Samui Wining & Dining
Thank Goodness

Let’s all have a collective sigh of relief as we finally move beyond the ‘Old World’ wine myths.


Page27Feb If you are of a similar age to me (mid-50’s), then, like me, you were probably brainwashed during your formative years regarding the superiorities of French wines. When I first worked as a wine waiter in an up-market Bristol hotel, we were encouraged to recommend all the French classics, like Burgundies, red Bordeaux and Rhone Valley staples, such as Chateauneuf-du-Pape. And if anyone dared to ask for anything alternative, we would steer him or her towards an Italian Friuli or Tuscan stalwart, with Piesporter and other Mosels being the ‘correct’ choices for whites.

It was well over a decade later before I realized the blatant snobbery and misguided loyalty of this erroneous and anachronistic mindset. And that was when I tasted, for the first time, a Napa Valley Chardonnay (Stony Hill). Up until that moment, I believed that a white Burgundy was the most exalted wine on the planet. But the Californians had done it better with the Napa Valley Chardonnay!

Then came a deluge of similarly humbling moments; the best thing that can happen to a wine guy. I was exposed to the delights of Australian and Chilean red wines, all the structure and depth of flavours expounded in the French classics, without the (I now realize, totally unnecessary) rigmarole of complicated naming, and slavish appellation obsessions. I think most of us, now middle-aged, wine enthusiasts had our own personal New World wine revelation, sometime in the 1990s. And we can never go back. Besides, the New World is firmly established now, and is by no means complacent, with notable new areas constantly joining the ever-growing map.

Try some of the dynamic wines coming from the Margaret River and Barossa Valley regions of Australia. I once heard someone accuse Chilean wines of being boring; clearly this poor wine buff had never tasted the spectacular Syrah, from Chile’s Casablanca Valley which I had the pleasure of drinking recently. And I’ve just read about Long Island, New York, where they now make Sauvignon Blanc to compete with the outstanding New Zealand variety. Apparently, the maritime climate lends a freshness and earthiness to everything from their Pinot Grigio to Bordeaux-style blends. In my humble opinion, whatever your wine preference, whether it’s Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay or various blends, you will almost always taste more treble and bass in the fresh vibrant wines from the New World. Or to put it another simpler way, and as they like to say in California, “You get more bang for your buck.”

Whilst on the subject of New World versus Old World wine philosophy, let’s discuss terroir. Yes, we’ve all heard about the high esteem in which terroir is still held in France. But some of us are a little skeptical of it. And believe it’s time to get our heads out of the soil. The theory of terroir is the agricultural equivalent of the theory of aristocracy. You are as you were born. You are the Duke of Norfolk, or, if you are not, you are a commoner, and that’s that. People buy Château Margaux because it is Château Margaux – it’s grown on a particular piece of land. So much money is riding on this idea that it’s imperative, from a financial point of view, to maintain this extremely profitable mystification of real-estate. There is no traditional word in French for ‘winemaker’; they prefer to think of us humans as mere servants to the precious soil’s desire to express itself. Of course, grapes grown in different places taste different. That’s an unarguable fact. But so much has to happen to those grapes before they end up in our glasses. And someone, the winemaker, has to call all those shots. Even if you supplied ten different restaurants with identical food, you would expect ten totally different results. Are we really expected to believe the work of a winemaker is less complicated to that of a chef? Wine making is very similar to cooking. The chef creates the final dish, for better or for worse. He takes the blame for any bad results, and, likewise, he should take the credit for good ones too.

Another welcome shift in attitudes I’ve noticed is that the modern wine consumer is more ready to try something new or unusual. Sure, we all have our favourite wine styles and food/wine combinations. But we’re no longer afraid of choosing something different, such as innovative sparkling red and rosé wines. Sumptuous Australian sparkling red wines are a revolutionary pleasure. Shunned by wine snobs, but adored by the masses down-under, these effervescent wines will unquestionably please a wide cross-section of the open-minded wine drinking public. Exotic in that rarely do you see sparkling red wines outside of Australia. They usually taste fabulous, with lots of fruit, blackberry and occasional spots of pepper, chocolate and a lot more. Contrary to popular misconception, they are not over-sweet. And ‘Pink Champagne’, as the marketing people like to call sparkling rosé, is a delicious treat when paired with fish or poultry (or dessert). At a dinner party, people feel you are spoiling them when serving sparkling wines, and let’s face it, you can’t go wrong with bubbles at most social occasions.

In today’s liberating free-and-easy culinary scene, less traditional food and wine pairings are also being embraced. Recent wine trends have brought together some wonderfully imaginative pairings, such as oily fish (like grilled wild salmon) with red Zinfandel. And a festive roast turkey matched with Australian sparkling Shiraz contributed to a wonderful and memorable Christmas lunch for me a couple of years ago.

Wine today doesn’t need to be stuffy. And thank God for that. When I was a young wine waiter, it had to be treated as if it were something sacred. Available only to the privileged few, and certainly not something one could easily joke about. Luckily, we now live in a far more relaxed and equal society. And for many of us, wine is a part of our everyday life, and we do with it as we please, thank you very much.






Peter James

Wine Guru



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