Top 10: BYO Restaurants in Singapore

Produced for popupwine.com.sg in September 2016.

Singapore is an expensive city.  The 4th most expensive on our planet according to CNBC and Mercer’s 2016 Cost of Living Rankings.

And in this already expensive city state, the twin evils of Shipping Charges and the “Sin Tax” make wine, that luxury which few of us can persistently do without, expensive.  The more reasonably priced retailers such as Pop Up Wine, Singapore – who import wine direct from winemakers around the world – help keep the costs down at home, but what should we do in restaurants where we are frequently asked to pay beefy markups of 300% or more?

The answer is BYO: “bring-your-own”.

Several restaurants, including those in the iconic Marina Bay Sands hotel, have proclaimed a complete ban on BYO, but many restaurants permit it – normally charging a “corkage” fee of $30 to $60 per bottle.  Some restaurants have a “buy one, bring one” policy.  A handful of restaurants offer invaluable corkage-free days.

Singaporean wine writer Justin Teoh has produced a superb – and very comprehensive – list of restaurants permitting BYO, which he keeps up-to-date.  I thoroughly recommend anyone considering BYO to use this list as a resource.

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BYO, safely.

After much agonising at Pop Up HQ, and several years of wallet-busting fine dining, we have compiled the following top 10 of BYO restaurants in Singapore:

  1. Burnt Ends

With several Australians on our books, it’s perhaps unsurprising that this Modern Australian Barbeque restaurant was popular.  Corkage is $50 per bottle.

  1. Restaurant Andre

With two Michelin stars and a menu full of exquisite trickery, this restaurant is sometimes classified as Singapore’s best.  The food and service are both stunning, but we found the wine list a little disappointing at the time of our visit: it sadly included no dessert wines.  Perfect with BYO.  Corkage is $60 per bottle.

  1. Artichoke

If you love Lamb, this inexpensive modern Moorish restaurant is a must visit.  Corkage is $30 per bottle – we hugely recommend taking a bottle of fun Pinot Noir to accompany that lamb.

  1. Jaan

The Swisshotel’s 70th floor restaurant is as famous for its panoramic views as it is its excellent French cuisine.  They require a ransom of $100 per bottle, for corkage.

  1. Joël Robuchon Restaurant

Michelin star chef Joël Robuchon’s restaurant on Sentosa has a daunting wine list of more than 1,000 wines.  Corkage is an equally daunting $120 per bottle!

  1. Otto Ristorante Italiano

One of the best Italian restaurants on the island, this recently relocated restaurant has corkage-free Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  On other days corkage is $30 per bottle.

  1. The Disgruntled Chef

This Dempsey favourite has corkage-free Tuesdays, but charges $35 or more for corkage otherwise.  We were delighted to find a Beetroot-based salad on the menu, when we visited.

  1. Bistecca Tuscan Steak House

Superb steaks, and a superb – mostly Italian – wine list.  Busy each and every time we have visited.  Corkage is $50 per bottle.

  1. Iggy’s

Iggy’s at the Hilton Hotel has been named in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants since 2009, including best Asian restaurant in 2012.  Corkage is $50 per bottle.

  1. Shinji by Kanesaka

Double Michelin star winning chef Shinji Kanesaka’s eatery is the finest Japanese restaurant on the island.  Corkage is $50 per bottle.

James H., 8/9/16

Best Wine For Each Occasion

The below was produced for Lightfoot Travel in September 2016.

 

Here at Pop Up Wine HQ in heart of Singapore’s historic Chinatown, we are often asked what wine to pair with different foods.  But what about matching the right wine to the right moment: which wines are most suitable for which occasion?

Unlike with food pairing, there are no time honoured rules to keep in mind – or deliberately break.

 

The first date

Safety first here.  Something white – so any spillage will not mark your shirt – and something which demonstrates your fondness for wine.  Chablis, a steely fresh Chardonnay from northern France that is generally unoaked, is a superb choice.  An Aussie friend calls it “posh Chardy”!

