The People You Meet

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.

Need I go on…?


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!


Being in the right place at the right time has never been more pronounced for me than it was recently here in Singapore.

My husband, Patrick, and I are self-proclaimed foodies and passionate wine connoisseurs.   We sure do love a list!
Be it from The World’s Best 50 Restaurants or The World’s 50 Best Bars (or the 50 Best Asia versions now we live here) to Langton’s Classification of Australian Wine, Gourmet Traveller Wine’s Best Cellar Doors, or Best Wine Lists or even Wine Spectator Top 100 Wines and Decanter Magazine’s World Wine Awards. The list of lists themselves actually goes on and on!

So it’s a lazy Sunday afternoon in April, digitally thumbing through some of our favourite lists and we discover Burnt Ends here in Singapore. It’s number 10 on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants and number 53 on The World’s Best 100 for 2017!

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!

Fast-forward to 11 July.



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…

Women Of Wine celebrates 10 years this year!

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!

Shortest Lunch – A suggested itinerary  –  by Denise McCann

From the virtual wineries to the actual wineries!

It’s “Interesting Wednesday”  just after a long weekend and I know you are all looking forward to next weekend’s Shortest Lunch!

Here’s a list of wineries to visit who are all located on or just off the beaten path around Yarra Glen, Coldstream, Dixons Creek and Healesville.

BILLANOOK ESTATE  – 280 Edward Road, Chirnside Park

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  – 1 Sewell Road, Steels Creek

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.

Shortest Lunch – Winery Profile – Boat O’Craigo – by Denise McCann

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.

Shortest Lunch – Winery Profile – Elmswood Estate – by Denise McCann


The Howe Family, Owners of Elmswood Estate

When you first arrive at the ornate gates of Elmswood Estate you immediately think “wow!” And by the time you have driven down the lovely long driveway in between the vines, you simply can’t wait to see what more awaits. The approach along the hedge to the Cellar Door doesn’t disappoint: the views are simply jaw-dropping!

The Howe family have owned and run Elmswood Estate for more than a decade now. The property is situated in the Upper Yarra Valley and is home to 20 acres of 30-year-old vines. Originally planted in the early 1980s by the Zitzlaff family for the Oakridge Estate reserve range, Elmswood Estate now produces varieties including Pinot Noir, Syrah, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, in addition to the older Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay.

The location of the vineyard on fertile red volcanic soil, coupled with higher elevation and uniquely east-facing vineyard (similar to those in Burgundy), grant Elmswood Estate the advantage of being able to delay harvest to suit their wine style philosophy. This produces premium quality, elegant wines all grown, made and bottled on site.

The wines at Elmswood Estate are grown and made by some very talented people. Winemaker, Han Tao Lau, joined the team in 2013 when he helped oversee Elmswood’s new on-site winery. He has a degree in Oenology from the University of Adelaide and has spent the last 11 years making wine in the Yarra Valley, along with vintages in France and Germany.

Shortest Lunch – Winery Profile – Killara Estate – by Denise McCann

Benvenuti a Killara Estate
From Leo and Gina Palazzo

It was a beautiful sunny day in autumn when I visited with the team at Killara Estate to chat about this year’s Shortest Lunch. We were bathed in morning sun, the sky was ridiculously blue and the vineyard was a blanket of beautiful autumnal hues of yellow and red. I couldn’t wait to hear more about this spectacular place.

The property has a rich and famous Victorian history of ownership since the late 19th century. David Mitchell, father of the famous Australian operatic Soprano, Dame Nellie Melba, originally owned the estate. In 1883 the property was sold to David Syme, of the family who owned and controlled The Age newspaper in Melbourne for 127 years, from 1856 to1983. It was David Syme in the late 1890’s who named the property “Killara” from an Aboriginal word meaning “always there”.

Perched 250m above sea level in the Upper Yarra Valley, the vineyard was planted in 1997 with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Shiraz. Other varieties now grown on the property include Pinot Grigio, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Cabernet Sauvignon a well as varieties for their Italian Sparkling wines.

The property is a wedge-formation allowing vineyard blocks to experience their own microclimate within the Yarra Valley’s microclimate, producing grapes distinctly unique compared to those grown elsewhere in the Valley.