Thursday, 28 August, 2014

Published March 14, 2014
Wine collecting can be serious fun
It opens up a whole new world - one of wineries, vineyards and gourmet societies, says NK YONG
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Enriching one's soul: Collectors often buy on impulse, or just because they saw the bottle, or perhaps it was the last bottle, or the wines are 'must haves'. - PHOTO: NK YONG

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WINE collecting is one of those pastimes which can be serious as well as fun. The serious part should never be so serious that it overshadows the fun. I "collect" because I enjoy wine. I know of no other reason better than that. I bought more than immediately needed in order to store up for personal enjoyment and for sharing with friends. And like most collectors, I often bought on impulse, or just because I saw the bottle, or perhaps it was the last bottle, or perhaps it was on my list of "must haves". It was my good fortune that the 1982 Bordeaux en primeur campaign was announced early in 1983, in the highly respected Decanter, then the only wine magazine available. Further details about the en primeur campaign, in May-June 1983, made it clear that this was a "must-buy" period, a "no-brainer". You "ordered" the cases of wines you wanted, paid for them by the end of the same year (1983), and took delivery in two years' time, ie in spring of 1985.

In spring of 1983, the wines would have just been put into barrels to mature and you knew that they would spend close to 18-24 months in barrel. I also knew (1) that you should only buy from trustworthy merchants, and (2) you should buy the best.

I also came across The Wine Advocate at the same time - it was then very new, a bi-monthly publication whose first issue was in August 1978. Its May 1983 issue contained a comprehensive review of barrel-samples of the 1982 Bordeaux. I was hooked. Sadly, I did not buy enough. The Firsts were going at £240 per case, Petrus at £500 per case. I bought too little. Two reasons - both beginning with "C" - caution and cash!

Like most beginners at the time, I cut my wine teeth on two wines, Mateus Rose (pink) and Liebfraumilch. They were widely available, cheap and easy to drink. But I knew that there had to be something else. Singapore was then still very much influenced by its British colonial past. The British had brought to Singapore with them in their baggage gin, scotch, sherry, bordeaux, port and some cognac. There were no wine shops then. Supermarkets were the only source of wines - occasionally they had some Classified Growths, including a little of the Firsts. I did not know enough then to avoid buying wines put on "bin-end sale" in the supermarkets. It was not till later that I found out that the wines in the "bin-end sale" were "OTH" (over-the-hill) wines!

But it was exciting - a whole new world. Curiosity impelled visits to wineries and vineyards. It was fascinating. The rest is now history. There was a very active society then - the International Wine & Food Society, Singapore - and a society whose head-office was in London. That opened up another world, where the distinguished wine writers were to be found. Local culture has now changed enormously. Wine has replaced scotch, cognac and gin, even at wedding banquets. Small groups of people, mainly young executives and professionals, have got together to form their own wine groups. The more formally structured wine societies still carry on, providing more structured and orderly programmes which have their own following. It is a vibrant scene today, a marked contrast to 30 years ago. Singapore is now an important centre of wine culture in South-east Asia - it possesses significant buying power, and certainly has a more knowledgeable and more informed and educated wine community.

I had dinner a few nights ago with two very old friends, an American couple from Hawaii, who had been responsible for introducing me to the Bacchus Society, US, and a gourmet society in the US. For white, we drank a Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet 1er cru Les Pucelles 1992, again another reminder of the beginnings. Leflaive was one of the first two white burgundies that introduced me to the whole new world of wine. It was the 1979 Puligny-Montrachet, Leflaive, in a Brussels restaurant in 1986. On the same visit, another white wine, Domaine Lafon's Meursault 1er cru Charmes, in one of Brussels's most popular seafood restaurant. I carried the names of those two growers in my head to London and hunted for them. Also on that visit to Brussels en route to London, October 1986 was our first encounter with Hermitage La Chapelle 1961, one of the legendary wines then and even today.

A few words about Leflaive Premier Cru Pucelles 1992. (A preliminary disclaimer: I am involved in the distribution of Leflaive.) A brilliant 18K golden colour, glinting in the light, with a gloriously attractive and seductive aroma, full of tangy flavours and assorted nutty aromas, especially peanuts and almonds; the flavours were out of this world - so full of freshness which was the very first thing about the taste that struck me, the freshness being then followed by intense, rich flavours of a blend of assorted nuts, especially peanuts, and perfectly ripe citrus fruits, especially oranges, great complexity, and nobility. A perfect 100+.

Sadly, it was my last bottle. This was from a case bought in 1996, price $75, from Assoc Liquor Distributors, the then local distributor for Leflaive.

A wine like this enriches one's life and soul. This is a product not just simply of Man's efforts. Man is just the intermediary, bringing into the world something which is the result of the combined results of several forces - the vines, the soil, the climate, the weather and nature. Man decides what vine to plant, where to plant it (vineyard), Man protects the vines from diseases, decides when to harvest, Man initiates the fermentation, protects the young wine from harm and bottles it securely. But there is one part that man cannot control. And that is the interaction between Nature and what lies in the soil and which is expressed in the wine.