Samui Wining & Dining
Why Break the Habit of a Lifetime?

... some Samui wine sipping suggestions.

 

27As a wine lover, I’m always disheartened when I hear comments, from what would seem like otherwise rational people, that they “never drink wine in Thailand.” Oh, please! A good bottle of wine, to accompany a sumptuous dinner, is vital to anyone who loves the good things in life. The culinary combination adds up to more than the sum of the two parts. And we all know that no other beverage will satisfy on the palate, when combined with food, the way wine does. Even the other classic meal-related beverages, like a dry sherry aperitif or an after dinner cognac, are wine related.

    There is undeniably something special about fermented grape juice amalgamating with the flavours of gourmet food. Sometimes it’s simply a balance thing, but often it’s something subtler too. Obscure, but distinctive, sensations can evolve on the taste buds. Even the bottle, and elegantly tactile wine glasses showcasing a wine’s vibrant hues, add to the sensory dining experience. Samui has a myriad of fine dining establishments, perfect for that romantic tropical evening. The often-gorgeous locations providing wonderful ambience, the high levels of service, and great food, are all in place. A good wine selection is the all-important, 'final piece of the jigsaw' for a meal to remember.

      There is no doubt that white wines are well suited to Samui's climate. Even an ardent red wine lover, like myself, has to admit that a refreshingly bone-dry or lusciously sweet (or anything in between), cool white wine is perfect for the balmy, fragrant atmosphere. It’s the reason why restaurants here, unlike most other places, serve more white wine than red. Of course, the popularity of dining on local fish and seafood also contributes. And white wine or rosé works far better for accompanying Thai cuisine. (To be honest, no style of red wine really works with spicy food.)

       A medium-sweet, medium-bodied white wine is best for balancing pungent Thai flavours. Varieties like Semillon Chardonnay or Australian style (sweeter) Rieslings will work well, as will the, usually sweeter, German white wines. A well-chilled rosé also holds its own against powerful Asian ingredients - an Italian Bardolino is an interesting choice with Thai fare.

       Personally, I prefer light, dry white wines. Good examples can enliven the palate with their clean simplicity. And again, it’s imperative that this type of wine is served very well chilled. Most light white wines are intended for drinking young, are not aged in oak, and are bottled with no residual sugar, so they are usually low in alcohol, perfect for daytime drinking. Some typical examples of light, dry wines suited to Samui, would be: French Pinot Blanc and Pouilly Sur, Italian Soave, Verdicchio and Trebbiano, and South African Chenin Blanc.

       It’s worth remembering the medium dry white wines really balance well with seafood. These wines are fruitier, and will benefit from some oak barrel ageing. And they will improve with further ageing in the bottle, so look for ones that are at least couple of years old. The obvious, shining example of a wine like this would be the rightly famous, Chablis from France. Others in this category include the French Pouilly Fume, any Chardonnay, Australian Semillon and Spanish (white) Rioja. Then, there are the particularly aromatic medium white wine gems, such as Italian Pinot Grigio, any Muscat or Californian, Kiwi and South African Sauvignon Blancs.

       No matter how fine the white wines are, for wine geeks like me, an evening’s dining is not complete without red wine ingestion. And fortuitously, the New World red wine options in Thailand are surprisingly good. In my humble opinion, for sheer quality, you need look no further than Australia. The Aussie wine growers are masters at making (and blending) Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Merlot. South Africa and Chile can also be good selections for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. However, if Pinot Noir and Red Zinfandel are your preferences, served slightly chilled, for Samui’s warm evenings, it might be best to choose Californian at the moment. Argentinian red wines are worth considering for good value for money, especially the often under-rated Malbec.

       Unfortunately, due to the very unfavourable tax situation in Thailand, prices are much higher compared to most countries. (It’s not a case of the restaurants charging a high mark-up. If anything, it’s the reverse.) I would expect to pay, depending on the standard of the restaurant I’m dining in, around 1,000 to 2,000 baht for a good bottle of wine. If you prefer something superior, for a special occasion, then you must expect it to cost something in the region of 3,000 baht. Unless money is no object, my advice would be to select a sparkling white wine over Champagne. Frankly, the difference in price is astronomical, whereas the difference in taste is often miniscule. However, if you simply cannot live without your high profile, famous-name vintage Bordeaux and Burgundy, then you will need to go to a five-star hotel to find them. And there is no need to further explicate the high prices you can expect to pay.

       For the rest of us, the good news is that, despite the high taxation impediment, Thai wine suppliers have been creative and intelligent in their selections for import. And as a result, the island’s wine lists have improved immensely over the last ten years. There are now some interesting (and refreshingly different) wine choices available. So please don’t break the habit of a lifetime while you are here in Samui. Who, in their right mind, really wants to eat a delicate, perfectly cooked fish dish, accompanied by sickly-sweet inky-black Coca Cola? Life’s too short. Choose a bottle of the good stuff with dinner tonight!

       

 

 Peter James


 


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