Category Archives: Wine

WINE TALK: An Indian Dummies guide to understanding wine( Part 1: white wine grape varietals)

My first wine tasting experience was on a cold afternoon in December 2003, I was 21 relishing my first experience of living in the mighty USA. 2003 was an iconic unforgettable year of many “firsts”- like seeing snow for the first time, sharing a flat for the first time with an English and Argentinean girl( who were later to become my dearest friends), eating a bagel for the first time, trying and failing miserably to snowboard for the first time and finally tasting that first glass of Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, NZ.

For someone who, in college days, would get happily high on a Bacardi Breezer or pint of beer, I was nervous & excited. I wasn’t sure of the right words to use for descriptions in tasting notes; I was scared about getting “too” drunk, I was afraid of not having the “right” answers. Well, here’s the good thing about wine tastings: there is no correct answer and there are no correct tasting notes.  The great thing about wine tastings is that they are so personal and subjective to individual tastes. While we can’t always guarantee that you won’t get tipsy, it’s a great learning experience with oodles of fun. Just remember you always have the option of using the spittoon, in case you feel a particular grape isn’t to your liking or worried about getting too high!

Its important to have a conducive setting for a wine tasting, the Europeans always get this right
Its important to have a conducive setting for a wine tasting, the Europeans always get this right

The wine drinking culture in India is still relatively new- limited to opening nights in art galleries, high society social dos & corporate gatherings. It is very rare for an Indian to actually order a glass of wine off the beverage menu. There are a many reasons for this:
For starters, most restaurants charge you a bomb for a glass of wine, some even try to cover the entire cost of the bottle in a single glass- this is a clear indicator that there isn’t as much demand for wine.
Second, the complicated excise and liquor rules in our country require each wine label to be registered in each individual state of India, a result of this is that the market is mainly dominated by big players and companies- Diageo, Pernod Ricard( who have deep pockets to pay individual registration fees for each label which they wish to sell in each state) Smaller niche vineyards and companies simply cannot dream of coming to India due to the high set up cost- which is clearly off-putting.
Third, the infrastructure needed to support this industry is virtually nonexistent by the fact that there are no temperature controlled warehouses or delivery trucks. This is crucial for wine sale and transport. In a country like India where temperatures hover over 35 degrees, wine can easily turn to vinegar. I can’t count the many times I’ve been served wine which is well vinegary or in wine terms “oxidized” – returning it back to the Bar tender is unthinkable or taking the bottle back for a refund at your local liquor store is also out of the question.
Last but not the least, is what I’d like to call the “Colonial” hangover. Indians are hooked onto to Whiskey & Single Malts! Vodka is the most popular choice for the young and trendy. A real man will not be caught drinking wine( although I’m amazed at how many men have taken to drinking cheap red vinegary wine believing it to have health benefits, oh how wrong there are!) However, I am happy to report that this is changing slowly in cities such as Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, which now have dedicated wine clubs that host regular wine tastings, wine & food pairing events, wine book readings on a weekly basis

The purpose of this article is to introduce an average Indian to the world of wine, without sounding like a presumptuous wine diva. There are still so many things that I don’t know and need to know about wine. What I’m hoping to achieve here is to equip you with the knowledge to enjoy a  glass of wine, to distinguish a “good” and “bad” wine & finally understand that wine appreciation is easily within your grasp and not all of what we call “wine talk” is a load of fluffy crap( in the words of a dear friend)

Step into my shop- the quaint display outside a wine shop in Rudesheim, Germany
Step into my shop- the quaint display outside a wine shop in Rudesheim, Germany

Wine has the power to bring back long lost memories, to make you appreciate the tiny nuances of soil, fruit and nature, to bring out the best in your food and finally to evoke poetry! So let’s go beyond calling the noble grape a “white wine” or “red wine” and look at the main grape varietals and what’s available in India

WHITE WINE VARIETALS

Sauvignon Blanc ( pronounced: soo-veen-yon blon):

The famed vineyards of New Zealand: Marlborough
The famed vineyards of New Zealand: Marlborough

Three words come to my mind when describing a Sauv Blanc: fresh, grassy, crisp. Sauvignon Blanc’s are meant to be drunk early, within 3 years of bottling. Its spiritual home is in France’s Loire Valley in particular Sancerre and Pouilly-Sur-Loire (famous for the Pouilly Fume)
The first notes to reach the nose are: the smell of freshly cut grass, herby & vegetal. On taking the first sip, you will get hints of gooseberries, apples, pears and as a parting note a hint of acidity (which I describe as “crisp”) Sauvignon Blancs are not sweet and oily and are generally pale in color. They pair incredibly well with Seafood andSouth East Asian cuisine (with its notable sweet, sour,spicy notes) My favourite will always be pairing delicate scallops with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc

INDIAN PICKS: Try the Fratelli Sauvignon Blanc ( from their vineyard in Akluj, Mharashtra)- it comes pretty close to all the aromatic tasting notes I’ve mentioned above.. Chateau D’Ori Sauvignon Blanc is also another recommendation
FOREIGN PICKS: Easily available in all duty free shops is the Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough New Zealand. It has all the hallmarks of a stellar Sauvignon Blanc- freshly mowed grass, hints of gooseberries and a clean crispy finish.  Sauvignon Blanc from Vina Tarapaca, Chile   is available in Indian stores and I think makes for a better option when compared to the Indian wines

Cloudy Bay
Cloudy Bay wine from Marlborough, New Zealand

Riesling( pronounced: Rees-ling): my personal favorite,  by far the most important white wine grape varietal and ironically the most underrated too. Riesling can be best described as aromatic, delicate, stony.

