Bird Spotting

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I have to admit that I’m not much good at recognizing wild birds, even though my father could spot a White-tufted Grebe half-a-mile away. I wouldn’t recognize a Yali (or a White-tufted Grebe, for that matter) even if one came and sat on my shoulder, which is a bit unlikely because Yalis live in South America. The Yali is a kind of small finch, and a plain-looking thing it is too, if you ask me. The famous naturalist William Henry Hudson described it as “very charming… tuneful, elegant in form, graceful and buoyant in its motions”. Well, I can’t argue with that because Hudson was an expert ornithologist. Birds were his thing. The Yali is also known as the Mourning Sierra Finch and you can find them (should you feel the urge) in Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru.

Now I don’t want to make things complicated, because it’s the end of the week and you might be feeling a bit jaded. But you should know that Yali wines are inspired by different characteristics of the El Yali wetland, the largest National Reserve wetland area in central Chile. It’s the home of over a hundred species of birds including – yes, you guessed it – the Yali. These Yali wines are made by the well-known Viña Ventisquero, a progressive company that has been making award-winning wines since 2000.

Felipe Tosso, Head winemaker at Viña Ventisquero.Felipe Tosso, Head winemaker at Viña Ventisquero.

You can buy Yali wines from World of Wine, based in Naklua on Soi 16. If you live in Central and South Pattaya that might seem a bit of a hike, but the good news is that the company offers free delivery in the Pattaya area on any order of six bottles or more, mixed cases included. World of Wine donates profits to local charities, so you can enjoy their wines and at the same time benefit the disadvantaged in our society. The company sells the full range of Yali wines as well as the excellent Brokenhills Estate wines from Australia. You can order them direct from their website at www.theworldofwine.co.th/index.php. And remember, delivery in Pattaya is free. The prices shown below include the very latest tax increases which will push up the price of all the wine in Thailand even higher.

Yali Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (white), Chile (Bt. 513 @ World of Wine)

This is a pale gold colour with hints of green. That’s not as strange as it might sound because young white wines and especially young Sauvignons invariably have a greenish tinge. Although the grape hails from France’s Loire Valley, it’s grown all over the world and especially in Chile, Canada, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil, Moldova and California. Can you remember all those countries? I hope so, because there will be a test later. Sauvignon is also known by sixty other names including the unlikely Gentin a Romorantin, Spergolina and Zöld Ortlibi. I especially like Spergolina because it sounds like the name of some obscure Handel opera. Some Sauvignons, especially a few from New Zealand, can be quite aggressive in flavour but it is one of the few wines that work well with sushi.

The rich aroma is unmistakable. At first, there’s the dry, mineral, grassy, herby sort of smells that remind me of summer meadows. Then the floral and fruity aromas start to come through with pineapple, pomelo (that’s the one that looks and tastes a bit like grapefruit) and even faint hints of banana. The wine is steely dry with a sharply-focused citrus flavour. There’s a satisfying bite of mineral acidity which is one of the hallmarks of a good Sauvignon Blanc and there’s a long, dry finish. This is very much a food wine and it would make an excellent partner for many full-flavoured fish dishes. It would work well with spicy chicken too, but this feisty wine might be a bit assertive for some people, so if you like your whites a bit softer and rounder try the Yali Chardonnay Reserve Casablanca (Bt. 542) with its honey-like reminders of papaya, pineapple, flowers and spices.

Yali Merlot 2012 (red), Chile (Bt. 513 @ World of Wine)

Just to return to the ornithological theme for a moment, you might be interested to know that the name Merlot is a diminutive of “merle” – the French name for a blackbird. But do I need to tell you anything else about Merlot? Probably not, because I’m sure you know already that the grape has its origins in Bordeaux. You probably know that they grow more Merlot in France than anything else. And I don’t need to remind you that it’s one of the world’s most planted grape varieties.

The intense aroma of this ruby-red wine is typical Merlot – black cherries, plums, woody herbs and a lovely layer of sweet vanilla and ripe red fruit. You might even pick up faint spicy reminders of cinnamon. At least, I think its cinnamon.  I don’t know how these Chileans do it, but invariably they produce wines with sumptuous aromas. They’re often really quite complex with several layers of smell waiting to be experienced. If you don’t get your snout into the glass and savour them, then you’re missing about ninety percent of the fun. So don’t let me catch you having a quick swig without first giving the wine a good nosing, otherwise you’ll get a prod with my pointed wooden stick.

Now then, where was I? (Search me – Ed.) Yes, the Yali Merlot. The interesting thing is that in contrast with the seductive aroma, the taste really makes you sit up and take notice. It’s superbly dry with the fruit held back, a bit in the style of a French Bordeaux. There’s a satisfying balance with just a hint of acidity, a rounded body and a pleasing layer of ripe and firm tannin. The wine has a long, dry finish and in some ways it’s almost a text-book Merlot. It comes at a whopping 13.5% alcohol content and would make a good partner for rich and spicy meat dishes or casseroles. I know we tend to serve reds on the cool side in these parts and that’s fine, but make sure it’s not actually stone cold or the aromas will keep to themselves.

World of Wine also stocks the superb Yali Limited Edition Series which, if you are prepared to push the boat out, will cost you Bt.996 a bottle. But it’s worth it. Now then, before I go, I want to see if you can remember the countries where they grow Sauvignon Blanc. On second thoughts, I shall let you off the test today. We’ve run out of time anyway.