A short tribute to my dear friend, Adel Gabot, who passed away last March 25, 2020.
Matthew Westfall has the backstory of a leading man on a quest to make his country, the Philippines, the darling in one of the biggest industries in the world – gin. His mission is filled with irony though, given that the Philippines is already the number one country in the world in terms of gin consumption – that’s 46% of the total world consumption. But with a global industry worth more than USD$3 billion, the Philippines barely makes a dent at about 2% of the market thanks to gin being labeled as a drink from the streets.
“In France, it’s never a complete meal unless you have two things: wine and dessert.” Inside this bottle is both.
There will always be that one dish that will change your perception of how a particular meal is prepared. With liquor, it’s always a bottle – usually a small, quirky one, that changes your entire worldview of how a drink should be enjoyed. In my personal journey with alcoholic libations it was a bottle of Lagavulin 16 that introduced me to the nuances of peated whiskey and a bottle of Four Pillars that made pairing gin with a proper tonic a science. I haven’t experienced a similar feeling with wine, until that one night in November when I dropped by La Piazza, Okada Manila’s Italian restaurant and wine cellar.
What I thought would be a normal run off the mill tasting and pairing took an interesting turn towards dessert. The featured wines for the evening were from the Klein Constantia Estate, with 300 years of history making wines. Founded in 1685, the estate is located at the southernmost tip of the continent. Their most famous bottle is a natural sweet wine called Vin de Constance. I will just lift the description of this wine from their website, because there is no better way to say it,
“Kings vied for possession of this wine; Louis Philippe sent emissaries from France to fetch it; Napoleon drank it on the island of St Helena to find solace in his lonely exile; Frederick the Great and Bismarck ordered it; and the English Prime Minister – who had sampled it with much delight at Downing Street – made sure that regular consignments from the Cape were delivered to Buckingham Palace for the King.”
“A wine like this can only be grown at the estate,” says Hans Astrom, Executive Vice Chairman & Partner of Klein Constantia. “It is called a natural sweet wine because the grapes have to be cool when picked, so they do this in the very early morning when it is very cold. There is nothing artificial added. No sugar added, not like in other sweet wines.”
I was drinking a wine with over 300 years of history. A wine that has also tasted the lips of Napoleon and Frederick the Great. Right here in this Italian restaurant where a date for two will only set you back less than P2,000. What a deal.
“Damien, tell me about this. Why is this so good?”
Damien Robert Planchenault, sommelier for La Piazza sits down beside me and pours himself a glass.
“What you have in front of you is very special, very one of a kind. Wine does not need to be expensive to be good. Expensive wine is like the Batmobile. Would you drive the Batmobile? No, but because there’s only one that is why it is expensive.”
Everyone else can drive Honda or Toyota and be perfectly happy.
Car allusions aside, Damien says that Vin de Constance is good because you had it after a meal and that helps. If the weather is hot and you’re by the poolside, the hotel won’t serve you a heavy red wine. Instead they look for a light wine that goes well when served chilled. “You want the guest to come back and say ‘I want one more please.’ That is how you know you paired well.”
The evolution of taste
The wine market today is very different from before. It’s quite similar to the way coffee has elevated itself into a 3rd wave movement. “Back then we would ask what wine do you want to drink? Chile? French? Old world? New world? Now it has more to do with taste — ah! You like Cabarnet Souvignon? You like dry? Light? Sweet?” Then from there, the sommelier recommends. It has more to do with looking at similar wines you have tried in the past to match what you can enjoy in the future.
For instance, one of the most notable wines that evening (apart from that amazing Vin de Constance) was a KC White, Klein Constantia 2018 paired with caprese (mozzarella salad). It was crisp and had the typical sweetness of a white wine but just enough body to not be overwhelmed for an appetizer. Out of curiosity I google-ed the bottle was less than P600.00 online.
I think the beauty of wine appreciation and pairing necessitates how extensive the cellar is, because you can only try as much as they have. The La Piazza restaurant at Okada Manila is the cellar. Instead of walls, you have chillers lined with literally hundreds of bottles. So, if in the near future you need to educate yourself in wine appreciation, this is definitely one of the better places in Manila to go for that.
This piece originally appeared at the Manila Bulletin’s lifestyle section.
I originally wrote this piece for an April / May 2019 issue of The Panorama
I am a parent who belongs to the last generation of kids who grew up at the same time technology was also growing. I was below 5 when I got to play with the Atari, 7 when I first played Mario Bros on the NES and listened to my music on vinyl, to tape and then CD’s in my high school days. I grew up while technology was fun, but inconvenient and the promise of “instant gratification” was non-existent.
One random shower thought (thoughts that occur while taking a shower) was that raising kids on YouTube today was like raising kids before on canned goods, processed food and sweetened breakfast cereal. I bet our parents had no idea what the long term effects were back then, but boy were these convenient. A can of vienna sausage or a box of frosted flakes made meals so much easier back in the day. If my child who refuses to sit still and eat can do so with a phone in front of him during meal time (and finish an adult plate), then isn’t that convenient?
