Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Primum Familiae Vini Dinner (well, kind of) at Bar-Roque Grill, Singapore

I have a new love in my life, and her name is Grossi Laüe.


I have been drinking Hugel wines regularly since the 2005 vintage, and it seemed to me that winemaker Marc Hugel had been stepping up his game from year to year (with the possible exception of 2011).  In particular, Hugel's 2010 crop of Riesling was scintillating across all quality levels; even in Hugel's ubiquitous entry-level Gentil field blend, there was an elevated, almost explosive level of fine Riesling aromatics.  I was salivating like one of Pavlov's dogs, waiting for the release of the 2010 Jubilee (Grand Cru Schoenenbourg) in Singapore.

And who should have visited last week other than my old friend Etienne Hugel (Famille Hugel's marketing director and Marc's brother) and Mrs Kaoru, embarking on another marketing tour across East Asia.  I was invited to a do at the Fullerton Bay Hotel's La Brasserie at which Etienne was present, and he introduced me to the mysterious, exotic Grossi Laüe.

As you may have guessed, Grossi Laüe (pronounced as a clipped "Loy") is not a woman (those adventures are on my other blog).  Rather, she / it is Alsatian dialect for "Grosses Gewächs" or "Grand Cru", and is the new branding for the wine formerly known as Jubilee.  As regular readers know, the Hugels have until now stubbornly resisted the use of the Alsace Grand Cru appellation, and have not complied with the bureaucratic requirements for its usage.  The term "Grossi Laüe" has no appellational significance, so Hugel is free to use it on its label without restriction.  Hugel has, however, decided to adopt the Grand Cru classification from the 2015 vintage onwards, meaning that Grossi Laüe will only be a temporary label for the 2010-2014 vintages (hence the "Édition Limitée" in the label's background)

Etienne had brought to Singapore two bottles of the inaugural 2010 vintage Riesling Grossi Laüe, apparently the first two bottles opened in Asia.  After tasting through some of the Hugel range (good and punching above their weight, incidentally), we arrived at the moment of truth.  In the bad ("romantic") lighting at the Fullerton Bay, any comments on the wine's visuals would be worthless, but on the nose, copious ripe citrus and sweet herbs, ripe, intense and opulent, as powerful as a Holly Holm left headkick, and balanced with lively acidity, but seemingly lacking the very fine minerality that I associate with Schoenenbourg Riesling.   This struck me as a sensualist's wine, and I was swept away by its ardent blandishments.  Many excellent wines followed that evening, including a Hermitage from Nicolas Jaboulet and some lovely Riojas from Telmo Rodriguez but for me, they all seemed to pale in comparison to my new friend.  See what irrational love does to your objectivity?  Or was it, as I suspected and feared, merely lust?


***

I had the chance to renew my acquaintance with my new paramour the following evening, at a wine dinner at Bar-Roque Grill.  Four winemakers were present, Etienne, Hubert de Billy of my favourite Champagne Pol Roger, Nicolas Jaboulet of his house Maison Nicolas Perrin (a Northern Rhone winemaking joint venture with the Perrins of Château de Beaucastel) and Johnny Symington of Symington Wine Estates (Dow, Graham's, Warre, etc.).  And accompanied, of course, by the manic energy of Bar-Roque's owner-chef Stephane Istel.  I have always admired Kori Millar's calm, understated hospitality as a counterpoint to Stephane's unfettered flamboyance, and never more so than tonight when Stephane was bouncing around like the Energizer bunny on an acid trip.

First Entrée: Gillardeau Oyster with Cucumber Cream and Avruga Caviar
Wine Pairing: 2004 Champagne Pol Roger Brut Vintage


I have to say at the outset the oyster wasn't the meatiest, juiciest example of its species that I've had, although I appreciated the cool creaminess of the cucumber as a balance against the sea-savouriness of the oyster.  Avruga caviar remains in my books a crime against gastronomy.

Second Entrée: Hokkaido Scallop Ceviche with Apple, Truffle and Celery Dressing
2013 Famille Hugel Classic Riesling
2010 Famille Hugel Riesling Grossi Laue


This is much more like it, although I don't understand why Stephane calls it a ceviche when it is more properly, a carpaccio in the broader sense of the word.  Perhaps he toned down the curing liquid so it wouldn't overwhelm the natural sweetness of the scallop or the fresh and subtle dressing, but either way, it is delicious.  The Classic Riesling was a bit meh (only 90 points from Wine Spectator), but I was happy to lose myself again in Grossi Laue's legs (running down the bowl of the glass after swirling, ahem).  She is showing a lot more nuance and cool minerality this evening, but is no less seductive for it.

