Going Natural in Bangkok

You are going to Thailand for a wine journey?” Yes, in part, I said. “Do they make wine in Thailand?” I was told they do, I said. “Will you drink it?” No. “So, then?”

It was a golfing trip, there were seven others, and the eight of us were to challenge four courses in a place called Hua Hin. My better half was very sceptical about the trip. With good reason. The word among people in India is that a golf trip to Thailand is a cover for all kinds of massages.

I had done my homework. Among its various attractions, wine is a well-kept secret in Bangkok. There is plentiful available in stores. Trophy wines from Bordeaux and Napa are available at a reasonable premium. And there are many wine bars — interesting places that serve what I was looking for: wine by the glass.

We stayed in Hua Hin for four days, it was hot and muggy, we golfed during the day. Come evening, a few of us opened what we picked up at the duty-free at Bangkok airport. We opened the Purple Angel from Montes — a juicy Chilean Carménère blend, followed by the St Henri Shiraz from Penfolds, young at 2020. Both were full-bodied, but it was the Chilean that shone; it was savoury and complex. The next day we went wine shopping. In a nearby store we discovered an interesting Pinot, the Marsannay Rouge from Louis Latour, and a terrific white made by Umani Ronchi from a grape called Verdicchio.

I was floored by the variety in that store in a town three hours outside Bangkok. There was the rare Saperavi from Georgia, the Riserva Amarone from Tommasi that was aged for five years, the Camartina and the Colore from Italy, and the Penfolds World blend, a rare new offering. Many European tourists throng Thailand and that explains this plenitude. I was spoilt for choice. For my cellar I picked the Mount Edelstone Shiraz of Henschke. Among Australian Shiraz, it is a star.

Mod Kaew, a bar in Bangkok, where the sommelier opened bottles of unique natural wines made from obscure grapes

We had a day in Bangkok on the way out. We took a grab taxi and tuk-tukked our way through streets where masseurs called out to us at every turn. We had to ask around to find our location. Mod Kaew was what we were after, a bar with natural wine. There was no signage and the entrance was nondescript. Inside, was a treasure trove of small producer Heaven. Wines in strange colours lined the shelves, cloudy liquid swirled behind funky labels, and a red neon sign declared the local obsession of such wine folk – skin contact.

The young sommelier knew his trade, he was generous to a fault. We were looking for tasting pours only and yet he lined up four unopened bottles with interesting labels.
Escoda-Sanahuja Els Bassotets 2022
Terpin Franco Quinto Quarto Bianco 2019
Oriol Artigas El Rumbero 2021
Domaine de la Pinte Poulsard Pinte Bien Arbois 2022

See also  Putting their best foot forward

We stared at the four bottles, they were unique expressions from unknown appellations made by small winemakers using obscure grapes, blends, and philosophies.

“These bottles are ships in the night,” said my friend. “We will probably never meet again.”

We began with the Chenin Blanc blend from Barcelona that was aged in amphora. Next was a pink-skinned Pinot Grigio from Friuli that changed my opinion of the grape, which was, “Who on Earth drinks Pinot Grigio?” Another Spanish wine was third, a blend of red grapes including Grenache that had been stomped into juice and left to bleed with the skins. The wine was light-footed, nimble, tangy, and sour with an honest purity that was appealing. The last was a Poulsard from Jura. I told my friend, “Watch out, this will be light and pink and look like a rosé.” It was so dark
and it was also deceptive in its transparency, yet my friend, whose sweet spot was plush Aussie Shiraz, loved it.

I am new to natural wine, I can tell you it is different, it takes time to tune in to its ways. Nothing is as it seems. The nose, the appearance, and the palate are full of surprises — not all pleasant — but when it hits the right notes, natural wine changes your worldview. We could pack in one more wine bar in the time we had. We tried an Italian place that had eight wines on tap. Each tap was a
machine dispenser, you could see the bottles behind a glass cabinet, they hissed in turn and streamed the precious juice. In the hour that we had, we tasted a white made from a grape called Greco Bianco, a delicious Barolo from Bussia, and an average Amarone. The food wasn’t great so we left.

There are many other wine bars in Bangkok and they surely merit another visit. Thailand has its tourism policy in the right place. I figured that what tourism also needs is the free-spiritedness and good cheer that wine represents. When will we in India learn? When will we stop punishing the good juice with astronomical duties that add up to so little in absolute terms?

On the flight home I dreamt. I dreamt that someday in a city that shared the first three letters in Bangkok, there would be wine galore.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply