Sunday, 11 May 2014

Jade Palace Dim Sum Banquet with Alsace Pinot Gris

The Alsace Society reconvened at Jade Palace Seafood Restaurant for another of our periodic varietal wine workshops.  Having already showcased the great Rieslings and Gewurztraminers of Alsace, the spotlight this time was on Pinot Gris, that chameleonic, intense yet oddly "in between two stools" variety.  And because restaurants were toeing a tough line on minimum spends and corkage policies on this Mothers'  Day weekend, Jade Palace (not to be confused with the now LVMH-owned Crystal Jade Golden Palace), that reliable standby and friend to all wine-lovers in Singapore, provided us with a double private room for what turned out to be a very long and enjoyable lunch.

I should mention at this stage that this lunch was supported by the good folks at Grand Vin Pte Ltd, exclusive Singaporean importers of Domaines Schlumberger, and Wein & Vin, exclusive Singaporean importers of Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, who (sup)plied us with wonderful Pinot Gris from those redoubtable Alsace wineries.

I arrived early to make sure all was under control, and this was the sight that greeted me:

Eight wine bottles, chilling on the ice.  Eight wine bottles, this will be so nice...

Dim Sum Basket - Steamed Shrimp and Chives Dumpling, Siew Mai and Teochew Dumpling
Wine Pairing: 2011 Domaines Schlumberger Pinot Gris Les Princes Abbés

A very nice and light start.   I must admit I was intially slightly sceptical about the shrimp and chives dumpling, and why Jade Palace had proposed this instead of the more classic har gow.  I take it back.  This little treat, wrapped in crystal pastry. was equal bits savoury chive crunch and sweet prawn goodness.  The siew mai and Teochew dumpling were good but not remarkable.

With these dumplings, our first wine was poured, the entry level Schlumberger Pinot Gris.  Named after the mighty Benedictine abbot princes who dominated the area for almost a thousand years, and who were the first to market the wines of Guebwiller, this is a dry yet pleasantly easy-drinking wine.  There was significant bottle variation between two bottles which I sampled: the first had a nose suggestive of oak and later on the palate, some oaky tannin (very unusual since Alsace whites are only ever given oak treatment in very old barrels, if at all), was a little clunky, while the second had a fresher, fruitier and more typically Pinot Gris hazelnutty character.

Second Dim Sum Course: Pan-Fried Carrot Cake, Chee Cheong Fun

Courtesy Roland Yap

Nice caramelisation on the outside, but the texture of the carrot cake was a bit gloopy and starchy for me.  The chee cheong fun was also a bit disappointing, with no filling within despite having agreed on char siew.  The soy sauce was subtle and meaty in flavour, but it really needed the chilli oil.

Appetiser Course: Deep Fried Prawn Ball, Roast Pork, Fried Silverbait, Crispy Beancurd Skin Roll

Courtesy Roland Yap

Jade Palace always delivers on the faithful classics, and this serving was no different.  Excellent crackling on the roast pork, lovely, thirst-inducing silverbait and a delicious fried prawn ball, which I had never tried before here.  The Princes Abbés had enough body and acidity to stand up to these oilier, heavier dishes.

Fish Course: Deep-Fried Shanghai Yellow Croaker Fish
Wine Pairing: 2011 Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris Calcaire

Courtesy Roland Yap
Our resident photographer Roland thought this was the best dish of the day.  I'm not sure I agree, but it was good.  The batter was light and crispy, the flesh light, white, flaky and subtle.  For me, the flavour and texture profile would probably have made a better match for a Riesling.  The 2011 Calcaire, from the Heimbourg vineyard, with its kiss of sweetness, but was a very easy-drinking and undemanding style of Pinot Gris.  It packed a big 14.4% alcohol, but a little residual sugar hides a lot of alcohol, so you don't feel the impact.

Second Seafood Course: Braised Beancurd with Fresh Crab Roe Sauce
Wine Pairing: 2010 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Calcaire

A riot of colour, and I loved the spectacular colour contrast between the bright orange crab roe, threads of egg and crab flesh and the deep, green spinach.  It was nowhere near as tasty as it looked, but I ate it for dear life because (a) I was still hungry and (b) it was the only "light and nutritious" dish that we were going to have between now and the end.

The 2010 Calcaire was a far more serious wine than the 2011, having been vinified from grapes from young vines (average age 20 years) from Zind-Humbrecht's monopole Clos Windsbuhl vineyard. A more serious wine than the 2011 Calcaire, it was much drier on the palate and more minerally.  This was a special contribution from Mr Boon Heng's (Wein & Vin) personal cellar and is no longer available for sale in Singapore.  It was a personal favour from Boon as I couldn't resist the opportunity of a side-by-side comparison with the 2010 Clos Windsbuhl which came from older vines (41 year average age).  Same terroir, same vintage, same winemaker, which left vine age as the only variable.  Thank you Boon!

First Meat Course: New Zealand Lamb Rib with Garlic
Wine Pairing: 2010 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl

Courtesy Roland Yap
Excellent, with beautiful crisp meat and fatty lamb punctuated by crunchy garlic nubbins.  It was not as salty as the last time I remember it, though, although at this stage, the alcohol may have been affecting my palate.  To go with this, we had the mighty 2010 Clos Windsbuhl, which was quite similar to the 2010 Calcaire, but the old vines seemed to produce a more intense minerality and for my palate, a more bitter and cleansing finish (and a big boy at 15.6% alcohol).  It actually paired very well with the lamb, again putting the lie about red meats having to be matched with red wines; this preparation of lamb was not a particularly timeous one either!  But that is what I love about Alsace Pinot Gris - from good vineyards, it produces wines that have so much body (cf. Italian Pinot Grigio, for example) and minerality that they can hold their own against big meat dishes as well as seafood dishes in heavier sauces.

