Samui Wining & Dining
Gung-ho Guru

Meet Khun Zack, Anantara Bophut Resort & Spa’s resident ‘Wine Guru’

and expert oenologist.



Savouring a glass of wine with a meal is one of life’s great pleasures. And countless millions of people around the world enjoy a glass or two on a regular basis. Wine production has a rich history dating back 8,000 years and has played an important role in social and religious gatherings throughout history. But as much as we enjoy drinking it, most people know relatively little about the intricacies of an individual wine. And no wonder. France alone produces between seven and eight billion bottles annually. It’s a subject that experts spend their lives studying. And there’s no end to the learning process..

      Thankfully, for mere mortals who just want to enjoy a reasonably priced bottle of wine that complements their food, help is at hand. All the best restaurants have sommeliers to help guide guests but some establishments take it a step further. The Anantara Group has two resorts on Samui and they, as well as all their other resorts worldwide, have resident ‘Wine Gurus’. I spent an afternoon recently with Anantara Bophut Resort & Spa’s Wine Guru, Khun Cherdchai Tomkeaw (better known simply as Zack) to find out more about him. And to try and ascertain what one has to do to get paid to sample wine on a tropical island!


JP: Tell us about your background please.

Zack: I grew up in the north-east of Thailand and after my formal education I took a job in a casino on the Thai-Cambodian border. I worked in one of the restaurants and I got to know the owner quite well. After a year, he asked me if I would like to go to South Africa to work in one of his casinos there and further my education. It was an incredible opportunity and one that I jumped at, and I spent two years in South Africa.


JP: How did your interest in wine develop?

Zack: Well, the casino owner also had a large vineyard and that’s where I lived. So in my free time, basically during the day, I started asking questions and finding out more. Before then, I’d never tasted wine and my first sip was a revelation. Over the course of the two years, I learned a great deal about grape varieties, influences on the vines, such as the soil, the climate, the topography and harvesting techniques, and also a great deal about the science behind the business. But underpinning everything that the winemakers did was a genuine passion for producing excellent wines and I can’t thank them enough for sharing their knowledge and expertise with me. It was the start of a journey that I never want to end.


JP: What did you do when you returned to Thailand?

Zack: I spent the next ten years or so working as a sommelier in Japanese, French and Italian restaurants in Bangkok whilst continuing my education in all matters related to wine. I then spent a year as sommelier at the Le Normandie restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in the capital. It’s considered to be amongst the finest French restaurants in Asia and has an unbelievable wine cellar. I had the great honour of serving Her Majesty The Queen of Thailand whilst I was there. And during the decade or so I was in Bangkok, I met dozens of winemakers from all around the world. I also spent some time in Australia at several vineyards. And I’ve worked with some of the best international chefs in Thailand.


JP: When did you join Anantara Bophut Resort, and why?

Zack: I was appointed in the middle of 2011 and I joined for several reasons. For a start, I would be working on a beautiful island and in an excellent restaurant, Full Moon, which overlooks the beach. But, more importantly, the Anantara Group is very progressive, has solid expansion plans for new resorts around the world and can offer me the career opportunities that I desire. And they are wholly committed to having a dedicated wine guru in every resort and are very supportive in our never-ending quest to learn all we can about wine.


JP: Let’s have some quick-fire questions about your wine cellar at Full Moon restaurant. How many different labels and bottles do you stock?

Zack: Around 160 labels, more than one thousand bottles at any one time and I use 15 different suppliers.


JP: What’s the most expensive bottle of wine in your cellar?

Zack: A Chateau Margot 1983, which retails for 75,000 baht – that’s about 2,350 US dollars or 1,550 British pounds. That said, there are more expensive wines that we have within the Group.


JP: What’s the best value wine under 2,000 baht a bottle?

Zack: Our Chilean Chardonnay Antano Hugo Casanova, at 1,700 baht.


JP: Why is wine comparatively expensive in Thailand?

Zack: There’s import duty of between 400% and 450% on non-Thai wines. There’s nothing restaurateurs can do about it and our profit margins on wine are much lower than in, say, Europe or America.


JP: What’s your best seller?

Zack: New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, by some distance.


JP: Which wine would you suggest be best paired with, a) Thai green curry, b) grilled fish, and, c) steak?

Zack: Go for an Australian Riesling with the green curry, a Sancerre (French) with the fish and the Italian Lucente Marchesi di’ Frescobaldi Super-Tuscan with the steak.


JP: And can you recommend a couple of good Thai wines to try?

Zack: A white Colombard (1,350 baht) and a red Shiraz (1,650 baht), both from Monsoon Valley vineyard.


JP: Do you sell wines by the glass?

Zack: Yes, we usually have six white, six red, a rosé and a Champagne on offer by the glass, with a good choice of grape varieties.


JP: Finally, Zack, what’s the best part of your working day?

Zack: I enjoy all of it. I love passing on my knowledge to the restaurant staff in our regular training sessions. I also work very closely with our Executive Chef, Don Lawson, pairing wines to his dishes. Most months we have special wine-dinner events where each course is accompanied by a recommended wine. And, yes, we do have to sample the food and many different wines to get the right combination! But, most importantly, I love advising our guests on their wine selections and talking about food and wine with them. It’s not just my job, it’s my passion.




Johnny Paterson


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