Phuket Days: When being 'highso' is a question of one's vintage

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The Independent Online
Phuket - I have been hoping to become a little more "highso" for some time. Not everybody qualifies, but I think I have eased open the door by sitting beside the Andaman Sea on the Thai island of Phuket sipping a 1945 Beaulieu Vineyard Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

How do you know if you are highso? Having money helps; driving, say, a BMW is another good sign; appearing in gossip magazines clutching a glass and smiling is also good - and drinking wine is definitely a positive indication.

So what is highso? Surely it's obvious: ask a Thai speaker and you will discover it means high society, the correct usage being, for example, "he is so highso" or "I went to a really highso event".

And if it really was a highso event, the chances are that wine would have been served. Wine consumption is increasing by leaps and bounds, which is not bad when you consider that Thailand's most distinctive alcoholic beverage, Mekong Whisky, a closer relative of paint stripper than its Scottish namesake,is anything but subtle on the palate.

Wine may be a fad in Thailand, but it is a fad taken up with some fervour by the middle classes, who are being weaned off expensive French Cognac - at times, I kid you not, mixed with Coca-Cola.

One of Thailand's most enthusiastic wine connoisseurs is ML Tridhosyuth Devakul (known as ML Tri for short), a well-known architect of royal lineage. Like many Thais, he has discovered the sensible art of mixing pleasure with pleasure. One of his pleasures is to escape from the less than fragrant atmosphere of Bangkok to Phuket where he established The Boathouse hotel, or, to be more accurate, established a fabulous restaurant with an award- winning wine cellar, attached to a hotel.

With the sort of climate that demands the serving of red wines in ice- lined buckets to prevent overheating, the hotel's wine cellar is kept under severe air-conditioning, stabilising the red wines at around 17C and the whites a few degrees lower.

It was from this cellar that "The World's Best Cabernet Sauvignon" tasting drew most of its bottles. This was no wimpish event, with wine swirling around the mouth and then expelled into nearby buckets, but a serious, gulp-it-down test of 14 wines - plus another six which accompanied an immodest six-course dinner.

For the record, I didn't think much of the 1945 Beaulieu, an American vintage not really designed for consumption in its fiftieth decade. However the 1992 Saint-Hugo (Orlando) from Coonawarra in Australia, was a knockout and the rightful winner of the blind tasting.

ML Tri is now looking at the possibility of opening a magnum-only wine bar in Bangkok. They like to do things big here: Bangkok has the world's largest restaurant and biggest disco. Why not a big bottle wine bar?

But, I wonder, would it qualify as genuinely highso?