Monday, November 26, 2007

The Naked Vine in Monsoon Valley

There are occasional perks to being a shamelessly self-promoting fledgling wine writer. Every now and again, perks appear. Several weeks ago, I was working with my fellow blogger Harlan Weikle, proprietor of "Here's Cooking at You, Kid." (Click on the picture of Bogie in the sidebar to check his stuff out.) We did some commentary on the Build a Better Burger contest.

Through a series of tangents after the Thai burger ended up winning, I ended up emailing a representative from Red Bull in Britain. Turns out Red Bull is exporting wine from Thailand. The wine is called Monsoon Valley and is supposed to be made specifically to pair with food from that part of the world. The guy said that he'd send me a couple of bottles to sample. I was, of course, agreeable.

I never realized how difficult it was to get wine shipped internationally. After hangups in customs, with import regulations, and with missing the shipper for delivery numerous times, I eventually landed three bottles. The duty charges ended up being more than the wine itself, but that's another story…

Anyway, Monsoon Valley -- the idea of it is pretty fascinating. If you check out their website, you'll learn that they can get two harvests a year from their grapes, many of which are grown on "floating vineyards." Considering that most grapes grow best in almost arid conditions, it goes to show you that where there's a will and a wine press, there's a way. (Although, for a good laugh, watch the "Floating Vineyards" video. I've never imagined grapes harvested with golden shears by attractive, well-groomed Thai women…)

How were these wines? We broke out some Thai recipes, opened the wine, and…

Monsoon Valley 2006 Blended Red Wine -- The first we had a chance to try. This wine is a blend of Shiraz and the native Pokdum grape. The nose is soft with some berry and cherry scents. It's not a heavy wine in the slightest -- the light body has a decent amount of fruit, and finishes dry and a little bitter, like coffee. I wanted to make a Thai dish to pair, and we settled on a green curry with beef and potatoes over some rice noodles. One of our favorite recent recipes was a Thai-flavored beef salad, and the suggested pairing was Beaujolais. This wine is very much along those lines, and it complimented the curry quite nicely. Most reds wouldn't have been able to handle the spices in this curry. Like Beaujolais, it also should be served chilled.

Monsoon Valley 2007 Blended White Wine -- Next up was this blend of the native Malaga Blanc grape along with some Columbard. On first taste, I was a little disappointed. This is a very thin wine. By "thin" -- I'm not just referring to the light taste, but it seemed somewhat watery. There was some fruit on the nose and the finish quickly drifted off. We were a little unsure of what to expect from a food pairing so I decided to play it safe, or so I thought, by doing a Thai hot & sour soup. We often enjoy doing soups as entire meals. I took a wrong turn at Albuquerque (or Angkor Wat, as the case may be) with my chilies and lemongrass and ended up creating a broth that was…well…a challenge to work through. I think this one might have even given my asbestos-palated friend James pause. Even so, the wine actually stood up nicely to the heavy heat. The fruit came out more strongly, and it certainly cooled the fire a bit. However, we ended up going to a plan B for much of dinner, and I ended up being able to refinish some furniture with what was left of the broth. Still, a surprising backbone if you want a wine to go with something super hot.

Monsoon Valley 2007 Blended Rosé Wine -- The last of the three, a blend of Malaga Blanc, Columbard, and Shiraz. We decided to go a safer route -- I did a pretty basic chicken stir fry with veggies and some Thai seasonings (along with some of the shrimp and mushrooms that I strained out of the aforementioned varnish-stripping soup) to accompany the rosé. The nose was an interesting blend of pears and flowers. The flavor, though, was odd. The body of the wine was almost soapy. There wasn't a ton of fruit and much like the white, the finish wasn't all that crisp -- it simply drifted off. And, like the previous two wines, the rose didn't show its true colors until we got it next to some food. Once again, it stepped up to the challenge. The soapiness buoyed the flavors of the wine against the spices and it became a decent quaff with dinner.

The tagline for Monsoon Valley is "Thai Wine for Thai Food." I agree. I wouldn't recommend it if you're just going to sit around a have a glass either before or after dinner, but if you're planning to have some spicy food; this is probably a good choice. All three of these wines are right around $9.

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