AWL – how it works (Lestari Hairul of Esquire Magazine explains)

It tastes like a revelation, that’s what it is. That first sip of a Gewürztraminer is magic because everything finally makes sense, and I’m not just drinking it to wash down food. And all it takes is a vocabulary that I can relate to.

But before that, we train our noses. Set on the table is what looks like a perfumer’s kit of several different vials of scents. Edwin Soon one of the three founders of the Asian Wine Lexicon, removes a few vials and dips tester strips in each. We guess almond, specifically the kind you mix in as a powder for a drink; cumin, initially described as an Indian spice; Chinese medicine; and jasmine, or a white flower of some sort.

It goes on for a bit, a fun educational exercise that gets you thinking about what precisely it is that you smell. First, an association appears in your mind—possibly a food or a quality of it—and then with further sniffing, you distil it down to its component, perhaps the right spice or flower, or you might simply describe it as a type of dish that you’ve had before. It’s something that we naturally do since our senses are so tied to memory.

Coincidentally, Jiu Zhuang bar at Dempsey, where we’re at, is the same place where I’d tested the idea of improving your sense of smell to better appreciate the flavour profiles in drink (see the July 2015 issue)

 

And even more serendipitously perhaps, the tool that we use now to train our sense of smell was also developed by Sandy Blandin, perfume educator and founder of Nose Who Knows. Except instead of the standard perfumer’s kit that contains the common types of scents that can be found in most perfumes, this was made especially for tea, which can also be adapted for wines.

Switching to thinking about the aroma and the flavour profiles through the lens of an Asian gastronomic background somehow makes it all click. Referring to the actual lexicon, which includes both classic and Asian profiles, along with the descriptions of its character, makes the whole experience even more inviting. Now I just want to taste more and more wines just to see if the vocabulary fits.

We had been writing notes on our own, using Asian terms during wine tastings, and then we sat down and thought, ‘Look at what we’re all using!’ We seemed to be doing the same thing, so why not get together and do something,” says Soon.

Together with Jenny Tan and Daniel Chia, the trio spent about two years on research, including once-a-week tastings of wines at Soon’s before they came up with the handy, pocket-sized tool. “It’s not definitive or absolute. It’s there to be a guide, so we have suggested flavour profiles or descriptors, but we’d love it if you could add more too, because every wine is different,” adds Tan.

The Lexicon covers a good list of reds and whites, and though three of the wines we try aren’t listed in it—a Syrah-Nero d’Avola blend by Cusumano Benuara, a Valpolicella blend by Villa Girardi and a Müller Thurgau by Cembra—it’s possible to cross-reference with similar varietals that are in the Lexicon.

But this is precisely why user input is needed, and along with that, the team is also in talks with wine producers to come up collaboratively with specific charts for their wines.

Soon has written the book Pairing Wines with Asian Food, and helpfully, the lexicon has a section on that, too, including pairing suggestions. We polish off the wine with some Chinese classics done incredibly well by the Jiu Zhuang team including a whisky-infused set of xiao long baos and probably the best carrot cake I’ve ever tasted.

This reminds me a lot of a dinner I had much earlier in Newton Circus. Delicious local hawker food and paired not with a Tiger, but with wines for each course.

The best of the lot is a close tie for me: sambal stingray from Guan Kee paired with a Parxet Cava and satay from Siti Khadijah Seafood with a Zinfandel from Pedroncelli Winery.

Sounds strange? It works bloody well actually, party in the mouth and so on. Some of the other pairings are a bit of a hit and miss, but these two make so much sense in taste.

Organised by 75CL, the hawker dinner and wine pairing is called a “wine democracy”, an effort by its founder Cedric Mui to make wine more approachable and as easy-drinking in a culture as it is in Europe.

Deconstructing a dish to its component tastes and textures helps when deciding what wine to pair it with, but the problem with dining in an Asian manner is the approach to food.

Compared to having food by courses and matching wine by course, we normally dine with several different dishes to share, with each likely having a conflicting flavour profile, not to mention the multitudes of sauces that could change the taste of the dish.

