It’s common knowledge, even among the uninitiated, that only grapes grown between the 30th and 50th parallels in both the northern and southern hemispheres are worth consuming and are the only ones worth writing about.
But the world, including the world of wine, is changing. There’s a lot of buzz as well as substance about newcomers to the wine world, thriving in the unlikeliest of locales.
Enter New Latitude Wines
Thailand has pioneered the production of these New Latitude wines, made from grapes grown in a narrow band between the 13th and 18th parallels. Not surprisingly, not one but two crops a year are standard in places where locals put on jackets if the temperature drops below 80 degrees. Even more radical are the wines being produced in Thailand from local fruits, herbs and yes, even roots.
Once hard to find, even in Thailand, now luxury hotels and leading restaurants in urban areas carry a sampling from all the established Thai vineyards.
Disbelief is the First Reaction
New Latitude wines are not likely anytime soon to seriously challenge either the range or quality of European, North American, Australian and New Zealand wines. When I mention Southeast Asian vineyards to Americans, I get one of two responses— “you are kidding me” or “that’s impossible to grow decent grapes at that latitude.”
Disbelievers would be utterly amazed to stand in a vineyard, surrounded by palm trees with an elephant ambling between the vines, or observe grapes being tended by long tail boat in the attention-getting “floating vineyards” south of Bangkok.
But memorable travel isn’t the place for snobbery and you will be missing a true cultural experience and some sipping surprises if you don’t visit a few vineyards and sample their products. As we found, that sampling is best done when paired with local foods. Proponents say that these wines are ideally suited to cool the palate, balancing the fiery spiciness of Southeast Asian food.
During a day of “speed dating” to preview resorts in and around Hua Hin, we took time over a glass of local wine to learn that the forward thinking management at one resort was already arranging day trips to visit the local vineyard and bringing the experts from the vineyard for talks and sampling some New Latitude wines.
Wine Passion Honed on the Classical European Model
Just past the legal age to imbibe, I spent three years in Europe, living in Germany in the Hunsruck Mountains smack between the Rhine and Mosel rivers. There, I honed my wine passion on some of the world’s most remarkable wines and, in the process, compared all my future wine encounters with that first love affair.
Flirting with some New Latitude offerings doesn’t replace that first love, but it is a delectable dalliance and one I strongly recommend.
Over the last few decades, my husband and I occasionally sampled the fruit wines in Southeast Asian countries. They were interesting but too sweet for our tastes, so we generally opted for a local beer or a familiar wine import. And then we began to hear about wineries dedicating themselves to vineyards based on the principles of classical European wines. Thailand exemplifies the use of Old World wine expertise and grapes to create new wine offerings, consistent with Thai cultural and culinary heritage.
Thai Food Paired with Local Wines are a Pleasing Match
It was in Bangkok that we had our latest experience with pairing Asian food and wine in a chance encounter that charmed and surprised us. One of our favorite things to do in Thailand’s capital is to take evening strolls down the city’s sois (small lanes off a main thoroughfare) chock-a-block with small restaurants and shops. Our goal is always the same— to find our evening meal without guidebook recommendations. We follow our noses and look for places where the locals eat and drink. We’ve never once been disappointed and, in the process, we continually find charming places to recommend for our travelers.
On this particular evening, we discovered a cluster of charming old wooden two-story houses, with a restaurant on one side and a spa directly across the soi. Which sensory delight should we try first? Our stomachs won, so we found ourselves seated in the narrow veranda of the restaurant where we were able to combine people watching with our Thai meal.
When our waiter proposed we select some local wines based on what we ordered, we agreed to be adventuresome. And we weren’t disappointed.
The wines we sampled were from Siam Winery, the largest producer of Thai wine and famous for its unique “floating vineyards”. My green curry arrived with a Monsoon Valley white that smelled amazingly like lemon grass and watermelon. My husband’s wine with spicy seafood was a nicely balanced Shiraz from the same winery.
And after dinner? We headed for the spa, up winding sets of stairs to a charming room with delicious smells and a sweet local woman who treated us to relaxing foot massages. We floated back to our hotel!
So who is to say, whether a decade from now, New Latitude wines will be more than a novelty and may even be considered the next Napa Valley on the wine map? On the other hand, these offerings were designed for tropical cuisine and its pioneering wine masters haven’t indicated they are interested in morphing into something else.
Talk about bragging rights! While everyone else is confined to their favorite varieties of European or California vintages, your travelers can say, “Let me tell you about this amazing Thai wine that was perfect with my fiery curry. I swear it smelled exactly like lemongrass.”
To find out more about New Latitude wines and how they can add sparkle to culinary travel, contact Nancy Harkrider at Explore Asia: [email protected].
Places to Sample Thai Wines in Bangkok
The V9 Bar
Sofitel Bangkok Silom’s V9
Hip wine bar and restaurant
188 Silom Road, Bangkok
Known for its wine/food pairings at special events in the lush gardens adjacent to the hotel
13/3 South Sathorn Road, Bangkok
Chateau de Loei Wine Shop
7/4 Soi Soonvijai, New Petchburi Road, Bangkok
Visit Thai Wineries
The vineyards are clustered so they offer day or multi-day excursions that include not the vineyards but Thailand’s premier cultural opportunities and outdoor adventures.
The Mae Chan Valley winery