Friday, 16 March 2012

Colgin Cellars Wine Dinner at Les Amis (15 March 2012)

A lot has been said about Les Amis over the years, not all of it complimentary.  A pillar of the local independent restaurant scene since 1994, some even suggested that its day had passed with the arrival of so-called “world-class fine dining” at Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World. 

To be honest, I think some people miss the point of this place.  This is not where you come for intense knock-your-socks off flavours.  Always working with the best ingredients, chef Armin Leitgeb creates food with an amazing sense of restraint – freshness, texture and colour are key features of his cooking.  This is key given the restaurant’s (and most of its guests’) immense focus on wine.  I personally think Leitgeb is one of the most under-rated chefs in the country.  It never ceases to surprise me when his skill and achievements are continually overlooked for recognition.  And it didn’t surprise me at all when Ann Colgin said Les Amis was the only choice to host her eponymous winery’s showcase dinner.

A little confession here – I knew next to nothing about Colgin Cellars when I booked for me and three friends.  But clearly many others did.  An event originally restricted to 30 places and to be held in Les Amis’ private rooms grew to 53 covers communal-style in the main dining room.  When I was told that the dinner could have been sold out three times over even then, I realised I was on to a good thing.

Aperitif: Pierre Paillard Rosé NV

Ann Colgin, resplendent in orange, was here with her husband Joe Wender.  All wines were double-decanted three hours before service, which should give you an idea of what to expect.  After a quick introduction to the winery and its philosophy, the feast began!

First Entrée: Crispy tête-de-veau with tomato vinaigrette and herbs
Wine Pairing: 2005 Colgin Cellars “Cariad” (not for sale in Singapore but there was some talk of sending a couple of cases over)

What a start on both fronts!  It takes guts to serve something as esoteric and homely as tête-de-veau in an unashamedly upper-crust restaurant, albeit it was shrunk to a far more manageable size before being given Leitgeb’s signature crispy ciabatta wrapping.  With this little gob of gelatinous goodness, the 2005 “Cariad” was poured.  As Ann explained, “Cariad” is Welsh for “love”, very appropriate timing-wise since “Welsh week” celebrations have just wrapped up in Singapore.  And the wine is every bit as intense and hedonistic as love idealised should be.  Amazing aromas of black fruit, chocolate and spice; simply wow and enough velvety tannin and acid to work with the fattiness of la tête.  15.6% alcohol but you would never know it.  It was still quite young on the palate and has undoubted long years ahead.  Without doubt, the finest Bordeaux-style wine I have ever had the pleasure of tasting, New World or otherwise.  A Robert Parker 100-pointer, in case any of you care about this kind of thing.

Second Entrée: Homemade pasta with Perigord black truffle shavings
Wine Pairing: 2000 Colgin Cellars “Cariad” (not for sale in Singapore)

We were wondering where one could go after a rocketing start like that, and we ended up here.  This was the one disappointing course of the evening, and I expected black truffles at this time of the year to be far more fragrant.  The 2000 Cariad was again a wine of astounding power and enchantment, inky and leafy and to my untutored palate, less open than the 2005.  But it evolved beautifully later on, with wonderful notes of roasted coffee and chocolate.  Another show-stopper.

Third Entrée: Steamed Maine Lobster with artichokes, spinach and sauce Bordelaise
Wine Pairing: 2006 Colgin Cellars IX Estate Syrah (RRP: S$228 nett, very limited allocation in Singapore)

Ann expressed surprise when she saw lobster being served with her syrah, but it all came together beautifully.  The sauce Bordelaise could only have been the work of a genius, tying together the sweetness of the lobster and the intensity of the wine without overwhelming either.  For a warm climate syrah (and despite its 15.9% alcohol), the 2006 IX Estate showed remarkable elegance and restraint, spice, red fruits and smoky bacon on the back palate.  A gorgeous wine, which some at the table declared to be the most well-rounded and approachable of the night’s wines.  I would disagree, if only because I was still in the clouds over the 2005 Cariad.

Main Course: Black Angus Tenderloin with lettuce and pommes rissolées
Wine Pairings: 2008 Colgin Cellars IX Estate Proprietary Red (RRP: S$388 nett); 2005 Colgin Cellars IX Estate Proprietary Red (RRP: S$428 nett)

According to Ann, we were the lucky first for whom the 2008 had been opened in a public tasting.  This was another blockbuster of a wine, with masses of masses of ripe cabernet fruit behind it (the IX Estate Reds are typically higher in cabernet that the Cariads, which incorporate a larger proportion of merlot).  It was monumental both in respect of its flavour profile but also in its sheer immovability; this was waaaaaaay too young and while its potential was obvious, it needed food to loosen it up.  The 2005 was far more approachable, again an intensely aromatic wine with loads of cassis and coffee.  All in all, I preferred the Cariads to the IX Estate reds, but my personal tastes tend towards lighter reds anyway.  Across the board, all of the featured wines were headily aromatic and blessed with a rare finesse and structure that tempered their sheer power.

Dessert: Milk and Figs, Chocolate and portwine
Coffee/Tea and Mignardises

A friend once told me that serving Daniel Texter’s ultra-modern desserts at Les Amis was like following Leonardo with Damien Hirst.  One difference – I actually like Texter’s sweets!  While this was obviously not paired with a wine, I liked how the wines’ blackcurrant and (especially for the Cariads) creamy chocolate background seemed to sharpen my appreciation of the chocolate and port in which the figs were cooked.  Good stuff and what a way to finish a brilliant evening.

I spoke to Leitgeb after dinner and he said they had tasted the wines in the preceding days and finetuned the dishes to ensure the pairings achieved their full potential on the night.  This is the kind of attention to detail that I like, and which for me more than justifies the occasional splurge at Les Amis.  Also, serving top-drawer French food to 53 people simultaneously is never an easy thing.  I was (reasonably) expecting the food to be down a couple of notches in terms of quality, but surprisingly it was as good as ever.

Casualties of the Night

Joe came over for a quick chat after coffee.  He was very pleased with the overwhelming response and related how they had to FedEx more bottles at the last minute to cope with the increased capacity.  According to Joe, the Colgin team’s approach to wine was simple: to craft wines which when people sniffed them, made them really want to try the wines and when they did, to want to drink even more!  All of which was far easier said than done.

This was certainly a most remarkable wine dinner, and a hugely enjoyable night.  Thanks to Ann and Joe for their generosity, and to the Les Amis team also for putting on such an excellent show.

Colgin Cellars wines are distributed in Singapore by Water & Wine

1 comment:

  1. Very nice! As you said, the wines are slightly different from the dinner in Taipei, but you got to taste some of the best from the current Colgin range. I love their wines and I'm glad others have been introduced to them.