Titus Andromedon was onto something in his paean to middle class aspirations and…er, other things, on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Don’t know what I’m taking about? Take a minute and watch this video. I’ll wait.
Done? Mind: blown. Right? So though Titus was simply trying to find a few rhymes, he wasn’t far off from the truth. They actually do make wine in Myanmar…as well as a lot of other random places you wouldn’t expect. Here are a couple of my favorites.
You don’t think I’d put it in the title and then not elaborate, do you? I’ve actually visited about half of Myanmar’s wineries myself. Which means I’ve been to exactly one winery there.
This one, Red Mountain Estate, was nestled picturesquely in the hills above Inle Lake in the country’s central highlands. It’s got a Burmese owner, a French winemaker and…well, a slate of interesting wines made from its own grapes (they imported vines from Israel, France and Spain). Those include Chardonnay, a bubble-gum-pink Rosé d’Inlé, Shiraz and, yes, Pinot Noir. While you won’t see these outside the country, if you do happen to visit, chances are some of its selections will be on every wine list you come across, so be sure to order some.
You can also pay a visit to the winery itself, which has a tasting room and restaurant just a couple miles outside the town of Nyaung-Shwe.
One of the biggest surprises I got on a recent trip to the South Pacific was the chance to try a rosé made in Tahiti. Who knew they could make wine in such a tropical climate? Well, I do now, and if you get to that part of the world, you can taste it for yourself.
While you can find a lot of French labels on most wine lists here thanks to French Polynesia’s still strong ties to France (duh), you can usually find one of Vin de Tahiti’s wines by the glass.
The winery was started back in the early 1990’s by a French businessman with imported vines from France and Italy…most of which died in early experiments. Wah wah! But, through persistence and a lot of trial and error, there is now a thriving vineyard on an atoll of the island of Rangiroa. That’s despite many challenges including soil that is mostly coral, the constant pressure to keep saltwater out of the earth in which the vines grow, and a tricky growth cycle that requires two harvests per year in May and December.
Through sheer effort, will and innovation, though, the winery now produces a quartet of wines including dry and sweet whites and a rosé made from Carignan.
Although the wines are certainly drink-worthy, with some predictably tropical and mineral notes (the soil is mostly coral), the real draw is probably the novelty of drinking wine made from grapes (as opposed to pineapple wine, which you can try on Moorea) grown in Tahiti.
Southeast Asia is known for many things – flavorful cuisines, ancient cultures, sprawling cities – but wine isn’t one of them…until now. Turns out Thailand has had wineries for about 20 years now, and a formal wine association since 2004, with six members who adhere to a set of internationally consistent rules.
That said, there is still plenty to surprise (and delight), including fancifully named grape varieties like Pokdum and Black Queen, floating vineyards, and even vineyard tours…on elephants! You’ll find most of the wineries in the hilly regions of the northeast, or fairly close to Bangkok in the Chao Phraya Delta
While you probably won’t be bringing any bottles home with you (wine in Thailand tends to be prohibitively expensive), you should definitely try a glass or two if you find them on a menu. Among the best known are the Monsoon Valley Wine range from grapes grown in the Hua Hin Hills Vineyard.
Those are just three of the off-the-beaten-path places I’ve sampled homegrown wine lately, but there are more, and I’ll be sharing those in future posts!