Samui Wining & Dining
Rough Guide To Ordering Wine

The best picks when dining out on Samui.


22As a result of writing my humble monthly wine column, the task of choosing the wine for dinner, when with friends at a restaurant, is often given to me. Of course I don’t mind, but it’s not as enviable a position to be in, as one might first think. Because unfortunately, it is not just a simple case of my choosing a wine I would like to drink all night. No, it’s the far harder task of choosing wines that (hopefully) other people will like! And that’s not so simple.

    If it is a set menu, or if dining at a one-dimensional restaurant, like Italian for example, it can be fairly straightforward. But when everyone is ordering different items, from an extensive a la carte menu, it needs careful consideration. Especially if strong Asian flavours, such as those found in Thai cuisine, are involved. As your fellow diners are looking at dinner menus, it’s worth paying attention to their preferences. This gives you the opportunity to decide on which kind of wine will match well with their food. And on this very rare occasion, matching their food and wine, is more important than matching your own!

The climate here is a major factor. White wines are obviously most suitable for the warm weather and heavily seafood-based cuisine of Samui. I would recommend grape varieties like Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling. Ice-cold rosé can work well in the heat, and match very nicely with spicy Thai cuisine. And for red wines, Australian Cabernet Sauvignons, Shirazes, Merlots (and blends of these) are consistently reliable. South African and Chilean can also be good selections for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. However, if Pinot Noir is your preference (and a great Samui choice) it might be best to choose Californian at the moment.

      When picking the wines, it’s obviously worth quizzing people on their wine tastes. Although, there is always the danger that someone has chosen a red meat dish and yet still prefers to drink white wine. If so, simply order a medium-bodied Californian style Chardonnay (or Chardonnay blend) with some oak-barrel ageing, or a fruity, slightly sweeter aromatic white wine like Argentinian Torrontes. And if someone has chosen fish or seafood, but still prefers a red wine (it does happen). Pick a light-bodied one, like Pinot Noir or Merlot. Hopefully, this dilemma won’t happen and you can find a really good match for the selected fare. I cannot stress enough how vital it is to consider the food that the wine will be accompanying.

       Any seafood will be greatly enhanced by a slightly dry, crisp white wine. And red meats always combine well with medium-to-full bodied, fruity reds. Unless money is no object, when in Thailand, a safe bet will always be New World wines. And you don’t need to worry about recognized brand names, especially in the mid-price range. Most accomplished Aussie wineries consistently make well-balanced, finely structured, often gorgeously addictive red wines. However, when eating at one of the island’s many good Italian restaurants, it would make sense to order a typically acidic Italian red wine, as it would balance well with the tangy tomato based dishes. And when in a Thai restaurant, don’t overlook Thai wines. The best ones, like Chateau des Brumes and Chateau de Loei are tailor-made to balance spicy food with subtle sweetness and good acidity.

      It’s also worth remembering that, in general, women probably do prefer lighter wines and do not necessarily like very dry wines (but it pays to ask). And if you are really stuck on what to choose, then it doesn’t hurt to ask for advice. These days many of Samui’s top restaurants have some very knowledgeable people running things. Not only do they know how to match wines with food, but they also know their own particular wines.

      With a few notable five-star exceptions, most Samui eateries do not necessarily have the wine list they wish they could have. Exorbitant taxation on all imported wine is the culprit for this situation. So the chances are, they have been very careful and selective when compiling their wine list, and it’s well worth asking for their opinions and recommendations.

      My other suggestion, if dining with a larger group, and can select a few different options with the various foods, is to surprise your fellow diners. I know it main seem counter-intuitive to go with an out-of-the-box choice, like very dry sherry with a delicate fish dish, but it just may wake up a jaded over-pampered seasoned gourmet, bored by Cabernet Sauvignon blends and under-whelmed by “refreshingly crisp grassy New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.”

      Australian sparkling red wine is another inspired choice. Shunned by wine snobs, probably because of the common misconception about it being sickly sweet, it can match extremely well with any duck dish. And much like any light to medium dry red wine, it would effortlessly accompany most meat dishes, pasta, or even char-grilled tuna. Sparkling red wine is also so versatile that it is equally enjoyable when drunk on its own, it makes a superbly refreshing and different aperitif.

      And at the end of the meal, if your friends are still talking to you, suggest that they forgo the coffee with dessert. And order small glasses of tawny port. All tawny ports are sweet red wines bolstered with a little extra alcohol and intensity of flavour, which make them absolutely divine with any chocolate-based dessert. Like sherry, port is often perceived by the younger generation of wine drinkers as non-vinous and old-fashioned. And yet when introduced to it, they are often pleasantly surprised at its quality and sophistication.

Peter James


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