I took a morning shuttle bus from the silence of Mae Nam beach to the bustling town of Cheweng on the tourist laden isle of Koh Samui in Thailand. Trucks zipped past each other on the bumpy concrete main drag. The roadsides bustled with smoking visitors wearing floppy green hats and hunting for fish-and-chip outlets or pizza joints or locations selling ‘Thai Food.’ I passed four Italian restaurants, six moped rental outlets and even a 7-11 gas station.
On the well beaten track.
Soon, I found a sign for a place named The Library, and moved into a back alley that twisted behind a building before transforming into a beautiful pedestrian walkway leading to a swimming pool (lined with red tiles) and a gorgeous beach before an aquamarine ocean. Suddenly off the honking street, I decided to stay and eat. And drink. Since arriving on the island the day before, I had read enough to know that it has plenty of good restaurants and wine. I sat on a terrace next to an Italian family before a white sand beach with red umbrellas and ordered Green Spicy Paprika Salad with Grilled King Prawns, together with it a glass of New Zealand Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc.
Let’s be clear: taxes on imported alcohol in Thailand are hefty. A glass of a decent wine at a restaurant costs the equivalent of $10 to $15 dollars (however, I did score a bottle of local wine for about $15 – more of that in a nearby post). Sitting in heat and humidity before a gorgeous beach and red umbrellas, I sipped that chilled, crisp, acidic, and tangy Wairau River – which matched well with shredded papaya. True, after twenty minutes, the temperature had pushed the liquid to lukewarm, so I finished it and ordered a red. The original plan was this: after an appetizer I’d eat a main course of Stir Fried Beef with Oyster Sauce, and order a red wine. Didn’t happen. One of the hot Peppers I mistakenly biting into sent my stomach into enough of a tailspin to block out any fresh food tasting ambitions.
Still, I ordered the red – an Australian Eye Spy Shiraz, 2011. It came mildly chilled, appropriate for the hot day. It reminded me of Central California Syrahs. If it were a book it would be a Dickens – not a Vonnegut or Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It’s consistent and classic, without any odd twists or bizarre characters. It’s a dose of controlled quality, without an edge or magic. Being on vacation, I decided what the heck? I’ll order another. So I did. Next came a Cavallina Nero D’Avola from Italy, but the wine had that musky old sock smell that comes when a bottle is opened and then left half full on a counter for days or weeks in a room where with temperature swings.
It wasn’t corked; it wasn’t a bad wine. It was mishandled after opening. I asked for a replacement at the same price – a Chilean Talamanca Cabernet Sauvignon 2010. The restaurant’s attention to detail after the complaint was rapid and managed with utter politeness.
Lesson One – if it tastes bad, reject it. Lesson Two – the most beaten trails are still relatively narrow. Lesson Three – for the best price – think Local. Which means – you need to read the posting that come after this – about Thai wine.