How To Be A Wine Connoisseur Anywhere In The World
“Order wine at home,” writes Globetrotting Correspondent Paul Terhorst from his current base in Chiang Mai, Thailand, “and you generally know what you’re doing. Order wine in France, California, or another wine-producing area, and you can hedge things by asking for the house red.
“But what about in other parts of the world, here in Asia, for example, or in Africa? You face both language and cultural barriers. You’ve never heard of the wines you see in shops or on restaurant wine lists. You may know little about wine in the first place, and maybe you don’t care to become a global expert. What to do?
“We agree–nothing’s worse than being served a glass of worthless plonk with an otherwise fine meal. This isn’t our typical beat, but, in the spirit of doing everything we can to improve and support your life on the road, here are some tips for making selections you (and those sharing a glass with you) should be happy with, even when you have no idea about the options you’re choosing among…
“First, at the low end, go for a French merlot or cabernet sauvignon from the Oc region. The Oc can show up on the label as Pays d’Oc, Languedoc, or simply d’Oc. These wines generally cost less than US$5 a bottle, even with the punitive taxes you’ll pay in much of the world.
“And they’re delicious–nothing special but good value. The Oc region produces more than 50% of France’s red wine. Wine growers work hard to improve quality, to try to make people realize their wines are as good as some of the Bordeaux wines next-door. D’Oc producers make so much wine they compete to export more and more. You’re the beneficiary.
“With the euro heading south, d’Oc wines should become even better value in the future.
“A second low-end choice would be a Chilean red, at about the same price. Over the past two decades or so, Chileans have done a very good job of getting their cheaper wines to nearly every part of the world.
“Moving up the scale to mid-range, I prefer malbec reds from Mendoza or San Juan, Argentina. Until just a few years ago, Argentines kept their fine wine to themselves. Now they’re exporting, and you find these wonderful wines available in more and more countries. In addition to malbec, Argentina does a great job with cabernet sauvignon, syrah, and other red grapes.
“When choosing between two wines at the same price point–say two Argentine or Australian wines you’ve never heard of–choose the one with the higher alcohol content. Reason: More alcohol means the grapes had more sugar to begin with. More sugar means the grapes ripened more, which probably means there’s better fruit and other good stuff in the wine. To put it simply: The riper, the fruitier the grapes, the more sugar, the more alcohol, the better the wine. With nothing else to go on, it’s a fair inference.
“Medium-priced wines from the New World–Australia, South Africa, Argentina, Chile, and California–generally have 13% alcohol or more. Grape producers in the New World irrigate and enjoy better climates. They produce better fruit. European wines, on the other hand, have only 12% or so alcohol. Outdated European laws often prohibit irrigation. The threat of harsh fall weather means grapes must be picked sooner rather than later.
“One final tip: Avoid the local offerings. These days, even Thailand makes wine, along with Texas, India, and China. Sure, when in Thailand, as we are, it might be fun to try some Thai wine. But non-traditional wine regions tend to overprice their products. Thai wine, for example, often costs more than a bottle of good French, Australian, or Argentine wine, and it rarely measures up.
“You might want to try some Thai wine as a novelty. But when your meal demands a pleasant glass of red–and that’s the whole point, isn’t it?–avoid the local stuff. Stick to the imports.”