Walking through the famous Riesling vineyards Dr Thanisch, Mosel
A sunny day, walking through the stunning Riesling vineyards of Dr Thanisch, Mosel

Riesling is one of the few wines that exercise a fine balance of aromas, fruit flavours and acidity ( what many winemakers call the balance of “sugar and acidity”)  Riesling’s home is in the banks of the gentle Mosel River in Germany where some of the world’ s finest Rieslings are made (https://hungrygrape.wordpress.com/2012/10/19/4/)  Drinkers are greeted by a whiff of petrol on the nose, the palate will reveal nectarine fruits which is almost immediately counter balanced with a sharp acidic stony finish.  Rieslings age beautifully and are also available in sweeter versions. I find that Rieslings pair beautifully with spicy Indian curries and South East Asian Cuisine

INDIAN PICKS: Try the Sula Riesling if you’re fond of your Rieslings being sweet and less acidic. Goes very well with our heavy curries, I would recommend serving it chilled
FOREIGN PICKS: Domaine Trimbach or Dr Loosen from Mosel/ Bernkastel ( Germany) are the top picks that best expresses the beauty of a Riesling. TIP-Please read the label carefully. German’s classify their Riesling as follows- “Trocken” or dry;  “Halbtrocken”  or semi dry; “Spatlese” made from late harvest grapes semi sweet to sweet; “Auslese” which is a select harvest of ripened grapes taste is sweet and perfect as a dessert wine.
Rieslings from Alsace region( in France) are also well known and slightly sweeter

Chardonnay( Pronounced Shard-donn-ay): The queen of all grapes and the most popular white wine varietals. Alas! Very few Indian winemakers make this grape, so very little to be found.
Chardonnay can be best described as fleshy, buttery, oaky, honey-ed, butterscotch-y. It is a versatile wine that pairs well with all cuisines.

The Chardonnay Grape
The Chardonnay Grape

DID U KNOW? That Champagne is made exclusively with 100% chardonnay grapes
Almost all the white wine from the famed Burgundy region is made from Chardonnay( including Chablis) A Chardonnay ages very well some as many as three decades!
INDIAN PICKS: Reveilo Chardonnay Reserve is a must try. Its fruity, luscious flavours are balanced with a whiff of French oak. It’s also perhaps the only Indian winery, I can think of  making Chardonnay here in India.
FOREIGN PICKS: Columbia Crest Chardonnay from Washington( USA) is  available in most Indian liquor stores, it has all the tick marks for a hallmark chardonnay.  For a couple of hundred rupees more(than the Indian whites), try the Cono Sur Chardonnay from Chile.  If you have deep pockets, look at getting a Chardonnay from the most legendary towns of Burgundy: Chassagne Montrachet & Puligny Montrachet. Try sticking with a classification of Appellation Village or Appellation Premier Cru/ 1er Cru. Do remember these wines are extremely tannic when young, so best to keep them in a cellar and open at least 5 years from bottling date!

Chassagne Montrachet- a fine choice
Chardonnay from Chassagne Montrachet, a great choice for those with deeper pockets

Other cheaper options( under Rs 3000) that make for everyday drinking include Chardonnay from Australia- Bird in Hand-  Adelaide Hills Stonier- Mornington Peninsular, Victoria

CHENIN BLANC: The most well known grape varietal in India, since almost all the Indian winemakers produce this. Chenin Blanc originated from France in the Loire Valley. Chenin Blanc’s are usually very easy to drink and fruity.

Chenin blanc grape

INDIAN PICKS: Sula Chenin Blanc or York Chenin Blanc are good value easy drinking picks. The Grover’s Art Collection Chenin Blanc is also worth trying, I found it to have more depth
FOREIGN PICKS: South Africa produces excellent Chenin Blanc’s, try Simonsig Chenin Blanc from the Stellenbosch region.

Viognier( Pronunciation: Vee-o-nier): Perfumed, full bodied, nectarine, peaches & apricot are the thoughts that come to my mind when I think of this grape. Do be warned that they are fairly acidic too. Viognier is slowly catching on in the wine making circles and shows tremendous potential
INDIAN PICKS: Grover’s Art Collection Viognier is my favourite, best expressing the perfumed notes, do remember to chill for at least 12 hours prior to serving!
FOREIGN PICKS: Those with deep pockets must at some point try the famous Viognier from Condrieu( Northern Rhone, France) bottles can cost anywhere upwards of $ 100( USD) but is guaranteed to create lasting memories- pure heaven!

Viognier from Condrieu, Northern Rhone( House of Paul Jaboulet)
Memorable wine tasting at one of the many "Weinguts" in Cochem, Germany
Memorable wine tasting at one of the many
“Weinguts” in Cochem, Germany

There are so many other wine varietals that deserve special mention and that I can’t possibly go into detailing for lack of time, but here they are: Pinot Grigio( a relatively light and easy wine that was drunk to death in America in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s), Aligote( grown entirely in Burgundy it is used in making the aperitif Kir), Sylvaner( a beautiful semi sweet wine found in the mountains Alsace) , Gewurztraminer( my favourite, a heavily scented sweet wine from Germany resonating with notes of litchi and roses), Semillon( used in making the famous dessert wine from Sauternes, France) Muscat( a lovely sweet fortified dessert wine originating from France) , Pedro Ximenz( famed for Sherry originating from Spain), Prosecco( a zesty sparkling wine originating from Spain)

Here’s my guide on how to serve and store your white wine:

1)     Always store your white wine in the refrigerator with temperature ranging from 8-10 degrees

2)     Invest in an ice bucket which you can fill with ice & cold water.  Just as you have poured your guests the first glass, leave the bottle in the ice bucket to stay chilled. When pulling out of the bucket, remember to wipe off the water droplets with a clean cloth napkin

wine bucket

3)     Get a corkscrew: Although most white wine bottles in India have a screw tap, some may have a cork and are required to be opened to with a corkscrew, this is easily available in nearly all supermarkets

wine corkscrew

4)     White wine goes very well with Indian starters, salads and soups. I usually serve it as an aperitif or with my first course( soup/starter/salad) followed by a decent medium bodied red wine for mains

5)     Fruity  white wines- Rieslings, Pinot Grigio, Prosecco, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc

6)     Slightly dry white wines- Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Rieslings( “trocken” and “halbtrocken”)

7)     Perfumed/ Floral white wines- Viognier, Gewurztraminer

8)     Excellent Dessert wines- Semillon, Pedro Ximenez, Sylvaner, Muscat

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A Foodies guide to Singapore: Places to Eat

Singapore has always been a food lover’s paradise. The island city nation ( roughly the same size as San Francisco) is a melting pot of cultures with people from all across the globe streaming in to make this little nation their home. There are three dominant cultural influences here- Chinese, Malaysian & Indian. There’s also a huge presence of Indonesian, Phillipino, Vietnamese, Korean, Thai and Japanese influences. I hope it will not come as a surprise if I suggest that the best way to soak in these cultures is by sampling their food. This is best experienced by a visit to a local food or ‘hawker’ centre which will leave you will be astounded by the plethora of food( expect everything exotic)- Dim sums, Fish Otah, Rendang curry, Fried Tempeh, Otah, Rojak, Chicken Adobo, Gyoza, Chahan, Yakitori, Chicken rice, Roti Paratha, Murtabak and even Thunder Chicken rice…there is an endless choice of food which can sometimes leave you spoiled for choices.

The foodies guide to Singapore
The foodies guide to Singapore

I have compiled a list of interesting neighborhoods to eat and drink based on my experiences here

Hawker or Food Centers
As mentioned in the introduction, its important to visit the hawkers centers to understand what the locals eat. Typically located in the heartlands or near HDBs (government housing) they food here is cheap and you will only find locals! There are so many cuisines up for grabs that it will leave you wondering where to start. Singapore hawker centers maintain generally a good hygiene levels and most of the food is nutritious focusing on use of Chinese spinach, p(b)ok Choy & bean sprouts. Here are my picks

Roast chicken rice on display in a food center
Roast chicken rice on display in a food center

Maxwell Road Hawker Centre(nearest MRT Tanjong Pagar)- all time favorite. I can’t seem to get enough of the Tian Tian stall’s Chicken Rice. Other must try’s include the Century Egg porridge( which I sadly gave a miss) available at the many stalls there. There’s a tiny Poppiah stall serving up this delicious Malayasian street treat for $1 each

Old Airport Road Hawker Centre ( nearest MRT)-
an old haunt for most Singaporeans, a recent renovation has thrown it back into the limelight. Oyster omelets, Fried Char Kway teow, Hokkien mee, Fish Otah & finally Chilli Crab are the specialties here. The stalls worth visiting here are: Katong Ah Soon Fried Oyster & Mattar Road BBQ Seafood for Chilli Crab

Char Kway Teow
Char Kway Teow

Lau Pa Sat( MRT Raffles Place)– this historical food court in the heart of the business district and Chinatown is a must visit during the night, where a section of the road is closed off to make way for live stalls serving up some of Singapore’s best Satay’s and Roti Parathas!

Fish Otah in the making
Fish Otah in the making

* Avoid Newton Centre which has become another tourist trap- over priced and average

Dim Sums
Yum cha( MRT- Chinatown, #20 Trengannu St, Off Temple St) – located in the heart of Chinatown yet frequented almost entirely by locals. This place is fantastic. Every afternoon they have a dim sum buffet offering just about everything. Must try the following dim sums: Steamed prawn and asparagus dumplings, Steamed scallop pea shoot dumpling, Pan fried Chives and meat dumpling.

Scallop and prawn dumplings
Scallop and prawn dumplings

Din Tai Fung( Marina Bay Sands Shopping centre, Paragon Orchard, Wisma Atria Orchard, 313@ Somerset)– I’m not a fan of chain restaurants but Din Tai Fung is an exception. They have an impressive selection of dim sums and their convenient location in big malls, make it hard to miss.

Panfried chives and meat dumplings
Panfried chives and meat dumplings

Lei Garden (MRT Sun Tech city, 01-14 Chijmes) an institution. Specializing in Cantonese cuisine, Lei garden is your best bet for a perfect Sunday Dim sum brunch, their atmospheric location in Chijmes and fantastic food will keep generations coming back for more.  Must try: BBQ Pork Ribs, Homemade bean curd, Steamed Cod with asparagus and special sauce, Steamed scallop dumplings and finish your meal with Mini Egg tarts

Steamed Cod with special sauce
Steamed Cod with special sauce
Homemade tofu
Homemade tofu
Custard Egg Tarts
Custard Egg Tarts

CLUB STREET AND ANN SIANG HILL (nearest MRT-Chinatown)

This quaint, narrow street is lined with upscale bars, restaurants, boutiques & design houses and runs all the way up to the Ann Siang Hill. Relatively quiet during the day, it’s a different world altogether in the evenings, as every bar and eatery packs up to full capacity and the lively crowds spill over to the street. Frequented by the locals and expats that work in the neighboring CBD( Central Business District), Club Street reminds me a little of Notting Hill in London except that its relatively non-touristy. Here are some of my picks of places to eat and drink

Majestic old houses in Chinatown
Majestic Peranakan styled houses in Chinatown
Chinatown- where skyscrapers and old shop houses exist
Chinatown- where skyscrapers and old shop houses exist

Lolla( # 22 Ann Siang Road)- Clean and almost industrial like in decor, this newest entrant to the happening Club street believes in keeping it simple. The small understated menu offers small plates of delicious food inspired by Spain( Tapas culture as seen a resurgence in Singapore)  We absolutely loved their food and here’s my must try list: Duck fat fried potatoes, Spanish tortilla with smoked eel, Scallop carpaccio and finally the Razor clams with chorizo. The place usually packs up as it is relatively small so reservations are a must

The simple menu at Lolla
The simple menu at Lolla
Tortilla with bacon and mushrooms
Tortilla with bacon and mushrooms

La terraza Rooftop bar of the Screening Room( #12 Ann Siang Hill)– one of the best rooftop bars in Club street offering great views of the business district and Chinatown. This place remains as popular as it was over 3 years ago( when we visited it last) Go there during happy hours

