Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Imbibing in Bangkok Gets More Interesting, by the Glass or the Bottle

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Imbibing in Bangkok Gets More Interesting, by the Glass or the Bottle

Article excerpt

Young Thai oenophiles has brought a new wave of wine bars to the city.

At Sip, an intimate wine bar furnished with a sofa and easy chairs that lend it the feeling of a friend's living room, the owner, Victor Gomez, was talking up Romanian reds while pouring glasses of Cotes du Rhone and tempranillo for customers that included three Japanese expats, two American tourists and a young Thai on short leave from his accounting job in Kuala Lumpur. "The pinots are earthy and complex," he said, "and the feteasca neagra are getting better and better." This scene unfolding on a Saturday night late last year would have been unsurprising had it not been for its location, in Bangkok.

Five years ago, the likes of Sip -- low-key establishments offering a diverse selection of well-priced wines by the glass and the bottle -- were all but absent from Bangkok's night-life landscape. Onerous import tariffs limited consumption in Thailand to a small coterie of well-heeled expatriates and residents with a penchant for pricey labels and a tolerance for restaurant markups of 300 percent or more. Now higher levels of education, increased travel abroad and higher incomes are giving rise to a new crop of Thai oenophiles.

"Younger Thais have some money, and they want to drink something different in bars and restaurants," said Keiichi Miyashita, a Bangkok wine importer and distributor who has been in the business for a decade.

As a result, in the past three years, a rash of wine bars and restaurants have opened in Bangkok that feature more than just name- brand labels and sell wines at less than stratospheric prices. The upshot for wine lovers is that imbibing in the Thai capital has never been more accessible or more interesting.

Over on Thonglo, Bangkok's trendiest boulevard, a number of new wine bars have set up shop. Mellow (Penny's Balcony, 522/3 Thonglo 16, Sukhumvit 55; 66-2-382-0065) opened in a semi-industrial space warmed by exposed brick and large windows that look out on the street. The bar-bistro serves several wines by the glass and more than 60 by the bottle. "Thais are drinking more wine but they usually don't pair it with food," said Ken Kamolvarinthip, the owner, who offers a menu that includes cheese and charcuterie plates. …

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