By Ian Pearson
Although Vietnam is known for many things its nascent wine industry has been making news and intriguing visitors for the last few years. Historically, Vietnam has had difficulties making grape-based wine due to climate and geographical factors, but assistance from Australian vintners in the early 2000s jump-started their wine industry and further assistance from the Americans during the last decade have created a wine industry that is burgeoning in the region and making waves throughout the world.
For tourists, being able to see young vineyards producing a dizzying array of different flavored wines is an opportunity that is rare. Most vineyards in France and Europe are centuries old while American and Australian vineyards are well established and have been for decades. Being able to observe close-up the creation of a wine industry is well worth the trip.
A short history of Vietnamese wine making
For a country colonized by the French, you would expect wine making to be one of its most important traits. Unfortunately, indigenous grapes were too sour to make wine and the cuttings imported from French wineries fell prey to a number of diseases and environmental effects that weren’t taken into account by the first winemakers.
The climate in Vietnam is completely different than the climate where the cuttings originated. This made it difficult to grow the grapes to begin with and a local mold damaged the crops even more. After these setbacks, the Vietnamese turned to fruit-based wine for many years.
It wasn’t until after Vietnam was opened to the West in the 1990s that vintners took another look at the climate and the country’s capability of making a grape-based wine. Australian experts were brought in to discover if there was a way to grow grapes in the country and they succeeded by improving the way the grapes were grown and locating the vineyards in the hilly regions – of which there are many – in Vietnam.
The wine industry takes off
From those early failures, local vintners started using the unique aspect of Vietnam’s highlands to create vineyards that, although small, were able to produce different types of grapes. In Europe and the West, we see regional wines while Vietnam produces different wines from the same vineyards using different types of grapes.
This diversity gives us the sheer number of different types of Vietnamese wine. Additionally, the fruit-based wine industry is still producing its different wines. This variety gives the wine aficionado a staggering array of wines to choose from.
A sampling of Vietnamese wines
Although relatively new to wine production compared to other countries the country makes up for it with a wide variety of different kinds of wine. Although a complete list would fill a book, a few of them are listed below:
Chambourcin grapes are used in making red wines and rose. It has a bold, fruity flavor with a high tannin content that brings out a strong berry flavor. Chambourcin wine from Vietnam also ages very well. Chambourcin and cardinal grapes are the primary grape varieties grown in Vietnam.
Cardinal grapes are used primarily to make raisins or grown as table grapes in the West, but Vietnamese vintners have used them to create a rich, sweet red wine with a touch of acidity to make it palatable.
- Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet grapes are used to make a wine that includes cherry and blackberry flavors with subtle hints of pepper, licorice or vanilla (among other flavors) to make one of the most popular wines in Vietnam and the rest of the world.
- Vang Dalat
Vang Dalat combines crushed red grapes and fermented mulberry juice to make an iconic red wine that is finding acceptance in drinkers outside of Vietnam. Much of the flavor of Vang Dalat comes from the fermented mulberries and is Vietnam’s table wine so it is not to everyone’s taste.
Most everyone is familiar with French, American or Australian Chardonnays and the Vietnamese version is as good as these older, more established versions.
- Fruit wines
Made from plums, apricots, citrons and other more exotic fruit, Vietnamese fruit wines have a distinct niche in the country. Although different from what Westerners think of when drinking wine, they can be very good. Relying on local guides and natives is a good way to experiment with these wines.
Wine tourism, tapping a new market
The historical and geographical tourism that Vietnam is known worldwide for makes up about five percent of the country’s GDP. It has also given entrepreneurs a new market to explore. Vietnam wine tours are gaining ground quickly and are set to make a significant impact on the Vietnamese economy during the next few years.
To meet this demand wine tours are becoming much more popular. These can be as inclusive or sparse as the tourist desires. Everything from a week long visits to multiple wineries with hotels, travel and food included to a quick afternoon visit to a local winery are available and affordable.
For tourists with an adventurous streak or those who are tired of hitting the same tourist attractions over and over again, a Vietnamese wine tour can be a great way to get to know the country, the culture and enjoy some very nice wines at the same time.
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Author Ian Pearson
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