B28 in Club Hotel( #28 Ann Siang Hill)- run by American Mike Soldner. This place was formerly known as the Mault Vault and operated out of the basement of the Screening Room. True to its original vision- B28 has an endless range of single malts and whiskies sourced from all across the globe. Designed in plush leather upholstery and dark wooden tones, this place has a feeling of a gentleman’s club.  Go there between 5.30-8.30pm on weekdays to enjoy free pulled pork sandwiches with every cocktail( priced at SGD 15 each) there’s live jazz to enjoy on weekends

B-28 in Ann Sian Hill stocks an impressive Single Malt and whisky collection from around the world
B-28 in Ann Siang Hill stocks an impressive Single Malt and whisky collection from around the world

La Cicala Bar ( #49 Club street) another new entrant. Following the current “tapas” rage that has hit Singapore, this place serves up Spanish and international tapas. Their charming Spaniard manager willkeep the ladies coming back for more 😉 Pity though that their Bombay Sapphire cocktails are so-so and their Spanish selection of wines rather non-existent. Must try their char grilled asparagus & Gambas al ajillo

Club street Social( # 5 Gemmill Lane)- I have been told that this place is this unofficial hang out place for all in the F&B industry. I’ve been told that their paninis are delicious and cocktails innovative

Trattoria Cugini ( #87 Club street)
Heartwarming Southern Italian food and fantastic pizzas. This is the place to go to for your Italian food fix! Must try their freshly made squid ink fettuccine with seafood, fresh pea, mullet roe and dessert platter

Squid Ink pasta @ Cugini
Squid Ink pasta @ Cugini


Brasserie Gavroche( #69 Tras Street, MRT- Tanjong Pagar
) Ok this isn’t in Club street or Ann Siang hill but this little French gem in Tras Street( around 15 minutes walking distance) deserves a visit. Helmed by the ex chef of St Regis-Frederic Colin, the place exudes the vibe of an upscale Parisian café. This place is my top breakfast/ brunch pick: their Pain au chocolate is to die for as are the Eggs Benedict and Creamy egg casserole with mushrooms and bacon

Pain Au Chocolate@ Cafe Gavroche
Pain Au Chocolate@ Cafe Gavroche

DEMPSEY ROAD- The Expatriate Enclave ( Nearest MRT- Botanic Garden or Orchard Road)
This place will always be extremely close to me. It was love at first sight when we stumbled here in early 2007- the charming black and white bungalows reminiscent of the glorious British past and lush green tropical foliage (located just off the Botanic Gardens)immediately drew us in. It was perhaps this that led us to signing in the lease for our restaurant which we ran for 3 years till the rents made it financially unviable for us to continue. I am happy to know that it still continues to remain a popular haunt for many people that live in the surrounding posh neighborhoods. Frequented by a largely expat population this diverse patch has a great selection of lively restaurants and bars to frequent. Here are my top picks

Tippling Club and House(#8D Dempsey Road) still remains a hottest place to have a drink. Possibly amongst the pioneers to introduce the concept of mixology( relatively unheard of in Singapore 5 years ago) Award winning mixologist Matthew Bax continues to push the edge and creates hand crafted cocktails. The décor is industrial with floor to ceiling windows looking out to the forest, the large open plan set up of the main dining area allows guests to peep and pry into the bartenders’ concoctions. Must try ‘Juniper Sling’ and ‘Valley of Nine Villages’. The HOUSE its sister concern is a lot more casual and a great place to unwind for lunches. Their truffle fries are an absolute must try!

Tippling Club@ Dempsey
Tippling Club@ Dempsey

Jones the Grocer( Block 01-12 Dempsey Hill) occupies the centre stage on top of Dempsey Hill. A popular Australian concept with branches now in Dubai, Jones the Grocer is a great place to head to for brunch. The large store is dedicated to matters of the stomach=food. From artisanal marmalades to dukkah to dips and fresh meats and cheese to cookbooks, expect to find anything and everything related to food. At the centre of the store, is a communal like café serving breakfast all day and yummy desserts.

P.S Café( #28B Harding Road)- love it or hate it, this place has always had mixed reviews. One thing’s for sure though P.S Café is still the most popular café for brunch. Décor is fantastic with floor to ceiling windows and comfy seating. I’ve always been blown away with their stunning flower arrangements that greet visitors on arrival. Their desserts are absolutely gigantic and sinful!

The flower display at P.S Cafe
The flower display at P.S Cafe
Dessert selection at P.S Cafe
Dessert selection at P.S Cafe

Wine company( Blk 14 Dempsey Hill) we’ve shared many great memories here, which was the place we’d head to after getting slammed with a hard day of work. Décor is simple, dim lights and a large al fresco area at the back looking out to a tropical forest. Wine company has a great selection of wines from South Africa and pricing is relatively reasonable ( expect to pay anywhere upwards of $ 50/ bottle) and cheap bar food ( $ 6-18 SGD)

Jumbo Seafood( Blk 01-16 Dempsey Hill) A seafood institution, Jumbo was our haunt for our monthly Black pepper crab craving! Established in 1987, Jumbo opened its doors in Dempsey in 2008 and remains as popular as ever. I love their Black pepper crab and Stir fried Fish with spring onions and ginger. You absolutely have to wash it down with as Tiger beer draught.

Black pepper crab in Jumbo Seafood
Black pepper crab in Jumbo Seafood

Red Dot Brewhouse( Block 25A Dempsey Road) Perhaps amongst the first of many microbreweries to open up in Singapore. Red Dot embraces the great outdoor concept where you can see the massive steel vats, every now and then you catch a whiff of the fermenting grain. Their handcrafted brews are a must try. We love their Green monster(contains spirulina) and Lime wheat beer

Red Dot Lime and wheat beer
Red Dot Lime and wheat beer


JOO CHIAT AND GEYLANG DISTRICTS- the PERANAKAN stronghold

Formerly a red light district, Joo Chiat and Geylang area witnessed a massive cleanup drive in the early 2000’s and now it’s a charming street lined up with crumbling antique shops, design boutiques, bakeries and laid back bars and restaurants. This area was formerly a Peranakan or Nonya enclave (Straits born Chinese lived here) and a walk down the narrow streets will reveal the beautiful Peranakan shop house architecture which is fast disappearing in Singapore. There are a few “massage” parlours that remain but I feel that adds a gritty authentic touch to an otherwise almost perfect city

An old antique shop in Joo Chiat
An old antique shop in Joo Chiat

Smokeys BBQ American Smokehouse and Grill( # 73 Joo Chiat Place)- run by a Californian, this place serves up the best Beef brisket and Slow pulled pork sandwiches in Singapore & the buffalo wings with a blue cheese dip is absolutely sinful!

