trah-mee-nuh) is a classic pairing. The mail order company Wine Now Asia sells Elena Walch Gewürztraminer from the South Tyrol at just under THB 1,300. For ham-based starters, a dry Riesling (REEZ-ling) goes well and Villa stocks the delicate Lorenz Alsatian Riesling (THB 1,876). Sauvignon Blanc (SOH-vihn-yohn BLAHN) is a cheaper option and with its sharp and grassy flavours, cuts through the oily texture though some people find it a bit too acidic.

Turkey is the usual centre-piece for Christmas dinner, surrounded with herby stuffing and all the extras. If you want to keep everyone happy, choose a white wine and a red. Let’s do the whites first. The Riesling and Gewürztraminer I’ve just mentioned both go well with turkey. Perhaps even better would be a bone-dry French Chablis (sha-BLEE) and the Louis Jadot Chablis (THB 1,950 at Villa) is excellent. The mail order wine specialist Wine Garage has Domaine Testut Chablis Vieilles Vignes (THB 1,200) which seems remarkable value. My personal choice would be for a full, dry white Burgundy such as the Louis Jadot Macon Villages at THB 1,300 (Villa). A cheaper option would be Italian Pinot Grigio (PEE-noh GREE-joh) which can stand up to rich, high-fat dishes. It’s easy to find anywhere although Wine Garage offer Girlan Pinot Grigio from the South Tyrol for just THB 990.

If, like me you generally prefer red wine, light reds work well with turkey. Forget Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot which are nearly always too tannic. I’d suggest Pinot Noir (PEE-noh NWAH) from France, so any red Burgundy with its fruity, earthy qualities would make a pleasing partner for turkey or indeed any other rich-flavoured meat such as goose or duck. Wine Connection has a good selection of budget red Burgundy for under THB 1,000. If you want to push the boat out, try the splendid Louis Jadot Mercurey (THB 2,300 at Villa) which is a lovely soft, medium bodied wine from the Burgundy village (not the planet) of the same name. Surprisingly perhaps, light, fruity Beaujolais (boh-zhuh-LAY) is also excellent with turkey. Wine-Now-Asia offers Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais Villages (THB 859) as well as higher quality Beaujolais from both the Moulin-a-Vent and Fleurie regions for just under THB 2,300.

So is it cheese or dessert? A sweet tawny port is a traditional partner for Christmas pudding and mince pies. Taylor Tawny Port is available at several outlets at about THB 1,400. The classic dessert wine is rich and luscious Sauternes (soh-TERN) and there are some good ones available for under THB 2,000 at Wine Now Asia including the budget Barton & Guestier Sauternes at THB 1,549. The company also has a few top-notch examples including the legendary Château d'Yquem.

Contrary to popular belief, few red wines work well with cheese, partly because the tannins clash with both the cheese and the inevitable salty cheese biscuits. It’s impossible to find a single wine that will go with every cheese. But by this stage in the meal, palates will be jaded and you might be feeling as stuffed as the turkey. You could probably get away with dishing up any wines left over from the previous courses. So I shall leave the choice entirely up to you. I can’t be expected to do everything, you know.


Villa Supermarket, The Avenue, Pattaya Second Road

Friendship Supermarket, South Pattaya Road

Wine Connection, The Avenue, Pattaya Second Road

Wine Connection (Jomtien), Tappraya Road, near Provincial Court

Wine Garage:

Wine Now Asia: