Savored…Our unconventional tradition of Sparkling with Duck

It turned out that this might be a good post for the #14 Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #MWWC14. 

wine-stain1-2If there is a month that is jam-packed with events and gatherings for me, it will be December, every year. Lets see…there are five birthdays (three kids and two adults), at least two important wine related dinners, a handful of reunion dinners and lunches before, during and after Christmas, New Eve parties and one wedding anniversary, the most important because it is mine.

This year in early December, hubz and I celebrated our 16th years of marital union. It didn’t seem too long ago when I received a proposal from this man at the House of Blue (in Hollywood, CA). He wasn’t exactly on one knee, but was holding a cigarette in one hand and a glass of Bourbon Coke in the other, and I said yes. It was unconventional, definitely not traditional but always and forever memorable.

So the proposal was unusual, the annual celebration should follow suit don’t you think? I am not sure how or when we started this tradition, but it has become something that we look forward to every year. We might have missed it a few times due to our busy schedule, but somehow we always managed to make it up. We remember and celebrate this special day with lunch of Peking Duck with Sparkling or Champagne at a local Peking Duck Restaurant. Just the two of us, one Peking Duck with all the sides, a couple of extra dishes and one bottle of Sparkling or Champagne. It is obviously a lot for two, but then it is our tradition. This year, we brought a bottle of Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc to witness our anniversary luncheon feast. We deliberately arrived at the restaurant (which is within a swanky shopping mall right in the middle of town) earlier than our reservation to have the restaurant chill the bottle (already chilled actually) and hubz could squeeze in a quick hour of gym time while I window shopped, another typical tradition. After about 1.5hour, we met at the restaurant and the feast began.

Sparkling with Duck

Going by the traditional belief that white wine with white meat, red wine with red meat, we are so not adhering to it. Sparkling and Champagne have always been viewed as a celebratory drink or an aperitif to go with simple light nibbles, definitely not something one would consider to go with duck. Personally I thought it paired well. Maybe a Blanc de Noir might be better for some structure of Pinot Noir. But the firm acidity of the Blanc de Blanc cut through the fattiness and richness of the Peking Duck like hot knife through butter. But then again Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc has always been quite different from others in the similar category. This Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc acidity was notably firm but not biting, there were good fruit notes, vibrantly youthful, that stood up to the duck brilliantly, laced with delicate fresh-baked bread nuance and toasted creaminess in the finish.

We were thinking we would be able to handle another bottle, it was that delicious. We probably would not have any problem sitting there drinking and nibbling on duck till dinner time. We left with leftovers of the duck, mildly intoxicated and thoroughly satisfied. So our anniversary was not a typical candle light dinner, bouquets of flowers, evening slow walk in each other arms or exchange of expensive gifts. We were never really into the typical and predictable, so we created our own tradition. The only thing we will probably change is to bring an extra bottle with us next year.

Happy and Prosperous New Year to one and all. CHEERS!

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Spotted…Top 10 Things I learnt from Bob Davids

Several weeks ago, I had the unique opportunity to spend time with Mr. Bob Davids, owner of Sea Smoke Cellars. We hosted a Trade and Sommeliers Tasting, as well as a private dinner.
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Hence we have had lots of conversations about wine, wine business/business practise, leadership and entrepreneurship. I have never thought I know it all, but talking to someone with so much life and business experience, it was absolutely an eye-opening experience, a couple of “ah-ha” moments, lots of ideas were invigorated, and inspiration found and renewed. Here are the key 10 things I learnt:

1. Go to where they are ain’t
2. Take care of your own monkey. Make the decision that you are paid to do.
3. Don’t believe in your own bullshits.
4. If it is worth doing, it is worth over doing.
5. Never raise your voice
6. Never be afraid to make mistake, as long as you learnt from it.
7. Maintain the fun factor.
8. Always do what you should, and do the best that you can.
9. True leadership is not about keeping and accumulating power
10. It takes 4 years to remove a stink.

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There were actually a lot more that he shared with me. But it was not easy for me to remember after being under the spell of Sea Smoke Pinot Noir and Grand Cru Burgundy (that was what we drank when we were not drinking Sea Smoke)

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What a week it was!

Savoured…The $30 Challenge

Where I live, prices of wine can be high. In fact prices of wine are even higher in some of the neighbouring countries with duty on tax as high as 500% on value, alcohol level and so on. The only exception is Hong Kong which has now become a haven for wine purchasing due to the exemption of duty and tax.

