Treasury Wine Estates has launched its first French wine brand, Maison de Grand Esprit, which translates to ‘House of Great Minds’. Their aim is to make luxury French wine more accessible and reinvigorate the consumer experience.
I was privileged to be invited to the Singapore launch recently to hear more about this exciting initiative in the luxury wine market. I was greeted by an enticing line up of wine in a bright and airy (and airconditioned thankfully!) space at renowned restaurant, Au Petit Salut.
Au Petit Salut has been satisfying the cravings of its loyal customers for close to 20 years and has recently reopened after a renewed look. Au Petit Salut is nestled in a lush setting surrounded by nature’s greenery located in Dempsey, about 10 minutes north-east of Singapore’s downtown.
Maison de Grand Esprit’s philosophy is to showcase the very best of France’s premier regions; Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone and Provence; all under the one House and in adherence to the strict AOC rules. (AOC stands for “Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée” and is the French wine classification system). The wines are sourced from a selection of France’s very best vineyards and grapegrowers; all are made and bottled at wineries in the individual regions where the grapes are sourced.
I was one of only three women guests at the lunch on the Friday and we did gravitate towards each other. It was fantastic. Fiona is studying her Master of Wine (MW) and had just arrived in Singapore a few weeks earlier with her husband (also a MW student working for Penfolds). I was lucky enough to sit next to her.
The other amazing woman, Vivian, is a Writer and Food Stylist who has lived in Singapore for 11 years. They are both a hoot and we got on famously. I love the fact that we are all from different parts of the world and are now all living in Singapore. We have since been in touch and have launched our “Grange-infused” friendship. Our parting photograph together from the lunch was the three of us proudly bearing matching “Grange-teeth” smiles!
On the day, from the moment we walked in, the air was thick with anticipation but eerily quiet. Guests were standing or leaning against the back wall of Burnt Ends trying to pay attention to each other’s conversation but not really listening, as they were watching the kitchen team finalise preparations. The first Magnum of 1979 was being poured and we were all giddy with excitement (well I was for sure!)
In the meantime, I was handed a glass of Penfolds Riesling (also from a magnum by the way) chatting to Max Allen (a well renowned Australian wine writer and author) and my new Master of Wine friend, Fiona. I had been in the restaurant for all of 5 minutes and already I was in some serious wine industry company. I couldn’t be happier!
Photographers with massive lenses and lighting equipment were racing around high and low, scooting between guests, chefs, and service staff, capturing insitu food and wine shots as the dishes were being prepared and attended to. There was no styling or manufactured photos anywhere.
Once we were seated and the first four wines had been poured, we heard from Peter Gago, Chief Winemaker of Penfolds (his resume I will include later). He excited us more about the wine history, the choices they’ve made over the years and just how passionate their love of this label and the wine is!
And of course, Burnt Ends needed to make sure the menu was worthy of such an array of vintages: a challenge for sure! Nothing too over the top but nothing too subdued either. And they delivered!
We were treated to scallop and marron stuffed “wing”; crab and caviar sandwich; kingfish, avocado and pink pepper shallots; pork belly, sweetbreads and apple compote; wagyu strip, fried broad beans and mustard; pigeon and sweet pickled berries; grilled cauliflower and lemon; and finally, fennel tarte tartin.
Burnt Ends had acquired a full range of Penfolds Grange Magnums from a Singaporean private collector. When Penfolds found out about it, they were keen to be involved to hail such a collection.
1979 was the first vintage that Grange was bottled in Magnum format. Penfolds only bottle around 600 Magnums each year.
The Chief Winemaker of Penfolds, Peter Gago was coming up to Singapore to present the Grange Magnums at the lunches on both days. There were about 40 guests in total, so the ratio of wine-to-guest and guests-to-Peter Gago was fantastic. It was an opportunity too good to pass up.
When Peter Gago, Chief Winemaker since 2002, and a Winemaker with Penfolds for 28 years, says “This is a world’s first for Penfolds”, it is a pinch-yourself-type-of-moment. I was so grateful to be there.
I attended Day 1 only, which meant I got to taste all the wines from the odd years –(eg 1979, 1981, 1983 etc to 2011) over a 6-hour lunch. The following day all the even years were to be tasted. Over the course of the lunch, we were presented with 4 brackets of 4 vintages of Grange. The first bracket consisted of 1979, 1981, 1983 and 1985 and the second bracket 1987, 1989, 1991 and 1993, and so on.
My favourites? Well, firstly, I want to single out the 1983 vintage which I particularly liked and I love the story of how, through adversity, such an incredible Grange was produced. As described by Nicks Wine Merchants I’ve paraphrased below:
“The 1983 vintage was seriously affected by drought in 1982 that lead to the Ash Wednesday bushfire in February 1983 followed by floods in March the same year. An extraordinary season. Amazingly, with all these weather conditions combined, it lead to an exceptional Grange. The vineyard underwent rigorous fruit selection due to the severity of the weather, which produced smaller yields of very high quality fruit. The 1983 Grange culminated in a very big and immensely concentrated wine that was lauded as an outstanding vintage with very long cellaring potential (up to the year 2030).”
