Sound Boxes

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Down at the village inn the other night, some of the chaps were bemoaning the increasing cost of wine in this fair and bounteous land. Wine has never been cheap in Thailand and even when I first visited these shores nearly twenty-eight years ago, I was staggered by how much money I had to fork out for a glass of red. The recent tax increases have made the situation much worse and now we have to pay well over 400% in taxes and import duties on an ordinary bottle of plonk. It’s even more alarming when you consider that about eighty-five percent of any wine is actually water.

For a lot of people around here and especially the nouveaux pauvres, boxed wines are becoming a preferred option purely on the grounds of price. The Australians like to call them “wine casks” but they’re the same thing: a sealed plastic bag of wine inside a cardboard box. Apart from the lower cost, the main advantage of boxed wines is that they’ll keep for several weeks once opened, so you don’t need to finish an entire bottle in one evening, although I have never found that a particular problem.

The Murray River and the football ground at Berri. (Photo: Mattinbgn)The Murray River and the football ground at Berri. (Photo: Mattinbgn)

At one time, wine drinkers were a bit sniffy about boxed wines, which was not altogether surprising because they had a rather dodgy reputation. There are still some pretty bad ones around, especially (and rather surprisingly) from France and Italy. A few weeks ago, I tasted a real killer from Italy which was virtually undrinkable. Even the dogs turned it down. Nevertheless, there are some sound and reliable boxed wines available, many of them blended in an easy-to-drink style.

Mont Clair is the workhorse wine of almost every bar and cheap restaurant in town. It’s a decent enough everyday drinker and if you buy it in boxes, it works out a whole lot cheaper than bottles. Mont Clair comes from Siam Winery and they also produce an increasing range of fairly cheap boxed wines, blended to suit Thai tastes and pair well with Thai food. Like the ubiquitous Mont Clair, both the wines this week are actually designated as “fruit wines” and you’ll see these words printed in small type on the label. The base wines are usually imported in bulk from the countries of origin and then under the skilled supervision of expert wine-makers at Siam Winery, they’re blended with a quantity of local fruit wine. But don’t let that put you off, because both these wines are quite pleasant easy-drinkers and could liven up many a party or other social gathering. You can usually find them