Thursday 28 November 2013

Berry Bros & Rudd Xmas Tasting

UK wine merchant Berry Bros & Rudd will be having their Christmas portfolio tasting featuring a selection of over 30 key estates and producers. Details as follows:

Date: Wednesday, 4th December 2013, 6pm - 8.30pm
Venue: Raffles Hotel, Casuarina Suite A & B, Level 3, 1 Beach Road, Singapore 189673

To register, RSVP to or call +65 66312717. Entrance is free of charge. This represents a great deal as tickets for the London tasting are going for £40.00.

Below is the list of producers for the tasting. 

Monday 28 October 2013

Château Margaux Looks East

20131028 Chateau Margaux main

“If you want to succeed in China,” quipped Thibault Pontallier, “you either need to have a dragonboat on your label, or you need to get personal.” As the Ambassador in Asia of Château Margaux, Thibault has been hard at work getting to know the region and its people. His father, respected Margaux winemaker Paul Pontallier, dispatched him to Hong Kong in 2010, marking the first time that Château Margaux has had a permanent representative abroad. The appointment was followed last year by the creation of a business development role in Shanghai. The move has paid off – Asia now represents the largest market for Château Margaux.

The strategy of Château Margaux is a curious blend of upholding tradition while at the same time staying ahead of developments in the wine industry. So while Margaux rightly boasts about its 500 year history, it is also leveraging on technology to reassure customers about the authenticity of their wine by incorporating a unique “bubble tag” on each bottle. Each bottle also has laser code etching and a secured capsule.

Like the phoenix, Margaux has risen from ashes time and again. In at least two occasions, the owners were forced to relinquish control of the property – once during the French Revolution and again during the Bordeaux economic crisis of 1973. Its modern history was written in 1977 when Greek businessman André Mentzelopoulos bought the property from the Ginestet family and set about restoring the château and its surrounding vineyards. The Bordelais like to talk about terroir, the subtle link between the vine and its physical environment, but without the nurturing hand of the Mentzelopoulos family, plus a sizeable infusion of cash, it is likely that Château Margaux would occupy a less lofty perch that that upon which it currently sits.
From that exalted position, the wines of Château Margaux are able to command prices of more than a thousand dollars a bottle. The five highest-priced recent vintages according to fine wine exchange Liv-ex are 2010, 2009, 2005, 2000 and 1996. However, a poor vintage is less of a disaster than it was in the past due to three key developments. Firstly, advances in winemaking technology and knowledge of the vine have enabled producers to overcome deficiencies due to the weather. Secondly, the introduction of second or even third labels has enabled the First Growths to be more selective about the fruit that goes into the grand vin. For example, the 2008 vintage of Château Margaux represented only 36% of the annual crop. Lastly, the best plots of land in Bordeaux are less affected by adverse weather. Hailstorms are practically unknown at Château Margaux, while frost damage is significantly mitigated due to the vineyards elevated location near the river.
Other than the grand vin of Château Margaux, the winery also produces two other wines – Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux and Pavillon Blanc du Château Margaux. Despite the similarity of their names, the Pavillon Blanc is the winery’s premier white while the Pavillon Rouge is the second red wine made from grapes that did not make the cut for the grand vin. As such, the quality of the Pavillon Blanc is stunning, a refreshing white that is so rich and complex it is difficult to believe that it is made up only of Sauvignon Blanc. No NZ grapefruit and lime here; the wine displays citrus, cream and white peach characters with a zesty lemon sherbet finish. Thibault shares that Japan has cornered the market for this wine, adding that “For Asia, this wine is perfect.” Production is a mere 1,200 cases annually and although the grand vin takes the limelight, Thibault says that it is the Pavillon Blanc that is more challenging to make due to the comparative fragility of Sauvignon Blanc.
What is it that makes Château Margaux so special? According to Thibault, the wine is all about charm and perfume. In contrast to perhaps Lafite or Latour, Margaux is a little lighter, a wine that develops in the mouth. This does not equate to a lack of complexity or ageability however. In fact, the two grand vins that we tasted over lunch could not be distinguished by colour despite being separated by a decade. The 1998 was beginning to develop tertiary notes of lea leaves and sandy earth, yet the fruit was still very much at the fore. “Very few wines can combine such power with such softness,” says Thibault. Starting from the 2009 vintage, Château Margaux has produced a third wine, called Margaux du Château Margaux. In theory, this should further improve the quality of the Pavillon Rouge and grand vin. The wine will debut in a limited fashion at restaurants in France and the UK this year.
I ask Thibault if there are plans for him to become more involved in winemaking at Château Margaux. “I still love meeting people,” is his reply. “Wine in China is incredibly exciting. Four years ago, China was like the Wild West, but now there is serious wine appreciation. You can’t fool the Chinese palate, their long culinary tradition makes them able to tell the difference between what is good and what is great.” His stint in Asia has seen him engage extensively with members of the wine trade and hold countless dinners with fans of Château Margaux. He lists roasted goose as an ideal pairing with the grand vin, while hairy crab and Pavillon Blanc are a sublime match.
There is a concerted effort to protect the image of a wine as prestigious as Château Margaux. Thibault says that “My job is actually quite easy – to say no to most people and to sell it to the right restaurants and distributors, people who will store the wine and serve it at the right temperature.” While this may smack of elitism, considering the quality and reputation of the wine, a glass of Château Margaux is definitely not for the everyday.
Château Margaux is distributed in Singapore by Wine Culture.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

The 9th Annual Champagne Tasting with the Institute of Masters of Wine

20131017 IMW Champagne Tasting 1 
Of all the wines in the world, champagne is undeniably the most recognisable. The word has even managed to enter mainstream consciousness as a proxy for living luxuriously, i.e. a champagne lifestyle. Fortunately, the 9th Annual Champagne Tasting organised by the Institute of Masters of Wine (IMW) was not limited to millionaires, and non-members such as myself were able to attend. At a very reasonable ticket fee of US$60, it was a rare opportunity to taste some truly great champagne in one sitting. In fact, the IMW bills it as “the largest and most prestigious tasting of champagne in North America.”

As befits champagne, the tasting also featured some of the most beautifully designed bottles on the planet. Champagne is an industry built on attractive packaging, from the transparent, bulbous Ruinart Blanc de Blancs to the floral design of the Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque 2004. Collaborations with fashion houses are de rigueur - Jean Paul Gaultier, Karl Lagerfeld and Emilio Pucci are some of the names who have dressed various limited edition champagnes. The award for Best Dressed at the tasting went to the Piper-Heidsieck “Cuvée Rare” 2002, a classy, jet-black bottle with the label etched in gold filigree. On the other hand, the Taittinger Nocturne was perhaps a bit too avant-garde, with an ensemble that resembled a purple knockoff of Absolut Disco.

The tasting was held on the first floor of the Ferry Terminal Building in San Francisco, a setting that afforded a good view of the San Francisco Bay Bridge and plenty of natural light. Cheese and bread (supplied by Cowgirl Creamery downstairs) were on hand to cleanse the palate and stave off hunger while tasting. I was reminded of the old adage “buy on bread, sell on cheese”, a saying on how cheese makes wine seem more palatable and smooth. In the interest of judging the wines fairly, I stuck to plain bread when tasting – the downside of writing about wine!

Having obtained a list of the wines beforehand (fortune favours the prepared), it was clear that the top favourites would be in the vintage category, but as there was a Blanc de Blancs vintage category as well a tradeoff had to be made. Sadly by the time I made my way to the vintage champagne table several of the more popular wines had finished, including the Dom Pérignon 2004. As expected, the rosé and dosé (off-dry) champagne tables seemed less packed, reflecting the lesser interest in these two categories.

Although most of the famous houses of Champagne were present, the lineup also included a handful of lesser known producers such as Lamiable and Michel Loriot. Peter Koff MW, one of several Masters of Wine present at the tasting, stated that “There are some wines here that are quite highly rated but not that well-known.” The majority of the vintage champagnes were made from the top vineyards, or Grand Crus, of which there are only 17 compared to the next level of Premier Cru, of which there are currently 42. With over 80 wines on pour, the tasting was sure to have satisfied even the most die-hard lover of bubblies.

Tasting notes:


Charles Ellner Cuvée de Réserve NV – Lean and incisive with green apple and light pastry notes. Dry and light bodied with good persistence. 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir.

Charles Heidsieck Brut NV – A blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay from around 60 crus. A high proportion of reserve wine lends depth and complexity. Generous and mouth-filling on the palate with a fine bead and notes of brioche and lemon. A very complete wine with a satisfying finish.

Eric Rodez Cuvée des Crayères NV – A blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay from vineyards in Ambonnay. Slightly cheesy nose that blows off after a while. Good breadth and intensity on the palate with notes of lemon peel.

Gaston Chiquet NV Brut Tradition – Gaston Chiquet is a grower-producer based in Dizy, run by brothers Antoine and Nicolas Chiquet. The wine shows fruity lemon and biscuit notes, mid weight with a creamy mousse and a slightly saline finish. The blend is 40% Pinot Meunier, 35% Chardonnay and 25% Pinot Noir.

G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge NV – The house signature of G.H. Mumm, in which 25%-30% of the blend is made up of reserve wines. Displays citrus notes and high acidity, light and rather fizzy.

Michel Loriot Cuvée Réserve Blanc de Noir NV – An unusual find, both in the blend and in the winemaking. Classical music is played during the fermentation process, with the idea that the vibrations “act on the wine’s structure and help it to express all its perfumes and aromas during its ageing”. A Blanc de Noir, but from Pinot Meunier rather than the more ageworthy Pinot Noir. A reticent nose with notes of lemon and chalk on the palate. Pretty austere.


Devaux Millésimé D 2005 – A lifted nose with notes of mint and eucalyptus. Quite unusual. Bright and mid-weight on the palate with lemony fruit. An equal blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Henriot Cuvée des Enchanteleurs 1998 – A stupendous effort from the house, showing captivating aromas of honey, meal, lees and toast. Focused and intense on the palate, with baked citrus fruit and honeyed notes. Brilliant.

Lamiable Cuvée Les Meslaines Blanc de Noir 2007 – The youngest vintage champagne of the tasting comes from the Lamiable family based in the Grand Cru village of Tours sur Marne. The palate shows apple and honeyed notes, framed by fresh acidity and a firm structure. There is a lot of depth to this wine. 100% Pinot Noir.

Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque 2004 – Elegant and lively with honeysuckle, biscuit and floral notes. Medium+ length. The blend is 50% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot Noir and 5% Pinot Meunier.

Piper-Heidsieck “Cuvée Rare” 2002 – An example of classy packaging. Broad, rich and dense with generous fruit and lip-smacking smoky, toasty flavours. A lengthy finish. Is it too early to start stocking up for Christmas?

Non-vintage Blanc de Blancs

G.H. Mumm “Mumm de Cramant” NV – Made from a single vineyard in the Cramant Grand Cru and bottled at a lower pressure than normal champagne. Shows good fruit definition with a slight toastiness overlaying citrus fruit and white flowers. An interesting and well-made wine.

Henriot Blanc de Blancs NV – An assemblage of Chardonnay grapes from the Côte des Blancs and village crus. Fine and elegant, displaying biscuit and citrus notes and a fresh finish.

Krug Grande Cuvée – The house prefers this wine to be called a “multi-vintage” rather than a “non-vintage”, hinting at its premier status. With a pedigree as rich as Krug, expectations are high, and the wine does not disappoint. Oat crackers, bread and toast dominate the nose, while the palate is a complex knit of citrus fruit, honey, toast and hints of hazelnut. A wine that pulls you in and refuses to let go.

Pierre Gimmonet & Fils Special Club Millésime 2005 – Mostly from vineyards in Cramant, some of which are over 40 years old. A gentle and charming wine, approachable even at this early stage of its development, but showing real class and longevity.

Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV – A rather light citric nose with elements of white flowers, honeysuckle and brioche. One of the lighter Blanc de Blancs tasted.

Vintage Blanc de Blancs

Ayala Blanc de Blancs 2005 – A blend of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Cramant and Chouilly; three Grand Crus from the Côte des Blancs. Forward nose of yeast and wet straw with pear and citrus notes, fine and balanced on the palate with a gentle and elegant mousse.

Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires 1995 – The nose displays notes of yeast, cotton, wool and ground meal. Superb definition on the palate, pronounced notes of smoke and toast with well- rounded acidity and a long, compelling finish. The patience of maturing this wine for over 15 years in cool chalk cellars has paid off handsomely.

Demière-Ansiot Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru 2006 – Light intensity on the nose with rather coarse bubbles. Seems a touch too sweet.

Louis Roederer Blanc de Blancs 2006 – Still young and tightly knit, showing precise lemon and toasty flavours. Beautifully proportioned and balanced, with the lithe muscularity of an Olympic gymnast. The fruit comes from Le Mesnil-sur-Oger and Avize.

Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs 2002 – A subdued nose but plenty of richness and power on the palate. Creamy with soft effervescence and notes of lemon peel and pastry. The wine was aged for 9 years before release.

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2004 – Fruit for this wine is sourced from the Côte des Blancs where Chardonnay reigns supreme. 5% of the wine was aged in new oak for 4 months. A rich, layered wine that is starting to show some evolution. Broad and mouth-filling with notes of smoke, toast, grilled nuts and citrus fruit. Excellent drinking now but shows incredible potential.


Ruinart Rosé NV – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. White peach and red fruit character. Fresh and subtle.

Veuve Clicquot Rosé 2004 – Tangerine and red berry notes with a suggestion of toast. Very refreshing and balanced with good fruit concentration and persistence. The blend consists of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.

Dosé (off-dry)

A. Margaine Traditionelle Demi-Sec NV – Warm and rich with pear and sugar cane notes. Inviting and approachable.

Taittinger Nocturne NV – Despite the garish packaging, the wine is surprisingly quite charming, with notes of sweet Chinese pear and a long finish.

Tuesday 24 September 2013

A Primer on Pinot

To judge by the packed crowd at the Pinot Noir Masterclass organised by local wine merchant Crystal Wines, market sentiment has firmly shifted away from the overextracted fruit bombs that dominated in the last decade. The grape that has all the limelight at the moment is Pinot Noir, a variety that has spread so widely across the world that it rivals Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay in terms of recognisability. An unlikely turn of events and one that shows what secret masochists winemakers are, as Pinot Noir is one of the most persnickety members of the vinifera family. Its early budding makes it susceptible to spring frosts and it has the same resistance to fungal diseases and viruses as a new-born baby. Yet its enchanting perfume and ethereal silkiness make it the Holy Grail for wine devotees.

Chaired by Olly Masters, winemaker at Misha’s Vineyard, the guest panel was made up of well-known figures in Singapore’s wine scene including wine writer, educator and judge Lim Hwee Peng, and sommelier Gerald Lu. As Misha Wilkinson (owner of Misha’s Vineyard) put it, we would be hearing about Pinot Noir from several different perspectives – a person who makes Pinot Noir, a person who educates about Pinot Noir, and a person who selects and serves Pinot Noir. Not to forget a whole audience of people who drink Pinot Noir!

Featured wines included Pinot Noir from Burgundy, Chile, USA, Australia, Martinborough, Marlborough and Central Otago, the latter three being from New Zealand. About the lineup, Misha commented that “It's not just a Pinot Noir masterclass but also about New Zealand's place in the world because we are representing three New Zealand regions in a global context.” We would be tasting the wines blind, but some hints were given by Olly, who pointed out that New World Pinot Noir had more overt fruit characters of red cherry, black cherry, raspberry, strawberry and plum while Old World Pinot Noir had more savoury and farmyard characteristics. With age, Pinot Noir tends to develop notes of mushroom and spice.

