Hong Kong-based James Suckling is one of the world’s foremost wine critics. The Los Angeles-born CEO of JamesSuckling.com and Wine Editor for Asia Tatler was recently in Bangkok and says he sees Thailand as one of the most exciting premium wine markets in Asia.
“It’s not widely known,” says Suckling, “But Thailand has many more consumers of fine wines than, say, China. I define premium wine consumers as those who regularly buy wines that cost above US$20 or 650 Baht a bottle, and when I came to Bangkok in May 2014 to meet top importers and assess the wine business here, what surprised me was the dynamism of the market. Despite high levels of tax, it has a much larger segment for premium wines than China. In fact, the Chinese market is overrated. Mainland China has only 100,000 buyers of premium wines compared to 300,000 in Hong Kong and 600,000 in Thailand, a figure that takes into account sales to high-end tourists.”
Having realised the potential of the Thai market, Suckling made the decision to bring Great Wines of Italy, Asia’s largest premium wine tasting extravaganza, to the Kingdom. The event, held last month at the Grand Hyatt Erawan, showcased more than 120 Italian wines that Suckling rates at 90+ points or more.
“The wines we pour at all our events have to be top quality, which is why I set the entry level at 90 points or more as rated by myself. Below this I don’t think the wines are worth drinking today. One third of premium wine sales in Thailand are Italian. Here, for example, Prosecco is particularly popular with annual sales of 500,000 bottles. Champagne sales are just 20,000 bottles, mainly purchased for year-end festivities,” Suckling explains.
A further testament to the growing popularity of fine wines here is that Thai traffic to Suckling’s website ranks fourth behind Hong Kong, London and New York. Hence the wine guru’s introduction of a Thai language newsletter, which already has over 10,000 readers.
“All the indications that I am seeing are good for the future of Thailand’s wine trade,” he says. “In fact, Thailand has interesting emerging wine trends. The younger generation, especially single professional women, are becoming more and more interested in wine, which has led to the expansion of wine bars. There isn’t the same culture in Hong Kong.”
Interestingly, Suckling says consumers should forget trying to apply the western food and wine pairing approach with Asian food. “It doesn’t work. Simply drink what you enjoy. I am surprised when people say they don’t drink wine because they don’t know enough about it. Just open a bottle and pour! Wine is like art and literature, a pleasure you don’t need to understand in order to enjoy.”
Phuket Restaurant Raises the Wine Bar
Congratulations to Aziamendi at Iniala, Phuket! The restaurant recently dominated the Wine List of the Year Thailand 2014 awards, scooping top spot in the Best National List and
Best Wine by the Glass categories. The swish eatery also took the award for Best Restaurant/Wine Bar in the Phuket region. According to the international judging panel, Aziamendi’s wine list is, “impressive, well researched and well balanced”.
The list, under the expert assemblage of resident sommelier Fabien Ettiene, boasts logically presented “pleasingly esoteric selections” of a wide range of wines from around the world. According to Chairman of Judges, Peter Scudamore-Smith MW, “Lists such as Aziamendi’s are shining lights which make customer wine selection in Thailand a simpler task.”
“We wanted to create a wine list that focused on every region of the world with over 300 labels,” says Ettiene. “Our aim has been to offer wines that aren’t found everywhere else in Phuket. Tasting menus are a key part of the Aziamendi dining experience and account for 85% of our sales. On page two of the menu each month I select one bubbly, two whites, two reds and one sweet wine and share the stories behind the wines. I choose wines that have impressed me, wines that the customer most likely won’t know and without this introduction mostly likely wouldn’t try.”
Wine List of the Year Thailand 2014 also saw Tables Restaurant at Grand Hyatt Erawan pick up awards for Best Cellar and Best Restaurant in Bangkok/ Region. This reflects the hard work of head sommelier Supapong Mekprasart who says that the restaurant no longer has sponsored listings but selects wines that offer quality and value for money.