Let travel take your breath away!

“STOP, STOP, STOP I have to take a photo first!” or “WAIT, WAIT, WAIT while I post this!”

When you travel anywhere around the world, these are now regular catchcries – no matter what language it’s spoken in! It drives me crazy.

So many people these days, don’t seem to travel for the moments that take their breath away, they’re travelling for the tick-in-the-box moments and move on. They forget to look beyond their camera or phone lenses to really experience the people and the places they are visiting.

I want to share some travel stories that are more about the time spent being “present” rather than the time spent taking photos and posting to social media! Ok enough of the ranting!

It’s obvious by the rant that I’m not a Millenial!!  My husband and I are “mature” travellers which could be taken two ways: 1) We’re both in our 50s (urgh!) or 2) We’re seasoned travellers and have visited more than 40 countries around the world over the last 30 years.

We recently had a sojourn in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam for the first time in 10 years. It was just as fantastic as I remembered and I want to share our stories of the great people we met and the things we did, ate and drank.

Being based in Singapore, we fly with Scoot a lot. Scoot is the budget airline of Singapore Airlines who also merged with Tiger Air in July 2017. They are a good, inexpensive way to “scoot” around South East Asia. Their fleet is made up of new or relatively new aircraft. Boeing 787 Dreamliners and Airbus 320s.

As with all budget airlines, the advertised fares are pretty cheap but that basically gets you on the plane. You pay for everything else you want, legroom, seat selection, wifi, movies, rug, pillow, food, drinks and credit card fees! But if you go prepared it really is a great way to get more bang for your buck out of your short breaks. We always pay a little extra to get the “Scoot In Silence” area. It’s not that much more but it’s so worth it!

THE FINAL CHAPTER

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…?

THE DAY OF THE TASTING

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

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!