As you might have noticed from previous posts, I am struggling to find a decent bottle of (preferably red) wine at a reasonable price in Thailand. I decided to investigate why this proves to be such a challenging task. After all, Australia is relatively close by and makes respectable fermented grape juice. Word between the vines is that Thailand is perfectly capable of producing a good product. Even though a visit to to the Silverlake Vineyard didn’t exactly convince me, Khao Yai’s Granmonte Winery did win several international prizes. Continue reading for a surprising look into the Thai wine market, with a practical tip about how to judge a wine by its bottle.
While research confirms that Thailand does indeed produce premium quality wines, production volume is so low that they are hard to find and expensive. Even though I would (and will) definitely track a bottle of Granmonte down, let’s keep the locally produced quality wine out of perspective for the sake of a clear argument.
In 2013 changes to the liquor-excise tax were implemented. For grape-based wine taxes would amount which of the following calculations leads to the highest duty:
- 1000 baht per liter of pure alcohol
- 300 baht per liter of product-grade wine
Grape-based wines that are priced above 600 baht per liter are charged an additional 36% of the last wholesale price, which immediately puts premium quality imported wines at a strong disadvantage, but imported budget wines are hit hard as well. With additional changes made to the taxation of wine in 2014, imported wines are taxed at 300 – 400% where locally produced wines carry a duty of about 100%.
Of course, ways were found around these significant taxes. Soon, grape juice and even grape concentrate were imported and fermented into wine, locally. To further reduce costs, local ingredients were added. As local taste prefers a sweeter beverages, even more inexpensive fruit juices were blended with the imported grape product. The category of fruit wines emerged. Siam Winery grew out to be a major player in this category, with brands like Montclair (with grape juice bought from the South-African winery with the same name) and Peter Vella (based on juice from the californian Gallo winery). What and how other red fruit (often mulberry) are used in the production process is unclear. Some people reference a 95% grape juice ratio, others 80%. If you are familiar with the original Spy wine cooler product (different product category, but also by Siam Winery), you will definitely recognize similarities in Montclair and Peter Vella red wine after-taste. Different (almost soft drink) product, but similar tricks of the trade.
Wines that are produced abroad and imported into the Land of Smiles are indicated by a blue tax label. A pale orange tag is an indication of locally fermented wine. One might not care about the sourcing as long as the product is delicious, but let’s not forget that foreign wines are subject to severe laboratory analysis, especially when they are exported. When the pale orange tag is applied, no questions are asked. With the rare premium-quality Thai wines kept temporarily out of focus, the blue tag suddenly became something of a quality label.
Or did it? As blue label wines gained in reputation, shrewd entrepreneurs started importing Australian grape juice and turning them into wine in Vietnam, cheaply. After being imported into Thailand, they also qualified for the blue tax label, but were (and are) subject to lower ASEAN Union taxes.
By law, wine companies are obliged to mention the name fruit wine somewhere on the label, if the beverage is not made completely from grape juice.
Conclusion: as a wine aficionado on a budget, your best shot is to opt for a bottle with a blue tax tag, after making sure the label does not contain the words Fruit Wine, in any shape or form.
That being said, all reasonably priced and delicious wines available in Thailand are highly welcome in the comment section below. 😉