Chinese New Year Dinner (1st of 2019)

Treasury Wine Estates hosted the first of the Loh Hei dinners to usher in the year of the Boar. Amongst the dishes and wines served up, the Cuvee Grand Esprit Champagne was a befitting suitor for the Abalone Yu Sheng. Other enjoyable dishes included a BBQ whole suckling pig, hokkien fish maw soup, crispy fried soon hock with trufle sauce and broccoli, fujian prawn ngoh hiang and stewed hokkien mee sua.

Guests were encouraged to find their favourite pairings of food and wine. Highlights for me included the pairing of Penfolds bin 407 (2016) with the mee sua, the Beringer founders estate cab sauv (2016) with ngoh hiang and the synergistic pairing of an entire new style of ‘wine’ with the suckling pig. The wine is the Penfolds Lot 518 spirited wine with Baijiu.

Most interesting ‘wine’ of 2019

This is a wine that has been ‘ennobled’ with the famous Chinese Baijiu. You might expect the wine’s fruit to be subdued, but the blend is so sensibly achieved (only 6% of the spirit was added to wine), that all the wine’s aromas are still intact. Similarly, in this blend, the wine has not diluted the baijui’s spirited veurve . The spirit still shines through at the back palate. The ‘bite’ you get from drinking the Baijui still comes through, but as a spicy and rich finish that warms your mouth. Potent enough and ideal as accompaniment to some Asian dishes that would otherwise overbearing and subdue wine. I look forward to trying the lot 518 with prawn paste chicken, rojak, Sichuan hot pot etc.

Sweet ends came with the lovely pairing of Penfolds Father 10 year old Tawny with love letters and pineapple tarts.

Barolo of Pio Cesare

Pio Cesare’s Barolo Wines – published in Wine & Dine end 2018

On the mist-covered vine-clad hills of the Piedmonte, you’ll find two of Italy’s most engaging wines – the Barbaresco and Barolo. Grown from the Nebbiolo grape, no less.

Nebbiolo wine flavours

What lies in every bottle is pure poetry. In its youth there is already maturation and complexity. The Nebbiolo grape produces lightly coloured red wines with a huge dose of astringency. The aromas are plentiful – blackberry, strawberry, cherries, raspberries with overtones of herbs, liquorice and roses. Over time, Barbaresco and Barolo wines mature to reveal perfumed aromas and flavours such as truffles, smoke, leather, tar, violets, wild herbs, tobacco, prunes and animal notes – the hallmark of lovingly aged fine wine.

But that’s not all. Choosing when to enjoy your Nebbiolo wine is half the fun.

Traditional, Modern or something in-between?

Some Barbarescos and Barolos are made in the traditional style. Here wine is kept with skins and seeds for two months then aged in big old casks made of chestnut or Slovenian oak called botti. The liquid then slowly oxidizes. What results is a tannic and austere wine, with delightful notes of tar, camphor, leather and more. These bottles are best approached after ten years.

Then there’s the ‘New Wave’ Barbaresco and Barolo. Made in the modern style, with fruit flavour intact, the wine is aged for a shorter period in new small oak barrels and/or a blend of new and old oak (French and Slovenian).

With climate change, producers of the New Wave claim that being able to harvest ripe grapes means that the traditional method of extended maceration is no longer necessary. The resulting wines have creamy, fruity-sweet New World characteristic coupled with vanilla, smoke and spice overtones imparted by the barrels. Best of all, one does not have to wait too long for the wines to confer gratification.

Then there’s the middle-ground winemakers. Several producers felt that the New Wave style approach led to Barolos and Barbarescos being undistinguishable from other New World wines. They began to use production methods which incorporate the traditional and the modern. Wines are aged in both the botti and barrique. You may surmise that this style incorporates the best of the worlds.

Pio Cesare is one such producer and estate of the latest category. Grapes still go through a relatively long maceration, pre- and post- fermentation; but ageing is both in small barriques (composed off 1/3rd new, 1/3rd one year old and 1/3rd two year old) as well as in the traditional botti.

Recently, fourth generation Pio Boffa was in Singapore to present ‘An insight into Pio Cesare Single Vineyards, Blends and Barrel Samples’.

Pio Cesare dates back to 1881 and in historical terms, is as traditional as you get. In those days, every Piedmont family each had their secret recipe of how to produce wine. Grapes were purchased from vineyards in various parts of the region. For example, if grapes came from the western hills of Barolo, they were grown on sandy light soil with some stones. The resulting wine would have a certain finesse, with softer tannins and is often approachable early. If grapes were grown on the limestone compact soils of the eastern hills, the wines will be concentrated and have heftier tannins. Wines would be long ageing.