Main Course: Bar-Roque Beef Wellington, Mushrooms and Spinach, Sauce Perigourdine
2012 Maison Nicolas Perrin Côte-Rôtie
2010 Maison Nicolas Perrin Ermitage


I'm not going to pigeonhole Stephane as a "big cuts of meat" kind of chef because he has shown me over the years that he can do much more.  But there is no denying that his heart is in the heartier, bigger masculine flavours of rustic meaty preparations.  His Beef Wellington, for example, combines the deliciousness of the three basic food groups (beef, foie gras, pastry) with far more force than finesse, but my God it's awesome.  Stephane gives De Billy a second helping, which I steal from under his nose while he's talking to Kaoru.  Dish of the Month, perhaps a contender for dish of the year.  Stephane is churning out Beef Wellingtons to order for the silly season, and I highly recommend you get one for your Christmas dinner if you are feeling a little lazy.

Jaboulet's wines are excellent, and he gave a very impassioned speech about how he could not imagine himself not making a Hermitage, given his family lineage (the Jaboulets were, until they sold their estate to the Swiss financier Jean-Jacques Frey in 2006, the producers of the renowned Hermitage La Chapelle, and the sale to Frey cost the company Paul Jaboulet Aîné its membership of the Primum Familiae Vini, which admits only family-owned wineries to its ranks).  Nicolas Jaboulet has now teamed up with the Famille Perrin of the Southern Rhone, ironically inducted into the PFV in 2006 as Jaboulet's replacement, to produce Northern Rhone wines.  The Ermitage may well be Nicolas' personal pride and joy, but for me, the Côte-Rôtie was far more open and accessible at this young age, with rich cherries and acidity proving the perfect foil for the rare-medium rare Wellingtons.  Incidentally, Pol Roger, Famille Hugel and Symington Family Estates are all fully paid-up members of the PFV.

Cheese Course: Hot Mont d'Or, Apple and Port Chutney, Pickles, Toasts
1998 Graham's Quinta dos Malvedos Vintage Port


Good, but in the interests of honesty (and I am nothing if not honest), I prefer my own.

Dessert: Pear Frangipane Tart
Graham's 30 Years' Old Tawny

I was so far gone by this stage of the evening that I asked Kori to pack my slice up for takeaway.  The caring soul she is, she also packed a second slice for my dear wife.  The tart is superb, the pear slices tender yet with a bit of bite, and the frangipane is pure unadulterated crack to a sugar fiend.  Delicious.

I need to make a special mention of Symington's ports here.  I know almost nothing about Port, except that they are fortified wines and famously made by a bunch of Anglo-Saxon-Celts who somehow ended up in Portugal's Douro Valley.  What I tasted tonight was almost revelationary.  The vintage port was rich, oozing with ripe berries and sweetness and a looong finish.  The Tawny was very different, with a far more subtle, evanescent dried fruit thing going on, but just as good.  I can see why the pairing with the cheese was made with the vintage port (with is rich, syrupy fruitiness, it almost makes the chutneys / fruit preserves redundant) while the subtler fruit tart found a companion with the Tawny, a gorgeous contrast between the rich, cooked fruit of the tarte and the dried fruit essence of the Tawny.  Regardless, both were excellent, far and away the best Ports I have ever tasted and they will certainly find a place in my cellar in the future.

Conclusion

It is very rare to have four winemakers at a single dinner, and more so to have their wines provide a beautiful progression from a sparkling aperitif to the arch-traditional after-dinner Port.  A wonderful memory and a great opportunity to sample wines that I wouldn't normally have tried.  The Beef Wellington was the gastronomic highlight of the evening and if I keep talking about it, I might need to go back for another serving...

Incidentally, I learned that Elton John was playing on the same night as the dinner.  I had considered going, but paying S$280+ for barely decent seats?  For half the price, I would have much rather have been here.  I read the following morning that Sir Reg had a bad cold and was valiantly struggling to keep in tune as a result.  No such problems here, and the wines certainly weren't to be sniffed at.

Please contact Bar-Roque Grill for reservations and Christmas orders on +65 6444 9672.  Monopole distributes the wines of Pol Roger, Hugel, Nicolas Perrin and Symington Family Estates

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