On pairing Pinot Noir with food, Olly stated that it is the most versatile of red wines as it matches with more food than any other. Thanks to gentle tannins, it can be paired with a variety of dishes including grilled salmon, lamb, venison, game birds such as pheasant and turkey, and even vegetables such as mushrooms. In a local context, I have found it an excellent match with roast duck and dim sum.

Tasting the wines blind had the effect of removing any preconceptions about the relative merits of each wine. In hindsight, the Burgundy was the odd one out, with barnyard and earthy notes that hinted at its origins. I found all three of the New Zealand Pinot Noirs excellent, with bright fruit and jewel-like intensity. The Oregon and Chilean Pinot Noirs led me astray, as I expected a more impressive showing from the former and vice versa.

Looking at the price points for these wines, one can immediately notice that Pinot Noir commands a substantial premium over other wines. Add to that the high markups that restaurants and hotels charge on wine and it can be difficult to sell Pinot Noir on-trade. Gerald also highlighted the challenge of maintaining the right temperature when serving Pinot Noir. “A bucket with ice and no water is the ideal way to bring a bottle of Pinot Noir to the perfect temperature of 14°C. The bottle should be cool to the touch and when poured into a glass it should condense a little but not to the point that the whole glass condenses.” Hwee Peng had the following advice for those looking to add Pinot Noir to their wine lists: “When it comes to inventory, you want to look for a Pinot Noir that shows well from now at the point of tasting until probably a year later, because a wine list changes every twelve months or so.”

It’s good news that Pinot Noir acreage is expanding worldwide, especially since Burgundy has now found favour in the Chinese market leading to the inevitable price increase. As the tasting showed, these New World regions offer remarkable quality at affordable (for Pinot Noir) price levels.

Tasting notes:

20130925 Pinot Noir Masterclass
Maison Kerlann “Cuvee H” Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2009 (SGD53) - Slightly musty and barnyard-like on the nose with notes of wet clay. Light bodied with soft tannins, lacking in primary fruit character.

Montes Alpha Casablanca Valley Pinot Noir 2010 (SGD50) - Leafy with sweet cherry notes, cinnamon and orange peel. High alcohol, giving an impression of sweetness, but well integrated. Expressive fruit and varietal character.

Domaine Drouhin Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2010 (SGD93) - Slightly closed with notes of red cherries and oak. Shows freshness but on the whole lacking interest. The producer has a good track record though so perhaps this wine is going through a quiet phase.

Bindi Composition Macedon Ranges Pinot Noir 2011 (SGD93) - Noticeable vanilla, cream and woody notes, with boiled sweets and slight gaminess. Quite overt, thickly layered with a candied sweetness to the fruit. Lively acidity provides a lift to this wine and prevents it from becoming flabby. Very good.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010 (SGD95) - Crushed strawberries and leafy notes framed by a suggestion of oak. Silky texture with apparent warmth on the palate.

Greywacke Marlborough Pinot Noir 2010 (SGD73) - Brilliant purplish crimson hue. Nervy acidity, layers of red fruits, strawberry and plums, exuding magnificent intensity and poise.  

Misha’s Vineyard Verismo Pinot Noir 2009 (SGD77) - An elegant and layered nose of cloves and small red berries gives way to intense redcurrant and raspberry notes on the palate. Showing gorgeous precision and length.

All wines available from Crystal Wines.

Tuesday 10 September 2013

Singapore Corkage Fees

While the fine dining scene in Singapore has exploded in recent years, restaurant corkage policies remain somewhat murky. The right to bring your own wine to a restaurant, or BYO, remains a contentious issue, as it means that restaurants are unable to make profits from the sale of their own wine. It is not uncommon for restaurants to mark up the price of a wine to twice the amount or more of its retail price.

The following list details the corkage policies of various fine dining restaurants in Singapore (and is also available at In general, you’ll find restaurants serving Chinese cuisine to be more accepting of BYO, while some have instituted a 1-for-1 policy where corkage is waived for one bottle for each wine that you purchase from the restaurant. The latter allows the restaurant to earn a decent margin and also provides the customer with an opportunity to showcase that treasured bottle he picked up from some faraway country. 

