Wine Tasting – To spit or not to spit, and others

Wine Tasting

Everyone loves to try out a product befor

e buying. This is especially so for wines. Fortunately, many retailers today are organising theme-based wine tastings (by varietal, region or same producer across different vintages) so that we can test their wares before committing to purchase. Travellers are also putting scenic winery visits into holiday itineraries; once you’ve worked your way through a cellar door tasting, you’ll find it’s a highly addictive and enjoyable process. In a restaurant setting, however, a tasting is a very different thing. Because –when ordering by the bottle–you can’t just move on to the next wine if the one you tried isn’t to your exact tastes. Every kind of tasting has its own set of rules. Continue Reading →

A taste of Margaret River, Australia – Fraser Gallop Estate

Australian wine – almost a market synonym for Shiraz from South Australia. Known for its strong flavour, overwhelming ripeness and full body texture, Shiraz appears to one of be the favourite varietals for most Singaporean drinkers. Grown on a small corner of South Western Australia, with terrain and climate akin to the highly prized and reputable Bordeaux region in France, Margaret River has been setting the stage on fire with its own class of style.

Continue Reading →

My love for Champagnes, plus a few suggestions

My wife S and I, like so many in our generation, are passionate about wine. That doesn’t make us experts. In fact, I’d say we’re pretty far from being considered experts. But we’ve tasted enough to both know what we like as well as to appreciate something really special. Unfortunately, the kind of wine we both enjoy the most, and drink the most of, is Champagne… I say “unfortunately” because Champagne is far from cheap. Sometimes it feels like we’re constantly stocking up and running out of bubbly, while our other white and red wine supplies stay pretty much constant. Continue Reading →

Sweltering days: a Pinot Grigio and a Rosé to cool off with

Up and coming white wine, Pinot Grigio.

Ah, Summer. The season of dressing light, ditching the covered shoes and bringing out the flip-flops. Hit the beach and bake the skin to a crisp brown. This may sound great for most people in the world but when you’re actually here in the midst of drowning humidity between 80 to 90 per cent and combined with average temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius, it’s almost as if Singapore is a giant dim sum steamer. Continue Reading →

The Noosa International Food & Wine Festival (part 2)

For our second night attending the Noosa International Food & Wine Festival, S and I chose to attend a guest chef dinner at Embassy XO, a small but chic local East meets West restaurant. In addition to the one we went to, there were four other guest chef dinners happening in town, plus a massive eight course, eight (celebrity) chef Mediterranean Degustation experience held at Berardo’s restaurant and bar. S and I had chosen the Embassy XO dinner because the guest chef in question was Teage Ezard. Continue Reading →

Two reasons to head up to Hunter

Now, you might not need any convincing to head up to the Hunter Valley on your next trip to New South Wales, Australia. Knowing it’s the country’s oldest and one of its most exciting wine regions may be all the reason you need. But just in case you needed a little extra motivation, S and I have sussed out two amazing places that alone are reason enough to head up to Hunter.

1. The Rock restaurant and Andrew Clarke’s stunning food

There are good vineyard and wine country restaurants and then there are great ones. The Rock restaurant at Poole’s Rock Wines is definitely one of the latter. It’s been named the Australia’s Best Restaurant in a Winery at the 2008 Restaurant and Catering Association awards. It is the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide’s highest ranked restaurant in Hunter, and the only restaurant in the region with two hats. Housed in a glass-walled building, overlooking a block of 90-year old shiraz vines, the clean modern room and its views are equally inviting. The Rock is actually two restaurants in one. By day, it is the Firestick Cafe, a cool, contemporary cafe that serves simple but beautifully made cafe food: wood-fired, thin crust pizzas; a luxe wagyu burger with caramelized onions and fries; pork schnitzel and crushed potato, rocket and waldorf salad. The pizzas looked especially gorgeoous. And I love Chef Andrew Clarke’s combination ideas, like the confit pork belly, caramelized fennel and gherkins pizza. (Keep reading)

New mixed wine lots

Regular readers will know that many months ago I decided to work with one of Singapore’s more interesting wine distributors to package some very unique mixed lots, available exclusively through this site. I’m very pleased that the cases sold really well – so well in fact that Estima, the distributor, has actually sold out of many of the wines in the two cases we put together.

