Wines of the World - Exploring in India & Southeast Asia
Merry Christmas to all!
Susan and I are just back from a post-harvest trip overseas to India, Thailand and Hong Kong. Part of the reason we travel is to eat, drink and relax, but more than anything is the inspiration and renewal that helps us be better winemakers/chefs and hopefully humans. After this last trip, here are just a few thoughts or observations I would love to share.
While we are all aware of the poverty that India is famous for, the young generation of professionals there are welcoming in an exciting new age. As more and more citizens work for western companies and travel abroad, they are bringing back with them not only the desire to eat a range of new foods from other places but also to drink wine and other alcoholic beverages. Susan and I often speak of how lucky we are to be born in these times where daily our tables are set with flavors from all corners of the world. Susan’s father who was born in the Ozarks in Missouri was 21 before he had anything along the lines of Chinese food or pizza.
We were fortunate enough to be invited to a wedding where there was no alcohol, but those young professionals we spoke with all mentioned their love of wine and drinking with friends. For both Susan and I, it was an interesting two weeks in the north and south as we rarely had the opportunity to drink wine or beer. The experience reminded me of the French saying that "a meal without wine is just food." The culinary future of this country is great, and in time, many of the obstacles of the past will melt away. Susan and I took wine as a wedding gift but brought a few bottles of Riesling that we enjoyed with the great flavors of Northern and Southern India. This is the variety of choice for me with the complex flavors and textures of the classic Indian masalas.
Thailand in ways was the same, but further along the curve. It has been a long 15 years since my last work trip to Thailand while I was working at Robert Mondavi. At that time, there were a few high rises dotting the skyline. Today the city is so modern, with clusters of these professional and residential towers dotting the skyline for as far as one can see. Bangkok is one of the most international cities in the world today. The cuisine that we experienced there were the best of those from around the world. An example of this was a French restaurant called JP’s in the Sukamvit neighborhood of Bangkok. JP, short for Jean Pierre, came to Thailand 13 years ago and never looked back. His classic cuisine matches what we eat on a regular basis on our trips to that great culinary country. You name a world class cuisine and you can find it there. Unlike India, there is wine and beer everywhere, but in the famous street food market, it comes at a price. The current tax on all alcoholic beverages is 300%, making all but the cheapest versions of wine inaccessible. It was not unusual to see wines like Yellow Tail sell in restaurants for $50.00 a bottle. We were told why the government does this, but it does throttle back the wine and food scene - only slowing their culinary evolution. I am sure in time this will fall by the wayside as well. The flavors of Thai cuisine and the fusion of all other recently introduced flavors once again match perfectly with the aromatic whites and lighter, fresher reds like old school Oregon Pinot Noir. The Thai climate begs for this as well and I can tell you we enjoyed more than a few crisp whites with our Pad Thai and sautéed calamari.
Once again wine makes the world small. Our experiences on this trip were all made more personal speaking about Oregon wine and our culinary traditions, and it just reinforced my favorite wine saying that, “Water separates the peoples of the world and wine brings us together.” It is going to be an interesting and beautiful future as we share this magical ingredient in the good life.