Note that the charges below are subject to change. It is always a good idea to reconfirm with the restaurant when making a booking. Restaurants that have corkage free days or do not charge corkage at all are marked with a ✪

Au Petit Salut (Contemporary French)
40C Harding Road
Singapore 249548
Tel: 6475 1976
CF: $50 per 750ml ($60 per 750ml on eve of / and Public Holidays)

Au Jardin (Classic French)
EJH Corner House
Singapore Botanic Garden Visitors Centre
Cluny Road
Singapore 259569
Tel: 6466 8812
Wine list:
CF: $80++ per 750ml bottle

Blue Lotus Chinese Eating House (Chinese)
31 Ocean Way
#01-13 Quayside Isle
Singapore 098375
Tel: 6339 0880
CF: $50 per 750ml (wine)

Brasserie Gavroche (Classic French)
66 Tras St
Singapore 079005
Tel: 6225 8266
CF: 1-for-1

Broth (Australian)
21 Duxton Hill
Singapore 089604
Tel: 6323 3353
CF: $30 per 750ml (wine), $40 per 750ml (sparkling)

Brussel Sprouts (Belgian Beer and Mussels)
Various outlets
Wine list:
CF: $30 per 750ml (wine), 1-for-1

✪Burlamacco Ristorante (Classic Italian)
77 Amoy St
Singapore 069896
Tel: 6220 1763
CF: Free corkage on Tuesday, $30 or 1-for-1 otherwise

✪ Coriander Leaf (Pan-Asian)
3A Merchant Court #02-03
River Valley Road
Clarke Quay
Singapore 179020
Tel: 6732 3354 
CF: Free corkage on Tuesday (à la carte dining only, for tables up to 8 pax, up to 2 bottles per table, other T&Cs apply), $30++ per 750ml bottle otherwise

✪Da Paolo Ristorante (Italian)
80 Club Street
Singapore 069448
Tel: 6224 7081
Wine list:
CF: Free corkage on Tuesday, $45 (wine & sparkling) otherwise

Da Paolo BistroBar (Contemporary European)
3 Rochester Park
Singapore 139214
Tel: 6774 5537
Wine list:
CF: $45 (wine & sparkling)

Da Paolo PizzaBar (Pizzeria)
44 Jalan Merah Saga
Singapore 278116
Tel: 6479 6059
Wine list:
CF: $35 (wine), $45 (sparkling)

✪ De Classic Golden Spoon (Chinese)
62 Seng Poh Lane
Singapore 160062
Tel: 6536 2218
CF: Free corkage all week

Fat Cow (Japanese inspired Steakhouse)
1 Orchard Blvd #01-01/02
Camden Medical Centre
Singapore 248649
Tel: 6735 0308
CF: $50 per 750ml bottle and 1-for-1

Garibaldi (Italian)
36 Purvis Street #01-02
Singapore 188613
Tel: 6837 1468
Wine list:
CF: $50 per 750ml bottle and 1-for-1

Gunther’s (Modern French)
36 Purvis Street, #01-03
Singapore 188613
Tel: 6338 8955
CF: S$70 for 750ml wine bottle / S$70 for a bottle champagne / Buy one from wine list and bring one free of charge

Iggy’s (Modern European/Asian/Australian)
The Hilton Hotel
581 Orchard Rd
Singapore 238883
Tel: 6732 2234
CF: $50++ per 750ml bottle and 1-for-1

✪Imperial Treasure (Chinese)
Various outlets
CF: Free corkage all week

✪Jade Palace Seafood Restaurant (Chinese)
583 Orchard Road, B1-13
Forum the Shopping Mall
Singapore 238884
Tel: 6732 6628
Wine list:
CF: Free corkage all week

Keystone Restaurant (Modern European)
11 Stanley Street
Singapore 068730
Tel: 6221 0046
CF: $55 per bottle (750ml) or 1 for 1

La Nonna (Traditional Italian country)
76 Namly Place
Singapore 267226
Tel: 6762 1587
CF: $35 per 750ml (wine), $45 per 750ml (sparkling/liquor)

