Wine · Wine Regions

A Brave New World

So, you’ve been out in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) for a couple of weeks and the only thing to drink is beer, and not even good beer at that. A glass of chilled wine would go down beautifully on a 29°C day, but it’s not something that is easily found in this part of the world. Then you discover that this resourceful nation has decided to start growing grapes and making wine, so you head over to one of the wineries to sample said wine.  You make the hour long walk along a dusty road in the sweltering heat, with cars and bikes speeding past honking their horns. You make the arduous climb up the hill to a beautiful view and you can almost taste the glass of nectar you’ll be sipping on.

That was me a couple of weeks ago when I decided to get out of dodge for the winter and spend 3 weeks exploring Myanmar and all it has to offer. Unfortunately though, my wine story did not end well. After making the long hot walk to the vineyard myself and my equally wine loving girlfriend, sat down to admire the view and ordered the sampling set of wines that Red Mountain Estate, one of Myanmar’s two wineries, has to offer. Whether the grapes had been harvested too late, or the wine had been stored badly, or perhaps something had gone awry during production, the wines we tasted were quite disappointing.  The whites were fruitless and almost had a chemical like taste to them. The reds were jammy and tasted of over ripe, stewed fruit and lacked any real acidity. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the wines were stored badly and give the winery the benefit of the doubt. I had tried the Red Mountain Estate Sauvignon Blanc a week earlier at a cooking course in Yangon and it was delicious and almost tasted like a really good Sauv Blanc from New Zealand, so this tasting experience was a massive disappointment.

It used to be thought that the wine world fitted into two neat bands within each hemisphere. Between 50° and 30° latitude,both north and south, were considered the only areas that grapes could be grown to produce drinkable wines. But as we progress into the 21st Century, a mixture of climate change, new techniques and pushing the boundaries, means that wines are now being produced all over the world.  Some of these countries that you might be interested in trying wines from are:

  • Mexico
  • Parts of Brazil
  • India
  • Peru
  • Bolivia
  • Ireland
  • England
  • Thailand

Myanmar is one of these countries too, and Red Mountain Estate is one of those vineyards. Sitting at 20°N, with the Tropic of Cancer running almost right through the vineyard, it is well outside the area of the globe considered to have optimum conditions for growing grapes for wine. Red Mountain Estate is also a very new vineyard, with the first vines of Shiraz and Chenin Blanc planted in 2003. Since then they have gone on to plant a whole host of other varieties including Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Tempranillo. The winemaker is a French fellow by the name of Francois Raynal and all the vineyard equipment has been imported from Italy. It takes at least 3 years before fruit from the vines can be harvested to make wine with, so these guys really have only been making wine for a short period of time.

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So while it was a shame that the wines we tasted were not what we expected, I’ve no doubt that better things are to come from this vineyard. It’s a young vineyard in a tropical area, that is still learning the best ways to grow, cultivate and produce their grapes and wines. At the moment, it’s my opinion that perhaps they are growing a lot of different varieties of grape and it may be the case that they are spreading themselves a little too thin. Perhaps concentrating on getting a couple of varieties right would yield better results. Either way I would predict that it may be a little while longer before we see quality wine come out of this area, but with a bit of time and perseverance anything is possible!

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