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Best of Digressions

On wine pairings, the Batmobile, and tasting a wine that Napoleon himself drank

“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. 

Hans Astrom (EVP of Klein Constantia), Donna Manio (PR Manager of Okada Manila), me, and OKada Manila Sommelier Damien Robert Planchenault

Napoleon’s wine

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.”

The wine of Napoleon

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.

Okada Manila’s opulent Versace wine glasses

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.


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Digressions

Making it up as we go: parenting in the digital age

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?

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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.

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Best of Digressions

We went to the Singapore Cocktail Festival and to no surprise drank almost everything

This piece on the 2019 Singapore Cocktail Festival originally appeared in the May 16 issue of Manila Bulletin’s Lifestyle section.

rhdr

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:

The Whiskeys

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.

The Gins

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.

The Rums

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. 

The Liquor

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.

rhdr
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Digressions

Getting to know Ala Paredes: the full interview from way back in 2006

The way back machine uncovers a gem with an interview with someone who I would like to call a good friend from back in my mid-20’s.

I originally did this interview back in 2006 for our magazine, Mobile Philippines under Hinge Inquirer Publications. The interview was conducted by me with text edits from our managing editor back then, Eva Gubat. I had sent her a copy of the interview right before she migrated to Australia.

“I’m what you call a M.A.W., a model-actress-whatever.” We got to talk to Ala Paredes one sunny morning at the Hotel Philippine Plaza. It was a day straight out of a hip-trance book: soft breeze blowing, trees situated against a blue cloudless sky, water as far as your eyes can see and a trio talking about Brazillian music, the emergency that is environmental destruction, and jeepney signs.

I first saw Ala on campus while rushing towards the library. Writers sometimes get to associate certain words with certain people, and the word “enigmatic” seems to be owned by Ala Paredes. She talks with passion about the Pinoy, our quirks, and about moving to a new country. She’s a perpetually giddy student who wants to learn new things with a defiant air, as if there’s a countdown and she’s racing towards a goal, grabbing all things and making it an art form, a bit of melody, a stroke of her hand.

Now, she’s trying to learn capoeira, a historically-laden Brazilian art-form combining martial arts with acrobatics, music and dance. When asked how she’s doing in her classes, she reveals, “I can’t say I’m any good. I’m still at that stage where I look like an idiot and feel like an idiot. I guess some people find it easier but ako, I’m really uncoordinated. It’s my challenge to myself. Parang overcoming this fear, movement in public.”

She did get to overcome her fear of deep waters when she got her diving license on February 26. It was something she wanted to do because of her love for nature. And she was able to do justice to her Sony T1 when she maximized the use of its waterproof case during the dive. Because of her trouble equalizing the pressure, however, she’s now under medication due to a slight ear infection. But no matter, it was an adventure she’d surely bring with her to Sydney.


“I used to think it was such a loser thing to do. Like, ‘Yuck. Why would you want to post your thoughts online?’

Ala Paredes on blogging

Because Ala and her family are set to move to Sydney, Australia, where the vibe is warm. “My dad thinks it’s the most livable place on earth. It’s stable, there’s so much benefits, the government subsidizes you. It’s a system that works basically. And it’s not as congested as the US. People seem to be more tolerant there.”

They’ve been preparing for the idea of the move for years, and it was only recently that a date has been agreed upon. She shared with us how her days have been occupied by packing her stuff. That, plus her samba sessions on Tuesdays and her capoeira practice. But mostly, she stressed, “I’ve been just packing, packing, packing. I only have two weeks left. I really try to make every day count. Talagang what I plan to do everyday, when I make a choice, I try to be happy about the decision.”

So these days, she wakes up and tries to be peaceful for an hour, willing herself not to jump up and check her email right away, plays with her niece and chooses all the worthwhile things she’d do for the day. We asked her what she’ll missed in our country. She replies, “I think I’ll miss how eccentric the country is, and I guess it’s what people love and hate about this country. Like one of my favorite pastimes is reading signs. Riding in the car, and someone’s driving and you see all these funny signs in the jeepneys and the sari-sari stores. And I always keep my camera ready so for when “Ooh, look at that sign. Stop. Picture!” That and a lot of other things. The warmth, the country, the music scene definitely. My friends…”

Ala shares that she might rename her blog to “Island Girl in Narnia,” or something of that sort. She religiously updates her blog every four or five days, and thinks that the frequency will be higher once she’s in Sydney. “I’ll probably be updating it more since I’ll be so lonely and depressed.” That’s why her theme for her blog is the jeepney with the tag, Manila-Sydney. Very apt for her sojourn in Australia with her family, a sort of crazy-slash-sensible family adventure. “Isang huling sakay,” she muses.

It’s her musing, raves and rants that keep the readers of her blog coming back for more trips on her jeepney blog. Sometimes, she’s top 2, sometimes 4. “I used to think it was such a loser thing to do. Like, ‘Yuck. Why would you want to post your thoughts online?’ And then I stumbled upon this one blog by two American girls and their blog was just funny and entertaining. Maybe I’ll try this kind of blog, I thought.”

She’s been blogging for almost three years, having started on July 15, 2003. She started out at Blogspot, then moved on to her Pansitan site. She’s happy to share that, apart from learning basic HTML, she started learning the craft of writing well. Although she updates often, she’s not the type of blogger who lugs around her PowerBook and blogs away, whenever, wherever.

