WINES IN PATTAYA
By Danny Davino
A couple of weeks ago, I went to what was supposed to be a wine tasting at a hotel in town. In typical Pattaya fashion, few people were actually tasting the wine critically but simply knocking it back as though at a weekend party. They’d clearly just come along for a booze-up. Hardly anyone was taking the trouble to even look at the wine, let alone sniff it. If you don’t bother to enjoy the aroma, you’re really missing out on a sensuous pleasure. Someone once wrote that not smelling a wine is like forgetting to smell a rose. Now I come to think about it, I wrote it myself. But you know, I get more enjoyment out of smelling a wine rather than drinking it. This is probably because in a previous life, I was almost certainly a dog, or so my mother used to say.
The human tongue can detect only a handful of basic flavours but the nose can pick up thousands of aromas and there’s an astonishing variety of aromas in wine. Contrary to popular belief, wine doesn’t smell of grapes, or not very often anyway. Cabernet Sauvignon can bring smells of cherry, blackcurrant, beetroot, mint or even fresh tobacco. Pinot Noir often comes with aromas of earthy moss and tree bark, rhubarb and cranberry. Riesling sometimes has a distinct whiff of gasoline which is more attractive than it sounds. Cold-climate Sauvignon Blanc has aromas of nettles, asparagus and sometimes cat’s pee. Yes, honestly. You may well ask where all these smells come from. It’s a good question, but the answer is rather complicated and I shall resist the temptation to explain. In a nutshell, some aromas come directly from the grapes and others develop through chemical changes during the fermentation and ageing processes. Almost all red wines are aged in oak barrels, bringing yet another dimension to the aroma.
The better quality a wine, the more complex are the aromas. While some seem to almost leap out of the bottle, others take much longer to show up and remain like shrinking violets in the background. It all adds to the fascination of wine. Both wines this month have interesting aromas and they’re available from Wine Connection, a company with shops all over the country and two in Pattaya. You can also order online through their website and they’ll deliver to you direct.
Rare Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (white) Cotes de Gascogne, France
You may be disappointed to know that there’s not a trace of cat’s pee aroma in this Sauvignon Blanc. But the wine makes up for it in other ways. This pale, straw-coloured wine is one of the company’s best-sellers and comes from the Côtes de Gascogne, an important wine-growing region in South West France. I first tasted this wine about six years ago and the 2016 vintage is as good as ever. It has rich aromas of pear, peach and melon up front and a delicate hint of boiled sweets. I picked up faint grassy and mineral notes too but these aromas are typical of Sauvignon Blanc from cooler climates.
The wine makers have captured the spirit of Sauvignon Blanc yet the taste is fuller, richer and smoother than its New Zealand cousins. There’s plenty of citrusy fruit on the palate, a lovely dry tang of zesty acidity and an exceptionally long finish. It would make a terrific apéritif but would also go well with light chicken dishes. It worked perfectly with a creamy cheese quiche. By the way, don’t believe that old nonsense about drinking only red wine with cheese. Sauvignon Blanc makes a splendid partner for Brie, Camembert, Danish Blue and Havarti. It also goes well with Swiss alpine cheeses like Emmenthal and Gruyère. This splendid wine comes at a bargain price, just under Bt 700. It’s probably worth that for the aroma alone.
Rare Vineyards Grenache Vieilles Vignes 2016 (red) Pays d’Oc, France
First, let’s decode the label. Rare Vineyards is the trade name of the producer; Grenache is the name of the grape; Vieilles Vignesmeans “old vines” which are thought to produce better quality grapes than young ones. Pays d’Oc is the designation given to wines from the enormous Languedoc-Roussillon wine region of southern France. So there we are. My service charge is a modest fifty baht. Leave the money on that table by the door on your way out.
The grapes were harvested early in the morning to preserve the aromas of summer fruit. You’ll probably get a whiff the moment you open the bottle. It’s a rich, spicy, peppery smell with hints of bramble and dark fruit. To enhance the aroma, aerate the wine first by pouring it into a jug or decanter and leaving it to stand for about ten minutes. Then you might pick up hints of chocolate and herbs. This is a dark, crimson wine and there’s plenty of smooth blackberry and cherry on the palate with a pleasing touch of acidity. It’s a dry, easy drinker with a long satisfying finish and quite low in tannin. Grenache can sometimes taste a bit rustic which is why it’s normally blended with other grapes, but this is an exceptional wine and comes at 13% ABV and just under Bt 650. Don’t forget to give it good sniffing. You need to poke your snout right into the glass (but not into the wine) and take a few short quick sniffs – like a blood-hound. Surprisingly, short sniffs are more revealing than long ones. Remember, I was once a dog, so I know about these things.