Burmese Wine at Lake Inle

Red Mountain's vineyards

Red Mountain’s vineyards

It’s fair to say that South East Asia is not renowned for winemaking. Despite the French legacy, Vietnam’s Dalat wine might be described as an acquired taste – but frankly is best avoided. So we were very pleasantly surprised to discover that perfectly drinkable wine from local vineyards near Inle Lake are widely available across Burma. We enjoyed the Red Mountain Sauvignon Blanc with fresh seafood on the beach at Ngapali, so were keen to visit the vineyard when we were staying on the lake.

IMG_9459Red Mountain Estate is situated in a stunning location, about 20 minutes by bicycle from the town of Nyaungshwe on Inle Lake, with beautiful views down to the lake and the mountains behind. It has been nicely done with a restaurant and the modern chai (where the wine is made) is fitted out with high quality equipment from Switzerland and Italy. The vines are neatly laid out and well pruned, the first of which were planted in 2003, under supervision of French winemaker Francois Raynal. Production is increasing dramatically – from 20,000 bottles in 2008 to 120,000 in 2012 and over 200,000 in 2013. There are some great photos of the vineyard on the website here, including the vendange (harvest) with Pa-O women in traditional attire.

It has become a popular trip from the lake, and the restaurant was pretty busy. We didn’t eat at the vineyard (we were in a hurry to get back to Inthein to catch the lacquerware sellers) but had a tasting of four wines – the Sauvignon Blanc (very drinkable, crisp, green and gooseberry-ish); the Rosé d’Inle (red fruit, a bit vegetal, but on a par with rustic rosés that we have around my husband’s parents in South West France); the Late Harvest Muscat/Sauvignon Blanc (demi-sec, floral with enough acidity to remain crisp and pleasant) and the Syrah/Tempranillo, which was fruity and oaky at once – again, perfectly drinkable. We also bought a bottle of Red Tawny fortified wine, effectively Burmese port, with which to toast in 2014 – less convinced about this one, but interesting to try. It is certainly worth the short trip to try the wine and enjoy the view.

Red Mountain is not the only example – the first winery in Burma was in fact the German-run Aythaya – we tried their sparkling rose in 2012 which we enjoyed. More details on the nascent Burmese wine industry in this AFP story here.

It was frustrating to see some tourists turning up their noses when offered local wine, though we persuaded a couple of sceptical Aussies to give it a try. I don’t think Burma is going to be a major player on the international wine scene any time soon, but it perfectly drinkable and for us a preferable alternative to bottles that had been flown half way around the world. If production continues to increase, there is export potential (especially within the ASEAN region when the free trade zone comes into force in 2015). The initiative is creating employment – around 100 local jobs at Red Mountain – and helping to cater for the massive increase in tourism that the country is currently experiencing. So I’d encourage visitors to Burma to give it a go – you might also be surprised.