Michelle Ling is a former Robert Parker Wine Advocate employee. She helped to roll out the Michelin Guide Singapore a few years back and that collaboration would set the stage for a more important partnership between our two companies. In early July of this year, it was announced that Michelin had acquired a 40 percent stake in RPWA. Michelle was a key figure behind the scenes.
To us—in front of the scenes and in clear view to everyone on staff—Michelle is an excellent chef in her own right. She is passionate about cooking and generous in her willingness to host anyone from the reviewer team passing through her hometown. Last year, Stephan Reinhardt and I traveled to Singapore for one of our Matter of Taste consumer tasting events. On our last night in town, Michelle and her wine-collecting husband, Tok Hong, invited us over to their beautiful home to share to following meal.
It started off with a cool and refreshing pomelo salad that had been garnished with chunks of steamed prawns, coconut pudding and drops of tangy lime juice. This is the perfect presentation of tastes for anyone (like me) coming off a full day of souvenir shopping in steamy hot downtown Singapore. Equally refreshing to the palate was the Brut Blanc de Blanc R&L Legras NV Champagne Justin Quek Private Wine Selection Lot 96, poured by Tok Hong just as we sat down for dinner. Our wine selection continued with two more excellent whites: first, we tried the Pyramid Valley Vineyard 2011 Chardonnay Lion’s Tooth from North Canterbury, New Zealand. I was excited to learn that this wine offers overtures to Italy thanks to the Tuscan clay amphorae used in its aging. This is a robust and thickly textured Chardonnay that covers the palate with lavish intensity and lasting momentum. The wine also married the sweet tastes of the coconut milk that are central to this dish. The second white we sipped was the Château Rayas 2000 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc (made with Clairette and white Grenache) that came in lower on the intensity scale compared to the New Zealand Chardonnay. This wine was more subtle and nuanced, leaving polished mineral sensations on the palate followed by a long finish. To my palate, the wine had aged very gracefully and what it did not deliver in opulence, it made up for in elegance.
Our second dish was not cooked by Michelle—it was brought in as take out from one of Singapore’s most celebrated street hawkers. Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle (the name of the food stand located in Singapore’s Chinatown Complex) made history when it became the one of the first street food stands—“hawkers” in Singapore—to earn a Michelin Star. Hawker chef Chan Hon Meng became an instant celebrity and has since evolved into something of a street food mogul. Michelle’s husband waited in the long lines to pick up the famous chicken and barbecued pork for us to try. Both meats were divine, but the barbecued pork was otherworldly and everyone accepted Michelle’s offers for second and third servings. The meat was succulent and sweetly tender on the outside with spicy, smoked and exotic flavors on the crunchy meat crust. We paired two medium-bodied reds with this dish. First came one of my favorite Sangiovese-based wines, the phenomenal Il Marroneto 2010 Brunello di Montalcino Madonna delle Grazie; it tasted just as good on this night as when I scored it 100-points two years earlier. The clarity and purity of the wine is stunning. We also drank the more reticent Felton Road 2008 Calvert Pinot Noir from New Zealand that offered good primary fruit with variety-driven aromas of wild berry and pressed violets.
The next course consisted of Michelle’s fried Hokkien mee. This is a traditional dish served in Malaysia and Singapore that consists of egg or rice noodles that are stir-fried with prawns, squid, and pork in this case. The dish was very delicate with graceful perfumes and smooth textures that made for an ideal sounding board for our next stellar wine: the Gaja 2004 Langhe Sorì San Lorenzo. To my Italian-focused palate, this wine was just stratospheric in its beauty and profound complexity. The 2004 vintage is roaring at this moment in time.
Our meat course was dutifully served with two blockbuster reds that each lived up to the task of being served with Michelle’s grilled USDA Prime ribeye. Those succulent cuts of meat were served with rendang and compacted cylinders of sticky rice. Rendang is a spicy meat sauce made with coconut milk, chili, turmeric, garlic and lemongrass. It originated in Indonesia and is commonly served in Singapore as well. In local tradition, it is served to honor special guests. We happily drank the Vega Sicilia 2002 Ribera del Duero Unico and the Domaine Charvin 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape with this course. The Spanish wine comes from a low-yielding vintage. It showed savory notes of cured meat, Bresaola and juniper berry that matched our dish with perfect taste parallels. The Rhône wine is made with 85 percent Grenache and smaller parts Syrah, Mourvèdre and Vaccarese. It supplied savory and smoky favors to enhance our food. The Vega Sicilia showed aged spice due to its tertiary evolution, and the Domaine Charvin showed those savory characteristics as part of its natural fruit profile. Both wines saturated the palate with richness and textural fortitude.
We concluded our dinner at chez Michelle with an exotic-tasting panna cotta with pandan and gula melaka. The very fragrant pandan, often used in desserts, is a sweet leafy ingredient found in Southeast Asia. I had never tried it before but I recognize the waxy-looking leaf as it is sometimes used to wrap chicken in Thailand. Gula melaka is palm sugar and was used to make the caramel-tasting sauce poured over our panna cotta. Tok Hong produced an incredibly rare bottle of Karuizawa Distillery 1999-2000 Japanese Single Malt Whisky Cask Strength from his liqueur cabinet. A single bottle can sell for as much as $10,000 because the distillery famously went out of business in 2011. It was located on Japan’s Mount Asama volcano depicted on the front label. I have no experience tasting Japanese whisky but this single malt tasted excellent—you will see my enthusiasm for the product reflected in my informal score (along with a question mark to underline my inexperience with this bottle).
Thank you to Michelle Ling and her wine collecting husband Tok Hong for the memorable evening and for your time working at our company.