A Palatable Surprise
GIVEN THE DIFFERENT COMPLEXITIES OF WINE AND SPIRITS, YOU COULD BE FORGIVEN FOR THINKING THEY SHOULD NEVER MIX AT THE DINNER TABLE—BUT YOU’D BE WRONG, WRITES James Suckling
People from the worlds of wine and spirits seldom mingle. Wine people tend to focus on weather, earth and grapes, while spirits people care about water, wood and herbs. It seems you have to make a choice to be an expert on one or the other. And you can only drink so many glasses in an evening; by the time I start drinking a great Cognac or single malt, it’s usually too late—and I regret it in the morning.
However, this isn’t always the case. I had a glass of 30-year-old Bowmore single malt from a special ceramic bottle a friend brought to a dinner at China Tang in Hong Kong’s Central district featuring my Top 10 Wines of 2014, and I certainly didn’t regret it. It was as rich and complex, yet as subtle and satisfying, as a glass of my No. 1—the Viña Cobos Malbec Perdriel Luján de Cuyo Cobos 2011.
I had a similarly revealing experience in Singapore in November during the DFS Masters of Wines and Spirits event, which showcased more than 80 amazing different products from 65 wine and spirits houses. I was a little nervous—as was the spirits guy, rock star mixologist Michael Callahan—about speaking together to a room full of media for two nights about the quality and intricacies of special wines and spirits. But the two of us got along perfectly. We shared the same ideas of integrity and quality in a product, whether a fine Bordeaux or a single-batch bourbon. We spoke of transparency of flavours, balance of fruit and sweetness, and freshness and acidity in both wine and cocktails. We discussed the virtues of pairing wine and cocktails with food, and the concept of a crescendo of flavours and experiences with wine, cocktails and cuisine.
These concepts and more were put to the test during two dinners prepared by respected Singapore chef Willin Low, who pulled together an array of local dishes such as pomelo salad with tiger prawns and frozen coconut dressing, and beef short ribs with smoked oyster milk and kale crisps. The beverages for the evening started with a manzanilla sherry-based cocktail with Absolut Elyx vodka that showed a brightness and freshness, and perfectly prepared everyone’s palates for the coming meal. It was also low in alcohol. Then came a number of wines, such as a Perrier-jouët Belle Epoque Rosé 2006, Château Angélus Vintage 2011 and a 2010 Penfolds Grange—my No. 2 wine of 2014.
But the big surprise for me came with the spirits. A 30-year-old Cognac, Martell Premier Voyage, paired with salmon donburi and baby octopus red rice was fascinating; the dried citrus character of the old spirit completed the tangy flavour of the salmon and the soft, chewy texture of the rice. The beef short ribs that followed were amazing with the peaty, smoky one-of-a-kind John Walker and Sons King George V. Even the rich 25-yearold Glenlivet was gorgeous with the sweet cooked cream dessert.
I honestly never thought a dinner with wine and spirits could be so fascinating and fulfilling. Clearly, wine and spirits people should get together more often.