Every year a parade of wine dignitaries from some of the world's most highly touted brands visit Bangkok and its environs to conduct tastings and promote their handiwork. And every year they are asked why they spend time in a country that persists in strangling wine sales with outrageously high and capriciously applied taxes. Most reply that they recognise this impediment but want to maintain a presence, hoping for better days and wiser policies.
They also remember the mid-1990s when people began appreciating wine, which resulted in double and triple annual sales increases until the '97 economic debacle. At that time Thailand was the 12th-largest purchaser of Bordeaux wines in the world. Now it's barely an asterisk on sales charts.
Although many top-quality wines continue to be enjoyed, locally learned estimates are that only one bottle in 10 is capped with the badge of revenue rape known as a tax stamp.
Despite government policies that nourish a growing black market and ignore the primary cause of alcohol abuse in Thailand - cheap domestically distilled whisky - premium winery stars keep coming. And we happily continue trading our traditional hospitality and great food for their encouragement and superb wines.
This year got off to an auspicious start with the presence of Henri Lurton, owner-winemaker of Chateau Brane-Cantenac, a Grand Cru-class Margaux property. For the modest price of Bt3,000 patrons of La Grande Perle restaurant in River City mall revelled in a vertical tasting of six vintages of Lurton's meticulous work. Six creative courses featuring foie gras and succulent chateaubriand complemented the wines at the dinner co-hosted by Bangkok Beer & Beverage.
Pouring Brane-Cantenac from '05, '04, '03, '02, '00 and '96 provided a rare sampling of powerful vintages that have propelled the price of Bordeaux wines to all-time highs. Lurton noted that his '05 vintage is only starting to show its depth and complexity and requires much more time to develop.
He described '03 as his most difficult vintage in a decade due to extremely ripe fruit from a blistering hot year. The '00 and '96, from near perfect years, were beautifully balanced with the '00 brimming with berry and floral fruit. Chateau Brane-Cantenac, like all classified Bordeaux wines, can be purchased from any distributor who chooses to order them through various negociant suppliers.
Take note of three formidable French wine dinners coming up: Tomorrow, one of Burgundy's best producers, Laurent Ponsot, will present his Cote de Nuits Grand Cru Clos De La Roche wines at Le Normandie, Oriental Hotel. Reservations at (02) 659 9000.
On March 11, Jean-Michele Cazes will pour wines from four of his estates including Grand Cru-class Chateau Lynch-Bages at a 7pm dinner at Landmark Hotel's RR&B restaurant. Reservations at (02) 254 0404.
On March 13, also at Le Normandie, there's a vertical tasting and gourmet dinner with Bruno Eynard, manager-winemaker of the Grand Cru-class Chateau Lagrange, Saint Julien, Bordeaux.
JC Eversole is a consultant to various companies in
the wine industry and is employed by Bangkok Beer & Beverages.