Wednesday 15 January 2014

Art and Wine Mix at Art Stage Singapore

20140116 Art Stage Singapore 1A trip to Art Stage Singapore 2014 to view the limited edition champagne box designed by Dutchman Piet Hein Eek for Ruinart turned into an exciting evening exploring the works of international and local artists. The preview was well attended, yet due to the spacious layout of the Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre there was plenty of elbow room. Art from eight different countries and regions in Asia Pacific are laid out in a museum-like exhibition format. The fair boasts around 158 galleries featuring the works of over 600 artists.

Ruinart is the official champagne for Art Stage Singapore, and patrons of the arts had the opportunity to sip on Ruinart Blanc de Blancs as they viewed the installation designed by Piet Hein Eek. Composed of two wooden, trapezoidal modules arranged in the form of an ‘hourglass’ and filled with Ruinart Blanc de Blancs bottles, the structure utilises the same recycled wood that has become the designer’s hallmark. The design was inspired by Maison Ruinart’s ground-breaking decision to move from using baskets to wooden boxes to ship its Champagne in the late 18th century.

The installation can be viewed in the Art Stage VIP Lounge during the duration of the fair which runs from 16-19 January and is located at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre, 10 Bayfront Ave, Singapore 018956. Bottles of the limited edition Ruinart Blanc de Blancs by Piet Hein Eek will be available for S$188 (750ml) and and S$388 (1500ml). Prices exclude GST. More details about Art Stage Singapore are available at the following website.

Sunday 5 January 2014

The French Cellar Opens Its Doors

How does a person with a PhD in biochemistry and an MBA end up running a wine business? For Vincent Morello, the simplistic answer would be that he’s French, and wine runs in his blood as much as Tiger Beer is part of the Singapore identity. However, the genesis for his wine affair really began while he was studying at the Essec Business School. As a member of the institution’s wine club, Vincent recalls many evenings where producers and wine experts would conduct wine seminars and share their knowledge.

The French Cellar, an online wine subscription website established by Vincent and his partner Eric Joubert aims to take the uncertainty and stress out of choosing wine. To achieve this they have enlisted the help of sommelier Nicolas Rebut, who is based in France, to seek out high quality wines at good value. Nicolas burnished his credentials working in Michelin-starred restaurants such as Le Louis XV in Monaco and Le Meurice in Paris. He is also the co-author of a book on food and wine pairing titled “Vins & mets : Une affaire de gout”. 

Members can select from three subscription plans and receive two bottles of wines every month from different regions of France, which come with tasting notes, region maps and food pairing advice (pictured left). For example, the November Cellar Icons selection consisted of a Vosne-Romanee "Les Genevrieres" 2009 and Nuits-Saint-Georges “Bas de Combe” 2007, both from acclaimed producer Domaine Leroy. The Tasting Voyage and Vineyard Gems series offer the opportunity to discover wines from producers that are relatively new or are based in less famous appellations. Pricing for the Vineyard Gems, Tasting Voyage and Cellar Icons start at SGD89, SGD155 and SGD1270 respectively, with slight reductions if a subscriber signs on for a longer duration. There is also an option to sign up for a monthly subscription that can be cancelled at any time.

Vincent hopes that people will be open to trying out something different. “Our idea was not to resell wines that are already available in Singapore. We wanted to bring in something new, which we can do because of Nicolas’s connections in the wine industry.” So far, it seems to be working. Vincent says that the most re-ordered wine was the 2011 Domaine Marcel Richaud featured in October. Hailing from the village of Cairanne in the Southern Rhone, the appellation is not particularly well known, but the winemaker is reputed to be one of the best in the region. Wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne and the Languedoc-Roussillon are also available.

My tasting notes on a couple of the wines (kindly provided by Vincent) are available below, but why not judge for yourself? The French Cellar will be holding their second wine tasting on the 22nd of January at Artistry, 17 Jalan Pinang, Singapore 199149, from 7.00-9.00 pm. Check out the Facebook event page for more details.

Château Haut-Gazeau 2010 – Made from a blend of 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc. The producer is located in Lussac Saint Émilion on the right bank of Bordeaux. Fruity and light with soft tannins, this wine is made for early drinking. Immediate charm with sweet, plummy fruit and minty notes.

Champagne Pannier 2005 – Made by the COVAMA cooperative, a union of growers. A promising nose of honey and wax, but the palate is bone dry with notes of green apple and lemon curd. A food friendly wine that is in its optimum drinking window now.

Saturday 4 January 2014

The Evolution of Château Kirwan

20140102 Chateau Kirwan 1If her seven-week tour around Asia has been particularly rigorous, Mdm. Sophie Schÿler-Thierry does not let it show as she arrives for our lunch at the private dining room of Les Amis. Instead, she looks well-prepared and impeccably groomed in an olive green jacket and tortoise-shell spectacles. As Director of Communication and Market Development at Château Kirwan, Sophie is an experienced hand at promotion and public relations, a role that she created herself in the 2000s.

