Saturday, 15 June 2013

Review of Dezato Desserts & Dining – Riesling Week Lunch with the Alsace Wine and Gastronomy Society

Back in early April, I was surfing the Internet one weeknight when I found out that Riesling Week was starting in three days!  There were a few events in Singapore planned around Riesling Week; the Germans were all over it and the Austrians were putting on couple of events as well.  There was nothing planned around Alsace, the only region in France where Riesling is grown and deemed worthy of AOC status.

So on the spur of the moment, I convened the Alsace Wine and Gastronomy Society for a Riesling Week Lunch at Dezato, a little Japanese restaurant in the heart of the CBD which has a cult following among local wine drinkers.  With barely a week’s notice, we managed to scrape together fourteen attendees for a Saturday lunch, which wasn’t a bad result at all.

There were a few reasons why we ended up at Dezato.  Firstly, our founding member Stéphane Istel hadn’t yet gotten around to opening his new restaurant.  Secondly, thanks to Etienne Hugel’s wonderfully informative Facebooking / Tweeting, I learned that barely a fortnight before, Alsace and Japan had celebrated 150 years of diplomatic relations.  Thirdly, Japanese food always goes well with a good Riesling.  As one of our members muttered, there was one credible reason in there somewhere.

The lunch featured four grand cru Rieslings from top producers Léon Beyer and Domaine Weinbach.  For me, these two wineries are exemplars of their very different styles: Beyer espousing a drier, more masculine style intended for food pairing, while Weinbach aims for a more elegant ripeness and richness, encouraging the wines to stand out on their own.  Thanks to our friends at Cellarmaster Wines who did us an excellent deal on the Léon Beyer Riesling.  The Weinbach wines tasted, the Domaine's têtes de cuvée, are not commercially available in Singapore and came from my collection.

The menu with wine pairings (S$100 nett, covering the cost of the food and wine) was as follows:

Assorted Appetisers :  Poached Prawn, Pumpkin poached in Sake, Hotaru Ika and Shredded Marinated Daikon with Chilli
Wine Pairing: 2004 Maison Léon Beyer, Riesling Comtes d’Eguisheim


A nice varied start, with the daikon marinade balancing the highs of sweetness, acidity and chilli heat, and the pumpkin poached till just tender.  It must be said, however, that the prawn had seen better days.

The Beyer Riesling, being the highest in acidity and lowest in residual sugar of our four wines, was the natural choice to kickstart the meal.  A product of the Grand Cru Pfersigberg, it didn't show as well as it did at when I last tasted it with Marc Beyer at Taberna, with the then-prominent petrol character remaining rather elusive on this outing.

First Entrée: Chef’s Selection of Assorted Sashimi


A selection of the day's best sashimi, including amberjack (hamachi), sea bream (tai) and ikura (salmon roe).  The ikura was more poppingly fresh than you often get in Singapore, and I was gratified to see that we were served real grated wasabi, as opposed to the synthetic paste you normally get with sushi lunch boxes.  Derrick the chef came out to the dining room to show us his Japanese shark-skin grater.  The acidity and freshness of the Beyer Riesling came into its own with this course, but its greater complexity remained oddly subdued.

Second Entrée: Pumpkin Dumpling, Yasai Takiawase
Wine Pairing: 2009 Domaine Weinbach Riesling Cuvée Ste Catherine Grand Cru Schlossberg


This was an interesting course, although I am still not convinced as to how authentically Japanese it is.  Derrick called it a manjyuu, apparently the Japanese rendering of mantou, the traditional Chinese bread-based dumpling.  Instead of using flour as a base, however, he used grated and steamed pumpkin, which lent the "dough" an oozy, sweet and fruity character.  Encasing a mushroom and radish filling and basting in a shallow puddle of soy broth, an asparagus shoot and bamboo shoot joined the dumpling for textural contrast.  Delicious.

Alongside this, we drank Weinbach's flagship 2009 Riesling, which comes from old vines growing on the mid-slopes of the Schlossberg hill.  Ripe and rounded yet graceful, with a nose of white flowers and that unmistakable Alsace minerality.  A very distinguished Riesling just coming into its own after a few years in the bottle.

Fish: Mana Katsuo cured in Saikyo Miso, Torch Ginger and Marinated Daikon
Wine Pairing: 2009 Domaine Weinbach Riesling Cuvée Ste Catherine Grand Cru Schlossberg “L’Inédit!”


The L'Inédit is a wine with which I have had a bit of a love-hate affair.  It is a borderline vendanges tardives in the sense that it is literally harvested quite late, but insists on hiding in the closet and pretending to be a normal table wine.  Indeed, it has all the richness and depth of texture you expect from a VT, and the smoky complexity of botrytis, but not the sweetness.  All in all, it is not the easiest wine with which to make a food match, a problem I rarely encounter with Alsace wine.  It is also a fair bit more expensive that the standard Riesling Schlossberg Cuvée Ste Catherine, a wine which I honestly prefer.