Apart from her PowerBook, she has her iPod and a set of speakers, a Sony T1 with aqua case, a DV camcorder, an 80GB external hard drive and an Oxygen8 MIDI keyboard, a gift given by her geek boyfriend, Niño of the local band, Greyhoundz. “Imagine what other geek boyfriend would give you that for your birthday,” she says.

Her love of gadgets was apparently acquired from her dad. “Everytime something breaks down, like the WiFi, it’s always me or my dad who has to fix it. And my dad’s the one who always buys me gadgets. Everytime he goes on tour in the States, pagbalik niya meron siyang bagong reward for himself. He has a PowerBook also. Actually, I grew up using Mac. Of course, there was MS-DOS that everybody was used to. After that, Mac na kami. And then the first time I used Windows, it was in high school, Computer class. I was like ‘Why did this have two buttons? Ano ‘to?'”

“I think once you buy your own computer, it follows that you start buying stuff for it. Actually the iPod was a gift. I don’t know if I would have an iPod by now if no one had given me one. I wasn’t the type to carry my music around. Now, I can’t live without it. My T1 camera was a birthday gift also. The DV cam I bought myself because I was in Communications at the Ateneo, for projects. The Oxygen8 was a gift also. The Intuos was also something I bought myself since it seemed like something I’d use a lot.”

Her family has been very instrumental to her growth. “When we have dinner together, usually we stay an hour and a half longer. We’re just talking, making kwento. You know, my parents, they like to tell jokes, funny stories. Minsan, okay lang na magmura kami sa table pero paminsan-minsan lang. And we always have guests over, like neighbors dropping by. Parang adopted members and they like to stay over. I think it’s one of the more special aspects of my family.”

When she was a kid, her dad was very active against illegal logging. It was that, plus her experience with Green Peace, that made her an advocate for the environment. There was also that one time when she blogged about her plans of doing good for the country in her own way. “I’ve always had this dream that one day I’d hopefully teach people something. A skill, maybe. Something that they can make a living out of. It’s just a small dream.”

Her dad also stirred in her a simple love for our country. “Growing up, he’d say Brazilian music is the music of the culture. And then I asked him, how come in every song, they sing about the country? They always sing about Brazil? And then you realize their love for their own culture pervades even their music. Even if they’re not singing in English, even if they’re singing in Portuguese, they’re singing to each other. They’re singing to each other about how much they love their country. And that’s how secure they are in their own identity.”

Their moving to another place is not about to alter their principles. It’s an active hiatus, that once you’re there, the fervor to live for your country and to live on its very soil becomes more insistent, that they can make that choice with conviction. “I think you’d appreciate living in the Philippines if you knew it’s your choice. Like I could have lived somewhere else, but I chose to live here.”

When we ended the shoot, we felt we’d missed Ala Paredes. But we knew she’d be back, regardless of whatever political or economic circumstance we experience, regardless of how many times the jeepney in her blog takes her to other places. It’s Ala we’re talking about, she who once said, “Basta blogger, sweet lover,” and who takes the world in a fierce mode, racing against time, always to find herself drinking life with fervor.

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Digressions Geek

Elias Wicked Ales opens a proper craft beer tap room in BF Homes with brewery behind it

Finally, a proper craft beer tap house right beside the Aguirre Ave gate.

The history of BF Homes’ drinking culture goes back a decade and a half with affordable bars like Central and Tides selling cheap cocktails and mixers by the tumbler (Blue Illusion for P120 for a tumbler — why not?!). Fast forward to the past couple of years, Metro Manila’s F&B scene has been undergoing a golden age with new food concepts popping up around Bonifacio Global City, Makati and of course, BF Homes in the south. I’ve written extensively about great finds in BF such as our very first 3rd wave coffee shop, Magnum Opus Fine Coffees and my hands-down favorite tantanmen at Mensakaba Geishu.

Local craft beers and hard ciders from Wednesday to Saturday starting 6PM

What the south seemed to be lacking though was a proper craft cocktail scene. Or if not that, perhaps a tap room that was serious about their beer. many bars have offered beer on tap as an option but none have gone fully committed towards the challenge, as craft beer is by nature more expensive.

Since Elias bought out the previous brewery, they’re selling Bel Ale;s remaining stock for only P300.00 for a 6 pack. This is authentic Belgian Beer folks, and I highly recommend taking this home after enjoying a few glasses of the local tap.

Enter Elias Wicked Ales — the name has been around for quite some time as a local beer player together with the likes of Pedro and Katipunan, but nothing spells dedication as to buying out Bel Ale’s complete paraphernalia, lock stock and barrel. For those who don’t know, Bel Ale was a south player I so wanted to succeed, but then I learned that their office by the BF gate was nothing more than, well, an office and not a proper tap room. Elias bought everything last year and today are still selling the remaining stock of beer (SO YES IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR REALLY GOOD BELGIAN BEER, PLEASE DROP BY AND BUY P300.00 FOR A 6 PACK WHICH IS A STEAL!)

Elias Wicked Ales is open from Wednesday to Saturday starting 6PM. They’re closed from Sunday to Tuesday because a lot of back of house brewing work happens on those days — it doesn’t get any fresher than that. Apart from craft beers, they also have a range of hard ciders (a moment of silence for Spiffy’s Grove in BF Homes — we miss you). The bartenders (BEER-tenders heh) tell me that since they don’t serve food, guests can opt to order from restaurants around the vicinity. Since they’re located right at the BF Homes Aguirre Gate (by China Bank, the BF Park and Pergola), choices for food as well as parking won’t be a problem.