Example: Louis Moreau Chablis 2014

 

The business lunch

10 years ago the company credit card would have made this an opportunity to indulge, but times have sadly changed.  Due to our close proximity to Perth, Australian wines offer better value than French ones here in Singapore – particularly at the mid to low price points.  Margaret River Cabernet is consistently excellent, and will go beautifully with that medium-rare steak you have been looking forward to all morning.

Example: Fraser Gallop “Parterre” Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

 

The BBQ

No wine shouts summer as loudly as easy-to-sip Provençal Rosé, our third most popular wine here in sunny Singapore.

Example: Mirabeau Côtes De Provence Rosé 2015

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The dinner party

Tricky, especially when you have no idea what might be for dinner.  We like to choose flexible wine that can be paired with may dishes.  Bubbles are a strong choice: perfect to toast with, an incredibly versatile as a food-pairing wine.

Example: Dumangin Champagne “Le Cuvée 17” NV

 

The baby shower

After nine months restraint, many new mums will be looking forward to that first glass or two of wine.  Put a smile on your friend’s face by bringing a bottle of delightful low-alcohol pink Moscato – a sweet, slightly bubbly, wine that no one can help but love.

Example: Mojo Moscato 2015

J., 19/9/16

Top 10: Quotes about Wine

After much debate, over several bottles of Cabernet and Shiraz, we have managed to draw up a list of our favourite wine related quotes and sayings.  We will update our Top 10 with new quotes as we discover them, relegating former members of this Top 10 to the company of Plato, da Vinci and Jefferson below.

Top 10

  1. “Wine is sunlight, held together by water.” Galileo Galilei (astronomer)

  2. “Brothers, come quickly!  I’m drinking stars!” Dom Pierre Pérignon* (monk)

  3. “Nothing makes the future look so rosy as to contemplate it through a glass of Chambertin.” Napoleon Bonaparte (general)

  4. “Remember, gentlemen, it’s not just France we are fighting for, it’s Champagne!” Sir Winston Churchill (politician)

  5. “Wine can of their wits the wise beguile, Make the sage frolic, and the serious smile.” Homer (writer)

  6. “Life is too short to drink bad wine.” Thomas Jefferson* (politician)

  7. “Wine cheers the sad, revives the old, inspires the young, and makes weariness forget his toil” Lord Byron (poet)

  8. “God made Cabernet Sauvignon whereas the devil made Pinot Noir” André Tchelistcheff (winemaker)

  9. “She gets to keep the chalet and the Rolls, I want the Montrachet.” Forbes (magazine)

  10. “I can certainly see that you know your wine. Most of the guests who stay here wouldn’t know the difference between Bordeaux and Claret.” Basil Fawlty (hotelier)

*disputed.

Deuxièmes

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Churchill’s favourite Champagne was Pol Roger.  When he died in 1965, Pol Roger placed a black border around its labels as a gesture of respect.  Pol Roger’s Curvee Sir Winston Churchill is also named in his honour.

“Pinot Noir is the ultimate wine to have at the table. It’s a white wine masquerading as red … [while] Chardonnay is a red masquerading as a white.” Kevin Zraly

“The discovery of a good wine is increasingly better for mankind than the discovery of a new star.” Leonardo da Vinci

“Nothing more excellent or valuable than wine was every granted by the gods to man.” Plato

“In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria.” Benjamin Franklin

“To buy very good wine nowadays requires only money. To serve it to your guests is a sign of fatigue.” William F. Buckley

“A bottle of wine contains more philosophy than all the books in the world” Louis Pasteur

“Wine can be considered with good reason as the most healthful and hygienic of all beverages.” Louis Pasteur

“In victory, you deserve Champagne. In defeat you need it.” Napoleon Bonaparte

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“sunlight, held together by water”

“Beer is made by men, wine by God.” Martin Luther

“I think it is a great error to consider a heavy tax on wines as a tax on luxury. On the contrary, it is a tax on the health of our citizens.” Thomas Jefferson

“Age is just a number. It’s totally irrelevant unless, of course, you happen to be a bottle of wine.” Joan Collins