So it was happenstance that for this dish, Derrick marinated the fish fillets in a miso mixture for a day and a half prior to lunch, further concentrating its flavour as it partially dehydrated and giving it a rather sweet umami.  The grill treatment brought forth even more of that smoky sweetness in the fish.  The pairing was perfect, two big, rich flavours vying for supremacy, both excelling in the face of competition.

Gohan: Cold Inaniwa Udon with Sakura Ebi


After the intensity of the previous course, the cold, slippery noodles brought some refreshing relief.  The flavours here were uncomplicated, just a gentle savour from the crunchy dried shrimp and light soy-based broth.  I loved the visual impact of the vibrant red sakura ebi and seaweed strips against the stark white background of the noodles.

Dessert: Japanese Rockmelon
Wine Pairing: 2006 Domaine Weinbach Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg Sélection de Grains Nobles


To finish, a slice of Japanese rockmelon, gorgeously sweet, ripe and clean-tasting (and undoubtedly expensive - I have seen some of these babies go for $80+ per melon at Isetan Scotts).  Not to be outdone, the rare 2006 Riesling SGN put in its star turn, bringing proceedings to an end with outstanding citrus and ripe stone fruit flavours.  Sweetness and acidity remain in perfect balance.  perfect balance of honey, sugar and acidity.  By and large, Alsace SGNs do not have the mouthwatering acidity of their German beerenauslese cousins, instead having a greater alcoholic weight.  As a result, they tend to reach a crescendo on a lower palate register but are no less thrilling for that.

Conclusion

A wonderful lunch, blending Japanese tradition and a touch of non-Japanese innovation.  So much of Japanese cooking relies on the quality of ingredients, and in a city full of extremely pricey Japanese options, Dezato stands out for providing a fresh, produce-driven cuisine at very reasonable prices.  OK, so the chef is not Japanese and you are not dining off a counter fashioned from the trunk of an 800-year old Japanese tree, but you can't eat any of that.

Reflecting on the wines, I thought, not for the first time, that Alsace Rieslings are seriously underrated.  The Germans traditionally occupy the top of the Riesling pyramid, and the Austrians seem to be regarded as second in today's pecking order.  It is intriguing that Alsace is home to some of the world's most brilliant winemakers (Olivier Humbrecht MW, Maurice and Jacky Barthelmé of Albert Mann, Jean Boxler and Laurence Faller, to name a few), all of whom regard Riesling as being the standard-bearer for Alsace, yet Alsace Riesling often rates only a mention in any discussion about the world's great Rieslings.  Why is this the case, for a region which boasts arguably the world's most famous Riesling in Trimbach's legendary Clos Ste Hune?

I do not know the reason for this, but I know that today, we have experienced first-hand how wonderful, and wonderfully versatile, Alsace Riesling can be.  From an aged bone-dry grande cuvée to a tantalisingly opulent late harvest, Alsace winemakers have distinguished themselves across the Riesling spectrum.  There is room at any fine table for a bottle of Alsace Riesling, and Singapore has access to the very best Rieslings from the very best Alsace winemakers.  Admittedly, local distributors have not made top-tier Alsace Riesling very accessible in terms of pricing, so that places a significant barrier in any attempt to make them more widely known and appreciated.

DEZATO DESSERTS & DINING is now closed.  Chef Derrick Lau is now co-owner and executive chef of Marukyu, 116A Telok Ayer Street, Tel: +65 6636 5608.

4 comments:

  1. Japanese food is absolutely spectacular when paired with nice Riesling, both dry and sweet styles. I got into Riesling very recently, so there is still a lot for to learn, taste and figure out. But I am sure it will be a pleasant journey. Too bad there is no such thing like "Riesling Week" in Seoul. Singapore seems to be more fun in that way :)

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  2. Hi Olga,

    I couldn't agree with more on the pairings.

    I don't know what the marketing efforts for Riesling are like in Seoul, but you might want to drop Maison Hugel in Alsace a line. One of its 13th generation owners, Etienne H, is a huge champion of pairing Alsace wine with Asian cuisines and travels around Asia a lot to promote this. He has even had his website hugel.com translated into Korean!

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    Replies
    1. Julian,
      I'm thrilled to hear about this. Thank you so much for information^^ Very much appreciated :)
      Oh, by the way, Andre is already booked for those dates Im planning to be in Singapore :( But it's a good reason to explore your blog while looking for the right place.
      Thanks again!

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  3. Hi Olga,

    Shame. You might want to consider Jaan (probably booked out also!) or Les Amis in its place. Les Amis does an excellent lunch on Saturdays, along with a special priced wine list - big names at big prices, but heavily discounted all the same.

    Waku Ghin is also excellent, if you like very produce-driven food with an emphasis on seafood, and you have money to burn.

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