Not many people have the luxury of defining their own role, but Sophie is part of the Schÿler dynasty, who owns the Bordeaux negociant company Schröder and Schÿler. One of the firm’s shrewdest acquisitions was in 1829 when it bought Château Kirwan from the Guestier brothers. Initially, the wine was sold in Northern and Eastern Europe, but after the Iron Curtain put a dampener on exports, the firm crossed the Atlantic to find new markets in the United States, Canada and Japan.

Over an appetiser of tomato, mozzarella and sucrine salad drizzled with Provençal olive oil, Sophie shares that her next stop will be in Russia, where Château Kirwan will be poured at the Kremlin. Although the main market for Kirwan is still Europe, Sophie is keen to expand distribution. In her sights are Asia, India, the United Arab Emirates and Brazil. Production varies depending on the vintage. In 2009 hail reduced the crop by 35%, yielding only 6,250 cases, while production for the 2010 vintage stood at 14,500 cases. On average, around 170,000 bottles are produced annually, a third of which goes to the second wine, Charmes de Kirwan. Sophie likens the process of making wine to “raising a baby every year – a lot of work but also a lot of joy.”

Interest in Kirwan rose in the 1990s with the appointment of Michel Rolland as a wine consultant. Those of us present at the lunch had the good fortune to taste three vintages made by the celebrated oenologist, which displayed a balance between firm structure and depth of fruit. However, the château parted ways with Michel Rolland in 2007, feeling that his signature style was obscuring the spirit of the appellation. “There was an over exuberance of wood in the 1990s,” says Sophie. “Right now we use five different types of barrels from five different suppliers, but we are always experimenting with two or three others.”

Since 2007, the general management of Kirwan has been the responsibility of Philippe Delfault, previously the technical director at Château Palmer. “Château Kirwan has so much to say,” explains Sophie. “We needed someone full-time on the ground.” In 2008, an in-depth soil analysis was carried out to derive a better understanding of the potential of each plot. In turn, this allows Kirwan to tailor the grape variety to soil type. Clay soils for the Merlot, gravel mixed with a moderate amount of clay for the Cabernet Sauvignon, and deep gravel soils to bring out the best of the Petit Verdot. There is a higher proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot in the grand vin, while Charmes de Kirwan has more Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

Philippe is aided by Jacques and Eric Boissenot, recently described by The Drinks Business magazine as “the most influential wine consultants you’ve never heard of”. The father and son team advise on the blending process to highlight the purest expression of the terroir. Sophie compares the process to Van Gogh selecting the colours for a masterpiece, saying that it is critical to achieving the final result. Each grape and plot contributes something different to the grand vin – she gives the example of Petit Verdot as giving the wine colour and a note of spice that endears it to mildly spicy dishes.

I was asked at the lunch which wine showed the best, and it was a difficult question to answer. Sophie had been especially generous in showing us wines that were from very good to great vintages, and all lovely to drink now. The evolution in wine style since Philippe Delfault took over is subtle but definite, more apparent in recent vintages such as the 2010. The wines are more restrained, showing greater aromatic complexity and elegance. The high quality is testament to the painstaking management of individual parcels and strict fruit selection. While there have been some changes along the way, there is now a sense of surety at Kirwan in what they want their wines to express and how to achieve the desired results.

20140102 Chateau Kirwan 2

Tasting notes:

Château Kirwan 2008 - Very deep ruby appearance. Toasty mocha on the nose with apparent oak, ripe and enticingly deep aromas with a hint of violets. Palate shows blueberry notes with black fruit on the mid-palate, structured with plump fruit that pulls back and glides towards an effortlessly long finish. Tannins are soft and ripe.

Château Kirwan 2005 – A dry and hot summer allowed the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes to ripen fully with no threat of rot. The wine has a heady perfume with notes of violets and generous fruit. The power of the vintage is felt on the full bodied palate, which has formidable but ripe tannins. A staying finish. There is no hurry to finish this wine – it shows potential for further development.

Château Kirwan 2003 – Sophie stated that during the summer in 2003 there was “not a single drop of rain for nine weeks.” Nevertheless, the water retaining soils saved the vines and yielded a wine that is concentrated but with sufficient acidity. Very light sediment observed. The nose displays ripe black fruits with clay earth and milk chocolate. Palate shows some warmth and characters of game and incense, with a note of spice on the finish. Slightly raisiny but not jammy.

Château Kirwan 2000 – Another warm vintage, which allowed the Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot to make their contribution to the blend. A deep ruby appearance with some sediment. Licorice, blackberry and light bell pepper on the nose, framed by oak, with a well-defined palate that ends with notes of spice and incense. Persistent length. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Vinum is the distributor for Château Kirwan in Singapore.