Beef Brisket@ Smokeys
Beef Brisket@ Smokeys

Garden Slug( #55Lorong L, Telok Kurau)- recommended by friends who always enjoyed heading there for a beer with their dog, this is simple place serves up unpretentious food. Must try: Mindy’s chicken pasta which has a thai touch to it thanks to the lime leaf butter, Wagyu Burger is also delicious!

Fat Boy Burger( # 465 Joo Chiat Terrace)- the Ultimate Burger Bar, the catchy restaurant lives up to its reputation of offering  lean, mean, burger monsters! You can customize your own burgers and wash it down with a root beer float!

Fat Boy Burger
Fat Boy Burger

No Signboard Seafood ( 412-416 Geylang Road) The weird name came about when they first started serving food in Geylang without any sign board. Considered by many to be the original creators of the Singapore Chilli crab, they have a gamut of seafood dishes to choose from. Their signature dishes are: White Pepper Crab, Hokkien Styled Steamed fish and Crispy cereal crayfish.

Chilli Padi( # 12 Joo Chiat Place)- a tiny place serving up delicious traditional Peranakan food. Must try: Sambal Ikan and Nonya Assam curry.

Bread Project( #174 Joo Chiat Road)- I’ve been told by friends that this place is a gem.  Must tries include the Bostock: where almond cream  piped between two slices of crunchy soft pastry and Chocolate concha

Chezcake Bistro( #328 Joo Chiat Road)-
specializing in everything to do with cheesecakes.  What more can a girl ask for? Must try: White Oblivion cheesecake and Green tea with red beans cheesecake.

One Fullerton,  Fullerton Pavilion and Collyer Quay
I would recommend heading here if you want to get a 180 degree view of the Marina bay area with Esplanade, Merlion and Marina Bay Sands. Its comparatively less crowded and makes a great place for sundowners!

One Fullerton Bay
One Fullerton Bay

Catalunya( Fullerton Pavilion, # 82 Collyer Quay)- helmed by the former team of the legendary El Bulli Spain, this place is a must go to for cocktails ( Most of us wouldn’t be able to afford the food) Incorporating molecular gastronomy techiniques each cocktail is a masterpiece. Expect to pay anywhere between $ 20-30 SGD for a drink though. Must try cocktails: Pasian’s Favourite( comprising of cumquats, rosemary sticks, luxardo, gin mare, lime juice, grapefruit juice and honey) and Stairway to Heaven( Bacardi’s 2012 Cocktail of the year paying homage to Led Zeppelin)

Pasian's Favourite@ Catalunya
Pasian’s Favourite@ Catalunya

Overeasy( #01-06 One Fullerton)- a modern funky bar and diner inspired by the diner culture of the 1970’s, their all day breakfast is great. Part of the Lo & Behold group ( White rabbit and Loof) one can expect uber cool decor, drinks and service

Society Bar( #01-11 One Fullerton)- this was the hottest bar in 2011 for sunset drinks and I’m happy to report that it remains ever popular. Reasonably priced food and drinks continues to draw people in. It’s located in a quieter part of the one Fullerton stretch which is just nice if you are looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of Singapore

Of Chocolates and wines

Chocolate and Wine- who can think of a more sinful combination? The town of T’ain L’Hermitage, as we discovered, offers precisely this with oodles of French charm!

The spectacular sight of the steep green vineyards of Paul Jaboulet and M.Chapoutier greeted us on our arrival in the train station of T’ain. Much has been written about the wines of Northern Rhone, the spiritual home of Syrah or Shiraz(as its known to the new world) Northern Rhone is a region whose wines are often overshadowed by its famous sisters- Bordeaux & Burgundy. Make no mistake; the Hermitage wines are exceptional- intense fruit, plump, coffee, chocolates,peppery & full bodied( will need to age for at least 3-4 years before being approachable)

The region of Condrieu, on the Northern most tip of Rhone, produces the most divine white wines made entirely from the Viognier grape (think of perfumed apricots, peaches, sprinkles of nutmeg) Our initial choice was the Cotie-Rotie (meaning “roasted slopes” due to the ample sunshine) to pay our homage to legendary winemaker Ernesto Guigal, whose wines are the stuff dreams are made off, and who was responsible for putting Northern Rhone wines on the wine lovers map. Bad train connections meant we had to give it a miss (Note to self: please carry an international driver’s license in the next trip)

Our next and obvious choice was T’ain L’Hermitage. It’s hard not to fall in love with T’ain- unmistakably picturesque because of the surrounding vineyards lining the steep slopes, the Rhone River, easily accessible by foot, friendly people, great food & finally home to Valrhona- the legendary French chocolate maker. I remember a time in Singapore when every restaurant & patisserie was going through a Valrhona phase- warm fondant, chocolate tart, dulce de leche ice cream….it seemed very surreal that we were finally here

  

After a super fast check in at our B&B, we decided to hit the streets, starting with a delicious lunch at a breezy café by the river side- Andouilette sausages served with salad & Homemade ravioli stuffed with spinach, broccoli and cheese, all washed down with a carafe of local spicy Hermitage( Syrah) wine.

