A MEAL without wine is like a day without sunshine! This quote of unknown authorship, although sometimes attributed to Brillat-Savarin, the famous French lawyer-turned-author, epicure and gastronome ("Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are!") is so apt. I was reminded of this when recently dining at home we had a very nice piece of beef but because there were only just the two of us I did not open a bottle and there were no remnants of previous bottles in the wine cooler.
The beef was very good but something was missing - I realised it was wine! Washing down the beef with mineral water was almost tantamount to insulting the beef - or the chef!
That little incident reminded me of that quote from Brillat-Savarin and a reminder of the extent to which wine has become a part of our dining culture. And last night's Chinese New Year dinner with our little wine group in a very popular Chinese restaurant was naturally accompanied by wine.
The traditional aperitif was a simple champagne, NV Brut from Roederer, crisp with good acidity and freshness, well enjoyed. Followed by the yusheng refreshingly washed down with Schlossgut Diel Dorsheimer Burgberg Riesling Kabinett 2007 with its light sweetness, good acidity and freshness. Armin Diel's traditional German wines are excellent.
They are always a dependable source of regular Kabinetts, Spaetleses and Ausleses, at very reasonable prices. (Distributed by GrandVin.)
Then followed a nice surprise, a horizontal 1998 tasting with the traditional Chinese New Year dinner. Two Pauillacs and one Margaux.
Chateau Batailley 1998 Fifth Growth
Owned by the Casteja family, planted with 70 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 25 per cent Merlot, 3 per cent Cabernet Franc and 2 per cent Petit Verdot.
An opaque dark red with browning tints, and a youthful aroma - medium-bodied, very Pauillac, cassis dominant and very cedary. Initial taste rather dry and compact.
Filled out a bit after half an hour, and did put on some weight becoming medium-bodied, some fruit began to show but still remained dry.
As Batailley is not so often seen, it was a good opportunity to see how its wines are doing. Its wines are generally not particularly exciting, with a tendency to lack concentration. My best memory of Batailley was its 1961, a case of which I bought in London in 1985 from Layton's. It was quite good but not memorable!
Chateau Lynch Bages 1998, Fifth Growth
Much better, greeted with relief.
More or less same colour, but more aroma, more depth and weight, more fruit, with good ripeness, but shared the same general characteristics of the 1998 - on the dry side and taut rather than roundish. Like the Batailley it took a little time to open up.
A good drink and very much a Pauillac with its cedary cassis and lead-pencil notes, good length and finish.
Chateau Palmer 1998, Third Growth
Its Margaux origin made an immediate impact - softer, rounder and fruitier, the result of the greater Merlot content, and of its terroir, Margaux. Also started a little austere and took a while to open up but even after it was fully-opened the general characteristics of the 1998 vintage remained - a lack of full ripeness, with a tendency to austerity.
1998 was not a very ripe year, and the result was quite tannic and austere wines, well exemplified by these wines. Clearly they still need a little more time shown by the way they took time in the glass to open up. Now 14 years old, these wines, except possibly the Firsts, need to be drunk in the near future.
Chateau Coutet 1971, Premier Cru, Sauternes.
This was shown in honour of the visiting vintner, Aline Baly, daughter of the family Baly who now own Chateau Coutet.
A brilliant shimmering gold colour, with a gorgeous aroma - very ripe, seductively lush orangey-honeyed tropical fruit with touches of botrytis influence. Very fresh on the palate, perfectly ripe, very complex, light taste of the botrytis , very fresh, leaving long and clean, at peak, still good for another 20 years!
With wines like this, dessert is a conventional imposition. This wine is a dessert on its own. It has been some time since I last drank a Sauternes, not from any aversion, rather from the lack of suitable occasions. This wine was a welcome reminder of how well a Sauternes can complete a meal. Wine is about people #1. Last night's dinner well exemplified this. A small wine group, 20 people in all, composed of long-term friends, brought together by mutual interests (wine and food) and respect, meeting regularly, exploring together.
I am aware that there are numerous such groups in Singapore, and what is very impressive is that, by and large, they are formed of young people - professionals, while others are businessmen and executives.
The common feature of these groups is their real enthusiasm for and interest in wine, as a subject for exploration. Many of their members show great depth of knowledge and experience. These are not show-drinkers or label-drinkers - they are serious wine-lovers.
Wine is about people #2. Last night our group met Aline Baly, of Chateau Coutet, whose parents own the Chateau. French but speaking with an American accent! Her presence and contributory remarks about the Chateau and its wine personalised Coutet for those present.
The meeting may not have had the same impact and significance as it would have had we been at the Chateau instead of a Chinese restaurant in Singapore (Crystal Jade), nevertheless the next time we drink Coutet we will remember Aline.
Coutet is no longer just a name of a Chateau in Sauternes, it is a real person, an attractive young French lady who speaks American English! (She lives in Bordeaux but had lived 20 years in Boston, in the United States. Her parents still live there.)
Personalisation of wine immensely helps in the understanding and knowledge of wines in general and of wines in particular. Being at the Chateau or winery, talking to while tasting their wines with the owners, growers and winemakers, and even with the negociants - all these create associations, perceptions, memories, and most of all, make for a much deeper understanding of wines.
And they leave impressions in one's mind and in one's mind's eye! I can never forget the figure and voice of a famous grower in Chambolle Musigny, talking softly and earnestly about his wines, about the characteristics of his 2010 vintage we were tasting and comparing it with past vintages.
We were in his cellar, amidst the rows of barrels housing the 2010 vintage tasting barrel samples of this vintage, from the Village wines to the Grands Crus, all the way up to his Grand Cru Musigny. "I prefer my 2008 to my 2009. 2010 is for me 2008 + 10 per cent."
Wine is about people.
P.S. There is absolutely no reason why one cannot have both a white and a red on the table when eating Chinese. You can always try both and decide which suits your taste with that course/dish!