Billecart Salmon Grande Cuvee 1996

Billecart Salmon Grand Cuvee 1996
Billecart Salmon Grand Cuvee 1996

A classy but poised Champagne which begins to have secondary aromas. Unfortunately this bottle was enjoyed with other 9 people and there was no time for this massive Champagne to open up in the glass. Not sure there will be another chance! In this group, environment only 4 stars, expected more, but maybe it got lost in the crowd.

Domaine de la Taille aux Loup Remus Plus 2011

singular Chenin Blanc
singular Chenin Blanc

Heard so much about Jacky Blot creating fine wines for Michelin-starred restaurants, and finally was able to try his singular Chenin Blanc.

The whites are pure scented Chenin Blanc from Montluis and reds are Cabernet Franc from Bourgeuil.

This special cuvee has been oak aged, and feels like a fine white Burgundy on the palate. Exquisite.

4 out of 5 stars

Hedonism Wine, London

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Children dream of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, and wine afficionados dream of taking a bottle from each single shelf at Hedonism Wine in London.

I wasn’t too excited when reading about the biggest retail shop launch and seeing their Yquem wall all over the papers – believing the oligarch owner only buys Blue Chip wines.

But upon visiting, and meeting Honami, one of the many staff sommelier, I was taken by the sheer breadth and depth of the selection of wine and spirits.

It is the friendly service and knowledge of every vintage and bottle that blows you away.

By the way, this is the bottle I hope to have for my 50th!

What is the best Champagne alternative while in Thailand?

While living in New York and working at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, I came across Schramsberg at many occasions.  Must admit though, that I have never bought a single bottle, despite it being the wine of choice at White House’s state functions.

old American winery
old American winery

And the reason was simple!

Entry-level French Champagne costs only a few dollars more!

a house, a farm, and large winery
a house, a farm, and large winery

Fine bubbles, bread dough and apples and lime

old press, probably older than the winery
old press, probably older than the winery

Most people appreciate good Champagne for its fine and elegant mousse, intermingling aromas of yeast, apples and lime, plus the cut from the refreshing acidity.  But now that the recent tax change has pushed the real deal over the THB 3,000-4,000 mark there is good reason to look around.

2 years on the lees
2 years on the lees

So I finally bought a Schramsberg, a Californian specialist in sparkling wine for close to 50 years.  The Blanc de Blancs from the 2009 vintage is made from a selection of Chardonnay grapes grown in various North Coast AVAs in California.

as close as it gets to Champagne!
as close as it gets to Champagne!

It ages for 24 months on its lees to gain complexity (somewhat less than the 36 months for Champagne).  Tasted blind, with no less than 4 winemakers, all from Siam Winery, the Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs 2009, shows exactly what one would expect from a Chardonnay-based Champagne, and we were stunned! A really enjoyable drink.

This vintage is starting to drink nicely, and will open up in the next 3-5 years.  Its golden color, fine bead, and mineral inflicted notes will go nicely with oysters, caviar and whatever you indulge in this New Year.

the 07 needed almost 45 minutes to expand in the glass
the 07 needed almost 45 minutes to expand in the glass

If you enjoy the flavors and dryness of a fine Champagne, and are willing to spend around THB 2,000 per bottle, this or its sibling, the Blanc de Noirs (a white sparkler from Pinot Noir grapes) is the ideal alternative to pick.

Bernd Philippi, a man with a strong spine

Bernd Philippi

has established his family domaine, Koehler-Ruprecht, on the pedestal of German – no – all of white wines.

finest dry white wine
finest dry white wine

His specialty has been dry Rieslings from the revered Kallstädter Saumagen vineyard in the Pfalz. Often classified as an Auslese Trocken, these full-bodied and dry wines are at times hard to understand, take time to show their true self, and can remind the taster of a Corton.

He sold his estate in 2010, and recently completed his term as consultant. Now Bernd travels the world and looks after his estate in the Duero, Portugal. When in Bangkok he treats everyone he meets to fine wines; often sharing some hard to find red Burgundies from the 80’s and 90’s.

steep and rocky vineyards
steep and rocky vineyards

What I take out from Bernd is to look for wines which have a

strong backbone

and according to him, this backbone is made of a fine acid spine, a rich and complex fruit profile, all being held together by tannins. These wines will feel light on the palate despite its intensity and always, always taste of some minerals.

Don’t feel like drinking alcohol, your dinner not need to be boring!