Yet soils are not the only distinguishing factor. Research has revealed that microclimate is another variant. The western commune of La Morra offers wines that are often fruity and elegant, thanks to the moderating influence (warmth) of the river nearby.

And in the east, Serralunga d’Alba and Monteforte d’Alba, the commune wines are perfumed but big and tannic, the result of a colder growing area.

By the 20th Century, Pio Cesare sought better control of the fruit source and began acquiring vineyards. Production today remains at 400,000 bottles per annum – the output of a boutique winery. With total control of the vineyards, Pio Cesare began offering single vineyard wines.

Wine lovers can enjoy the Pio Cesare crus of Barolo Roncaglie (La Morra), Barolo Ornato (Serralunga d’Alba) and Barolo Mosconi (Monforte d’Alba).

Pio Boffa admits that these single vineyard wines are indeed complex and impressive. Yet they are not considered to be their flagship wines.

Rather, it is the ‘classic’ Barolo – a blend of five different communes that is the estate’s best wine. Each commune imparts the following characteristics

  • Serralunga d’Alba (vineyards of Cascina Ornato, La Serra and Briccolina) – structure and longevity
  • Grinzane Cavour (vineyards of Gustava and Garretti) – finesse and body
  • La Morra (Roncaglie vineyard) – elegance and immediacy
  • Novello (Ravera vineyard) – freshness and fruit.
  • Monforte d’Alba (Mosconi vineyard) – structure and power.

With each commune and their single vineyards contributing unique characteristics, the ‘classic’ blended Barolo is the singularly most expressive and memorable wine of the Pio Cesare estate.

The following notes of a ‘vertical-horizontal’ tasting attest to this.

Barolo Roncaglie 2016 (single vineyard barrel sample) – fruity with floral characteristics, dark ripe cherries, dried herbs and a hint of nuts, good structure, long-sweetish finish. Can be enjoyed.


Barolo Ornato 2016 (single vineyard barrel sample)
– Attractive fresh mint and cherry notes, flavoursome with fresh herbs, basil, white pepper. Bigger than previous, almost powerful and mid-length with lingering nuances of eucalyptus.

Barolo Mosconi 2016 (barrel sample) – Fruit and herbs with small fruit dominating; some pepper and lots of spice. Balanced with fruit sweetness, tannic structure and some complexity. Develops in the glass with vanilla overtones. A wine for longer maturation.

Barolo blend of Mosconi 2016, Roncaglie 2016 and Ornato 2016 (possible classic Barolo for 2016) – Reminiscent of a lighter version of Mosconi but quite compex with good fruit, boiled sweets, herbs spices with fine tannins. Potential for the long haul.

Barolo Roncaglie 2015 – Purple edge and dark core. Forward sweet fruit including crushed cherries and hay. Touch of higher alcohol tones add some complexity. Fine structured tannins, ripe and long finished with fruit.

Barolo Ornato 2015 – Sweet ripe cherries, plums and black fruit. Meaty characteristics. Luscious with stronger tannins and creamy finish.

Barolo Mosconi 2015 – Complex with crushed cherries, ripe fruit as well as cooked fruit underlined with leather tones. Blackcurrant flavours with medium tannins and a lifted sweet finish.

Barolo blend of Mosconi, Roncaglie and Ornato, 2015 – Superb balance of fruit (cherries, currants, etc.), tannin, acid and sweetness. Elegant and subtle yet this wine is no pushover. Tannins are fine-grained, ample and the wine has with a long finish. Evident that this wine combines the qualities of the single vineyards in its expression.

Barolo 2013 – Sweet fruit, soft tannins, complex and utterly delicious.

Barolo 2010 – Florals giving way to fruit characters. Perfume of orchids, complexity in the nose and palate with leather and earth. Ultra fine tannins, ready to be savoured. Memorable.

Barolo 2008 – Fruit emerging after perhaps a closed period. Some florals and meat, and starting to show some life. The peak has still to be reached.

Barolo 2004 – Big muscular wine, with coffee, meat, banana and mega-tannins. Thick and textured, with a long finish. Impressive.

Barolo 2000 – Elegant, balanced, fully-flavoured and complex. Soft yet with sticky tannins and a lightly-dry finish. Beautiful drinking. Another favourite.



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.