Red Apron has a wide range of fine wines. TRACEY SHELTON
O nation is drunken where wine is cheap, and none sober where the dearness of wine substitutes ardent spirits as the common beverage."
So said Thomas Jefferson, third US president and the primary author of the American Declaration of Independence, signed on July 4, 1776.
As Americans spend this time of year celebrating their independence from the kingdom of Great Britain and the drafting of their most famous document - penned by a man once mockingly referred to as the president for wine - I've been reflecting on my own unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
It has been my good fortune to have found my way to Cambodia, where I can celebrate and enjoy the great range of fine-quality, reasonably priced wines readily available.
Tax not want not
"I think it is a great error to consider a heavy tax on wines as a tax on luxury. On the contrary, it is a tax on the health of our citizens."
That's Jefferson, again. But while many countries have begun to agree with his wine ruminations, others continue to bundle wine with other alcoholic beverages, often merely as a cheap grab for revenue.
In the midst of the Southeast Asian wine boom of the late 1990s, Thailand raised its taxes and duties on wine by 150 percent, stifling a promising local industry, disenfranchising higher-end tourists, expats and business travellers. This has also created a black market for wine, estimated to be as high as 80 percent of all wine turnover - it is out of control.
Vietnam, too, has engineered decline and corruption in its once-promising industry with a 70 percent import tax and a 60 percent consumption tax,
Other regional countries have seen the benefits of moderate and well-thought tax regimes on fine wine.
In Singapore, for example, new tax rules were recently put in place where alcoholic beverages are no longer taxed by container size but rather on alcohol content, meaning that some lower alcohol wines have actually come down in price. A bottle of wine containing between 12.5 and 14 percent alcohol (about average for a medium to full bodied bottle of red wine), attracts a very reasonable tax of around US$5.80 per litre.
In Hong Kong, the government did away with import taxes and duty on wine. On a recent trip there, I found a very dynamic and burgeoning market positioning itself as a regional hub for sourcing and re-exporting fine wines.
Cambodia employs a reasonable to moderate tax rate of 70 percent, but wine is classified as a luxury item. Still, this is quite competitive compared to some of its neighbours and many an expatriate friend makes regular forays into Cambodia to stock up.
The growing list of wine bars, fine wine stores and wine focused restaurants springing up across Phnom Penh and regional tourist centres can only do more to enhance the country's attractiveness as a destination.
Red Apron is one of my favourite wine stores in Phnom Penh. Also featuring a wine bar, the store on Street 240 has a large range of reasonably priced French wines and a good smattering of wines from around the world. Its regular wine tasting evenings at around $20 per head are a great way to try different styles and varieties before you buy.
Quarto Products is a wine wholesaler with a hole-in-the-wall retail store on Street 108 near Wat Phnom. It boasts a small range of well-selected wines from all over the world, and it's a good place to hunt out something different.
The Food Pantry opened up last month at 125 Street 105 in Boeung Keng Kang III. A large selection of Australian and New Zealand wines is complimented by a selection of French wines consisting of some very good buys from premier regions, as well as wines from many of the world's leading producers.
They do free in-store tastings on Friday nights, a great way to take the edge off your week.
Darren Gall is the director of AK Wines. He has been
working in the wine industry for 20 years, a great deal
of which has been spent in Southeast Asia. Visit AK Wines at
125 Street 105 or email [email protected]