Wine from Vietnam: Pervasive Yet Eclipsed by Beer
by Dr. Liz Thach, MW
As a former French colony it is not surprising to discover that wine is available in many major restaurants throughout Vietnam. What may be more unexpected is that Vietnam is also producing its own wine, primarily in the cooler regions of Da Lat and Phang Rang, about 200 miles northeast of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly called Saigon). Here vineyards of both table and wine grapes can be found, as well as crops of lettuce, strawberries and artichokes.
It is in this area that a handful of wineries are producing wine made from grapes. It is important to specify “grapes”, because the term “wine” in Vietnam is also used for many other types of alcoholic beverages, including vodka, rum, and 40-proof rice wine. In addition, the Vietnamese produce wine from other types of fruit, including coconut, banana, hibiscus and litchi.
Current estimates of the number of wineries in Vietnam ranges from 4 to 15, yet according to Vu Hoai Huyen, Deputy Marketing Manager at Vang Dalat Winery, there are only “4 to 5 companies producing grape wine and Vang Dalat is the largest.” Other major producers include Halico, based in Hanoi, and Thang Long Liquor Company. Vang Dalat Winery, owned by Ladofoods, started introducing wine to the market wine in 1999, and now exports to Japan, Cambodia, Taiwan and China. Annual production is estimated at 1.5 million liters, or around 166,000 cases.
In terms of buying wine, Vang Dalat is the easiest brand to find as it is available in almost every restaurant, corner store, and can even be found on the small “grocery dinghies” that sell wine to tourist boats on Halong Bay. The winery produces wine at three price points, but the least expensive is around $3 to $4 per bottle at stores and $2 per glass in restaurants. It is sold under the label of Vang Dalat red or white, and is made from a combination of grapes and other fruit. For example, the red wine is composed of the Cardinal grape and mulberries, and is light-bodied with a slightly sweet berry and caramel note. It appears to be quite popular and a source of pride to Vietnamese people. This may be because the government has a policy of encouraging people to use Vietnamese products to support local producers.
It is worthwhile, however, to seek out Dalat’s higher level wines made from 100 percent vitis vinifera grapes. These can be found at the winery in Dalat or at their showroom in Ho Chi Mihn City. Their signature wine is Chateau Dalat Merlot, priced at 198,000 dong ($9), which is made in a lighter, elegant style with very generous French oak. The second label, or mid-range wine, is called Excellence and is available in either a Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend, both priced at 159,000 vong ($7).
Despite the pervasiveness of wine in Vietnam, including imported wines from Chile, Australia, France and New Zealand, beer still reigns supreme. This may be because of the warm, humid climate that creates a desire for a cold drink rather than a room temperature red wine. Indeed, it is the custom in Vietnam to add ice to beer, and beer is produced in almost every major town in the country with such well-known brands as Saigon Beer, Hanoi Special, and Larue from Central Vietnam.
However the future of wine in Vietnam appears to be bright with experts such as Euromonitor and Wine Intelligence listing it as one of the strongest prospective wine markets in Asia. Part of this is due to its young population and a strong interest in food and the culinary arts. This coupled with a huge and growing population of 91 million and its French heritage, makes sipping a glass of chilled sauvignon blanc or chardonnay with a spicy Vietnamese fish dish or a bowl of pho even more feasible.
About the Author: Dr. Liz Thach, MW is a Distinguished Professor of Wine Business with Sonoma State University. She can be contacted at Liz@lizthach.com
Asia Pacific Travel (2014). Vang Dalat (Dalat red wine) - in list of top wines in Vietnam. Asia Pacific Travel. Available at: http://www.vietnamtourism.info/vietnam-cuisine/food-culture/vang-dalat-dalat-red-wine-in-list-of-top-wines-in-vietnam.htm#.VbJzivlVhBc
Dalat Trip (2014). Dalat Wine. Available at: http://www.dalattrip.com/dalat-wine/
Euromonitor (2014). Wine in Vietnam Executive Summary. Available at: http://www.euromonitor.com/wine-in-vietnam/report
Ferfolja, M. (2014). Wine, Vietnam Style. Wine Intelligence. Available at: http://www.wineintelligence.com/wine-vietnam-style/
Huyen, V. H. (2015). Personal Communication, July 22, 2015.
Ladofoods. (2010). About Us. Available at: http://ladofoods.vn/Trang-chu.aspx
Singapore Wine Vault. (2015). Step into the New World: Exploring the Vineyards of Vietnam. Available at: http://www.singaporewinevault.com/blog/step-into-the-new-world-exploring-the-vineyards-of-vietnam/
Vietnam AZ (2014). Thang Long Red Grape Wine. Vietnam AZ.Com. Available at: http://www.vietaz.com/store/46/0/9338/1/product/Thang-Long-red-grape-wine.htm
Vietnam Net. (2015). Domestic producers promote Vietnamese wine. Available at: http://english.vietnamnet.vn/fms/business/133618/domestic-producers-promote-vietnamese-wine.html
Woolever, L. (2014). What A Sommelier Thinks Of Vang Dalat, The Mighty Table Wine Of Vietnam. Food Republic. Available at: http://www.foodrepublic.com/2014/07/01/what-a-sommelier-thinks-of-vang-dalat-the-mighty-table-wine-of-vietnam/