Second Meat Course: Roast Duck with Plum Sauce
Wine Pairing: 2008 Schlumberger RIESLING Grand Cru Kitterlé

So there I was, flushed with good wine and genuinely pleased at how the event was going.  I picked up a bottle of the Schlumberger, started pouring it for everyone at my table and announced as I looked at the label: "Alright, now we will have the 2008 Schlumberger Pin...Riesling............"  As I tried to explain to the guests, it is currently Riesling Week in Europe so we brought this in as a ringer, but I fooled no one, not even myself.  There had been a mix-up in the delivery the day before and as the wines had been put on ice before we arrived, we didn't check the labels until now (not that it would have made a difference!)

The duck was great, not as smoky as I remember it but many time fattier, moister and tastier.  Roasted peanuts provide a crunchy contrast, while the plum glaze gives a tartness that cuts through the richness.  As for the Riesling, it was a very good, very dry (some people said it was too dry) Riesling, but still incredibly primary and acidic, 2008 being a cool vintage in Alsace and all that.  It had a steely minerality and acidity that reminded me of Rieslings from Rosacker Grand Cru.  It cut the duck grease well, but I would wait another 2-3 years minimum before broaching another bottle.

Rice Course: Lap Mei Fan
Wine Pairing: 2008 Domaine Weinbach Pinot Gris Altenbourg Vendanges Tardives Trié Speciale


Another classic dish beautifully handled.  I am a huge fan of Jade Palace's cured meats (bought in from Hong Kong, apparently), particularly the yun cheong, duck liver sausage.  The primary stimuli are caramelly sweetness and fattiness, and one of the guests asked that we broach the late harvest wine to go with this dish.  I aim to please, so we poured this wonderful nectar, the last bottles from my personal collection of a wine which was never commercially available here and no longer available from the domaine itself.

I like to hear and tell stories about wine, and I still vividly recall tasting the 2008 Pinot Gris VT Trié Speciale for the first time with Catherine Faller, co-owner of Domaine Weinbach, back in late September 2011.  In the middle of harvest, Catherine hosted us for three hours and regaled us with some twenty vintages and even some Bernard Antony cheese and crusty country bread, an experience which won an eternal place in my heart, cellar and wallet for the beautiful wines and people of Domaine Weinbach.  But even amongst a stellar line-up (which included various grands crus, SGNs and even one of the legendary Quintessences de Grains Nobles) this wine stood out for me, its acidity, sweetness and finish just going on and on like a Fidel Castro rally.  After our tasting, Catherine asked me which was my favourite wine, and I replied without too much hesitation, this one.  She gave me a bottle of this wine, gratis, a gesture which I still treasure to this day.  I imported a half-case of this wine directly soon after, and it still is, after three years of further exploring Alsace and even dipping my toes into Bordeaux, one of my absolute favourite tipples, full stop, with no qualifications.  

It was with a little sadness that I opened my last bottle this afternoon, but the unequivocal consensus of people whose views I value was that this was the wine of the lunch.  And the truth be told, that probably brought me more joy than the wine itself ever could.  For what is wine about if not the sharing of joy and discoveries and experiences, and enjoying friendship and conviviality in that moment?

Dessert: Ma Lai Ko and Osmanthus Jelly, Fresh Fruit Platter

Courtesy Roland Yap
Not bad, but pedestrian compared to the version we had the last time.  I described the osmanthus jelly previously as a "shimmering, aqueous jewel", whereas today, it was an opaque, dense jelly, nothing more.  The osmanthus flavour was lovely and floral, but it did not excite my eyes and create the anticipation as it should have.


Courtesy Roland Yap
By the time, the last of us left, it was past 4.30 pm, which I think didn't particularly please the staff.  Given the alcoholic strength of some of these wines, however, I can realistically plead intoxication in mitigation, if not in defence.

I think we experienced the versatility of good Alsace Pinot Gris today, and also illustrated the various stylistic and terroir influences which can impact so much on the final product.  And with producers of the quality of Schlumberger, Zind-Humbrecht and Weinbach, there was never really any doubt that some of Alsace's very best would have been on offer.

That said, I regretted not having had the chance to taste the Pinot Gris Kitterlé alongside its fellow co-varietalists, but I have been promised a bottle so I will update you very soon.

My sincerest thanks to Phyllis Yeoh of Grand Vin and Boon Heng of Wein & Vin for their steadfast support of the Alsace Society (and for being at lunch with us), and for supplying us with their excellent wines.  Thanks go also to our dear friend S, who single-handedly organised the restaurant booking and menu for us, and without whom this lunch could not have gone ahead.

Tel: +65 6465 3081

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Singapore 238884
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  1. Certainly a lovely repast! I had to investigate to find out what Osmanthus jelly is and fortunately found a video:

  2. Thank you Karla, always good to hear from you!

    The jelly was much better constructed on my last visit here, as you can see from the last photo on this post: