Several months ago, I was invited to a wine tasting at the Pacific City Club, an exclusive business club located on the top three floors of a 30 story office tower in the heart of Bangkok. While the venue was fabulous and there were panoramic views of the city center, more important were the oenophiles whom I met, both Thai and farang. The tasting was orchestrated by Bence Petho, an expat Hungarian, reformed banker who has since moved on to the nobler profession of wine importer.
Bence organizes several wine events each month, and I try to get to at least one. However, as I have since learned, I could probably find a wine tasting or dinner every night of the week within a few miles of the apartment. Many of the events feature winemakers who fly into Thailand from Europe, the US, or Australia to promote their wines. During the past two weeks, I went to two wine events, the first with wines from Hungary and the second with wines from Italy. The events take place at various local restaurants where the chefs prepare special menus that are designed to pair well with the wines.
Wine prices in Thailand are quite high because of the country’s tax and tariff structure. The tariff on wine is 54% and the nominal excise tax is 60%. However, the excise tax is based on the value of the wine, the import tariff, and the excise tax itself, which makes this a tax on a tax on a tax…. The ultimate limit on this infinite series boosts the all-in tax rate on imported wine to an astounding 390% as can be seen in the chart on the right.
While this rate might make some sense if Thailand had a domestic wine industry to protect, it doesn’t; the temperatures are simply too hot to grow grapes for fine wines. Thailand, however, does have a domestic beer industry and the high tax on wine is apparently a protectionist measure for the brewers. Thankfully, our U.S. government would never implement market-distorting tax policies to pick industrial winners and losers (just kidding, of course!) Anyway, before I go off on a rant about those lying, thieving bastards in Washington, let me get back to the wine dinners.
Bence’s most recent wine events took place at different restaurants on the last Thursday, Friday and Saturday in February. Each event featured wines made by János Konyári and marketed under the Konyári and IKON labels. Konyári, Hungary’s winemaker of the year in 2008, cultivates 30 hectares near Lake Balaton in southwest Hungary and produces around 150,000 bottles annually. His flagship wine is called Páva, which has been described as elegant blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.
The Thursday event with Konyári featured Hungarian food served tapas style; Friday’s dinner featured Italian specialties; and Saturday’s was French cuisine. I chose the Thursday dinner since I truly have no idea when I will again have the opportunity to enjoy Hungarian foods paired with the Hungarian wines in Bangkok. The restaurant served the 30 people in attendance 17 items on five plates accompanied by five wines (menu below). My only disappointment was that the meal did not end with a Tokaji dessert wine. The price, however, was remarkable — just $33 — and, as an added bonus, the venue was just 1 km from our apartment, so I had a very pleasant walk home at the end of the evening.
Three people with whom I sat at the Hungarian tasting told me about an Italian event that was coming up the following week at the Hyatt. They had reserved a table and were looking for a fourth to join them. After looking at the menu and wines, I quickly stepped up and accepted their invitation. Thus, this past Tuesday I was at my second wine dinner in under a week. When I asked one of the fellows how often he went to these dinners, he told me that he usually does eight to ten each month! While I applaud him for his stamina, I hope that his liver holds out since he has two pre-teen children.
Last Tuesday’s dinner at the Hyatt featured wines from the Tedeschi winery located in Italy’s central Valpolicella region. The family has been making wines since 1824, and Maria Sabrina Tedeschi, a fifth generation winemaker, was at the dinner in Bangkok.
Prior to dinner, we started with a 2009 Soave that was very well-balanced and eminently drinkable. Once the dinner began, we went straight to the red wines starting with two Valpolicellas — a San Rocco and a La Fabriseria — and ending with two Amarones. The Amarone Monte Olmi was unquestionably the highlight of the night. Grapes for this wine are harvested in late September/early October and then dried on racks until January. Over these months, they lose 30-40% of their weight. The nearly black wine was rich, intense, a bit spicy, and full of fruit and ripe tannins. It is very good now but it should get even better as it ages. The dinner ended with a Grappa.
Tuesday night was fabulous, but very late. Indeed, the biggest challenge with weekday wine dinners is that they invariably start late (typically because of the traffic), run for three hours, and often finish with “just one more.” Despite what some may think, I do have to go to work in the morning and the short night’s sleep makes for a long next day.
Kop Khun Krab.
© 2012 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.