Monthly Archives: January 2014

Meeting the Vintners: GranMonte Asoke Valley, Khao Yai, Thailand

The vineyards of GranMonte Winery

The vineyards of GranMonte Winery

Disclosure: We visited GranMonte at the invitation of the owners who provided us with food, wine, lodging, and an awesome time. 

It’s been half a year now since Nina and I visited GranMonte Asoke Valley Winery in Thailand’s Khao Yai region. I published an article on Palate Press about our experience there (you can find that article here), but I wanted to expand a bit, because the word limit on Palate Press cut into my usual wordiness when it comes to winemakers…

As I indicated in the Palate Press article, I was initially skeptical of winery operations in Thailand and could not quite believe that a tropical climate was very suitable for the attempt. But my fellow blogger Rainer The Man from Mosel River, who at the time was living in Bangkok, convinced me to get in touch with the owners Visooth and Sakuna Lohitnavy, and see for myself. So, after our eight week whirlwind through Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, and fresh from Railay Beach, we embarked on the two and a half hour bus ride to Khao Yai. Khao Yai is a natural reserve in Eastern Thailand. The landscape is gorgeously hilly and lushly green. When we arrived at the drop off city Muak Lek, a driver from GranMonte was waiting for us and took us to the winery, which is nestled between hills and sits on property that Visooth’s father owned in Asoke Valley and which was previously used for corn and cashew production. I wasn’t prepared for how excited I would get by seeing vineyards after several months…it’s little joys that make the journey worthwhile, I guess…:)

More vineyards

More vineyards

Let me give you some background on the winery: GranMonte was founded in 1999 by Visooth Lohitnavy and his wife Sakuna. It started on approximately 12 acres, and now has reached a size of about 36 acres. The family opened a state of the art wine making facility in 2009 which has a maximum capacity of 120,000 bottles, although currently it produces around 90,000 bottles a year. GranMonte currently makes wines from Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin blanc, Syrah, Viognier, Semillon, Verdelho, and Durif grapes.

The winemaker is Nikki Lohitnavy, Sakuna and Visooth’s daughter, who grew up on the property and decided at a young age that she wanted to get into wine making. She studied at winemaking at the University of Adelaide, Australia, and is Thailand’s only female oenologist to date. For her young age, she has a ton of experience including harvesting and making wine in France, Brazil, and Portugal. She is full of energy and passion, entertaining and adventurous. We were glad to spend a considerable amount of time with her. It never ceases to amaze me how much passion these young winemakers bring to their job, and in that she reminded me a lot of some of the young winemakers I was fortunate to meet along the Mosel and in Rheinhessen. But Nikki seems even more impressive to me, because she was not born into a wine culture like most of the winemakers I know. So she does not have that background that many can rely on, and still is doing an outstanding job.

Hanging out with Nikki

Hanging out with Nikki

It is her and her father’s enthusiasm that is visible in the whole winery endeavor: They use top notch modern equipment like five weather monitoring stations that not just measure the weather but also the soil’s humidity, which has led to a marked reduced in their need (or perceived need) for watering. The vineyards are impeccably maintained. Being a young winery in a new wine region, they experiment with a ton of things, like harvesting grapes twice a year (turns out that’s not such a good idea since the vines just get very tired), or growing Riesling (also not a good idea, because the warm weather is not good for the cool climate grape). I really enjoyed seeing this adventurism at work, and it was great how open the family shared with us…

Touring the estate with owner Visooth

Touring the estate with owner Visooth

It’s impossible not to notice how much detail goes into everything: The staff at the winery’s tasting room is courteous and knowledgeable, the wait staff at the winery’s exquisite restaurant Vin Cotto just as attentive and hospitable. Every dish we tried was very well executed (I had an outstanding coq au vin, just to name one dish!).

What struck us the most during our dinner with our hosts was how food compatible the wines were. An example that stood out was the 2012 Heritage Syrah, one of their top line wines. We drank this wine with steaks that came with spicy oils: a more medium spicy Thai dip, and an insanely spicy tip with Brazilian chili peppers. My mouth BURNED! And yet, the Heritage Syrah was cutting through it like it was nothing. That was a stunning experience.

The wines we were able to try were good to very good, and impressed us quite a bit. There is a lot of craft and skill going into them, and I can only see them get better as Nikki keeps experimenting and learning. I will write up some of my tasting notes in an extra post.

The state of the art cellar

The state of the art cellar

All in all, we had a great experience at GranMonte. It is a perfect place to kick back and relax, enjoy some great Thai wine, and very good Western food. I assume it is not on many people’s bucket list, but the natural beauty of Khao Yai National Park can definitely be an attraction off the beaten path. Thailand, it turns out, is not just for beaches, but has joined the growing universe of wine production. And quite impressively so. I hope you can make a trip there and see, but more importantly, taste for yourself what they have to offer.

You can reach GranMonte, which is around 160 kilometers north east of Bangkok, via a taxi, bus, or mini-bus. I recommend getting in touch with the winery first, they can present you with good options on how to get there. We took the mini-bus and it was comfortable and cheap.  GranMonte also has a gorgeous guesthouse overlooking the vineyards. You can find GranMonte’s contact information here.