After several rounds of tasting (which is always a blast), we’ve come up with two new lots for you all. This time, we’ve decided to reduce the number of bottles. Each lot has just six bottles. What’s really cool is that almost all of the below wines come from small, cult producers. You won’t see most of these wines on restaurant wine lists. Mostly because they are incredibly hard to come by.

The Starter Kit, priced at S$306 nett, has one white, one sticky and four reds. The white is one of my current favourite wines. In fact, I like it so much that after tasting it, I ended up buying 3 cases of it. The 2002 Coteaux du Loir Rouge Gorge, Domaine de Belliviere, is also really interesting. It has a distinct and lovely taste with a nice, long finish.

These are the wines:
2005 La Lune, Mark Angeli (Loire Valley, France)
2004 Les Calcinaires, Domaine Gauby (Roussillon, France)
1998 Virgin Hills (Victoria, Australia)
2002 Coteaux du Loir Rouge Gorge, Domaine de Belliviere (Loire Valley, France)
2002 Bebianito, Prieure Saint Jean de Bebian (Languedoc, France)
2003 Muscat de Rivesaltes, Domaine des Chenes (Roussillon, France)

The Collector’s Kit, priced at S$830 nett, is made up of six exceptional wines. These, unlike the wines from the Starter Kit, probably should be laid down for a while and saved for your really special occasions. All of these wines are really unique, with distinct tastes and bouquets. The 1998, Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru, Prieure Roch, is particularly special and rare. The vineyard is owned by the co-manager of Domaine Romanee Conti and these wines are hoarded by collectors.

Here are the wines:
2003, Vieilles Vignes Blanc, Domaine Gauby (Roussillon, France)
2001, Riesling Clos St Imer, Goldert Grand Cru, Domaine Burn (Alsace estate, Northern France)
2003, Saint Joseph Les Reflets, Francois Villard
2000, Chateau Beau Soleil, Pomerol
1998, Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru, Prieure Roch
2003, Saumur Champigny, Chateau Yvonne

If you want more details on each of the wines, please click over here.

To order either of the two special mixed lots, please email Eric at eric@estima.com.sg or call Eric at +65 6226 3766 on Monday to Friday, from 9.30am to 7.30pm. Your transaction will be handled by Estima directly. (Sorry, this is for Singapore-based readers only at this point.)

Wine Garage, Singapore

For several months, friends have been telling me that I simply have to check out Wine Garage, the contemporary American wine bar and restaurant in Singapore owned by the same guys that started Brewerkz (and conveniently located just next door). One friend raved about their steak tartar. “It’s the best in Singapore,” she gushed. Another said that she liked the place because of their commitment to trying to source ingredients from organic and/or agriculturally sustainable businesses. Another, less environmentally concerned, said that it had a great atmosphere and “awesome wine list, dude.”

wine_garage.jpg

While I’d been meaning to head down to Wine Garage for some time now, because of a busy work and travel schedule, each time I thought I could sneak off to sample some of their food, I had to postpone my visit. This week, however, I finally found some time to drop in. Two friends who had been as recently as last week, three other buddies from out of town, my wife S and I took over a big table in their long, narrow, air-conditioned dining room. As mentioned, Wine Garage sits next to Brewerkz; it’s on the left if you are facing the water. What was interesting to me (and perhaps only to me) is that the restaurant appears to have much more outdoor seating than indoors, which in a country whose average night time temperature is still between 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit, I found kind of surprising. That said, all of the outdoor tables were taken but the indoor area was pretty empty. There’s an old cliche in Southeast Asia… if you look at any restaurant that offers al fresco seating, it’s usually the expats who are sitting outside, happily sweating through their meals while the Asian customers are all inside, ensconced in air-conditioned comfort. Looking at the audience mix at both Brewerkz and Wine Garage the night we were there, I have to say that there is a grain of truth to that old stereotype.

The menu at Wine Garage has a nice variety of yummy-sounding snacks, starters, mains and grilled meats and seafoods. The food is unpretentious and uncomplicated. We started our meal with a variety of starters: hot smoked Scottish salmon with aioli, soft herb salad and toast; mixed charcuturie with pickles, mustard and toasted country bread; crispy braised pork belly with apple, arugula and fennel; steak tartar with toasted country bread and traditional garnishes; and truffled macaroni gratin. Everything was really good (although the macaroni gratin could have used a tad more flavour). I especially enjoyed the steak tartar and the pork belly, which was perfectly balanced — crisp skin with juicy, moist and tender flesh. I have some friends who like to come here regularly after work. They almost always just have drinks and several plates of the starters. I can now see why. These dishes are great for sharing and work very well with a well-chosen wine.

