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Wine & Dine
May 22, 2012

Singapore Swig

Sheetal Munshaw indulges in some wine tasting around the city-state of Singapore and meanders her way through wine lists that keep her happily content

Wine tasting conversations revolve around Old World and New World, traditionalists and new age wine makers, but this city-country’s wine offering is in a league of its own.I’ve tried and tested Singapore in its different avatars and with every visit it has not only matched but surpassed my expectations…a hands-down winner and destination of choice for a single woman business traveller, a perfect holiday spot for young families with toddlers, a haven for shoppers and the fashion conscious, a paradise for food lovers and guess what? A world wine cellar for the wine aficionado! Yes we are talking Singapora! Where there are no vineyards, no wine estates, no indigenous grapes much like nothing else is indigenous, but where the consumer is still spoilt rotten for choice.

Singapore is a kaleidoscope of top brass hotels including iconic properties such as the Raffles Hotel. It is renowned for its uber-chic venues for fanciful gourmets as well as bustling street food outlets for the gluttons! Every part of Singapore has something to offer lovers of food and wine. Some ‘can’t go wrong’ pockets of the city include Clarke Quay, Dempsey Hill, Marina Sands, Orchard Road, Chijmes,a small enclosure of restaurants, Holland Village and many more….

Singapore’s wine-and-dine scene is an eclectic and ever evolving one. With new hot spots mushrooming every other day, it’s hard to keep pace with its offerings.

My first pick would have to be Les Amis, the group’s flagship restaurant on Scotts Road, a veritable institution established in 1994 that pretty much set the stage for stand-alone restaurants in Singapore. It was love at first sight. Call it my affinity for ‘all things French’ or my love for old world charm and this place has both. With 4000 bottles and over 2000 labels to choose from, it boasts among the most exhaustive wine lists in all of Asia. The wines predominantly pay homage to the revered terroirs of Burgundy and Bordeaux with a splash of hand-picked wines from other parts of the world.

An award-winning restaurant, it has a slew of accolades conferred by the likes of  Wine Spectator, the Decanter, the Miele guide et al. It has also been inducted into the ‘inner circles’ of the Traditions et Qualite and the Grandes Tables du Monde. Apart from its seemingly endless and inviting cellar, what’s striking is the conservation of traditional gastronomical  rituals such as the Gueridon service, which most establishments seem to have done away with, adding that touch of finesse and elegance to the experience.

Of course the key ingredient is Chef Leitgeb with his wealth of experience in Michelin star gastronomy in Europe and around the globe. Our four-course lunch was a decadent affair in the charming company of Raymond Lim, spokesperson for the Les Amis group. A classic opening with a Laurent Perrier Rose Brut teamed with a lightly smoked eel ‘tiede’. Our next course was a floral Cordero di Montazemolo Langhe Arneis 2010 from Italy paired with homemade pasta and Australian black winter truffles. While I didn’t love the wine on its own, it did pair effortlessly with the truffles. After all I wasn’t about to question the sommelier’s masterplan.

As the wines got more interesting, we had the 2008 Roger Sabon Chateauneuf du Pape Les Olivets to go with a succulent crispy-skin suckling pig alongside a Domaine Anne Gros 2008 Bourgogne Hautes Cotes de Nuits Cuvee Marine paired with a slow-cooked Atlantic halibut, an indulgent affair that met its finale on  a sublime sweet note – the 2005 Chateau Suduiraut Sauternes that was matched with a frozen pina colada coconut and mango.

For those with an affinity for cheese, there is Maitre Affineur Bernard Antony’s hand -picked cheeseboard to devour. A sumptuous meal and great company will always leave you with the feeling to come back for more. And to add to that I also have the greatest incentive to go back and sample Les Amis’ Simply Black Luncheons, blind wine tasting luncheons named after the black opaque glasses of the Gourmet Collection of premium Zweisel Glassware…an absolute must-do on any wine lover’s list.

Next on my list is an iconic restaurant and bar which arguably has the lion’s share of the most stunning views of this Lion City’s skyline. Perched atop the Marina Bay Sands SkyPark deck,  KU DÉ TA, part of the Balinese luxury brand, sprawls over 14,500 square feet and undoubtedly offers the most sumptuous panoramic 360 degree view of the city. A feeling of infinity takes over as you see the spaces within spaces in the restaurant, the club lounge and of course the sky bar…there could not be a more perfect setting for a sundowner.

Adding to the oomph factor are award-winning chef , Dan Segall of the London-based Zuma fame (he launched the Zuma in Hong Kong and started Shanghai’s elite MINT restaurant) and a chief sommelier driven by oodles of passion. Ex head sommelier at the Hakkasan group, Dario considers his wine list to be a ‘conversation’ between the guest and the sommelier. As you pick up the wine list you know exactly what he’s talking about, this is no ordinary wine list catalogued ‘by the varietal’ or by the ‘country of origin’ or anything you are used to seeing. This is truly the sommelier sharing his passion and taking you through his vision of the world of wines. On the list are some biodynamic wines a concept that is close to Dario’s heart. Sake is a part of the wine list as to his mind it is akin to wine in that it is a tradition dating back several thousands of years. He reinvents his list almost every two or three weeks and creates customised food and wine pairing sessions for wine enthusiasts.