For me, it’s the stories that go behind the wines that I love. To create such an outstanding wine under such circumstances is incredible.
After 1983, the next best for me was probably more emotional than anything: the year our son was born:1987. Now those in the know will say it wasn’t or isn’t one of the best and…dare I say it…it was the first vintage for John Duval as Chief Winemaker. But it was still mighty fine to me!
In the nineties, 1991 was unbelievable and I really enjoyed the 1995. Now a lot has been said and written about the 1996 and 1998 – which I didn’t get to taste on this occasion – and they hold top spots on the mantle for sure, but I still liked the one in between: the 1997. Without the reputation of the even years around it, it is still a standout, none-the-less.
Beyond that, the others were still “young” and my palette, dare I say it, might not have been “as” reliable by the time I got to taste them as it was earlier on. Which was fine by me: I got to savour them even more with no pressure to judge!
By-the-way, if you are ever worried about when to open your Grange, especially because you have such an attachment to it, Penfolds regularly hold re-corking clinics around the world where the wines can be assessed, and if necessary topped up, recorked and re-capsuled – or you get told “drink now!” Not sure which is better…
Penfolds are fully aware of the significance of every Grange in everyone’s cellar and that emotional (and financial) hook, so they too, want it to be amazing when you open it.
Watching 17 different magnums being poured on the one day was simply magnificent: who cares WHEN you open a Grange…just make sure you invite me!
Patrick says “I’ll just take a quick look to see if we can get a booking next week”…But after tapping away on the laptop for a bit, he mumbles “Ok, what about the week after?” followed by “Oh really. Ok what about mid May?” After even more keyboard dancing, he suddenly announces, “Ok done. I’ve booked us in on Tuesday 11 July!”
“That’s 3 months away”, I exclaim. To which he replies “Well I just took the first available date I could get, so put it in your diary!” Done and done!
Next time a Sommelier saunters towards your table, wine menu in hand, reach out with open arms, grab it and take charge!
Be considerate to your guests. Ask if the table want red or white but more importantly ask if they are working on a “financial budget”.
Make your selection and regardless of whether you’ve had it before, simply say “I’ve always wanted to try this!” Why? Because that way, everybody gets an opportunity to form their own opinion on the wine and removes any backlash about your choice!
For more details on how to select a wine check out these tips…
Our aim back in 2007 was simple – promote women in the wine industry and help our guests learn and understand more about wine without feeling intimidated. I really wanted to see more women have the confidence to take hold of the wine list at restaurants and be bold in their choices! V
It’s been a fantastic time over the last 10 years to be a part of this sector with more and more women being recognised in the wine industry as significant global and domestic players.
Over the years, Women Of Wine has provided many opportunities for women (and men too of course) to enhance their love of wine through our events and bespoke winery tours. We’ve challenged their palates, expanded their wine knowledge and seen their wine cellars grow!
Billanook Estate is a gateway to the Yarra Valley commanding spectacular views. Kick the day off with their 2011 Vintage Sparkling! If you love bubbles, you’ll love this. And there’s a host of other wines to try.
The popular cooking school Al Dente Cooking will be providing boneless chicken thighs wrapped with prosciutto and sage, cooked with Billanook Estate Chardonnay in a butter and garlic sauce. There’s also Nonna’s recipe of soft homemade ricotta Gnocchi pan seared and tossed with your choice of two sauces. For those who love dessert try the limoncello infused tiramisu and their barista coffee is arguably the best in the Valley.
Steels Creek Estate is a hidden gem and is well known for its Colombard, which sells out every vintage. They also have a loyal following for barrel fermented Chardonnay, a velvety Shiraz and an elegant Cabernet Sauvignon.
There will be traditional beef and burgundy with baby onions, mushrooms, garlic mash and/or roasted vegetarian lasagne with truffled pecorino, rocket and almond salad as well as churros with cinnamon sugar and hot chocolate sauce.
Founded by Margaret & Steve Graham,
Boat O’Craigo is a tight-knit family business spanning two generations
Boat O’Craigo was established in the late 1990s when Steve and Margaret Graham purchased an idyllic 30-acre property in Kangaroo Ground on which they planted their first vines. A second established vineyard site was purchased in Healesville in 2004 some 35km east of Kangaroo Ground.
Now boasting over 50 acres of vines, spanning across the two sites, Boat O’Craigo produces outstanding, estate grown wines. The Black Spur range of white wines come from the high altitude vineyard at Healesville, whilst the reds are grown within the rich volcanic soils of Kangaroo Ground.
The winery’s distinctive name echoes that given to a farm in the town of Craigo in Scotland, where the Graham’s ancestors settled alongside the docking point for the ferry that crossed the North Esk River located about 60 kms south west of Aberdeen. The Boat O’Craigo name and tradition have drifted across the seas to settle in Victoria’s renowned Yarra Valley.
Steve and Margaret Graham’s children, Travers and Courtenay, were brought up in the family business and are now enthusiastically engaged in the running of the family business.