A fter getting hopelessly lost and mired in a dispute with my tuk-tuk driver over the correct pronunciation of the words Monireth and Boulevard, (he won) I eventually made it to the little wine shop on the far side of “Olympic.”
I was late, sweaty and cursing under my breath for ever having agreed to come all the way across town during peak hour. The “grumpy old man” in me reared his ugly head.
At the Unique Vineyards wine store I met Seng Bun, the owner, to try a few of his personally selected and imported Australian wines. I was greeted by what I assumed to be Bun’s son, who was positively bursting with nervous excitement and wore a smile as wide as a farm gate.
Then, for a brief moment, my own mortality flashed into being and let out a fleeting but terrifying scream. It was a scream that only I could hear, as it slowly dawned on me that the enthusiastic 20-something-year-old lad in front of me was indeed Seng and this was his business.
Seng said his parents were humble people who led a simple life. They were the first household gas suppliers in Phnom Penh after the war, setting up shop in 1985. He started his studies in New Zealand as a 17-year-old, way back in 2008. After graduating in Marketing and Business Management at Massey University, Seng returned to Cambodia to open his wine shop in June this year.
Seng said he has always enjoyed wine and wanted to share the wines he discovered on his travels in New Zealand and Australia with the people of Cambodia. His enthusiasm is infectious and he’s an impressive young man who wanted to come back to his home country and share all he had learned and explore new opportunities for himself and his family.
Seng is good company and his wines are impressive. Wandering around his well-ordered and set out wine store, there are many familiar labels, wines I have a shared history with and have fond memories of drinking. Having lived and made wine in McLaren Vale and Coonawarra myself, it was heart-warming to see Balnaves wines of Coonawarra and the Curtis Vineyards and Shingleback wines from McLaren Vale on the shelves.
Seng says that along his journey he met and became friends with Mark Curtis and is now a big fan of the Curtis wines.
Seng’s wife, Ly Ching Ching, pours a glass of their 2015 Red Label Shiraz, and its aromas are leaping out of the glass with the kind of youthful gusto present in the store. This is an early drinking style wine, a medium bodied Shiraz that is clean and juicy with plum, raspberry, fruit mince and mocha notes and barely perceptible oak or tannins, making it an ideal bbq wine.
Having thrown me off guard, Seng is ready to deliver the haymaker and pours me a very generous glass of the 2014 Curtis Vineyard Cavaliere Shiraz, a big, brooding black monster in the glass that awakens repressed memories of a region I adore and whose vines I have shared the cycles of the seasons with.
This beast in the glass has aromas of plum and black fruit, pepper and five spice, anise, olive, violets, axle grease, pencil shavings, coffee grinds and dark chocolate supported by oak characters of vanillin, brioche and cigar box. The palate reveals a full bodied red wine with juicy, sappy fruit that fills the mouth then moves across the palate with a creamy, soapy texture before the fine ripe tannins and new oak grips and takes hold.
This in an impressive McLaren Vale Shiraz, and when Seng says he is selling it for only $34, I am floored, out for the count, he has well and truly won me over.
There are several other real gems of wines in Seng’s Unique Vineyards wine store, like the Mt Langi Ghiran wines and Hanging Rock from Heathcote in Victoria. There is a Sparkling Shiraz from Shingleback, the style unique to Australia and one of my favourite wine oddities. Prices across the board seem outrageously cheap.
Seng, his wife and David Tea, another young Cambodian, talk about the benefits of aged wine, not to mention aging and as I look at my glass and notice the thousand lines, spots and scars of time worn deep into the backs of my hands. I look up and peer at the bright, beaming and very intelligent young faces across from me and I feel pretty good.
I will happily drive across town and raise a glass to them anytime they will have me back.