Sermon on the Mont

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You must have seen Mont Clair wines before. They seem to be the work-horse wines of many a bar and restaurant around here. I have enjoyed them on many occasions and they’re thoroughly reliable everyday easy-drinkers.

Siam Winery currently makes four Mont Clair wines in standard bottle sizes; a Chardonnay (known as Bin 6) a Rosé (Bin 8), a Cabernet Sauvignon (Bin 5) and a Shiraz (Bin 9). The wines are bottled with convenient screw-top closures which save all the bother of battling with a cork-screw. In any case, these are wines intended for immediate drinking, so the screw-cap – especially in Thailand’s tropical climate – is much more appropriate than a cork.  It helps to keep the cost down too.

The Mont Clair range comes from grapes grown in South Africa’s Breede River Valley, the largest fruit and wine producing valley in the Western Cape Province. You might be interested to know that they also breed more racehorses there than anywhere else in the country. On the other hand, you might not. Anyway, the wine is shipped over here to Thailand where it is blended under the direction of Siam Winery’s wine-maker Kathrin Puff.  Despite the low price, these wines are extremely well-made and offer excellent value.

Mont Clair Bin 5 Reserve 2010 (red), South Africa. (Seven-11, Family Mart and others, Bt. 295; half bottles Bt. 150)

You can buy this useful wine almost everywhere in this country. Like most of the other Mont Clair wines, it comes in half-bottles too, which are handy when you just want a couple of glasses. It’s made primarily from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes and is vaguely French in style, with a pleasing fruity aroma. Dark berries and a suggestion of herbs come through on the taste and there is a long finish with just a touch of sweetness. It is an attractive, well-balanced wine with a decent amount of fruit and soft tannins.

At 13% alcohol, this strikes me as very much a “food wine” and I think it would go well with rich, red meat dishes.  It would probably work well with pizza and pasta too. Anyway, it is reassuring to remember that if you run out of wine half way through dinner, a quick bolt down to your local Seven-11 or Family Mart could save the day.

Mont Clair Bin 9000 Gold Label 2009 (red), South Africa. (Foodland, Villa, Big C, Supamitr, Bt. 399)

Here’s a new kid on the block: an up-market version of Mont Clair Bin 5. The most obvious difference is the shape of the bottle. Unlike its cheaper cousin, this comes in a Burgundy-style bottle with characteristic sloping shoulders. Despite the bottle shape, the smell rather reminds me of Bordeaux, with its aroma of dark berries, cherries and a hint of peppery herbs. It turns out (for I always taste the wine before I read the back label) that it’s made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (the classic grapes of Bordeaux) and presumably blended with some local fruit wine as well. The wine has a smooth but firm mouth-feel and a pleasing touch of tannin.

So, I hear you ask, what do we get for the extra hundred baht? Well, there’s more depth for one thing; more sense of character. You get loads more fruit on the palette and you also get 1% more alcohol which cranks up the content to a generous 14%. But again, while it is pleasant enough on its own, it is very much a “food wine” too. It would go well with hearty fare such as stews, grilled red meats or roasts.

Of course the best thing to do, if you have the time, the inclination and the money, is to buy a bottle of each and decide for yourself which you prefer.