Our tax and duty on wine is about $9.50 to $11 per bottle, depending on the alcohol level. The higher the alcohol content, the higher the tax and duty. I think you get the idea how much we pay for a bottle of good whisky or vodka. *.*

So most of the time, we (most of my wine collector friends) do not really give any thoughts to purchase and taste $30 or less wine, well maybe a few sips at weddings or cocktail functions. So when I was invited to join a group of wine connoisseurs and collectors for a $30 challenge, I could not say no, In fact I was thrilled. When we (especially the different groups I am with) do not think twice to drop serious dollars for wines we love to drink, it is easy to forget to consider that there might be good wines, diamonds-in-the-rough types. Maybe not every wine, but most must have started at that price level, maybe not quite be $30, but humbly I am sure.

It was not simply to go to a supermarket and pick up the first $30 on the shelves. As we are a bunch of curious, critical and possible cruel group of people, we looked for wines that were made from unusual grape varietals, unexpected blend, or unexpected wine growing region for the usual grape varietals. All were served blind and we had to guess grape varietals, vintage, and wine producing regions over local zichar cuisine.
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This first pair of white was quite intriguing. The one that got us stumped was made from an unfamiliar grape: Jacquere. I thought it was oxidised and the colour was quite dense. We guessed every possible grape varietals we thought might be close, but just not Jacquere. I thought it was a Spanish white that might have been oxidised. It seemed that this wine needed to be drunk very young and vintage 2009 was considered over the hill. So now we are hunting down another bottle to taste again so that we can decide if it was indeed oxidised.
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The next pair was reds. I brought a NZ red of unusual blend from this part of the world. When I last visited NZ, I was amazed by how grape varietals such as Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Cabernet Sauvignon are tasting. It maybe due to global warming or the vines are maturing, but they have come around with more complexity and maturity in flavours instead of being green and stalky which I encountered more than a decade ago. So when I found a Malbec/Merlot blend, I felt that this would be a good blind. In terms of character, it was quite Grenache-like, soft, fruit forward, smoky and lip-smacking yumminess. And guess what, it was priced at $26.50.
The Valpolicella was a big wine, too big in my opinion. Although it was opened for quite a while it didn’t soften till we were almost done with dinner. The size and sweetness will definitely appeal to novice drinkers and a good intro to getting to know wine further.
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I was glad that there was a California wine in our selection. Entwine Merlot was made by the Wente Family and it really showed its country of origin. Soft, fruit forward sweetness and flavours smoky notes, and big in style without being too overwhelming.
The Australian Shiraz was the most un-shiraz-like for its nationality. We thought we can spot a young Australian Shiraz from a mile, but this little black bottle stumped us. It didn’t have the green pepper, black pepper, candied-like upfront sweetness, and in your face style that it is known for. I am not a fan of Australian Shiraz, but I must say, this was not a bad one.
The final bottle may be the only bottle I not sure about. It was rather one-dimensional, short to mid length and fell quite quickly. It had fruit such as plum and cherry, and the tannin was quite soft laced with characteristic of dried leaves, wood chips and dried flowers. It may have been too dry for me.

We agreed that we had the most fun sourcing for potential bottle to surprise each other. But I still believe that life is too short. I try to drink as well as I can.

Spotted….Jin Long Restaurant, Singapore

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A call from a good friend whom I have not talked to for several weeks due to my travel schedule led me to find this picture of him. We first met over conversations about the beauty of older California Cabernet Sauvignon. Both of us share the same belief that California Cabernet Sauvignon can age just as good as the French and will not cost as much. But over the years, it is not just wines and food that kept our friendship. KS is a really good friend who is caring, sincere, gracious and generous. He is the only person who can call me at midnight, and I will answer without questions and dramas.

I love his cool casual style, exactly who he is. Of course, never too far from a glass of good wine..

Savored…Jin Long Restaurant, Singapore and Quintessa, Oakville

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On the left is French (Didier Dagueneau, 2007 Silex Blanc Fume de Pouilly) and on the right is Californian (Quintessa 2010 Illumination). On the left is the best Sauvignon Blanc can be and will ever be because Didier Dagueneau past away in 2008 and this 2007 Grand Cru is his very last vintage. I was told that since his passing, this wine is now worth about SGD250. I noted it really crispy acidity and mineral characteristics complimented with flavors of fresh melon and citrus, subtle nuttiness and spiciness, and fresh cut flowers. There is a sense of stylishness in texture and the finish is persistent.

When I visited Quintessa during my recent trip to Napa, I was brought to the very top of a hill that over looked the eastern slope of it vineyards with a beautiful man-made lake in the middle. M brought out the Illumination and opened for us to taste. I was attracted to it aromas of slightly underripened citrus notes, white flowers and a touch of spiciness. There were flavros of lemon, pomelo-like and delicate sweetness, firm but fine acidity and a touch of bitterness but not offensive in the finish. M proceed to tell us that the inspiration for Illumination was Didier Dagueneau’s Silex. They were inspired to nuture California Sauvignon Blanc and to bring it to a benchmark that will be worthy of world class appreciation. They were even inspired by the choice of bottling as well.

