Hi everyone, my name’s Mike, and I’m currently traveling around Vietnam. When I’m not on a bike tour or in coffee shops, I’m helping out Hoi An Now. The site has everything tourists need to know about Hoi An. It takes the grind out of combing through websites and literature so you can lie on a beach, relax and just get on with it. Enjoy my article about wine bars in central Viet Nam.
In Vietnam, the only drinkable wine for the Western palate is imported – mainly from France, Australia, the U.S., Chile, Italy, Argentina and Spain. In Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Hanoi, there are dedicated wine bars as well as hundreds of quality bars and restaurants – good options are easy to find.
Like many Western visitors, wine doesn’t always travel well in hot and steamy conditions. And since knowledge of wine storage is often limited, you should choose your venue or distributor wisely.
The guide is for wine drinkers visiting Central Vietnam, a place where tourism abounds, but quality wine is much harder to find.
Local Vietnamese Wine
The French colonial period had a profound impact on modern Vietnam in many ways. Thousands of current Vietnamese words have been adopted directly from French (ca phe/café/coffee; phim/film/movie) and some local dishes – plus the entire baking industry – are owed to French influences.
The local wine industry in Vietnam goes back to colonial times, too, although quantity in its production has always won over quality. It was understood that the tropical climate was not suited to the vitis vinifera-style grape native to the Mediterranean, so fruit wines were tried instead.
Grape-based wine has made a comeback in recent years. It now makes up over 25 per cent of local production, but quality wines are yet to be produced and distributed.
The dominant local wine is a very rough red, invariably a cabernet from the mountainous region around Dalat, west of Nha Trang. It’s very cheap (about $6 a bottle) and enjoyed by locals at weddings, Tết New Year, and other special occasions. It’s often chilled and served in shot or liqueur glasses, sometimes in tumblers with ice and usually downed like foul-tasting medicine to the chant ‘mot, hai, ba, yo!’ (one, two, three yo!).
Perhaps this is an interesting lesson in wine tasting, but it’s not the best advertisement for the taste itself.
Imported Wine in Central Vietnam
Many travelers are drawn to the sites and sounds of Central Vietnam, to exciting destinations like Hoi An, Da Nang and Hue.
But in these regions, good, imported wines can be hard to find. Fortunately, I’ve discovered the best wine venues, particularly in the small UNESCO heritage town of Hoi An – a place that attracts almost 2 million visitors each year.
Hue, the old Imperial Capital, with its small expat community and fleeting tourism, has been the slowest to get its act together with wine. Only one French restaurant, Les Jardins de la Carambole, has consistent quality from a well-chosen, but small list.
There’s nothing spectacular about the old colonial house, but its setting is superb with two internal bars, a garden bar, and mid-range wines that are well-suited to traditional French cuisine. If you’re cashed up in Hue, try La Residence, a resort that’s a tad overpriced, but in a place with limited options, it may be just the oasis you need.
Although tourism and Western influences are more apparent in places like Da Nang and Hoi An, dedicated wine bars are still uncommon. In these locales, restaurants are by far the dominant venues for good wine – but this isn’t as limiting as it may seem. Fortunately, restaurants in both cities tend to dedicate extra space for bar and lounge areas, with no expectation for drinkers to dine.
Both whites and reds are dominated by Australian and New Zealand selections but there is also a Ruffino Rosatello Rose from Tuscany and a Chateau La Rose Bellevue Sauvignon Blanc from Bordeaux. Again, the wines aren’t life-changing, but they make well-priced, sturdy companions to the local fusion cuisine.
If you’re looking for top-range wines ,one of the resorts that line Da Nang’s famous beaches may be for you – but Carolina’s Bar and Grill is probably a better bet.
As it’s a wine shop as well as a bar/restaurant, its entire range can be purchased and a wide selection is available by the glass (or even the half glass). At Carolina’s you’re bound to find something to act as the perfect date to your grilled steak or seafood.
Hoi An is bursting with bike tours, coffee shops, and tailors…plus a host of interesting restaurants. Green Mango and Mango Mango lead the way with intriguing lists and distinct eating and drinking areas. White Marble Restaurant and Wine Bar has many wines offered by the glass and Q Bar also has a wide range (with cruisy music thrown in).
The Hill Station, Good Morning Vietnam, Mango Rooms, Mai Fish and Cargo all provide a special setting for pre-dinner drinks as well as excellent dining, offering a mix of wines from France, Australia, Chile and Italy. Against the seaside backdrop of An Bang Beach, The H’mong Sisters and Soul Kitchen lead the way, with facilities reaching right to the water’s edge.
The selection at Mango Mango is typical of the range one finds in Hoi An. Quaffable French house wines, Cuvee Lagarde VDP de ‘el Herault and Cuvee Lagarde VDP du Comte Tolosan Blanc, include a range of Sauvignon Blancs from Australia and Chile, with other white options from Spain and Argentina. On the red team, Shiraz blends from Australia are accompanied by a Syrah from France, plus a Merlot and a Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile. This small list complements a varied European/Vietnamese fusion menu.
The Wash Up
Throughout Vietnam, high-quality wine is still hard to find. Most bars and restaurants try to keep it simple, using only a handful of trusted suppliers.
The problems of transportation and storage for the most part have not been solved – until they are, few will dare to feature anything other than a small, mid-range selection. Nevertheless, there’s fair quality on hand if you know where to look.