Forget about wine. There is no wine here. Most people haven’t even heard of wine and wouldn’t know how to serve it if they did. Not that I hold it against them, they have other priorities.
It used to be that you could buy bottles of Dalat wine from ambulant push cart merchants on street corners, along with beer and water. Dalat wine might even have some potential as wine; Dalat city is in the mountains, so higher altitude, cooler, apparently good growing conditions for grapes. But by the time you bought a bottle on the street, the stuff had been baked to smithereens in the Vietnamese sun. In the streets or markets, just getting beer cold isn’t always easy, getting wine chilled is simply unheard of.
This trip we didn’t see any push cart merchants selling Dalat wine. Maybe they gave up.
We certainly did. And contented ourselves with beer. Cold beer. (And, yes, we accepted ice in spite of the bacterial risks) We didn’t always have a choice, but created a ranking of our favorites:
Saigon Red and 333 were the top two choices, with a slight penchant for 333. They resemble each other. Both are relatively light, blond, and digestible. Not too bitter. Fluid enough to feel like it hydrates almost as well as water (but who am I kidding, right?). Apparently 333 is the rising local favorite and it was widely available.
One night at Nam Bo, a woman was pushing Fosters. She was dressed and made up like she should have been down on the Boulevard at Pigalle(red light district in Paris). Although we prefer to drink local, we bought one. And I was reminded of that Monty Python Flying circus sketch about Australian beer being like making love in a canoe (that is f*cking close to water). That’s pretty much what it was, but at least it wasn’t bitter.
We learned to stay away from the Saigon green label, closer to lager. Thicker, more bitter and more aggressive bubbles. Not agreeable.
Tiger beer we liked fairly well, and ordered it often enough. It is also slightly thicker than the 333 and Saigon red, and slightly sweeter rendering it less digestible than our favorites.
Heineken did less promotional work than our last trip in 2007 when all the streets were decorated with Christmas trees made with Heineken bottles. In these times of crise, the imported beers, significantly more expensive, must not be as successful. This was available in upper level restaurants, ranking well in our line up. Digestible but with slightly aggressive bubbles.
For the record, we drank water too, and also with ice at times, but nice cold beer with meals was most welcome.
All of that being said, beer just isn’t the same thing; our systems get bloated with too much of the stuff.
On the last day of our trip, we got all cleaned up and went to the Hyatt for lunch. The Park Hyatt in Saigon has a state of the art Italian wine bar and restaurant on the ground floor. The design is so sleek that you could be anywhere in the world (not that I particularly enjoy that feeling, why fly halfway around the world to be just ‘anywhere’?). But they had wine. By the glass. Chilled. The lady who served us had trouble with the corkscrew, obviously not a contraption she was used to using. Nor had the strength to use. She had to call her male colleague who had no trouble. The incentives for screw caps became so obvious; I understand why more and more growers are moving in that direction for their Asian markets. The wines we selected by the glass were over-kill-chilled but there were no problems regarding oxidation or miss treatment. Promising for the future of wine in Vietnam, if the government gets around to reducing the 300% import tax.