There are emerging studies that state the perils of smartphones and attention deficiency, but at the same time where do you draw the line knowing that your child is the first batch of digital natives? This is the same batch of kids who will lobby for faster Internet, the same batch of kids who will apply for jobs that still don’t exist today, the same batch of kids that will break down even more real world borders with a matured Internet.
As a parent, I’m worried, excited, confused. I have no idea what world I am bringing my child into. I have no idea what challenges will exist when traditional boundaries have been made permeable. Back then, the dynamics of the village playground was relatively easy to navigate – “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” And yet today, the Internet is nothing but words. How do you raise a child where the playground is the rest of the world at a very young age?
Even among fellow parents there’s judgement – from triggered parenting Facebook groups to anti-vaxxers the respite is brief, the compass non-existent.
“But after all this, is there still hope,” you may ask? I believe that the beauty of being a parent is that from the point of view of our children, everything will be okay. I also believe that parenting is a process (in the same way that religion is not just a belief, but a process) and I’ve never had this much introspection into my life as a child, on how I was brought up, and plaster these memories side by side the decisions I am making as I am in my parents’ shoes now:
Let them watch. But not too much. Let them play. But not too much. Let them eat. But not too much. Everything in moderation. Even moderation.
Sometimes we just need to make it up as we go.
This piece on the 2019 Singapore Cocktail Festival originally appeared in the May 16 issue of Manila Bulletin’s Lifestyle section.
Singapore – South East Asia’s hot pot haven and cultural melting pot.If it’s regional, it’s probably in Singapore. So it’s really no surprise that the awarding for the 50 Best Bars in Asia was held here – with the Philippines nabbing three slots: The Curator in Palanca, OTO in Poblacion and newcomer Back Room Bar, a speakeasy inside the staff entrance of Ministry of Crab, Shangri-la The Fort.
For the public, the highlight of the festivities was the three-day long Singapore Cocktail Festival held at the Empress Lawn. Three days of pop ups of some of the best bars in Asia. Three days of bartender flair. Three days of tastings of some of the most exotic and exciting spirits you probably never heard of before. In this piece I chose to focus on the individual spirits.
Here are some of the highlights from the festival:
Just one: oh my lord, Amrut. Who knew that India make a fine craft whiskey? Do yourselves a favor: if you have friends coming home from India, have them bring you a bottle of Amrut Fusion. It’s tough to explain — but this is a perfect balance of peat, spice, and sweetness that doesn’t linger too much in the finish. It reminds me so much of a light Speyside dappled with spices.
There was a bunch of stuff we see quite often in Manila – Hendricks, Roku, Four Pillars but a bunch of new stuff as well. Germany has Skin Gin, which caught our attention because of the packaging. It looks like a tiny leather flask made of snake skin. It goes down well as a sipping gin or with tonic water and is mint forward, but not too overpowering.
Apoteca Horseradish gin was also quite interesting — it tastes exactly how you would imagine it. Gin with wasabi / horseradish kicks you in a … rather delightful way.
Two interesting rum highlights during the festival – with Diplomatico and Plantation sharing a booth and our very own Don Papa Rum from Negros taking prominent stage at the tasting area. With modern craft rum getting more and more complex, I was able to try an expression in the Diplomatico No 3, which is a pot still rum closer to whisky in taste than actual rum. For the sweet toothed who want to venture in the wonderful world of whiskey, this may be an excellent entry point as it is essentially rum (from sugar cane) but is matured in ex-bourbon barrels and made using a Copper Pot Still that was originally used for whiskey.
Then of course there’s Don Papa, the pride of Negros waving the Philippine flag. We are to be considered lucky that we have an easily available craft rum which I often recommend to younger friends who are in their “rum coke phase.” Don Papa’s sweetness is very Pinoy, and it shines taken neat or with soda water. No need for any additional sweetener.
Quite honestly I’m not really into liquor. I have a bottle of Cointreau and Frangelico in my home bar which I use to make cocktails, but in terms of bottle count that’s two versus the dozens of gin and whiskey bottles I have at home. So I was pleasantly surprised to find a rather new liquor from Italy – Italicus Rosilio di Bergamotto is based on a traditional liquor from Italy — the Rosolio (rose petals) mixed with a fragrant array of botanicals including chamomile, lemons, lavender, Melissa balm. It is super fragrant, but light with an overarching theme of citrus. It goes well by itself or with prosecco. Or gin and soda. It was the one bottle I brought home as Manila has no local distributor yet.
Last but not the least: the Impossible Burger!
I’ve been Googling for ‘Impossible Foods’ since I landed at Changi and there were a couple of restaurants serving a new kind of vegan meat – a vege-meat that bleeds when cooked and tastes exactly like meat, even meat lovers would love them. I was too scared to waste a meal around the city as restaurants in Marina Bay Sands and along Orchard Exchange served these up as pizzas, burgers and yes even child con carne. But seeing it displayed at the SGCF by Omakase Burgers was temptation succumbed (plus we were lightly tipsy already so why the hell not).
The verdict: The Impossible Burger has been making waves because when you serve it to a meat eater, they won’t be able to tell the difference. Meat eater me has to agree. The burger patty tasted exactly like a juicy meat patty, although the texture was slightly soggy — a negligible difference to be honest. If someone served this to me and did not say it was made of soy proteins and other vegetables, I would not have known the difference.