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Guide to wine tasting in Thailand
Hua Hin Hills Vineyard
Located on a former elephant corral, the fertile sand, slate, and cool ocean breeze make this a prime area for grape-harvesting. Huan Hin Hills Vineyard rests peacefully in a hill and jungle setting, close to the Myanmar border and a convenient stop on the way to the Huay Monkol temple and the Pala U waterfall. In you are staying in downtown Hua Hin, the vineyard operates a daily shuttle that leaves from Market Village at 10:30AM and 3PM (about $9-$10 round-trip).
The vineyard takes up over 560 acres, and produces an array of Monsoon Valley vino varieties, including Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Chenin Blanc, Colombard, Muscat, Tempranillo, and Sangiovese. In fact, Hua Hin Hills is the only vineyard in Thailand to harvest the Sangiovese grape, which has hints of red berries. There are a few different ways visitors can sample the wines. First of all, there is the The Sala Wine Bar & Bistro, which features wine and food pairings as well as educational opportunities to learn more about winemaking. The other option is to sign up for a wine tasting experience, which starts at about $9 to sample 3 wines, and goes to about $41 to try 5 wines and pair them with tapas. Other unique and fun vineyard experiences offered include painting wine bottles, playing Pétanque, or exploring the vineyards via elephant, mountain bike, or jeep.
Siam Winery, which is affiliated with Hua Hin Hills Vineyards, is the largest winery in South East Asia and has a staff of over 1,000 that includes diverse and knowledgeable people from German winemakers to farmers to oenologists. They operate under a New Latitudes Wine perspective, which is basically a new way of looking at wine. The ideology looks at past beliefs about wine creation and combines them with innovation, new technology, and modern discoveries. Winemaker Kathrin Puff explains, "The New Latitude wines teach the right to be wrong. They turn the wine world up-side down. Whilst most wine books refer to the 30th to the 50th latitude as the wine growing country belt, countries like Thailand and India now prove this to be wrong."
The winery is located about 45 minutes west of central Bangkok and offers 2-hour tours that include a guided tour of the facility, 3 tastings with cheese and crackers, homemade grape juice, and a souvenir to take home. Tours cost about $16 ($6 if you're under 20 years of age and cannot drink the wine) and must be booked in advance by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also owned by Siam Winery, the floating vineyards are a unique way to experience wine tasting in Thailand. While they're not actually floating, as you can see in the photo on the right, the 1,000 acres of vineyards are situated on islands along canals. What's really interesting here is that the vineyard kind of acts as an optical illusion. From an arial point of view, the vineyards actually appear to be bouyant, while a closer look will show what's really going on. The unique landscape makes for an unusual harvest and production process, which you can learn more about through a visit. Make sure to sample white wine from the Malaga Blanc grapes and red wine from the plum-tasting Pokdum grapes, which are what the vineyard is known for. The vineyards are located about an hour southwest of Bangkok in the Chao Phraya Delta near the the Gulf of Siam.
PB Valley Khao Yai Winery
The PB Valley Khao Yai Winery produces 600,000 bottles of wine per year and the Founder, Dr. Piya Bhirombhakdi, recently received a South East Asia Wine Pioneer Award for his work in wine culture in Asia. Their vineyard is located in the northeastern part of Thailand, in the hillsides near Khaoyai National Park. The chilly temperatures, surrounding mountains that protect the vines, and little rainfall help make the area perfect for grape cultivation. PB produces three ranges of wine, including the Sawasdee Range, PB Reserve Range, and the Pirom Khao Yai Reserve Range. Visitors can sample these varieties through educational tasting tours of their vineyard and winery. Click here to view the various package options.
While The Sarojin isn't a winery or vineyard, it definitely caters to the wine enthusiast. This boutique 5-star resort is located in Khao Lak near Phuket and features many unique opportunities to sample the region's best wines. For the past 4 years, the resort's wine cellar, which boasts over 160 old and new world wines, has been given the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. Sam Bonifant, the Wine Director at The Sarojin, explains, "The old principles of what went with what were really quite limited and thus the challenge is to find what is best for the myriad of flavors which modern cuisine has to offer." To help guests experience these unique varieties, the resort offers degustation dinners with up to 10 courses each paired with wines by the resident sommelier, Dawid Koegelenberg. What's really unique about these dinners is that they don't just take place in an upscale restaurant, but literally anywhere you desire, whether it be under a jungle waterlit illuminated by candles, on a beach with the ocean's waves creating natural background music, or on your own private island. If you want to expand your wine knowledge, The Sarojin offers wine lectures both privately and as a scheduled weekly activity for a group environment. There are also cooking classes to help you enhance the culinary side of your vino pairings.
[photos via sherrattsam, Siam Winery, Rivard, PB Valley Kao Yai Winery, The Sarojin]