“Men are like wine – some turn to vinegar, but the best improve with age.” Pope John XXIII

“Penicillin cures, but wine makes people happy.” Alexander Fleming

“Wine prepares the heart for love, unless you take too much.” Ovid

“Even where it prospers, it needs to be coaxed, wheedled, flattered, cajoled, cursed and (or) prayed over almost ounce by ounce through a series of crises that starts at the fermenters and lasts beyond bottling.” Bob Thompson, on Pinot Noir

“I feel sorry for people who don’t drink. When they wake up in the morning, that’s as good as they’re going to feel all day.” Frank Sinatra

“Speaking of Provence, that paradisical region of sun-kissed slopes and lavender meadows remains the locus of Rosé’s spiritual soul” Mark Oldman

J., 12/10/16 (last updated 11/1/16)

Chardonnay: Red Masquerading As White

Written for popupwine.com.sg in October 2016.

“Pinot Noir is the ultimate wine to have at the table. It’s a white wine masquerading as red … [while] Chardonnay is a red masquerading as a white.”  The amusing words of American wine writer Kevin Zraly, and a useful line to throw at David Harker when one is losing an argument about the merits of a particular Chardonnay at PopUp HQ!

Pinot Noir and Chardonnay certainly have a lot in common, and – in several respects – are closer to one another than they are to grapes of their own colour.

Like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay is a neutral, malleable, grape with its characteristics – both on the nose and palate – normally coming from the terroir, and oak, used in production.  Chablis, for example, takes its clean, stony minerality from the famous Kimmeridgian clay upon which its Chardonnay vines grow.    Kimmeridgian clay is a relatively uniform chalky marl that is rich in marine fossils.

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Kimmeridgian Clay

Similarly, winemakers in Burgundy often quip that Burgundian Pinot Noir is popular not because it is Pinot Noir, but because Pinot Noir – of all the grapes – best expresses the terroir of the Côte d’Or, Beaune and Mercurey.  It is a vehicle for the terroir of eastern France.

Recent DNA profiling has revealed that Chardonnay is an offspring of Pinot Noir.  The other parent being Gouais Blanc, an obscure Croatian grape that has been banned in France for several centuries.  Winemakers in the 1930s who labelled the grape as “Pinot Chardonnay” may have been aware of this relationship.

Tannin, that element in some wines which paradoxically dries our mouths, is higher in Chardonnay that any other white wine.  Pinot Noir has a similar level of tannin to Chardonnay, particularly when Chardonnay has been oak-matured.

It is also slightly more full bodied that other white wines: it is “heavier” in the mouth when drinking.

Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are often blended together.  They are the main constituent grapes for Champagne.

Additionally, the two grapes thrive in the same “cold climate” wine regions: Burgundy, Champagne, Oregon, Victoria and New Zealand.

It is also worth noting that like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay is a thin-skinned grape prone to frost, powdery mildew and other vulnerabilities.   Both grapes require careful vine management.

The similarity pales, like a glass of Chardonnay around its edge, when we come to consumer tastes.  Several different styles of Chardonnay exist and it does not follow that a drinker who enjoys Pinot Noir will also, necessarily, enjoy Chardonnay.

Until the mid-90s, demand – and fashion – was for rich, oaky, Chardonnay.  This was particularly true in Australia, where “Kardonnay” became synonymous with a very woody, buttery, style of wine.

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“the aitch is silent”

A similar style is still popular in California, where winemakers prefer a particularly busy style of wine for the most grown grape in “The Golden State”.  It is not uncommon to detect Barrel maturation, Lees stirring and Malolactic Fermentation in Californian Chardonnay.  The latter is a naturally occurring process which gives wine a more buttery, rounded, texture.  Lees are deposits of residual yeast: Lees stirring increases bready or biscuit flavours in the wine.

EXAMPLE: DeLoach California Chardonnay Heritage Reserve 2013 ~ California, USA

The current trend is for leaner, more appetising and less oak-dominated Chardy.