For my main course, I tried the “Garage” burger with aged cheddar and house-made bacon, zuni pickles and hand cut fries. S had the same thing but without the bacon. (We’re kind of boring, huh?) Because the last few times I’ve had burgers at Brewerkz, I have been terribly disappointed, I wasn’t expecting much. But our waiter had recommended the burger over other mains that were twice as expensive (which is also the sign of a really good waiter), so I decided to give it a whirl. And I am really happy I did. The burger was excellent. It was cooked perfectly to my specifications (medium-rare of course) and was moist and tender. I loved the chopped and flavoured zuni pickles, which contrasted nicely with the meat, melted cheddar and yummy bacon. I have to say that the “Garage” burger has very quickly made it into my top 5 in town. (I will, of course, have to try it a few more times to ensure consistency.) One of our dining companions had the roasted Kurobuta pork chop with braised white beans (note to the restaurateurs if you ever read this; “braised” is spelt incorrectly on your menu), marjoram and arugula. I love both braised white beans and pork, so I happily accepted a big helping of both from her. It was delicious. The pork was juicy, tender and fatty, i.e. perfect. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to try my other friends’ dishes. And honestly, I was so engrossed with my burger that I didn’t even think about it.

I was extremely impressed with my first visit to Wine Garage. The wine list was, as my friend said, “awesome.” The food was, while not exactly cheap, affordable and delicious. The restaurant itself has a fun, happy and casual buzz. It’s a great place to hang with friends and simply have a good, uncomplicated but very, very well-executed meal.

Wine Garage
30 Merchant Road
#01-07 Riverside Point
Singapore 058282
Tel: (65) 6533 3188

Special wine offer

winelot1.jpg

I’m a big wine lover. That said, I don’t often post on wine, mostly because there are so many great wine blogs and bloggers out there who are already doing a fantastic job, and doing it much better than I ever could. I’ve been lucky, over the years, to have had the chance to taste some excellent wines and more recently to get to know some great winemakers, retailers and distributors. A recent chance-meeting at a dinner party has given me the opportunity to work on something really exciting with a team of really passionate wine distributors based in Singapore.

In partnership with my new friends, I’ve helped put together two mixed lots of wine that are available for purchase. The first is a “starter kit”, i.e. a really (really) affordable collection of six fantastic wines. They’re perfect for buying and drinking right away. They are also perfect if you are just getting into wine. The second lot is more serious. It’s a “collector’s case” of twelve amazing wines from tiny, boutique vineyards in France. These are all special wines which you can buy, store and then open for those special occasions.

For info on how to purchase these, please click over to my Shop page. There you will find info on whom to contact, plus the prices for the two kits. Below is some detailed info on the various wines that we have selected for each of the two kits. Happy drinking!

Chubby Hubby Starter Kit
6 bottles, 3 bottles of red wine and 3 bottles of white wine.

These are the reds:
2003 Chateau Haut Barreyre (Bordeaux)
This wine comes from an estate that has been producing fine Bordeaux wines since the 18th Century. This sauvignon/Semillon grapes is a yummy wine which drinks well now but also ages well, increasing in depth and richness. It is well balanced with cherry-chocolate fruits and a fine acidity.
2003 Chianti Classico, domaine Castello di Rampella (Tuscany, Italy)
This yummy Italian is 85% San Giovese and 15% Cabernet Francs. It is a full bodied style with blackcurrants and spices and is very well balanced. It is a fantastic wine to pair with any meat course.
2001 La Chapelle de Bebian (Languedoc)
Prieure Saint Jean de Bebian has been leading the push to produce incredible wine in Languedoc since the late 1970s. The Grenache, Carignan and Syrah blend has a nose marked by leather and spices. The wine itself is soft and fresh with a taste of stewed fruits.

Here are the whites:
2003 Bourgogne Blanc, Dominique Laurent (Burgundy)
Another stunner from this crazy garagiste. This wine is 100% Chardonnay. It has a ripe and floral nose and is round and fresh on the palate.
2003 Ch. Barreyre (Bordeaux)
This estate has been producing fine Bordeaux wines since the 18th century. This Sauvignon-Semillon blend is perfect to start your meal with.
2004, Muscadet Expression d’Orthogneiss, Domaine de L’Ecu (Loire Valley)
Owner Guy Bossard is one of the pioneers of Bio Dynamic viticulture in France. He has also helped raised Muscadet wines to an astounding level of quality. This wine is very ripe and fresh.

