The Thai orange wine – the 2019 GranMonte Elements 2019 Chenin Blanc, first served at About Eatery restaurant on Monday – may not hold its own against either Old World or New World bottles yet. And Thai wines can be pricier than their foreign counterparts due to strict booze laws. But it’s a surprisingly quick development for a country with little winemaking history.
“Of course, wine made in a country that’s been making it for 20 years will be different from countries making it for centuries on centuries,” Giulio Saverino, sommelier of About Eatery said. “They will need to collect some vintage experience, but it’s impressive development for the time.”
In 2017, Saverino set up the restaurant’s first Orange Wine Week to introduce the country to wine that that’s on the scale between red and white: amber-colored with the fruitiness of the whites, the tannins of the reds, and cloudiness from lack of filtration. The orange color is made by having white grapes ferment with their skins.
In accordance with the natural wine movement, orange wines use wild yeast, and don’t use added sugars, colors, or oak chips to boost the flavor. Orange wines are also vegan, and don’t use animal intestines or bladders to filter the wine.
Saverino himself said the GranMonte Thai orange wasn’t quite ready – it still had a very sharp, on-the-nose, angrily citrus dryness, with a verdant scent and bitter aftertaste. However, after a glass was left to breathe a bit the wine was slightly softer, its scent hinting of molasses.
“This was bottled just now. It will taste better with a few more months in the bottle,” he said.
The price is 270 baht for a glass, 1,350 for a bottle. But it’s hard to justify choosing the Thai wine over imported ones, especially if drinking right next to the far-superior 2017 Maturana Torrontel from Chile, an orange wine with a rounded, floral nose of aromatic honeysuckle which goes for 190 baht for a glass, or the robust 2012 Ribolla Gialla Primosic from Italy, for 350 baht a glass or 1,750 for a bottle.
Indeed, Thailand’s alcohol and tax regulations often drive up the prices for locally-made alcohol, making them hard to compete with foreign imports. Local wines are subjected to both production and “sin tax” based on the amount of alcohol used.
The GranMonte wine, for example, is theoretically subject to a 10 percent sin tax, or a 150 baht tax per liter of pure alcohol. That’s on top of a 60 percent production tax, or a 2,000 baht tax per liter of pure alcohol.
“Three and a half years ago, when I first brought orange wine I was very afraid no one would drink it,” he said. Saverino then repeated a statistic he offered in 2017: “Still, the reception is great, especially since 70 percent of orange wine customers are women. It’s an alternative for those that don’t like very strong reds with tannins.”
This year’s third edition of Orange Wine Week will serve 37 different labels, including Old World, New World, and New Latitude wines, such as Thailand’s. Orange wines are food-friendly and can be paired with Thai soups, Indian curries, and so on.
New Latitudes are wines made in areas outside of the traditional winemaking areas between the 30 and 50 latitudes, such as in Thailand, India, and Brazil. Challenges to growing grapes and making wine here include humidity, insect infestations, fungus growth, disease, and so on.
Granmonte is a vineyard near Khao Yai National Park in Nakhon Ratchasima that has been growing grapes and making wine since 1999.