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

Hong Kong Tatler - - Opinion -

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.

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