I do like both very much. It is not everyday that I can afford a Silex. But I look forward to savoring Illumination on a more regular basis once I get a few cases.

Savored…Lompoc, California

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Not all free things are good, but this is exception. Gratis is a Chardonnay made by Sea Smoke Winery. It is given out FREE to selected valued clients on their mailing list. Prior to visitng them, I imagined Sea Smoke Winery to be in the rolling hills with stately buildings. But rather it is an area of Lompoc known as the Wine Ghetto. Its winery occupiies a large industrial area with a small airport behind and a mall iin the front. Without any signage or direction, one would not have thought that there is a winery making Grand Cru quality Pinot Noir. The warehouse contain the office, a small private cellar, tasting and dining room (not open to public at all), barrel room, and a state-of-the art winemaking facility. What I saw humbled me and put me in my place because it is nothing like Napa. We stood by the entrance between the winemaking facility and barrel room tasting this elegant, delicately balance and citrus laced Chardonnay, with Luna (winery dog) running around, listening to V as he shared with us a little insight in the history and winemaking style of Sea Smoke. At the same time, I kept wondering when I will get a small allocation of this special bottle. I believe a good place to start is to be grateful.

Spotted…Healdsburg, California

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Jetlag is not fun. The only thing I like about it is waking up early because the day feel really long and productive. This reminded me of the long days in California that I experienced recently. By 7am, the sun is brilliantly bright and the day stayed bright (and hot) till about 845pm. That is more than 12 hours of daylight! When I was in Healdsburg, waiting outside the Healdsburg Bar and Grill to open, I found this mother and son welcomed the bright long days in true California style. I later learnt that they were also waiting to get into the restaurant as well.

Here in Asia, our bright sunny days are laced with humidity…..all year around!!!

Keep the sunscreen on.

Savored…Buelton, California

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There is one thing I regret from the trip to Buelton is to leave my card with the man who made this wine.
On my long drive back to San Francisco from Los Angeles, my brother and I decided to stop by The Hitching Post in Buelton for dinner. As we didn’t make any reservation, we sat at the bar. Sitting next to me was this unassuming gentleman who was drinking this wine alone. I asked him how was the wine, and he gently smiled and said that it was good because he made it. He asked if I like to try, and I eagerly said yes, but requested for just a small splash because I was to drive up North right after dinner. I thought it was rather decent, good youthful fruit notes, delicate and balanced sweetness and rather plush. I asked where can I buy it. He said it was not for sale because it was homemade. I believe he doesn’t have the license. But he said he can trade it with other people for other wines or/and knowledge in the enhancement of winemaking. He made just about 100 cases of wines including other varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and etc. We spoke for about 45 minutes over dinner before I had to rush off. But I realized that the style of the wine was exactly like him. Unassuming and unpretentious, gently forward, youthful at heart, and balanced. He basically made wine that he likes to drink.
Individuals like him are getting fewer, for most pursuit high ratings and reviews at the expense of individuality.and personality. I will search the web to find a way to contact him.

Thank you for sharing……

Savored…Santa Rosa, California

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I am still in California. But today I am in Buelton, California and will be here for one more day.
After a 7 hours drive and an unimpressive dinner stop in Gilroy, I am missing this bottle of vodka that Henry (Abalone Hunter of Sonoma) shared with me on Sunday. When I am not drinking wine, I drink vodka, sake, soju, and other white spirits. I had this vodka after 3 bottles of soju with Henry, my brother and 3 friends over abalone sashimi. I must have been rather sober than because I can almost taste its clean flavors of lime zest and melon now. I would love to have one good shot right now before I call it a night.

Lets see what Buelton has to offer tomorrow, other than the world famous splited pea soup.

Savored…Leonie Hill, Singapore

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It is 2am. It has been a long day and going to be a long night because I think I will just get about 4 hours sleep before I pick C up from a 42km marathon that he is running right now as I write. It is a unique marathon event call the Sundowner which runners run from 1230am to about 7am, depending on one’s fitness level. I sit here typing and thinking about my long trip to San Francisco and found this photograph in my wine album. Tasted this in February this year and seriously, I was not too crazy about it. This just solidified my view that Opus One is rather over rated. They make good wines but not great wine for the price it commands. The bottle we had after this was pure excellence. I could not post the picture because it wass not a good one. It was Peter Michael 1997 Les Pavots and I am so looking forward to visiting them next week. To rub it in further, a recent conversation with Peter Michael Jr told me that the 1997 Les Pavots is his family house pour. Part of me is was impressed and another part of me thought he was joking. What do you think?