Published on November 7, 2007
Germany's Queen of Wine came to town a couple of days ago to put in a royal word for her homeland's wines with Thai drinkers. Not amused to be met with the news that German wines aren't popular here, she nevertheless announced her confidence that German riesling would soon be making strides in the Thai market because it goes very well with spicy food.
Sylvia Benzinger was crowned representative for German winemakers for a year by a jury of 80 leading lights in the German wine industry. She beat off claims to the throne from 13 other wine queens from around the country in an annual competition that tests knowledge of winemaking, marketing, politics, drinking and tasting.
Originally wine queen for her home region of Pfalz, located in southern Germany near the French border, next to Rhine, Benzinger comes from true winemaking stock. Both her mother and father's families own wineries and she herself got a first taste of wine at the age of just eight months.
Now 29, she's been charged with the marketing and PR for Leiningerhof winery in a small village of Kirchheim an der Weinstrasse district in the north of the Palatinate wine-growing region. Her sister is the winemaker in the family now, with her parents taking a backseat after three decades of hard work.
In her travels to spread the word for German wine she's been to places like Japan where sweet wines are already popular, but touching down in Bangkok she found that German wine is struggling for the attention of drinkers crazy for French tipples and swimming in choices of Australian wine at most supermarkets.
She joked that perhaps the reason for its lack of popularity was that Germans liked to keep their wine to themselves. "But that's not quite true," she explained. "In fact German wine sells well in many countries and hopefully before long, Thailand too."
During her trip she hosted a wine dinner at the Dusit Thani Bangkok, where connoisseurs were impressed with the sipping quality. "Though this is a good way to introduce the wine to drinkers here," she said, "more has to be done. But it's worth remembering that while Australia with its wines might be a lot closer to Thailand than Germany, German tourists are coming in droves to Thailand. And I think the wine will follow."
Swimming against the tide she may be, but Benzinger is determined to make her mission as a vanguard for German wines in Asia a success. Central Food Hall's Wine Cellar has just placed a couple of German riesling wines on the shelves, hoping consumers will be tempted into pairing it with spicy Thai food.
"Riesling is fruity with a refreshing acidity and long-lasting taste. Different labels vary in sweetness, and it's low-alcohol." German riesling, she added, is growing in popularity all over the world. "We had a riesling Week in New York where all the top restaurants did promotions. People tried it and liked it - that's why I'm introducing riesling to the Thai market."