I am relatively new to the hobby of fountain pens. Like any curious tourist that take a peek at what’s below the cliff, sometimes you bend too much and fall in.
In this case, I’ve fallen into the rabbit hole of fountain pens. And what a joyous fall it was. The hobby is a pragmatic one, as I do find it odd to spend an arm and a leg for a writing instrument, but the upgrade from a ball point to a nib makes my writing feel like I am gliding along silk.
Phones. I used to review a lot of these back in the day. Then I took a hiatus after covering Mobile World Congress. That was back in 2011. Barcelona was the summit. I stopped. Fell in love with other things. Mobile phones took a backseat – not from the usage, but from the writing. It was tough to move on with life, putting all your hobbies and interests into compartments. The mistake people make is they leave nothing for themselves and in this age of Alexa, surveillance, social media, the sacred is what is not shared. It is the exception, not the norm.
“In France, itâ€™s never a complete meal unless you have two things: wine and dessert.” Inside this bottle is both.Â
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 havenâ€™t experienced a similar feeling with wine, until that one night in November when I dropped by La Piazza, Okada Manilaâ€™s Italian restaurant and wine cellar.Â
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,
â€œKings 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 â€“ who had sampled it with much delight at Downing Street â€“ made sure that regular consignments from the Cape were delivered to Buckingham Palace for the King.â€
â€œA wine like this can only be grown at the estate,â€ says Hans Astrom, Executive Vice Chairman & Partner of Klein Constantia. â€œIt 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.â€
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.
â€œDamien, tell me about this. Why is this so good?â€
Damien Robert Planchenault, sommelier for La Piazza sits down beside me and pours himself a glass.
â€œWhat 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 thereâ€™s only one that is why it is expensive.â€
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 youâ€™re by the poolside, the hotel wonâ€™t serve you a heavy red wine. Instead they look for a light wine that goes well when served chilled. â€œYou want the guest to come back and say â€˜I want one more please.â€™ That is how you know you paired well.â€
The evolution of taste
The wine market today is very different from before. Itâ€™s quite similar to the way coffee has elevated itself into a 3rd wave movement. â€œBack 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 â€” ah! You like Cabarnet Souvignon? You like dry? Light? Sweet?â€ 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.Â
Singapore – South East Asiaâ€™s hot pot haven and cultural melting pot.If itâ€™s regional, itâ€™s probably in Singapore. So itâ€™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. Itâ€™s tough to explain â€” but this is a perfect balance of peat, spice, and sweetness that doesnâ€™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 â€” it tastes exactly how you would imagine it. Gin with wasabi / horseradish kicks you in a â€¦ 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 thereâ€™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 â€œrum coke phase.â€ Don Papaâ€™s sweetness is very Pinoy, and it shines taken neat or with soda water. No need for any additional sweetener.
Quite honestly Iâ€™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 thatâ€™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 â€” 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!
Iâ€™ve been Googling for â€˜Impossible Foodsâ€™ 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 wonâ€™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 â€” 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.