Lawry’s The Prime Rib (Western)
333A Orchard Road
#04-01/31 Mandarin Gallery
Mandarin Orchard
Singapore 238897
Tel: 6836 3333
CF: $30++ for Standard Red / White Wine, $40++ for Sparkling Wine, Rose and Champagne (Per bottle) (January – October)
$40++ for Standard Red / White Wine, $50++ for Sparkling Wine, Rose and Champagne (Per bottle) (November - December)

Les Amis (Modern European)
1 Scotts Road
#02-16 Shaw Centre
Singapore 228208
Tel: 6733 2225
Wine list:
CF: $80 per bottle and 1-for-1

✪Mamounia Restaurant @ The Screening Room (Mediterranean)
12 Ann Siang Road
Singapore 069692
Tel: 6221 1694
CF: Free corkage every Mon & Tue (à la carte dining only, for tables up to 8px; Up to 2 bottles per table; Other T&Cs apply)

New Ubin Seafood
#01-174, Block 27
Sin Ming Road
Singapore 575680
Tel: 64669558
CF: Free corkage all week

Pasta Brava (Italian)
11 Craig Road
Tanjong Pagar
Singapore 089671
Tel: 6227 7550
Wine list:
CF: $30.00++ per bottle of wine (750ml) and $40.00++ per bottle of Sparkling/Champagne

✪Porta Porta Restaurant (Italian)
971 Upper Changi Gardens
Tel: 6545 3108
Singapore 507668
CF: Free corkage Tuesday to Thursday. Friday to Sunday $15.

Picotin Express (Pizzeria)
Various outlets
CF: $30 per 750ml (wine), 1-for-1

Rocks Urban Grill + Bar (Western)
2 Marina Boulevard
#02-01/02 The Sail @ Marina Bay
Singapore 018987
Tel: 6438 4404
Wine list:
CF: $30 per 750ml (wine)


Salt grill & Sky bar (Modern Australian)
2 Orchard Turn
ION Orchard #55-01 & #56-01
Singapore 238801
CF: $50 per 750ml bottle and 1-for-1

Saint Pierre (Modern French)
31 Ocean Way
#01-15 Quayside Isle
Singapore 098375
Tel: 6438 0887
CF: $50 per 750ml (wine)

Senso Ristorante & Bar (Italian)
21 Club Street
Singapore 069410
Tel: 6224 3534
CF: $50 per 750ml (wine), $60 per 750ml (sparkling/liquor)

Skyve Wine Bistro (Modern European)
10 Winstedt Road
Block E, #01-17
Singapore 227977
Tel: 6225 6690
Wine list:
CF: $30++ for wine or $50++ for sparkling per 750ml bottle or 1 for 1

Spizza (Pizzeria)
Various outlets
CF: $20 per 750ml (wine)

Sque Rotisserie & Alehouse
6 Eu Tong Sen Street
The Central #01- 70
Singapore 059817
Tel: 6222 1887
CF: $40 per 750ml (wine)/ $20 per 375ml (wine)/ $60 per 700ml – 750ml (spirits)

Table at 7 (Modern European and Gourmet Indonesian)
7 Mohamed Sultan Road
Singapore 238957

Tel: 6836 6362
CF: Free corkage on Mondays, otherwise $30++ for wine or $50++ for sparkling per 750ml bottle or 1 for 1

✪Wild Rocket
Hangout Hotel
10A Upper Wilkie Road
Singapore 228119
Tel: 6339 9448
CF: Free corkage on Tuesday, otherwise $25++ for wine, $35++ for sparkling, $50++ for magnums and $100++ for liquor. 

Wednesday 28 August 2013

A Star Showing from Astrolabe

In the 1980s, New Zealand made a style of Sauvignon Blanc that won consumers over with its vivacious gooseberry and freshly cut grass flavours. Some even found the aromatic descriptor of “cat’s pee” to be an accurate, if unattractive, label for the wines. The best examples of NZ Sauvignon Blanc come from Marlborough, with Cloudy Bay being the most well-known producer there. In fact, many of the people who worked at Cloudy Bay went on to establish wineries of their own, such as Kevin Judd of Greywacke and Ivan Sutherland and James Healy at Dog Point Vineyards.