For instance, we had orh luak (oyster omelette) paired with a Rosé wine and it tasted absolutely horrific—if you first dip a morsel in the accompanying chilli sauce. But taken as it is, the wine and the dish mingled nicely together.

Having the vocabulary to describe and understand wine might be the missing link to making better food pairing choices that will eventually lead to a normalisation of wine drinking locally.

The prices at 75CL are accessible; the guys go direct to the winery bypassing any middleman to get the best value, and by holding future tastings of a similar vein, wine-drinking will likely be perceived as normal as grabbing a beer to go with greasy hawker food.

A few years ago, I saw something very enviable in a San Francisco home, a gorgeous homemade focal point in the kitchen made up of wine corks from many undoubtedly happy evenings conducted with Bacchus.

It may be less possible with the alcohol tax in Singapore, but collecting mountains of corks aside, could we perhaps look to a future of wine imbibed more freely, and not just as a snooty exercise in looking flush?

It’s hardly a sacred mystery privy to only a few, and with these two groups doing their best to spread the education, there might be a rumble in the distance in the evolution of the local drinking and feasting culture.

First published in Esquire Singapore’s February 2016 issue.

Berry Brothers & Rudd

Fine Wine and Spirits Merchant, Berry Brothers & Rudd, who have an office in Singapore, held a Grand Portfolio Tasting this August.

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Champagnes & Whites
Amongst the wines tasted, I enjoyed the Thienot Brut for its texture, fruit and ready characters – every bit an excellent Champagne for $95. The house brand Berry’s UKC Rose Grand Cru Marguet was a surprise – many pink Champagnes show good fruit but lack the minerality – but this one has it all.

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How about a 2014 Tavel Rose, Prier de Montezargues – warm, lush with red fruit – and flavours that brought me back to Southern France – and all for $39.
Then there is also a perfumed and beautifully balanced 2012 Domaine de la Renjarde Cotes du Rhone Villages Blanc, similarly priced and every bit as enjoyable.
For oysters and cold seafood – nothing like a crispy lemon-lime pith flavoured 2013 Muscadet sur lie, Domaine la Haute Fevrie ‘Excellence’ – $35 – why look elsewhere?
I also tasted a Benjamin Lerous Auxey Duresses Blanc, a Philippe Colin Chassagne ‘Chevenottes’, a Mirum Verdicchio di Materica Riserva, Mas de Dumas Gassac Blanc and a  sweet Churn Petit Manseng – all delicious.

Reds
So many wines, so little time to taste (1 hours hour had gone by already and 1 hour left…). Red wines I enjoyed were the Olivier Bernstein 2009 Chambolle ‘Les Lavrottes’ as well as the 2003 Collection Bellenum Camille ‘Derriere la Grange’ – both 1er crus of course- yet if you could put gender to the wines, the former was masculine whilst the other, womanly. And for $295 there is a lovely 2003 Louis Remi Latricieres Chambertin – silky, juicy and structured – price wise, its not over the top for a Grand Cru…

Spanish wine lovers should not miss the Riu Trio Infernal by three French winemakers Combier-Fischer-Gerin ( from Crozes Hermitage, Provence and Cote-Rotie respectively) – who decided to make a Grenache-Carignan blend. Its a solid, Priorat big bodied, ripe, powerful yet fruity and balanced, velvety wine – and very good – I say that after having tasting over 35 Spanish wines the previous day.

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Two other wines I loved – the 2008 Paje Roagna Barbaresco – delicate and complex at the same time; and the NZ  2011 Churton Pinot – with beautiful fruit and texture, yet not overtly fruity like many NZ and New World Pinots; rather with some Burgundian restraint and structure.

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Fortified & Others
An oxidised, nutty with good lingering acidity wine form the Jura – the 2010 Domaine Grand  Cotes du Jura Savagnin – was calling out for some Lobster Amoricaine to accompany.

And to end – well, a Berry’s William Pickering 20 year old Tawny which I am told is a Quinta da Noval cuvee – with nuts and red fruit in the forefront and delectable sweetness and complexity.  Wait- there was also a Madeira – the Berry’s Rainwater 5 year old Medium dry that was lush and gushing with Chinese New Year fruit – preserved longan, dried plums and the like.

