Believe me, I didn’t even know that any Thai wine was going to be available when I trundled up to Chateau Angelus, a Premier Grand Cru Classe in St.Emilion for a tasting of their en primeur. I had already tried their wine earlier in the day but we decided to stop by the chateau and see what other wines they had on tasting.
The en primeur tasting of the 2010 Ch. Angelus as well as it’s second label and other wines from around St. Emilion were sequestered upstairs in a private tasting room overlooking the vines but on the ground floor of the visitor’s centre, as you walked in to the right, they had set up a tasting of wines that Ch. Angelus consults on in various parts of the world.
And this is where I encountered two smiley, happy faces as a I walked by. I lived in Thailand for a few months back in my English teacher days and have always found the Thai people to be extremely hospitable. How could I not stop and try the wines? Also, I was intrigued to find a Thai wine in a Premier Grand Cru Classe chateau in the middle of Bordeux. Nikki Lohitnavy, GranMonte winemaker and a Thai sommelier working in California, Tina Tepmsomket, were behind the table happily pouring wine.
“Would you like to try the wine”? Tina asked me. There was a selection of 1 rose, 1 white and 2 reds. I inquired about the rose and Nikki told me it was off dry, like a California zinfandel. That did it for me, white it was. The GranMonte 2009 Sole chenin blanc, a blend of 95% chenin blanc and 5% viognier that had been made with wild yeasts. I sniffed the wine, hmmm, floral, white fruits on the nose, then, a sip, swish and spit. Creamy on the palate due to 20% of the wine being barrel fermented, white fruits and spice coming out followed by a good zip of acidity to wash it all away. This was not what I was expecting. Instead of a fat and flabby white, here was a fresh, dry, white wine that would be comfortable on any table.
Nikki, the winemaker, was pleased that I was surprised by the quality of the wine. She said that that is a reaction she often gets. Thai wine does not have any reputation, or if it does, it’s for making terrible wines. Nikki and her family, however have been making wine in the Asoke Valley, in the Khao Yai region about 250 kms outside of Bangkok for over 10 years now. Khao Yai means “big mountain” in Thai and the founders translated the name into the Italianate GranMonte. Thailand is usually noted for it’s hot weather and fertile soils but the Khao Yai region is notably cooler and the vineyards of GranMonte are situated at about 650 meters. It was Nikki’s father, Visooth Lohitnavy who had a dream to own a vineyard. After a successful career as a businessman in Thailand, he started his vineyard. Nikki is now the winemaker and besides the chenin blanc, she is also making a shiraz and shiraz blend. I found the reds to be soft and fruity, more like wines from the New World.
The wines of GranMonte are building a reputation outside of Thailand not only because of the novelty value of being a Thai wine but also because they are actually well made and good. I’d like to try the other wines of Thailand now, my interest has been piqued.