EXAMPLE: Innocent Bystander Chardonnay 2014 ~ Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia

Worldwide production of Chardonnay has continued to increase, despite the “Anything But Chardonnay” backlash of the late 1990s.  The total area planted with Chardonnay was just under 100,000 ha in 1990.  By 2005 this had reached 174,000 ha, and by 2010 200,000 ha.

One reason for this is the partial immunity French Chardonnay possesses to changes in global demand.  Many consumers do not realise that when they are enjoying a White Burgundy*, Chablis or Pouilly Fuisse, they are drinking Chardonnay!

*There is also some Aligoté production in Burgundy, approximately 5% of total, however this is mostly used for the Kir drink, where it is mixed with blackcurrant liqueur.

J., 10/10/16

Wine in the Colonial Era

Written for popupwine.com.sg in September 2016.

Thirteen hour flights from Western Europe to Changi can be frustrating, particularly when these thirteen hours are spent in economy sitting next to Pop Up Wine’s cost conscious Finance Director!

But colonial era travel times were much worse.  A good travel time between England and Singapore in the nineteenth century was around 100 days: more than 3 months!

This extended travel time was a huge issue for wine exporters.  In the nineteenth century the vast majority of wines possessed a short shelf life: in a year oxidation would turn wine into vinegar, with the wine worsening gradually over this period.

A very high level of alcohol in wine can extend a wine’s life considerably, and merchants therefore added brandy to wine that was bound for a long trip at sea.  The demand for fortified wines such as Port, Sherry and Madeira increased dramatically.

These fortified wines were popular in the colonies.  As ships headed south they would often stop in the Portuguese Madeira Islands (east of the Canaries) where they would pick up wine for the long journey ahead.

At this time the vast majority of wine was stored and transported in barrels.  Wine merchants often built or rented “tank cars” – massive wooden barrels on wheels – that could carry thousands of litres of wine by train.  When the tank car reached its destination the wine would be “decanted” into smaller barrels.

Glass was not used as it was easy to damage, and non-uniform until well into the industrial revolution.  In 1821 a company called Rickets of Bristol received a patent for a machine that manufactured identically sized bottles, in a shape we would recognise as a wine bottle today.

The use of bottles in wine storage was unusual in the nineteenth century.  In Britain it was even illegal to sell wine by the bottle from 1636 until 1860.

Customers were very much at the mercy of unscrupulous or incompetent wine merchants, who received their wine in barrels and then bottled it themselves.  These merchants often adulterated the wines.

Nonetheless the international wine trade was booming in the early nineteenth century, as shown in the below 1864 map by Charles Minard:

This came to a halt in the 1850s.

Powdery Mildew, a fungus, hit many French vineyards, massively reducing yields.  In 1857 Henri Mares worked out a method of treating vines with sulphur which reduced the problem, but another – even more deadly – calamity struck.

A tiny North American louse called phylloxera reached europe and began attacking the rootstocks of European vines.  It was unwittingly imported by English botanists, keen to study North American vines.  The epidemic devastated vineyards in Britain and then moved to the European mainland, destroying most of the European grape growing industry. In 1863, the first vines began to deteriorate inexplicably in the southern Rhône region of France. The problem spread rapidly across the continent.

In France, one of the desperate measures grape growers took was to bury a live toad under each vine to draw out the “poison”.

“The Phylloxera, a true gourmet, finds out the best vines and attaches itself to the best wines” Punch, September 1890

A solution – to import more resistant North American rootstock and graft the vines onto this rootstock – was developed, but not until the vast majority of European vines were wiped out.  In France alone, total wine production fell from 84.5 million hectolitres in 1875 to only 23.4 million hectolitres in 1889.  Some estimates hold that between two-thirds and nine-tenths of all European vineyards were destroyed.

Ironically, some New World vines such as South Australian Grenache and Syrah (Shiraz) are now older than Old World vines.  The Langmeil Barossa Old Vine Company, for example, have fines dating to the 1840s.  Their very highly rated Shiraz is available in Singapore, via Pop Up Wine.