     

As if that wasn’t enough, we made our way to the Valrhona shop boutique to have a look at over a 100 different types of chocolate (okay 100 maybe exaggerated, more like 50!) all available for sampling. The staff members were ever so friendly in offering us endless chocolate squares: my personal favorite being Guanaja( 70%Cocoa, extra bitter) If you’re not too keen on dark bitter chocolate, try Caraibe( 66% cocoa) or Manjari( 64% cocoa) Their never ending range of chocolate related products ranged from chocolate pearls & cooking chocolate to hot chocolate, ice cream & pralines. Happily digging our way through(what seemed like)a zillion samples we rightfully agreed that it was enough and we had to burn it off the extra calories. Our punishment was declared: climbing up the sunny L’Hermitage hill to the vineyards.

   

Cave Du T’ain, an excellent wine cooperative at the bottom of the hill, offers an informative self guided Discovery route map, allowing you to explore the vine laden hill at your own pace. Cave Du Tain also organizes wine tastings, giving visitors a chance to sample many wines from the Northern Rhone region

Armed with the map and decent walking shoes, we made our way uphill, huffing and puffing along the way, promising never to overindulge! The scenic walk starts at the bottom of the hill and slowly ascends upwards taking you through the famous “La Chapelle” vineyard of Paul Jaboulet, picturesque country estates (owned by the winemakers) and the granite terraces which took almost 20 years to build to retain the granite sand (crucial for rendering power and structure to the Syrah grapes) Those that make it uphill are rightfully rewarded with panoramic views of the Rhone river, the vineyards of Saint Joseph( across the Rhone river) and the town of Tournon-sur-Rhone. The walk takes approximately 1 hour 30 minutes and is a must for absolutely everybody interested in knowing more about this venerated region.

  

    

It was early evening as we slowly made our way down the Hermitage hill, admiring the sheer beauty of the vines and terroir, we had to end our evening with a wine tasting stop at the house of Paul Jaboulet, famous winemakers of the Hermitage region, now known the world over. Wines from their La Chapelle vineyard in the L’Hermitage Hill are considered by many to be among the greatest. Our complimentary tasting session of 3 wines comprised of: Le Cassines Condrieu( Viognier), La Petit Chapelle Hermitage( Syrah) and Domaine de Thalabert Crozes Hermitage( Syrah) giving us a good insight into the structure & taste

 Before we knew it, it was time for dinner and this time we decided to go easy and tuck into a salad and yoghurt! I would     recommend T’ain as a night stay, make sure you arrive in the morning to ensure you can leisurely see the Valrhona boutique, Cave du Tain walk & picturesque town center on the banks of the Rhone. For wine tastings I will recommend Cave du Tain and Paul Jaboulet who offer complimentary tastings( especially if you are two people) Do note that while it isn’t obligatory to buy a bottle of wine, it is recommended you do buy (it would be polite) as they are also priced at a bargain!  M Chapoutier also organizes wine tastings,  prior appointment will need to be made( they are located in the main street off the station and beside our B&B- Le Castel)

UNDERSTANDING THE WINES OF HERMITAGE

SYRAH- is the principal grape grown here. In fact it is here in Northern Rhone that Syrah was born. Majority of the red wines contain 100% Syrah, however producers can add a small percentage of Marsanne and Roussane. The wines of Hermitage display intense notes of berries, plum, chocolate, pepper and have a full bodied finish. They often need to be approached after 5 years and stay perfect upto 20 years!

     

MARSANNE-  is the main white varietal of the Northern Rhone, It displays exceptional longetivity in the warm, pebbly soil of Northern Rhone. The picture taken above is from Cave du Tain’s vineyard containing 100 year old Marsanne grapes! Chante-Alouette, a vineyard owned by M Chapoutier, produces exceptional full bodied white wine, green gold in colour, honey and almonds in the palate with a rounded finish- a must try…

ROUSSANNE- is the other white varietal of Northern Rhone

Main Producers- Paul Jaboulet, M.Chopoutier, Domaine Jean-Louis Chave, Cave du Tain & Delas

FURTHER AFIELD:

Crozes Hermitage– refers to the appellation situated beneath and behind the L’Hermitage Hill. It is a fairly large appellation with many producers. Offers good value for money. The red wines are best drunk young.

Saint Joseph- refers to the appellation situated across the Rhone river in the town of Tournon-sur-Rhone. Again, the wines here offer great value for money and age well
( upto 4 years)

Steeped in Wine

Most people tend to associate French wine with the region of Bordeaux. The Bordeaux region is undoubtedly one of the top destinations for wine tourism attracting many aficionados from across the world. However, if you are willing to look further afield, there awaits you a charming & rustic wine region, which has for sometime been known to produce magical, knee weakening wines of the Pinot Noir grape that is bound to leave you spellbound for years to come- this is region is known to the world as Burgundy, but to the people of France as Bourgogne( pronounced-Boor-goon-yaay)
As influential wine writer Harry Waugh said “The First Duty of wine is to be Red…the second is to be a Burgundy
Burgundy is the uncrowned champion, yielding some of the world’s most venerated wines

         

Part of the reason why this region receives far less visitors than its famous sister-Bordeaux, is simply because the winemaking here is still at its rustic & rural & complicated best; Burgundy makes less than a quarter of Bordeaux wines; the vineyards are fragmentally owned- meaning to say one winemaker can own several small parcels of land, some as small as 100 yards, in fact it is highly unlikely that any winemaker can own more than 2 ha of land in any one particular village. This alas, tends to make Burgundy vineyards the most expensive real estate in the world & incredibly confusing for many wine lovers across the globe, who tend to get daunted by its sheer (dis)organization. Many of the families living here are third generation winemakers, learning the techniques which have been handed down from their forefathers, their life revolves around making wines in a rather unpredictable climate (thanks to global warming) Finally, there is far too little information available online, making it difficult for a first time visitor or wine novice to plan a holiday here.