Chubby Hubby’s “Collector’s Case”
12 bottles, 8 reds and 4 whites.

The reds:
2003 Beaune 1er Cru Vieilles Vignes, Dominique Laurent (Burgundy)
From one of Burgundy’s top garagistes, this wine is made only from “old vines” (which means they are pre-phylloxera vines, unlike those planted and used by most vineyards in France). This 100% Pinot Noir wine is bursting with flavour and has a nice finish.
2003 Nuits Saint Georges 1er Cru Les Vaucrains, Dominique Laurent (Burgundy)
Another stunner from Laurent. This 100% old vines Pinot Noir comes from one of the best parcels of land in Burgandy. The wine has a lovely texture and a character marked by blueberries, blackberries and strawberies.
1989 Chateau Du Puy (Bordeaux)
This estate, farmed by the Amoreau family for 400 years, is located in the Cotes de Francs appellation next to Saint Emilion. Bio dynamic viticulture and careful vinifications bring us a wine with great length, complexity and elegance.
2000 Chateau La Negly, L’Ancely (Languedoc)
A new expression of Languedoc wines made from Mourvedre and Grenache grabes. This is a powerful wine that has been aged in new oak for 24 months which helps concentrate the fruit and gives the wine a nice ripeness. The tannins are robust and give the wine a muscular structure.
1998 Prieure Saint Jean de Bebian (Languedoc)
This Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre blend is one of the most elegant wines made in the Languedoc region. It has a superb ripeness and notes of black fruits, cinnamon and black pepper on the nose.
2003 Le Clos des Fees, Domaine du Clos des Fees (Roussillon)
From one of the most promising estates of Southern France, this Grenache, Syrah, Carignan and Mourvedre blend is vinified in large and small French oak barrels. This very concentrated wine impresses with its silky texture, very fine tannins and its phenomenal length, revealing intense black fruits and aromatic herbal notes.
1995 Mas de Daumas Gassac (Languedoc)
Since the 1970s, Damas Gassac has been behind a push for better and better wines from Languedoc. An unusual blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Malbec, this wine is a striking demonstration of the relevance of planting Cabernet outside the usual Bordeaux area. The wine displays Southern France’s wild side yet remains elegant.
2003 Chateauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes, Tardieu-Laurent (Rhone)
Michel Tardieu is one of the most talented winemakers in the Rhone Valley. In partnership with Burgundian Dominique Laurent, he produces gorgeous wines. This Chateauneuf, made of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre grown on “old vines”, is very rich and possesses a superb texture and fruit purity.

The Whites:
2004 Pouilly Fume Pur Sang, Didier Dagueneau (Loire Valley)
After 20 years of farming and vinifications, Didier Dagueneau is now reaching a cult status among white wine lovers around the world. Made of 100% Sauvignon grapes, these wines display an amazing blend of fruits, mineral and spices. They are truly in a league of their own.
2004 Chateauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes blanc, Tardieu-Laurent (Rhone)
Made of Grenache blanc and Roussanne, this wine displays very fresh notes of fruit, spices, fenel and dill, without the heaviness sometimes found in white Chateauneufs. Great ageing potential.
2004 Anjou Vignes Francaises, La Sansonniere (Loire Valley)
Mark Angeli is one of the most important producers in the Loire Valley. For the past 15 years, he has questioned bad viticultural habits and has been promoting a return to more natural and sensible farming methods. This wine, made form 100% Chenin French vines not grafted on US rootstocks displays a pure blend of ripe white and yellow fruits underlined by spices. On the palate the wine is full and round with an amazing lightness.
2003 Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru, Dominique Laurent (Burgundy)
Celebrated for his great red wines, Laurent is also a very talented white producer. Grown in one of the few Grand Cru vineyards of Burgundy, this 100% Chardonnay Corton Charlemagne possesses superlative density and ripeness. The hallmark minerality of Corton Charlemagne is for the moment hiding behind the fruits, but a few years in bottle will bring the wine to a balanced glory.