Another Barossa Valley winemaker, Hewitson, have an ancient vineyard of Mourvèdre planted in 1853 by Friedrich Koch.  These are the oldest Mourvèdre vines on the planet.  Magnums of their “Private Cellar” Shiraz Mourvèdre blend are also available from Pop Up Wine.

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Hewitson’s “Old Garden” Vineyard

J., 29/9/16.

Pinot Noir: Satan’s Grape

Written for popupwine.com.sg in September 2016.

The Dean of American winemakers – André Tchelistcheff – once wrote that “God made Cabernet Sauvignon whereas the devil made Pinot Noir”.  Jancis Robinson has volunteered similar sentiments in the 21st century, calling Pinot Noir a “minx of a vine”.  Yet Pinot Noir remains the most popular red grape sold by Pop Up Wine here in Singapore, and the 10th most planted wine varietal on the planet.  What do Tchelistcheff and Robinson mean?

Compared to other varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir is a thin-skinned grape making it more prone to frost, powdery mildew and other vulnerabilities.  It also has a tendency to produce tightly packed clusters of grapes which make it susceptible – via trapped moisture – to several vinicultural hazards such as Grey Rot.  Pinot Noir is a difficult variety to cultivate and transform into fine wine: it requires diligent, expensive, canopy management.

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These wine making challenges are one reason Pinot Noir tends to be around ten dollars more expensive, per bottle, than Chardonnay or Shiraz.

In Germany, Pinot Noir is known as Spätburgunder which translates to “late Burgundian” in English, and is a clue to the grapes believed origins in Burgundy, France.

All red Burgundy is made from Pinot Noir: Beaujolais, while geographically part of Burgundy, is normally considered a separate wine region.  Burgundy produces some of the world’s most famous wines, and most of the most expensive.  For example, 1986 Henri Jayer Richebourg Grand Cru currently has an average price of $20,864 per bottle.  Prestigious appellations include Gevery Chambertin, Vougeot, Vosne-Romanée, Nuit-Saint-Georges, Aloxe-Corton, Beaune, Pommard and Mercurey.

“Nothing makes the future look so rosy as to contemplate it through a glass of Chambertin.” Napoleon Bonaparte.

Burgundian Pinot Noir generally has complex fruit and develops forest floor flavours as it ages.

To the north of Burgundy, Pinot Noir is also grown in the Champagne region of northern France where, together with Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, it is used to make Champagne.

New Zealand is one of the top non-Burgundian sources for Pinot Noir.  Central Otago, Martinborough and Marlborough are all strong regions for the grape, with producers there receiving a great deal of international acclaim.  Central Otago is the world’s most southerly wine region.  It typically produces intensely fruity Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir’s popularity has increased dramatically since the release of Sideways in 2004, with this superb description of the grape by its protagonist Miles (played by Paul Giamatti) a major reason.  The year the film was made, 70,000 tonnes of Pinot were crushed in California – by 2014 this figure had reached 250,000 tonnes.

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Pop Up Wine, Singapore have a wide range of French and New Zealand Pinot Noir available.  And the Australian Giant Steps 2013 “Sexton Vineyard” Pinot Noir, which was the voted “top Pinot Noir” by an ANZA tasting panel earlier this year.

J., 13/9/16

Wineries to visit in California

The below was produced for Lightfoot Travel in July 2016.

It’s harvest time – so join the ‘Crush’ at one of the best wineries in California, says James Hindle of Pop Up Wine.

Gourmands looking for an adventure should catch a flight to California. The Wine State is famed for jawdropping views, mouthwatering food and of course, sensational wine. When Spanish missionaries in the 18th-century first planted grapes to produce wine for mass, little did they know that the state would go onto to be the world’s fourth largest wine producer creating three billion bottles of wine each year. With more than 3,000 wineries in the state it can be hard to choose which ones to visit, but we recommend that you add some of these sweet vintages to your list.

