Vietnam wine scene looking up

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Wine shelves at a supermarket in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Calvin Godfrey

What is the future of wine in Vietnam?

After having been involved in the wine industry for over 15 years (organizing wine tastings, writing, selecting wines for companies, and even publishing my own book on Spanish wines) I must say I was rather disappointed with the wine scene when I arrived to Vietnam.

And I am not just referring to the local wines, but even to those you can find in most specialized shops and even 5-star hotels: selections are poor, quality, with very few exceptions, is terrible, and they are truly overpriced.

When I spoke to some shop managers and owners, they all blamed it on the tax. However, considering that I come from England where wine attracts a US$3 tax per bottle (regardless of cost) and 20 percent VAT on top, and where you can get a decent bottle of wine for around $10, I am not quite sure tax is the reason, especially considering that the same wines are sometimes double the price in Vietnam compared to England.

We could blame the lack of demand, as a manger from Pernod Ricard told me yesterday, which is true. However, I [also] think it is due to a lack of knowledge about wines - which partly causes low demand - and the pricing.

In Vietnam the price of an entry level bottle of foreign wine is around the same as that of an entry level bottle of foreign vodka, whiskey or rum, while in Europe the later is 3 to 5 times the price.

Last Saturday I attended the Annual Australian wine tasting held at the Caravelle Hotel. I must say that I was quite skeptical and not expecting much, especially after having attended a similar event from another country a few months ago and having been terribly disappointed with the wines available.

Many expatriates have written to Vietweek concurring that despite the problems they face in Vietnam, it is simply not acceptable that people direct their anger and slurs at all Vietnamese. This forum, "Your two cents", opens the floor for you, the expats, to hold forth on the changes you see in Vietnam: what disappoints, what pleases and what you would like to see happen. Email your thoughts to editor@thanhniennews.com.

However, I came out the Australian wine show quite happy, and not because of having tasted far too many different wines, which I did, but for the range and quality of some of the wines on offer, plus the helpful welcome from most of the stall managers and reps.

Kelly and Hoa from Kangaroo Indochine, who specialize in Australian wines, welcomed me and there I discovered one of my favorite wines of the night: Dragon Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, a full bodied red with great complexity and a lovely nose.

It was a great pleasure to talk to Nhan from Red Apron, and share thoughts and experiences about the different wines at her stand, plus some others which I will surely try, and I was very happy to find out that she stocks Marques de Riscal, one of my favorite Rioja wines.

The real overall winner was Vino, where I met the manager Jim, and the producer of my favorite wines, Doug Mildren from Arlequin Wines: I tried all his wines and I must say that Chardonay 2009, the Grenache Shiraz 2008 and the dessert wine were just amazing. Vino was also offering an amazing Pinot Noir from Logan, great as a wine to start with.

Daloc Wines was offering an incredible Cabernet Merlot (2009) from Peter Lehman, of which I will surely get some bottles soon.

Jane and her staff from The Warehouse gave me an excellent tour through their wines, and it was impressive to see how they even took me to the competition to show me some other great wines: that is customer service excellence! Their Yalumba Shiraz 2008 was great.

Some others worth mentioning were Trentham Pinor Noir 2010, distributed by Phu Thanh; Iron Bark Hill Cabernet Merlot distributed by Oceania, which on its own is fine, but having it with chocolate transports you to heaven; and Bollant Shiraz 2008 from Silver Lines. Now I have a long list of wines to add to my cellar.

I would like to finish by saying that I was expecting to be surrounded by the usual Australian expats, and they were there, but the room was taken over by Vietnamese customers who are more and more interested in fine wines, which is great news as they will surely drive demand and selection up and prices down. Happy drinking!

By Tony Houseworth
The writer is a British expat who lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City

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