HUA HIN HILLS VINEYARD PROVES IT’S NOT A JOKE…AND WORTH A VISIT!
by Philip Sinsheimer
Photo: Cesare Zucca, Philip Sinsheimer
It’s harvest season and 2017 appears as a challenging vintage in Europe (“a catastrophy” in Italy according to our host Cesare Zucca). Climate has always been a nail-biting stress factor in wine production and the recent warming observations are not helping… Well, not helping everybody! If some predict the growing production of wines in small Northern players such as the UK, Southern European big producers are feeling the heat and are worried. Wine geography has seen many changes with the emergence of “New World” wines of North America, as well as Chile, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa in the Southern hemisphere. But wines of decent quality in tropical countries had never come to my attention… Until the discovery of Mansoon Valley wines in Thailand! During our one month trip in Southeast Asia at the beginning of the year, I had conditioned myself to limited opportunity of interesting wine discoveries. I was ready to enjoy the beers of the various countries visited and an occasional bottle of rather generic imported wine. But, our initial stay in Bangkok at the Centara Grand Central World already gave us a taste of how serious the wine lists were at its various restaurants.
When we visited their sister property Centara Grand Beach Resort & Villas Hua Hin , around 3 hours South of Bangkok in the historic royal beach town of Hua Hin. The Centara Hua Hin is a magnificent venue designed to evoke the spirit of the 1920s. Colonial influences meet modern-day comforts and soothing views are to be had of the swimming pools or the magic gardens, populated by grass elephants and other animals.
The hotel opened at a time when the new railway line to Malaysia was transforming the sleepy fishing village of Hua Hin into Thailand’s first beach resort.
Sensitively extended and renovated, Centara Grand Beach Resort & Villas Hua Hin retains its air of that bygone age of elegance. I had an even greater surprise during our meal at the elegant, yet relaxed Suan Bua restaurant: a local white wine was offered to go along the traditional Thaï dishes, from shrimp with mango salad to roasted duck in red curry.
I have to say I was skeptical, but all preconceptions disappeared after a few sips of this Mansoon Valley colombard, both crisp and delicate, with exotic fruit and citrus aromas, along with floral notes. Wow! Perfect pairing with the lemongrass used in the dishes and perfectly cooling to counterbalance the heat of the chilies.I was very curious about it all and the adorable staff of the hotel arranged a visit to the vineyard located less than an hour away. The drive was a beautiful occasion to see a bit of the country side with many fields, mainly pineapple plantations. What a surprise to see in the background of one of the most iconic tropical fruit a well manicured vineyard of over 100 hectars. The surprise does not stop there, as I had the opportunity to tour the property on the back of an elephant (if you’ve never done this, just be prepared, it’s a beautiful, but rather rocky ride). The large and elegant tasting room dominates the valley and one can appreciate the key position of the vineyard that benefits from a cooler micro climate with breezes coming from the hills. This is essential to the production of wines that do not taste “cooked”. It’s also the occasion of learning about who is behind this incredible business operation: a man whose name you may not know, but whose fortunate was made by a beverage you definitely have heard about. No, not wine… Red Bull! Chalerm Yoovidhya is among the richest man in Thailand with a fortune approaching 10 billion US dollars according to Forbes this year. Upon returning from his studies abroad where his taste for wine was developed, Chalerm took up the challenge of growing grapes in his native Thailand and show the world that great wines can be crafted even at the 13th latitude of the northern hemisphere. New World wines are old, new latitude wines are in! Hua Hin Vineyards is actually one of three vineyards he owns, but it serves as the flagship of the Mansoon Valley brand. The winemaker is German born Kathrin Puff, who worked in several wineries in Italy and New Zealand before meeting this tropical challenge with brio. I had the chance to sample a few of the large collection of wines available at the vineyard and all showcased a serious winemaking expertise. A brut blanc de blancs, showacses the delicate a floral notes of chenin blanc, colombard and viognier grapes that compose this traditional champenoise method sparkling. Besides the colombard white, I tried the medium sweet chenin blanc, which was not cloying at all and promised a nice pairing with spicy meats dishes and seafood salads. Among the two high-end “Cuvée de Siam” bottles, made with the best grapes of chosen parcels, I was really impressed with the red, made with the oldest vines of shiraz and sangiovese, aged in French oak barrels and bottled unfiltered. The result: a spicy wine combining medium tanin and long finish (which earned 84 points by Robert Parker). The white was a serious wine, but lacked a bit of the freshness so pleasant in the other more simple whites. To finish on a sweet note, the chenin blanc late harvest with a nice balancing acidity invites to be enjoyed along with seared foie gras, aged gorgonzola or a more local mango, sticky rice and coconut dessert. Yes,!
Good tropical wine is a possibility and Hua Hin is the place to go to check it for yourself!