Revolutionary winemaker DeLoach is one of the pioneers of sustainable viniculture in Sonoma, California. In 2003, it bravely converted its 17-acre estate on the eastern bank of the Russian River to organic and biodynamic farming despite the vineyard having just produced Wine Enthusiast magazine’s 2004 wine of the year. The owners were convinced that decades of previous chemical farming had left the soil tired and drained. The conversion has proved a huge success, with recent vintages of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Zinfandel all winning many awards.

Perched on top of soaring coastal ridges on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, the award-winning Flowers Vineyard boasts some of the best views in Sonoma county. From the winery, look down on layers of coastal fog and wispy pines.

The popular Sterling Vineyards in Napa Valley has a hill top tasting room which you must ride a solar-powered cable car to reach. A beautiful terrace, art gallery and wine awaits you when you reach the top. Sterling was voted the “Best Napa Valley Experience” in 2016.

World renowned Freemark Abbey is a Napa Valley producer famous for its critically acclaimed Cabernet Sauvignon. Founded in 1886, it was one of the first Napa wineries to open a “Sampling Room”. Wine Institute founder Leon D. Adams favourably compared its Cabernet to Chateaux Margaux – one of Bordeaux’s most famous wines.

The oldest continually operating Napa winemaker is Beringer Vineyards, a gold-medal winning winery founded in 1876. Tastings take place in its picturesque “Rhine House”. All Beringer Vineyards are certified as sustainable. The world’s most famous wine critic – E. Robert Parker – is a fan, writing “after years of visiting the world’s best wine producers, I cannot think of too many cellars where I have walked out shaking my head at such an extraordinary range of quality”.

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Napa Valley’s most expensive wine can be found at Arsenal owner Stan Kroneke’s Screaming Eagle winery in Oakville, California.  At a charity auction in 2000, an imperial (six litre) bottle of its 1992 Cabernet Sauvignon sold for $500,000 for charity. The winery only produces 600 cases of wine each year, and it is so exclusive they do not normally offer tours or tastings. On their site they have a waiting list to purchase.

Another star, this time in Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara, is Kalyra, an Australian-owned winery. Its known for starring in Sideways.  Kalyra is an Aborigine term that means “a wild and pleasant place.”  And there’s no doubt that its dessert wines are particularly pleasant…

James Hindle, 2/7/16

Wine Island: Tasmania

Written for popupwine.com.sg in June 2016.

The small island of Tasmania is Australia’s most southerly state, and it’s coldest.  It is as southerly as New Zealand’s South Island.  This cooler climate enables Tasmania to produce wines that are very different to those produced in other Australia states.  Tasmania is an important producer of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc – grapes which also grow superbly well in New Zealand.

With its mild summers and long autumn days, Tasmania – once known as Van Diemen’s Land – was quickly identified by early settlers as ideal for wine production.  It was one of the first areas of Australia to be planted with vines and was the source of cuttings for the first vineyards in Victoria and South Australia.

Tasmania – or “Tassie” as it is known locally – has only 1,320 hectares of planted vines, less than 1% of Australia’s total.  Yet demand for Tasmanian grapes is high: it is the only Australian wine region where demand for grapes consistently outstrips supply.

The quality of Tasmania wine, particularly Sparkling Wine made from the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes, is high.  Jancis Robinson, the British wine writer, describes the Island as “a serious producer of Australia’s finest sparkling wines”.  Clover Hill’s Tasmanian Cuvée – a wine made using the Méthode Traditionelle originally developed in the French Champagne region – is a particularly fine example.  It is a high scoring “exotic sparkler” described by James Halliday as “rich and complex”.  It is available in Singapore from Pop Up Wine.

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Hardys – one of Australia’s leading producers of sparkling wine – now source all of their premium wine from the island.

Most Tasmanian vineyards are clustered around the cities of Launceston in the north of the Island and Hobart in the south.

An island, Tasmania has to endure strong winds coming in off the Indian Ocean, Bass Strait and Tasman Sea.  Wine producers often build large screens around the perimeter of their vineyards in order to protect against these winds.

James Hindle, 2/6/16