Being a wine guy, I have always thought a meal without a wine was not worth having.  But recently I was happily proven wrong by the mysterious artisan blends of Gryphon Tea Company.  Their range of brews includes several full flavored green, herbal, black and white teas, of which the following are ideal for pairing with food, while not foregoing a sensual dining experience.

Green tea
A different kind of iced tea

Invigorating and silky brews can have intense aromatic compounds like wine!

Gryphon Tea Company selects high grade tea leafs from Bangladesh, Japan, China, Ceylon and India and blends them with flowers and herbs.  Of the 6 types tasted, I thought these 3 were noteworthy and not too overpowering.  I drank them with a crab sandwich, however if you want to find know the exact food recommendations please visit check them out on Gryphon’s website.

Osmanthus Sencha An aromatic green tea, loaded with notes of vanilla and caramel.  Inviting and refreshing, the liquid feels textural and finishes slightly tannic.

Hanami Artisanal Blend
Appearance could be a wine!

Hanami Another aromatic green tea, but this one has soft and sweet floral notes combined with spice or baking aromas such as licorice and marzipan.

Lemon Ginger Mint A herbal tea enveloping you with refreshing and fragrant peppermint, ginger, lemon and cool spearmint.

And here is how you can make the perfect non-alcoholic beverage.

Lively and refreshing
Use a wine glass for best intake

Gryphon Tea recommends using only cold mineral water, however if you are in a rush, mixing 50%-50% hot water at 90°C with cold water will reduce the recommended maceration time by 5 hours.  Using hot water only will increase bitter notes in the brew.

Here is how:

  • Use 400ml cold water for 1 sachet (2 grams)
  • Seep the tea bag for 10 minutes
  • Pour liquid into carafe or container and keep in cold fridge for 6 hours
  • Serve iced tea in a large wine glass

By adding a small dash of syrup or honey will help smoothen the tea for drinking with food, however it does change the aroma profile slightly.

Ice & chilled tea
A flavorful alternative to wine

Austria – winds of change in the Wachau

terraces 2

Austria, the world famous wine country with a long track record and diverse climate, has excited wine lovers in continental Europe for decades.  Yet here in Asia, these wines are still hard to find and relatively unknown outside of wine circles.

How come?  Is it that 75% of its production is in white wine, the 1985 wine scandal still lingering, or perhaps Australia is top of mind in our part of the world?

I first came to contact with wine from Austria during my time in New York in the late 1990s.   Back then up-and-coming masters like Kurt Gutenbrunner of Wallsé started to put the elegant yet punchy Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners (aka Grüvee in short) in their by the glass offerings.  Soon many other Chefs jumped on the bandwagon and Austrian wine became hot!

Right after Y2K, famous wine writers including Jancis Robinson, a Master of Wine, ranked Austrian white wines on par with white Burgundies.  Fast forward 10 years and Austria has become known for a wide range of wines – some made from specialty grapes – Riesling, Grüner Veltliner and Muskateller for dry whites and Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch for elegant to full-bodied reds, but also produce Morillon (Chardonnay), Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Blends and Spätburgunder (known elsewhere as Pinot Noir) in its own signature styles.  Of course their sparkling wines and ultra sweet wines from the Neusiedlersee are not to be missed either.

I enjoy and can recommend wines from all regions, but what has amazed me in recent years is the change of direction by some vintners in the Wachau, Austria’s most regal terroir reigning high above the Danube River.  Here, winemakers like Peter Malberg of Veyder Malberg, Martin Muthenthaler and Leo Alzinger, are stepping away from the powerfully rich styles (labeled Smaragd according to the Vinea Wachau Nobilis Districtus classification), and focus on harvesting earlier to bottle wines, which remain full of character, feel gentle on the palate and have an agreeable alcohol level between 12.0-13.5%.

hochrain schiefer

Take a look at these steep terraced vineyards, which rise up over and above 400 meters, and you can literally feel the cool nights and slatey soils shaping this new style of wine.

Brandstatt spring 2011

I do hope some of you will be encouraged to seek out these multi-faceted wines, which suit the dining table and can also age up 10 or 20 years.  To my knowledge the Wachau producers available in Thailand are Veyder Malberg and Weingut Knoll, while neighboring Kamptal and Kremstal, produce similarly-styled white wines – look out for Loimer, Bründlmayer, and Salomon Undhof.