Wine bars of Bangkok: Enjoyment over expense
Wine lovers in Bangkok have a number of obstacles to negotiate. First, there’s the cost, with exorbitant duty meaning that for most of us a decent vintage is a rare treat rather than an everyday indulgence. Then there’s the climate, which can destroy a fine wine within weeks, unless you’ve invested in expensive storage facilities that regulate temperature and humidity.
But above all, it’s the culture. Despite the best efforts of Thai wine makers and enthusiasts, this is a beer- and whisky-drinking nation, and for many people there’s still an aura of elitism about fermented grapes. Some high rollers seem content to go by price alone; I remember when I first came to Bangkok, being near a table of well-dressed Thai-Chinese businessmen who ordered a second-mortgage-level Burgundy -- and proceeded to drop ice cubes in it.
Some big hotels, such as the Mandarin Oriental and Lebua, have huge cellars, well stocked with legendary labels, and price tags to match. But here’s a small selection of places where they’ve remembered that wine drinking should, above all, be enjoyable. They know how to choose wine, and how to keep it, and how to make a suggestion to the less confident drinker. And the bill won’t leave you hung over.
A laidback establishment, a little hard to find, where the menu of Italian classic food is something of a backdrop to the wine. Owner Nicola Bonazza is happy to guide newcomers through the excellent 300-label list. “People often start with Sicilian wines,” he says, “because they’re the most similar to New World styles. But if you want something distinctively Italian, we have some really special Piedmont wines.”
39 Sukhumvit Soi 27. Tel: +66 (0)2 258 4386. www.enotecabangkok.com
The restaurant is 100 percent Italian, as is the brand new cafe, but the darkly atmospheric wine bar covers all the main Old World regions, with a particularly good Spanish selection among the 400+ bottles. Ebullient owner Mr Harry recommends a 2005 Termanthia: “An elixir,” he declares.
53/1-2 Sukhumvit Soi 39. Tel: +66 (0)2 258 5606. www.lopera-bangkok.com
The newest establishment on the list, Opus is a stylish but relaxed place, mid-way between Silom and Sathorn, where top-notch cuisine is complemented by a walk-in cellar of 300 mostly Italian bottles, plus a few champagnes. Owner Alex Morabito is always on hand to suggest the most elegant match; maybe consider a Greco di Tufo, from Avellino.
64 Pan Road. Tel: +66 (0)2 637 9896. www.wbopus.com
Unlike some of the other recommendations, Tapas Café doesn’t boast a vast list of wines; you can choose from about 40 bottles, with very few of them taking you over the 2,000 baht mark. But they’re an impressive 40, chosen to match the addictively good snacks and nibbles that give the place its name. Try a gutsy Rioja, or a Galician white -- especially good with seafood. Owner Guy Jackson has another place, Spanish on 4, on Silom, and it’s just as good.
1/25 Sukhumvit Soi 11. Tel: +66 (0)2 661 2947. www.tapascafebangkok.com
The Wine Loft is mainly a retail operation, but its outlets (in Sukhumvit 31 and Thonglor, with a new branch opening soon in Langsuan) also offer seating from which guests can enjoy a civilized glass, often to the accompaniment of a DJ or live jazz. “Prosecco’s always popular,” says brand manager Nisakorn Sihanatkathakul, “and customers also like fruity Napa Valley styles. But we organise tastings where they can try something new.” Current recommendation: Frescobaldi Nipozzano 2006, with 91 points from Wine Spectator.
24/1 Sukhumvit Soi 31, tel: +66 (0)2 260 0027. Market Place Thonglor, tel: +66 (0)2 392 2080. www.wineloft.com
Also worth a look:
- Bacchus, 20/6-7 Ruamrudee Village. Tel: +66 (0)2 650 8986
- V9, Sofitel Bangkok Silom, 188 Silom Road. Tel: +66 (0)2 238 1991
- Vino di Zanotti, Soi Yommarat, Saladaeng. Tel: +66 (0)2 636 3811
- Wine Bridge Plus, 99/15-16, Langsuan Soi 7. Tel: +66 (0)2 251 7767
- Wine Pub, Pullman Kingpower, 8/2 Rangnam Road, Kweang Thanon-Phayathai. Tel: +66 (0)2 680 9999