50% Viognier, 50% Marsanne, 0% Cork

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

I’m a big fan of Viognier. It’s a wine varietal that I only discovered 4 years ago, and I’ve been hooked ever since. The first one I had was a D’Arenberg “The Last Ditch” Viognier. It was one of many wines served at an amazing al fresco lunch thrown for a bunch of foodies and winos by Tasting Australia and held at Geoff Hardy’s vineyard in McLaren Vale, South Australia. The Viognier was fresh from the barrel, poured into clear glass bottles by the winemakers at D’Arenberg, and rushed over to satisfy we hungry alcoholic-gourmands. The wine, we were told, wouldn’t actually be released for several months, so we were getting a special preview. I’ve also since learnt that New World Viogniers are often best drunk as early as possible, and we couldn’t have gotten this batch any earlier. It was sensational.

Over the past few years, I’ve enjoyed tasting many Old World and New World Viogniers. I have to admit, oddly enough, I prefer many of the New World ones over the more well-known French Condrieus. One of my favourites is the Clay Station Viognier, a reasonably priced, multiple-award winner.

I saw the above pictured wine, a Viognier-Marsanne blend, a couple weeks ago in the wine cellar of Singapore’s latest uber-chic (and expat oriented) gourmet store/café, Corduroy & Finch. I was amused by the bottle’s label. “How very un-French,” I thought, as I admired the clean, bold graphics. That all the other text was also in English meant that this wine was clearly designed for international export. I was especially tickled by the text on the bottle’s back label, which suggested the wine would go very well with Chinese food and a description of the wine itself, which read, “50% Viognier, 50% Marsanne, 0% cork.” Obviously, someone working in the marketing section of La Vieille Ferme wines has been having a helluva time amusing him or herself. Even if I wasn’t a big fan of these grapes, I would have bought the bottle based on the labels.

The wine turned out to be only so-so. There was too much alcohol present in both its nose and on the mouth. I’m not sure if it would age well either. That said, I was pleased by the efforts that the winemakers (and their colleagues) made to make the wine extremely marketable and attractive. As I said, it looked, well, very un-French.

A Lunch with Krug

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

It’s great to be married to a food writer at times. Take today for example. S was invited to a fabulous lunch and Champagne tasting and was allowed to bring me along. It was a double treat for me. The lunch was held at Iggy’s, one of my favourite restaurants in Singapore, and the Champagne brand was Krug, by far my favourite Champagne house.

Krug’s young and incredibly friendly winemaker, Nicholas Audebert, had flown in for the occasion, as did an old friend, Anouk Blain-Mailhot, who is Veuve Clicquot and Krug’s regional marketing director. Monsieur Audebert was a fabulous host and before we ate, he led all of us present through one of the most novel and enjoyable wine tastings I’ve ever gone through. We were presented with a glass each of Krug’s Grand Cuvée, Rosé, and Vintage 1990. We were then asked to think about the wines according to our senses. To help us, Audebert offered for each sense, 6 things that he felt would help us describe each wine. For smell, for example, he passed around 6 cups, each with a markedly different scent and asked us to pair the smells to the wines. For hearing, he played 6 different kinds of music and asked us to match the balance in the songs with the balance in the wines. What was most interesting about these exercises was the variation in how all of us present interpreted the wines. For example, with the music, I paired the Vintage 1990 with a slow, seductive vocal jazz piece, while quite a few others paired the song with the Rosé. A Russian operatic piece that I paired with the Grand Cuvée, someone else had matched with the 1990. To end the tasting, Audebert divided us into three groups; each was assigned to one of the wines, and put in front of a blank canvas, with paints and brushes. We were then asked to paint what we felt our assigned wine represented. My group was given the 1990 and we painted a naked, high-heeled woman, dancing in a forest—sensual, wild, yet elegant.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com Image hosted by Photobucket.com

After our art session, we got down to some serious eating. Iggy, as always us, fed us well. Our menu consisted of Avruga with angel hair pasta tossed in classic caviar condiments; Steamed foie gras with tofu and ponzu; Marinated tartare of tuna; Gourmet salad with maguro, French beans and soft boiled quail eggs; Sakura ebi cappellini with extra virgin olive oil and chili flakes (my favourite course); Roasted quail with truffle risotto; and Champagne jelly and sorbet with elderberry foam. Phew!

In all, it was a fantastic meal. My favourite of the 3 Champagnes we tasted was easily the Vintage 1990. It had a softness and a sweetness, with a structured maturity, that the other two didn’t have. That said, the 1990 still doesn’t come close to the Clos du Mesnil, my all-time favourite Champagne and the superstar of the Krug stable.