So when I had to accompany my husband to a conference in Spain, we decided to have a spend a little more time in France- explore this region & share with you some information that you could hopefully find helpful when planning a trip there

We rolled into Dijon on a cloudy afternoon from Paris. Dijon is the capital of Bourgogne and a city known for its rich cultural heritage, the resplendent Notre Dame cathedral & home to the world famous Dijon mustard & gingerbread. We used Dijon as the start point of exploring the wine region of Burgundy giving us easy access to the world famous vineyards in Cotes de Nuits region. We spent our entire evening walking through the cobblestoned streets of the town center marveling at the ancient buildings. It is sad that the stone Owl in the church of Notre Dame is said to bring good luck when touched upon & so we did the same. It was interesting to note, that the Dijon tourism board actually created an “Owl walk” where visitors, could follow the Owl stones on the street (similar to the Hollywood Walk of fame) taking you through interesting turns and narrow alleyways-each with a story to tell. Some noteworthy places to see include Les Halles-the historic fresh food market located minutes away from the Notre Dame Cathedral, stocking everything imaginable to French food-charcuteries, seafood, mustard, gingerbread, macaroons, fresh vegetables & fruits! Unfortunately, we reached the market too late(Note: open from 7am-1pm); We were recommended by the tourist office in Dijon to visit the Amora Mustard museum, but since we were pressed from time couldn’t get around to seeing it! However we did get to sample and buy Amora/ Maille mustard from one of the many little shops in the town center. Do be sure to try the Pain d’Epices or Spiced Gingerbread, which is delicious..

            

All that walking made us thirsty and we marched to the nearest bar to quench our thirst. Dijon is famous for its Kir– a delicious drink made with white wine grapes(Aligote) and Cassis( black currant) liquor served as an apertif. After a satisfying dinner in town where we tried Escargot Bourgogne(snails in a garlic butter parsley white wine sauce) washed down with a Kir royale and Red wine, we decided to call it an early night ahead of our mega wine tour the next morning

We signed up with Wine and Voyages to take us to visit the famous vineyards of Cotes de Nuit region. Unfortunately it was a rainy day..This was more than made up by our friendly & informative guide Christopher & the fact that we were the only two people on the group tour ensuring we hogged all his attention! While driving through the quaint villages of Cotes De Nuits, he carefully explained to us the basic of Burgundy wines-the appellations, the  terroir( a word used very often here)  Cotes De Nuits is better known for its aromatic( cherries & strawberries) medium to heavy bodied red wine made entirely out of a single varietal- Pinot noir grape. We were shown the legendary villages & vineyards of the Cote D’or region- Fixin, Gevrey Chambertain, Chambolle Musigny (where we stopped for our first wine tasting at Andre Ziltener), Vosnee-Romanee & Echezeaux . Our highlight was seeing the vineyards of Romanee Conti- whose wines are said to be amongst the most expensive in the world, drunk by the likes of billionaires & movie stars.  Our final stop for tasting was at negociant- Moillard Grivot’s cellar room in the village of Nuits-Saint-Georges, this gave us the chance to learn about the wines coming from all the different villages of this region. With our head buzzing from all the great wine we made our way back to Dijon train station to take a train to the next stop in Beaune.

         

Our main reason for choosing to stay in Beaune was because it gave us a chance to explore the wine region of Cotes de Beaune. There are many things to do in Beaune (do note: by this I mean wine related pleasurable activities!) Famous negociants & producers such as Bouchard Pere Et Fils & Joseph Drouhin allow visitors to see their historic wine cellars some dating back to the 13th century, a cellar visit is usually followed up with a tasting of around 4-6 wines, giving one the chance to explore wines from the various regions of Burgundy. Beaune also houses Hotel Dieu, formerly a hospital, famous for its unique Burgundian-Flandish glazed tile roofing. The Musee du Vin, contains interesting information pertaining to the winemaking in Burgundy, the building in itself is beautiful. Beaune, as we discovered, is best explored by foot, its narrow streets aplomb with historical buildings, echoing with tales of wines & grapes. The smell of fermenting grapes permeated the air that afternoon constantly reminding us that we were in Burgundy’s wine capital! If that wasn’t enough there is even a wine book shop-Atheneaum dedicated to everything related to wine- from accessories, gadgets, maps, postcards, books, novels, glassware and wine selection

         

We signed up for a 3 hour wine tour with Vineatours. Our guide Brigitte promptly picked us from our hotel. We were driven through the villages & vineyards of Cote de Baune- Pommard, Volnay, Corton, Puligny Montrachet & Chassagne Montrachet( the latter two having the highest concentration of white Grand Cru vineyards) Our visit was followed up with a wine tasting at a winemaker’s cellar in Chassagne Montrachet. I was rather disappointed with the selection of wines used for the tasting-most were no more than 3 years old, hence extremely young, harsh & tannic

Not satisfied, we decided to visit Marche Aux Vins- a wine cellar which was formerly a church behind the Hospice de Beaune. The candle light, vaulted ceilings & endless array of Burgundian wines makes for an atmospheric tasting experience. For 10 Euro/head, you can get to sample over 15 different types of regional wines- most were average but we did come across a few noteworthy wines.The benefits of wine tours & tastings at cellars is that it gave us gave us a chance to sample wines from Grand & Premier Cru vineyards, which are usually unaffordable to the ordinary folk! It also reminded us how wine produced from the same region but two different vineyards 5km apart, tasted so different-bringing to light the importance of terroir or slight variations in the soil. We felt that Burgundy wines are terroir-fic: if you’re lucky to chance upon a bottle from a good winemaker, vineyard & drink it at the right age, it will leave you craving for more. The memory of the heady aroma of crushed strawberries, plum & horses will stay with you for years to come. In the hands of an average winemaker from the inferior vineyards, you have a somewhat lack luster & boring wine

     

Overall we found Burgundy a fascinating region which, given the chance, will willingly open its doors to you. Unfortunately we weren’t so lucky with the weather which at most times was rainy & borderline cloudy- we had to remind ourselves that September is usually the month between summer & autumn, hence such weather. On the plus side, we got to see the harvesting of grapes in the vineyards, which was fascinating. It was interesting to note that in some places we actually saw the grapes being sent to a garage-like/makeshift production unit/ home of the winemaker- going to say that wine making is still so rustic and plays such an important part in people’s lives here. We were lucky to stay in a B&B that served up the most heartwarming & delicious French food ( Restaurant T’ast au Vin)- Poached eggs in a Bourgogne/Red wine sauce, Homemade Foie Gras terrine with apricot jelly,  Homemade profiteroles with Chantilly cream & Black currant parfait, all washed down with a fairly decent Bourgogne Village appellation Pinot Noir….