The list is big on the bubbly. Over 50 champagnes including Louis Roederer as the house brand is any champagne lover’s dream come true. The champagne listing is a veritable ‘open book workshop’ on champagne. The list is meticulous and throws useful trivia as it classifies its wines in ways that you wouldn’t imagine. Non Vintage – signature of every maison champagne blend of wines of several years or Vintage – made only in the best vintages grapes are of the same year. Other unusual classifications include champagne making styles such as Late Disgorged Champagnes (Jacquesson Degorgement Tardif) and Zero Dosage (Larmandier-Bernier, Terre de Vertus Non Dose), RM Recoltant Manipulant (Growers Champagne, small produce, high quality, great value) Solera (Spanish system of blending wines) and then some more ‘common’ terms such as Blanc de Blancs, Blanc de Noirs, Rose champagnes are examples of champagne categorisation. The wines are also unusually classified as Terroir based, Left Bank Bordeaux and Right Bank Bordeaux and one that caught my eye was the ‘Indigenous’ – a chance to try obscure grape variety from their own land. Say bye-bye to the usual cabernet. The wines listed were truly indigenous the 2009 Rotgipfler, JR Reinisch Thermen Region, Austria or the 2010 Little Demon Verdelho, Maxwell McLaren Vale, Australia and so on! This 20-odd-page wine ‘book’ is nothing short of a mini encyclopedia on oenology. I can only encourage all wine lovers to add this to their ‘Must Visits’ the next time in Singapore. For wine connoisseurs, you will be delighted to find wines being presented in a manner that will help you find what you’re looking for with seamless ease and for the enthusiast you will learn a lesson or two or more as it unfolds before your eyes.

Singapore is a city/state of trends and traditions, in a manner where it’s almost hard to distinguish one from the other. An example of this is my next destination, Yantra, a chic North Indian cuisine restaurant at the boutique Tanglin Mall that indulges its visitors in traditional Indian culinary delicacies and international wine pairings. A restaurant that exudes opulence and classic Indian touches in its decor, it has won accolades such as the Singapore Tatler best restaurant, Miele Guide One of Asia’s Finest Restaurants et al. Everything from the furniture to the serving platters as well as the menu have been crafted to bring out the ethnic Indian experience.

And while the exterior stays true to the classic perception of ‘Indianness’, the head chef is quick to dismiss clichés pertaining to Indian cuisine, such as whether or not it pairs with wine, for instance. Chef Chintan Pandya, ex Oberoi Group, who spearheads the restaurant operations, pushes the envelope and hosts dedicated food and wine matching sessions orchestrated by master sommeliers of top wine producers around the world. He combines traditional Indian cuisine and adapts it to serve up unusual mélanges such as malaiwala phool,  broccoli florets marinated Indian style and served crisp or the paneer aur anjeer ke kebab, cottage cheese and fig patty stuffed with blue cheese and pan seared or the khajur aur anjeer ki rabdi  and the strawberry tudka, shahi tukda with fresh strawberries.

The ‘unusual’ factor also percolates into the Soma Bar concocting signature cocktails such as the watermelon rose martini or a desi touch – saunf caipiroska. While the bar lures wine enthusiasts with its over 250 label wine inventory with wines from all around the world except India. Rare and unique whiskeys from the heartland of Scotland including a 40-year-old Glenfarclas, Macallan, Mosstowie, Glenburgie delight the whiskey connoisseur.

And if you are a teetotaler you’re in for some serious tea appreciation with 12 specialty teas crafted for Yantra by the Gryphon Tea Company including exotic infusions such as Sangria tea or a blend of Muscat grapes.

Last but more than most definitely not the least, is my discovery of Vintry, a quintessential wine bar in the heart of Singapore’s vibrant Clarke Quay that offers the largest and most diverse selection of wines by the glass. A path-breaking concept imported from Malaysia where it originated, this wine bar gives oenophiles the freedom to explore wines ranging from ‘cheerful Sauvignon Blancs to noble Barolos’.  Thirty-two different types of wines are on tap, available by the glass, dispensed from avant-garde, enomatic, wine serving systems. Tasting portions range from tasting (25 ml) to half glass (75 ml) to full glass (150 ml).  Consumers can sample wines across price points starting at as little as 2 SGD and moving up to more serious wines priced at 50 SGD per serving. I was handed a pre-loaded wine card with a pre-determined value that gave me carte blanche to dispense and sample wines based on the palate and pocket. What’s also interesting is that one can taste wines before buying them and also have the opportunity to sample vintages that are usually hard to find by the glass.

Vintry houses a wine cellar with a 1000 label collection displayed in library style by varietal with brief tasting notes about each wine. The collection is a balance between Old World and New World wines, better known labels as well as boutique labels and quality produce. Its four enomatic machines make for a very versatile tasting offering and to further enhance the experience they have plans to offer highlights such as First Growths, Grand Crus and rare Reserve wines, on tap. An ongoing festival for wine lovers, Vintry is a great setting for interactive tasting along its long bar or a quiet intimate date in its secluded booths or convivial fun dining with high barrel tables.

Open seven days a week, this place is meant for the wine enthusiast and is a ‘cannot miss’ for those looking to discover, savour and experience wines of the world. Coming from our part of the world where most wines on the list are simply not available, not just by the glass but not at all, this was a truly delectable experience and a highlight of my Singapore wine trail!

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