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Wine in The Pattaya Trader

Getting Personal

Down at the village tavern a few nights ago, the conversation turned again to wine. Someone remarked that wine is a matter of personal taste and that’s the end of it. Well no, not quite. It’s obvious that personal taste dictates whether you like a wine or not but if you want to go beyond the simplistic “I like it” or “I don’t like it” stage, personal taste is not enough. A friend of mine was puzzled when at an informal tasting I described a particular wine as “superb” but added that I didn’t enjoy it. I could say much the same thing about some of Wagner’s music. Mark Twain must have felt the same, because he once wrote “Wagner’s music is better than it sounds”. There are a few good quality wines around that I happen to dislike, but you might enjoy them enormously. It’s safe to say that the “quality” of a wine and personal taste are two separate things.

So if we’re talking about “quality” where do we start? In her splendid book entitled The Wine Bible, Karen MacNeil suggests that an important issue is whether the wine is true to the grape and whether it brings out the grape’s essential character. Of course, it helps if you know what this “essential character” is supposed to be. Another issue is whether the various components of the taste are well-balanced. We’d need to assess how the wine presents itself through aromas and flavours and whether they’re finely focused or indistinct. Some wines have a variety of fascinating smells that makes you want to sniff and taste again. Then there’s that elusive quality often described as “a sense of place.” In contrast, simple budget wines are mass-produced and invariably rather one-dimensional.

But these are first impressions. To explore the quality further, we need to assess things like colour, aroma, acidity, tannins, oakiness, body-weight, dryness, fruitiness and after-taste. But I can sense your eyes glazing over already, so I shall save all that for another time. Let’s have a drink.

Dehesa La Granja 2008 (red), Castilla y León, Spain

Here’s a good example of a “quality” wine at a reasonable price too. Let’s begin by decoding the label. Dehesa la Granja is the name of the winery; 2008 is the year that the grapes were harvested and Castilla y León refers to the Spanish district of Castile and León up in the north-west bordering on Portugal. The wine is made by Alejandro Fernández who in his youth nurtured the dream of owning a winery, or bodega as they’re known in Spain. Now he owns four of them and his splendid wines have earned worldwide recognition.

This is made from Tempranillo (tem-prah-NEE-yoh), a black thick-skinned grape that makes full-bodied, long-lasting wines rich in tannin. It’s a dark ruby red with syrupy-looking “legs” forming inside the glass when you swirl it around. These little rivulets are called the Marangoni Effect, a complex phenomenon which I’ll leave you to investigate for yourself if your interests extend to thermo-capillary convection.

The aroma is intense and inviting, packed with luscious black fruit, damson and blackberry and the tang of fresh herbs. But do give it time for all the aromas to develop. It’s elegant, dry and oaky with cherry on the palate along with a hint of sweet blackberry and a firm foundation of fine tannin. The wine has a firm and satisfying body which I used to have myself thirty years ago. There’s a long finish too and at 14% ABV this pleasingly assertive wine would probably show best with food. Tempranillo works well with Mexican-style food, barbecue, grilled meats or sirloin steak. If your food is slightly spicy with bright flavours, this wine will make a good partner.

For a softer mouth-feel, pour the wine into a decanter or wine jug and let it rest for about half an hour. But don’t drink it too cold. Full reds usually taste best around 17-18° C (62-64° F). You can easily buy this wine online at Bt 990 from Wine Garage in Bangkok (do a Google) which specialises in fine artisan wines. You can pay by credit card or PayPal and for a modest charge they’ll deliver to your front door.

Berry Estates Bin 999 Dry Red (Australia).

In contrast, here’s a budget easy-drinker produced by Siam Winery, the company that makes the ubiquitous Mont Clair. This wine is dark red with quite an attractive sweetish, jammy aroma of black fruit and a faint minty smell. It’s medium-bodied and fairly dry with a touch of tannin to give a sense of firmness. There’s plenty of fruit on the palate and although the label gives precious little information, it’s a good bet that the wine is made from Shiraz. Incidentally the expression “Bin 999” is meaningless. It’s a packaging strategy to add a bit of gravitas and make it sound a bit special. The wine would go well with rich beef dishes or pasta. It sells at around Bt 400 and it’s available at many supermarkets and corner stores including Family Mart. Obviously this is a mass-produced wine but it’s a pleasant little glugger and I’d be happy to drink it with the pizza when the Valpolicella runs dry. But of course, that’s a matter of personal taste.