I shall leave you with a memorable quote: “Burgundy makes you think of silly things, Bordeaux makes you talk of them and Champagne makes you do them.”- Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

       

   

    

DECONSTRUCTING THE WINES OF BURGUNDY
Cote D’Or or golden slopes signify the narrow ribbon of Grand cru vineyards approximately 55km in length encompassing the Cotes De Nuits & Cotes de Beaune region of Burgundy.
There are only four grape varietals in Burgundy the most famous being Pinot noir  found in the Grand & Premier Cru vineyards of Cotes de Nuits & Cotes De Beaune
Chardonnay  is the white wine varietal. The vineyards in the villages of Chablis( North), Mersault & Macon( South) produce excellent steely Chardonnays
Aligote is a white varietal that is mainly used in the making of Kir & as we head further south into the Gamay is grown. Gamay goes into the making of the Beaujolais wine- a light red, with flavours of berries & cherries best drunk young. Producers are forbidden to mix different grape varieties, hence it is 100% single grape varietal
There are four appellations or gradings:
Appellation Bourgogne/ Regional– the lowest of the grades signifying that the wines are from the Burgundy region but no specific area in the region. The quality can vary drastically. More often than not, the grapes used in this wine were of below par quality. Having said that a good producer will ensure good quality
Appellation Village– the next level which implies that the wines are made from grapes harvested in one particular village in the Burgundy region
Appellation Premier /1er Cru & Appellation Grand Cru– the wines are made from grapes harvested from a specific vineyard, the name of the vineyard is clearly stated in the bottle
Quite often you will come across the word “Clos” in the label- the concept of the walled enclosures called ‘Clos’ come from the 13th century from the monks who spent most of their ‘spare’ time making wine

It is important to note French laws require that each vineyard be mapped out & awarded its quality status accordingly

HOW TO GET THERE
Burgundy is easily accessible by train from Paris’ Bercy station, the train ride usually lasts up to 1.5-2 hours. Frequency of trains is very good, almost every hour. The capital of Bourgogne is Dijon. Dijon is a great starting point for accessing the vineyards of Cotes-de-Nuits and Nuits-Saint-George
From Dijon I recommend that you head to Beaune to explore Cotes De Baune region and the many wine cellars of negociant’s and winemakers.

The Magical Mosel

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Breathtaking. Just out of a postcard. This would summarize the quaint little town of Bernkastel in Germany. Situated on the gentle Mosel River, Bernkastel is best known for some of Europe’s finest vineyards (best in the world in my opinion) most notably Bernkasteler Doctor, Dr Thanisch , J.J Prum, Willi Schaefer, Selback-Oster, Scloss Leiser….

         

Riesling, the noble grape, lines the steep hilly slopes along the Mosel. The view from the  ruins of the castle above Bernkastel  is that of a yellow green wall of vines. There’s no doubt that the Riesling is at its best in the Mosel….

There’s something about the slate in the soil along the slopes that impart a unique “Minerally” “Stony” character to the wines. 

 Pale with just a hint of green, a Riesling is known to have aromas of lime & petrol. Take a sip & feel the initial sharpness countered almost immediately with sweetness & hold on…finished off with a crispiness. This is exactly what the finest winemakers in the region strive to achieve- finding the right balance of sugar & acid.

 “The greatest of them, long lived, pale gold, piquant, frivolous yet profound,are wines that beg to be compared with music & poetry”- Jancis Robinson

A good Riesling is your summertime best friend & goes with almost any cuisine. NOTE: is excellent when paired with our Indian curries!!

Visitors to the main town of Bernkastel are greeted by the spectacular sight of the steep golden hued vineyards surrounding the town square(The picture above was taken from the street in which our B&B was located) Take a short stroll down to the Rieslinghaus to sample the famous wines of Bernkastel. Head down to the banks of the Mosel River and visit the Vinotheque or Bernkastel Wine Museum- an exhaustive source of information on the wines of this region. If you are feeling slightly wined out then relax in one of the many restaurants lined up on the river. 

 

 

A must try includes the FLAMMKUCHEN, the German version of a thin crust pizza only far more crispier. A typical Flammkuchen  consists of sour cream or Gruyere cheese with ham & onions. Delicious when eaten anytime of the day & washed down with a chilled Riesling or Beer

The town of Bernkastel though popular among the domestic German tourists, is relatively free of all the tourist trappings prevalent in Italy and France. We got the rather surprised & amused Mr & Mrs Dillinger to show us their modest, rustic winery(Here’s a picture of the lovely couple) We were extremely lucky to visit at a time when harvesting or picking of grapes had just begun

All in all I would recommend visiting the lovely town of Bernkastel if you wish to move away from the touristy travel route in Germany- the steely Riesling, heartwarming food & warmth and hospitality of the towns folk will charm you over. There are many walks all around town taking you through the scenic and legendary vineyards & castle, do bear in mind that the walk uphill can be slightly challenging but you will be rewarded with excellent views 🙂
HOW TO GET THERE:
High speed trains from Frankfurt to the Rhine valley on an hourly basis. We took the Frankfurt-Rudesheim-Cochem route, spending two nights in each town. From Cochem we took the train to Wittlich( every hour), outside Wittlich train station is a bus stop where buses to Kues( just across the river from Bernkastel) operate on an hourly basis, the bus ride not lasting more than 20-25 minutes. Worth the extra effort!
RIESLING IN INDIA:
Unfortunately given the archaic laws that govern import of anything related to liquor, we don’t find too many interesting wines let alone Rieslings from the Mosel region. We can take consolation from the fact that Sula makes a fairly decent Riesling which is now available in most liquor stores in the country.