The Monkey and the Sun God

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Yes, I know it sounds like the title of an Aztec folk tale, but it’s the best I can up with at the end of a tiring week. Perhaps it needs a bit of explanation. If you are the type who simply can’t be bothered with explanations, feel free to skip on to the wine review. In fact, if you are going to take that uncharitable attitude, you may as well skip the entire column. I know of five other people who read this column and if you include the dogs and me, that makes nine of us. So you won’t be missed. Just don’t expect a Christmas card, that’s all.

Right then, sit up and listen, especially those people shuffling around at the back. Monkey Bay wines are named after a small bay tucked away on the Marlborough coast of New Zealand’s South Island. The bay got its name from an event which supposedly happened sometime in the late nineteenth century, when a sailor on a visiting ship claimed to have spotted a monkey cavorting among the trees. This is a bit unlikely because New Zealand doesn’t actually have any wild monkeys, although it’s possible that the thing had managed to make its escape from another ship.

Peter Rogge - Monkey Bay Ambassador & Viticulture Manager.Peter Rogge – Monkey Bay Ambassador & Viticulture Manager.

No one really knows what the sailor saw. It could have been a common brush-tail possum or possibly a small furry alien being. Perhaps the sailor had been indulging in disproportionate quantities of the ship’s grog and he actually saw a cat. Or possibly he saw nothing at all.  But whatever the real story may be, the place became known as Monkey Bay and gave its name to the award-winning winery of the same name. Unlike some companies that produce a vast array of wines, Money Bay make only five varietals, all of which are fresh, fruit-forward easy-drinkers made from grapes grown in New Zealand’s major vineyard regions.

Monkey Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (white), New Zealand

This pale lemon-coloured wine has a gorgeous fresh and summery aroma. It’s really inviting and reminded me of grassy green fields, gooseberries, sweet ripe grapefruit and pineapple. There’s also a faint and herby citrus smell in the background, but do give the wine time to breathe so that the aromas can show at their best. The actual taste came as something of a surprise. To be honest, I was expecting a rather sharp, assertive mouthful because Sauvignon Blanc can be like that. But the taste was totally unexpected – and a real delight. It’s very soft on the palate, plenty of fruit, medium-bodied although definitely dry, there’s a very subtle hint of sweetness. You’ll also notice a delicate touch of zingy acidity and a satisfying long finish.

If you are one of those people who tend to steer clear of Sauvignon Blanc because of their tart and sometimes toe-curling acidity, this award-winning wine will come as a revelation. The winemakers at Monkey Bay have succeeded in bringing out a rarely seen character of Sauvignon Blanc; a soft, beguiling and rather feminine quality not normally associated with this most feisty of white grapes. It really is an excellent wine, so try to find the opportunity to give it a try. Unfortunately, it is not yet available at any retail outlets in this neck of the woods, but you can taste it at the Amari Mantra Restaurant, where it’s available at the Sunday Brunch Wine Buffet from 17th November onwards. There are seventeen wines available at Bt. 1,250++ per person (unlimited quantity) and the brunch itself is priced at Bt. 1,690++.

Monkey Bay is also Mantra’s “Wine of the Month” on the à la carte wine menu, which also includes the much-acclaimed Monkey Bay Pinot Noir, with its smooth, silky texture and flavours of ripe cherries and plums.  I really enjoyed drinking this Sauvignon Blanc on its own but it would make a splendid partner for chicken dishes or full-flavoured fish like sea bass.

Now then, let’s move to Argentina which, you might be interested to know, has the highest number of psychiatrists per capita of anywhere on earth. It also has an extremely high rate of cosmetic surgery procedures, so one begins to wonder whether these two facts might be related in some unexpected way. And just in case you were wondering, this is where the Sun God comes in.

Intis Chardonnay – Chenin 2011 (white), Argentina (Bt. 599 @ Wine Connection)

Argentina lies between the latitudes of 30° and 50° degrees where most of the world’s wines come from. It may come as a surprise to know that Argentina is one of the world’s largest wine-producing countries. Its vineyards are some of the highest and are usually planted at 2,000 and 3,000 feet above sea level to avoid the heat of the arid plains.

This delightful wine takes its name from Inti, the ancient Incan Sun God who was evidently worshipped as a patron deity in the days of the Inca Empire. Because the Inca beliefs were based around nature the sun – the provider of warmth and light – was the most important aspect of life. Inti was worshipped mostly by farmers who relied on the sun to provide successful harvests.

Intense floral aromas emerge from the bottle as you open it. This attractive yellowy-gold wine comes from grapes grown in the San Juan region of Argentina and in many ways it’s a typical South American Chardonnay. The aroma has that lovely creamy quality and there are hints of pineapple, pears and other fruit with quite a noticeable honeyed lemony aroma. It’s a blend of fifty percent of each grape variety and while Chardonnay probably doesn’t need any introduction, perhaps I’d better remind you that Chenin Blanc (SHEN-ihn BLAHN) is a white wine grape variety from the Loire valley of France. It’s usually quite high in acidity and is used for making everything from sparkling wines to dessert wines. Outside the Loire, it’s found in many other wine regions including South Africa and even here in Thailand.

The citrus quality comes through on the taste too. It’s a light-to-medium bodied wine with a rather lovely soft, silky texture. There’s plenty of ripe fruit on the palate and a pleasing balance of light acidity. There’s a long and off-dry lingering finish and while it would make an attractive apéritif, I think it would work best with food. It’s really quite an easy-drinker and would make a good partner for white meat or white fish especially fish with a dry crumbly texture.

But just to return to monkeys for a moment, I heard recently that some monkeys at an Argentine zoo became withdrawn following the demise of two older ones. Being Argentina, officials naturally called in a psychiatrist, who confirmed that the monkeys were going through a phase of acute depression. Psychiatrist Sergio Castillo dutifully prescribed small doses of Sertraline, a drug normally to treat humans. And do you know what happened? The drug actually worked and the monkeys made a full recovery.  Now then, I knew you’d be pleased to know that.