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I enjoy the occasional aged rum and here before me, just near the exit, were five rums that heralded a taste. I promptly got the required portions poured out and retreated to a corner of the room for a taste of the amazingly unique rums. Here are the notes – some descriptors given by a few passerby’s that decided to partake as well…

2000 Berry’s Own Selection Guyana Rum 15 year old – crispy crushed mixed fruit, raisins, plums and all.
NV Berry’s Own Selection Jamaican Rum Genex 13 year old – forward notes of bush salad, overripe pineapple and tropical fruit
NV Berry’s Own Fijian Rum – Lots of wood – raw pine with nangka, jackfruit, over the top pungency – totally characterful
NV The Pink Pigeon, Mauritian Rum – Creme caramel, balanced, sweet and smooth – will woo whisky and cognac drinkers over
NV Berry’s Own Selection Barbados Rum 10 year old – Fruit, caramel, glutinous rice, dates and some sea salt
( Note: for newly converted rum lovers – like myself – Berry’s offers other rums  – from Haiti, Guadeloupe, Nicaragua, Venezuela and more – imagine having these with single estate chocolates such as those from Amedei)

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After, I looked forlornly at the other spirits yet to be tasted – the Pot Distilled Junipero Gin,  the Hophead Vodka and Karlssons Gold Vodka from Sweden –  but I had had enough for the day – they would have to be tasted next time.

A Krug Unforgettable Journey at Jann

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“To enjoy Krug, you have to understand that there is no hierarchy in our wines,” said Olivier Krug recently at dinner held at Jaan. “We make two cuvées and they both get the same care. True, one cuvée may be more expensive because it’s a single expression of one year and it is rarer.”

The affable and well spoken Krug continued, “When we make a cuvée, it is the ‘blend of the best’  and it is re-created each year – you realise that it is never the same each year but the best possible quality that exhibits the full spectrum of flavours.  Unlike other houses, we ferment as many as 250 different grower plots separately. We taste each of the ‘plots’ and added to that, 150 other reserve wines (as old as 15 years) each year –  to create (blend up) the best possible cuvée each year. This is unlike many others who ferment all that they obtain from various growers/vineyards together.”

He explained, “Cuvée 1 is the Grand Cuvée which we have been making since 1948. Cuvée 2 or the Krug Vintage – composed of wines from a single year which is the ‘fullest expression of the year’. And there’s the single plot wines. After tasting plots for the cuvées, my ancestor/great great great grandfather Joseph Krug noticed that quality of the wine from the single vineyard (over eight years) was consistently good / special and one day decided to keep it aside and bottle it – hence the Clos Du Mesnil.  We also have a Clos d’Ambonnay (single vintage, single vineyard) and a Rosé.”

As we savoured our dinner over various bottles –  Clos du Mesnil 2002 and 2003, Krug 2003, Krug Grand Cuvée and Krug Rosé, Olivier Krug left us with with a few updates (he was heading off to the post launch party of Singapore’s Michelin guide)…

“Music and champagne go so well together – we realised that there is an increasing amount of research recognizing the considerable changes hearing can make to the tasting experience, such as the work carried out by Charles Spence and Janice Qian Wang of Oxford University’s Crossmodal Research Laboratory. As such, we are collaborating with various musicians to pair music with our wines.”

“We are very pleased about our Krug iD, a six-digit number on the back label of each bottle, allows you to identify your bottle by revealing its unique story, as told by our Krug Cellar Master. You just need to enter the Krug iD online, via krug.com or the Krug App!”

“A little advice – please do not use the flute- drinking Champagne from a flute is like going to an opera and using earplugs. Instead, enjoy your champagne in a white Burgundy wine glass or our ‘Joseph’ glass. See you in Champagne soon!”

 

My notes:

Clos du Mesnil 2002 – butter, caramel, velvety mousse, long with mandarin orange peel, pomegranate, buah duku and finishing with smoke and lime nuances

Clos du Mesnil 2003 – smoke, vanilla toast, lon gmid paate, minerals and complex with slightly bigger bubbles and a bittersweet big long finish

Rosé – salmon pink, complex nose with a delicate mousse and velvety texture. Small red fruit, minerals, chalk, mangosteens and long.