Astrolabe CEO Jason Yank
Astrolabe, another Marlborough winery, may not be as famous as Cloudy Bay, but CEO Jason Yank is on a mission to change that. The winery is targeting top-end restaurants and bars, which form around 80% of its market. Jason lists KU DÉ TA, Boomerang and Level 33 as some of the places where Astrolabe can be found. The wine is also sold in independent fine wine retailers such as Drinks & Co., which was the venue for an Astrolabe wine tasting on the 15th of August.

Astrolabe was started in 1996 by winemaker Simon Waghorn together with his wife and a couple of close friends. The winery was named after a navigational device used to determine latitude based on the position of the stars, and even the winery’s logo is based on a motif of the instrument. The name also appealed to Simon for its connotations of exploration and discovery. 

Jason explains that Astrolabe strives to focus on sub-regionality, which is reflected in the “Valleys” range. These wines show the characteristics of individual sites, and when blended together form the base for the “Province” wines, Astrolabe’s classic range which exemplify typical Marlborough flavours. Offbeat wines are to be found in the “Vineyards” range, which serve as a creative outlet for Simon’s winemaking skills. The range of wines is an example of how the local wine market has developed, and just having one plain Sauvignon Blanc won’t cut it anymore. “Compared to other countries, Singapore has matured much faster due in part to the large expatriate community,” says Jason. “There was high demand for our other wines such as the Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling.” Jason credits Singapore for making Astrolabe a hugely successful brand, although he notes that competition here is high.

If the wines of Astrolabe are anything to go by, they indicate a continuing evolution of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Less vegetal, riper fruit characters and more complex flavours herald a new level of quality. This is especially crucial as the success of this category has led to the inevitable supermarket discounting to push sales. Jason is adamant on protecting Astrolabe’s image as a premium label. “I’m not looking for a big box chain discounter,” he says. “Brand equity is the most important thing for us.” 

Tasting notes:

Astrolabe Province Marlborough Pinot Gris 2012 – Intense and floral nose with notes of rose petals, pear and longans, dry and light bodied with medium acidity and length. Jason describes this as “a good food wine, and a good quaffing wine as well.” 

Astrolabe Kekerengu Coast Sauvignon Blanc 2010 – Astrolabe is the only winery to source grapes from the Kekerengu Coast sub-region of Marlborough, which has limestone soils and a longer growing season due to cooling ocean breezes. A pungent and vegetal nose of ripe guava, mushy peas and butterhead lettuce, with the palate displaying further gooseberry notes. Considering that Sauvignon Blanc is usually released and drunk quickly this wine, having had three years to develop, represents an oddity. Might not be for all but is quite pleasantly exotic.

Astrolabe Awatare Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2012 – Primary aromas of blackcurrant pastilles, fresh curry leaf and passionfruit. Clean and well-defined on the palate with cleansing acidity and a long, juicy finish showing herbal notes. Very vibrant and graceful. 

Astrolabe Province Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012 – This wine is the biggest seller for Astrolabe. Bell pepper on the nose, given lift by blackcurrant leaf and lime notes. Well balanced acidity with a taut, focused fruitiness. A solid and eminently enjoyable wine.

Astrolabe Taihoa Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011 – It’s always dicey when winemakers take an aromatic variety such as Sauvignon Blanc and introduce it to oak. This wine though, rewards those who seek the intrigue of something not quite mainstream. It is still first and foremost a Sauvignon Blanc, with intense blackcurrant pastille and passionfruit on the nose with a slight vanilla richness. Lees stirring has added some flesh to the bony structure of the wine along with a silky texture.

Astrolabe Province Marlborough Pinot Noir 2010 – A pale ruby-red hue with light notes of cherry and rosemary. Nicely integrated oak with soft tannins and medium length. Drinking well now.

Astrolabe is currently distributed in Singapore by Brand Connect Pte Ltd.