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How’s that for a tongue twister: Feuerzangenbowle

Die Feuerzangenbowle (Photo from Wikipedia)

Yet another “polar vortex” sweeping the Midwest is giving me a chance to write a post that I thought would have to wait until next winter. I meant to write it before Christmas, but then life got in between. So I relish this chance that Mother Nature has provided me with. Why could I only write this post in utter cold? Because of tradition…but let me begin:

If you type “Feuerzangenbowle” into Google, you will find a gazillion of hits for this term. Other bloggers, like John The Food and Wine Hedonist and Julian of Vino in Love, have written about it before, so I want to keep the intro part rather short. Feuerzangenbowle, usually translated as “Fire Tongue Punch”, is a German winter tradition. Most English-speakers are familiar with “Glühwein” aka mulled wine, and Feuerzangenbowle is an extension of mulled wine.

I never knew it existed until I entered University. One late November evening, my friends and I were talked into attending a screening of the movie with the same title. It’s a very ambivalent movie: It was shot and aired in 1944, a feel good movie to keep the German population distracted from the War, with one of Germany’s most popular actors Heinz Rühmann. It is set in the early 1900s and basically tells the story of an adult man going back to school in order to experience what school feels like. This in the day and age when German high school was pretty much the equivalent of American college…the movie is funny, and has become a classic. Why is it named Feuerzangenbowle? Because the idea to go back to school developed over an annual meeting of some older guys who love to reminisce about their school days while drinking the punch…you can read more about the movie on Wikipedia here.

Even without the movie, making Feuerzangenbowle is fun, and it is great to share with others. You need only a few ingredients, some of which are hard to get in the US: You need a bowl of mulled wine; alcohol (preferably rum) of over 100 proof; a fire tongue; and a sugar cone. While mulled wine and  rum are easy to find, a fire tongue and a sugar cone are actually pretty hard to get. When we made it before Christmas, we borrowed the set that John owns which comes with a fire tongue which looks like this:

A Fire Tongue (Photo credit:

The other ingredient is the “sugar hat” or “sugar loaf”, which fits exactly on the fire tongue. It was the standard shape in which sugar was sold in Germany for the first half of the 20th century, and since the punch originated then it became the standard shape for Feuerzangenbowle. It looks like this:

But fear not, when I recreated Feuerzangenbowle in late December in Alaska, I had neither a fire tongue nor a sugar cone. Trust me, it is doable without these, so that should not stop you! Like I said, it is visually quite stunning and very tasty. The way it works is that the sugar sits on the tongue on top of the mulled wine. It gets drained with rum, then you light the sugar on fire. As the alcohol burns off, it melts the sugar which drips into the mulled wine. It seriously looks like Northern Lights when the flames drip into the wine. Keep adding rum to the sugar to keep it burning (watch out for the flames might go up higher than anticipated!), and don’t be shy. Some will burn off, the remainder will just make the punch better! :) Once the sugar is melted, just take off the tongue and start serving the mulled wine in cups.

This is what it looked like when John made it in 2012:

Feuerzangenbowle at its best (Photo credit: The Food and Wine Hedonist)

I replaced the tongue with a cooling rack for baked goods and made my own sugar cone. It wasn’t cone shaped, but rather shaped like the bowl I made it in, but it was ridiculously easy to make: I just combined a cup of sugar with four spoons of water for each 3 quarts of wine I had. Once the sugar is combined with water, set it aside and let it dry out over night. If your environment is too humid, you can put it in the oven at a low temperature (150 degrees or so) to dry it out quicker. Just don’t let the sugar glaze. And there you have your lump of sugar you need.

My mulled wine recipe is fairly simple: Combine a box of Franzia Zinfandel with 8 sticks of cinnamon, three oranges and three lemons cut in wheels, and some vanilla aroma. Heat, but don’t let boil (it will ruin the flavor).

Put the cooling rack on top of the pot, set the sugar on top, turn off the light, drain in rum, light, and there you go. See? It’s really easy and now you have no more excuses not to try it because I told you how to proceed without a fire tongue and a sugar cone. Give it a try while the polar vortex is getting us. I promise, it warms you from the inside like nothing else. But beware, it can be quite potent….and this is what it ended up looking like in Alaska:

Feuerzangenbowle Homemade

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Sunday Read: New German Rieslings somewhere between dry and sweet

You wouldn’t believe how often I get to hear how Riesling is SO sweet. Yes, often it is. But then again, often it is not. What one has to understand about Riesling, at least in my opinion, is that as with all wines balance is key. Given that German Rieslings tend to have a significant amount of acidity due to the cooler climate they grow in and Riesling’s natural higher acidity, sugar in the wine is a key to balance that acidity. In years with lower acidity, like 2011, it was easier to make very dry wines because the acidity did not need that much sugar to balance it. In years with high acidity levels, I usually struggle with fully dry wines…

Throw in wine drinkers’ split personality: Many want to see the word “dry” on the label, and insist that they only like dry wine, but then prefer wines with some residual sugar in them that would qualify those wines as semi-sweet or off-dry. It’s a conundrum for wine makers, and the piece I am linking to today explores how German winemakers deal with this issue. Maybe we all should become more comfortable with the grey, in between areas. Some sweet, some dry, not either or. After all, it is the in between that is usually the more exciting area to explore…

Happy Sunday!

Jon Bonné: New German Rieslings somewhere between dry and sweet

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