A First-Hand Look at the Singapore Wine Scene
From Coche-Dury to Screaming Eagle, Vega Sicilia to Gaia, the world’s greats come, as if in homage to the wealth being created—and spent—here. If there is a weakness, it’s that because of the distance and transportation costs involved, midrange wine from Europe is underrepresented.
Last week I participated in Robert Parker Wine Advocate’s Matter of Taste Singapore, which gave me a chance to experience the country and meet hundreds of wine consumers and members of the trade. This was the fourth edition of the perennially sold out event, so thanks to our events team on the ground, things ran smoothly.
Thursday evening, I attended a dinner at Alma by Juan Amador that featured Australian versions of Bordeaux varieties. It was a fun lineup, which featured two vintages of Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon (prerelease bottles of the 2013 and the 2005), Cabernet Franc from Woodlands in Margaret River and Merlot from Clarendon Hills in McLaren Vale, among others. The last savory dish was paired with library wines from Two Hands in the Barossa, the 2006 Coach House Block Cabernet Sauvignon and 2005 Aphrodite Cabernet Sauvignon.
The wine and food pairings were well-thought-out and the wine service was exemplary. Stickers on the base of the stems ensured the guests didn’t get confused regarding which wine was which. The Wagyu beef was almost foie gras-like in its richness, with a perfectly seared crust. Although RPWA supplied the wines for the dinner, the regular wine list at Alma was eye-popping, with selections from such hard-to-get California wineries as Harlan, Colgin, Bryant Family, plus a nearly complete vertical of Screaming Eagle. It also included top-flight Bordeaux, Burgundy, Italian and Spanish selections. If only my expenses weren’t so closely scrutinized….
On Friday, at another restaurant, the theme was Hermitage. Many of the night’s attendees had only heard of it, so it was an exploration of the unknown for them. The opening wine, Ferraton’s 2014 Le Reverdy Blanc, was particularly revelatory, as even those who had tasted Hermitage before were unaware the appellation had white wines.
The food-wine pairings didn’t work quite as well at this dinner; an octopus dish clashed with Guigal’s 2013 Ex Voto (guests who still had some or requested more of the white reported much better results). For most, the highlight of the evening was the lush 2012 La Chapelle, but I was charmed by Delas Frères’ 2007 Les Bessards, which was the only wine that was entering its plateau of maturity.
The main Matter of Taste event was the walk-around tasting on Saturday, followed by a La Paulée-inspired BYO dinner, with winemakers, importers and consumers in attendance. Highlights included sightings of Dalle Valle Maya and Château Valandraud, showing that among this small slice of Singapore society, fine wines are here to stay.
Outside the MOT festivities, wine was less present in daily Singaporean life. The ubiquitous hawker stalls don’t offer wine, and even a large, multiple-outlet restaurant group like Jumbo Seafood (rightly renowned for its chili crab) had a minimal wine list. Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir were on special for SG$65 ($47.75) the night I was there. Did I mention that markups are high?
That said, several grocery outlets I visited sold wine, and many offered New Zealand labels like Greywacke and Nautilus Estate, which deliver a solid level of quality and value. Te Mata Coleraine was being poured at MOT, so the Kiwis seem to be making inroads at all levels of the market. Australian wines abound, too, at a range of prices. I’d love to see more Australian white wines, as the Rieslings and Chardonnays seem more appropriate to the climate and cuisine than big Shirazes.
All in all, it was an eye-opening experience for me, as I really didn’t know what to expect. I came away impressed with the availability of top wines, but still see plenty of room for growth at more approachable price points. Part of the conundrum has to do with the traditional meal structure, where the several different “courses” are all served at once.
I’m told this is common even when dining casually at home, which poses challenges to conventional wine-food pairing. Given the expense, it seems unlikely that several different bottles could be opened at each meal (an ideal solution, to my way of thinking). More likely is settling on a single wine to pair with several dishes—off-dry Riesling, dry rosés and various sparkling wines lend themselves to this approach.
Finally, a last possibility is serving the dishes as separate courses, as happens at Michelin-starred Summer Pavilion. I’m not sure that a big change to local culinary tradition is in the offing, but that compromise format worked well with the Chapoutier 2010 Le Méal Ermitage and Pegau 1998 Châteauneuf-du-Pape that we brought with us. And a terrific five-course meal was only SG$88 per person ($119).
Whether you find yourself in Singapore for business or pleasure, there’s no reason to miss out on good wine.
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