Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Astrolabe Wine Dinner @ Senses, Kuala Lumpur Hilton
Thus a bright Monday morning and I'm greeted with this laughable headline in the Star's newly revamped paper..."Malaysia ranked world's 10th largest consumer of alcohol". Delving deeper into the story, it goes on to state that the WHO (nope it's not the dreaded Dr. Who but the World Health Organisation) claims that "Malaysia has been named as the world's 10th largest consumer of alcohol despite its small population and size". The article goes on to quote that Malaysians spent over USD500 million on alcohol. Strangely enough after combing through the WHO's website and the official report for 2011, there is no sign or indication of that particular startling fact. Even as I looked through the world's alcohol consumption figures, there's no way Malaysia could make the top ten since the European countries' figures were in double digit. Incredibly strange but since I'm no authority on this, I won't be making any press statements on my discoveries! One does hope that a higher authority comes forth to set the truth right on the facts.
One fact does remain evident from looking at those statistics, Malaysians seem to have an hefty appetite for beer, followed by spirits and only a small percentage of wine. I guess I must be one of the exceptions since I do prefer wine over beer. This love for wine saw me make one of my rare exceptions to take up Aly's Wonderland's invitation to savour New Zealand's Astrolabe wines. I admit I envisioned images of Astroboy or some cosmic adventures. Turns out the owner Simon Waghorn took up the name because astrolabe refers to a navigation tool and coincidentally it was also the name of a ship that travelled on the Marlborough coast where the vineyards of Astrolabe are located.
It was the Kiwi wine's debut in Kuala Lumpur orchestrated by its Asian distributor, Singapore based Rubicon Reserve Wines. They aptly chose Senses at Kuala Lumpur Hilton for their debutante dinner since the wines will only be available at that hotel. Good for us too since dinner was concocted by the brilliant Michael Elfwing. I was looking forward to tasting the wines, since they had already swept many awards for its Sauvignon Blanc.
Starting off the dinner was an informal cocktail hour to break the ice, where we (tried) to elegantly juggle champagne flutes while we slurped down freshly shucked New Zealand Pacific oysters drizzled with a tangy passionfruit dressing. Joining the fun for that night were A Whiff of Lemongrass and Fatboybakes, familiar faces from the floggers' circuit. As Astrolabe does not make any sparkling wines, Rubicon served one of their other labels they distribute, an Austrian Szigeti Gruner Veltliner. I liked the slightly floral notes and the tiny bubbles of the wine.
Subsequently, we adjourned to the table to start the meal. Firstly, it was a dish named Terroir that saw shucked escargots (so we didn't get to have any Pretty Woman moments), mingling with "soil", herbs, smoked duck breast slices and even an edible clay baked potato. Lovely especially when paired with the slightly sweet Astrolabe Pinot Gris 2009. Jason Yank, Astrolabe's general manager explained that they wanted an Italian styled wine with a lot more fruit.
Next came a flight tasting of Astrolabe's various Sauvignon Blanc with different types of seafood. We started off with the Astrolabe Kekerengue Coast Sauvignon Blanc 2010 that was paired with little neck clams cooked en papillote with garlic and parsley. Instead of paper, a high heat resistant cling film was used to wrap the clams. The wine is made from grapes from the Kekerengue Coast, where it grows on limestone soil. Jason explains to us that the clay in the rocks pushes up the pH of the wine. This creates a very dry wine with salty hints. Most of the bloggers preferred the Kekerengue Coast Sauvignon Blanc but I preferred the middle one of the Astrolabe Awatere Sauvignon Blanc 2010 as it was more aromatic with hints of capsicum. It paired beautifully with the snow crab. Quite similar in nature and just a shade below the Awatere was the Astrolabe Voyage Sauvignon Blanc 2010. This was paired with a piece of gurnard fish with parsley puree and a shucked oyster.
We follow up with a perfectly cooked New Zealand salmon quenelle with sorrel beurre blanc (butter sauce) that is paired with Astrolabe Chardonnay. I wasn't too enthusiastic about the fruity taste of the Chardonnay but loved the soft texture of the salmon. Next was the quail and veal paired with the earthy summer truffles and the only red wine for that night. The climate in this area only permits them to make Astrolabe Voyage Pinor Noir 2008, a pleasant red wine with loads of cherry flavours.
My favourite dish for the night was the brilliant dessert of pear & cheese with the Astrolabe Gewurztraminer 2009. The dish was a trio of items, a duo of two types of poached pears, a luscious brie ice cream topping a brie pastry and a blue cheese puff pastry. Simply gorgeous flavours that were mellowed out with the floral Gewurztraminer. Drank on its own, it would have been too sweet but it paired beautifully with the salty pungent notes of the blue cheese and brie.
After tasting the wines, I must admit there's definitely a big market for their Sauvignon Blanc here especially with our Asian palate for fresh tasting wines. Currently, the wines are available exclusively to Kuala Lumpur Hilton and American Express Platinum cardholders. You can also order them straight from Rubicon, which will arrange for shipment to your doorstep. More pictures can be found on my Flickr set.
* Camera note: We were playing around with the new Macro Arm Light for the Olympus (RM225 promotion price, usual is RM250). It looks like an alien with its movable antennas but we all love it since it is a big conversation piece. Moreover close ups on our food has hit another dimension. Get it now from Olympus shops since they're running a 10 week promotion till mid-July.
* Wine Tasting Notes:
Szigeti Gruner Veltliner - Austrian sparkling wine with well spaced bubbles. Contains floral and citrus notes.
Astrolabe Pinot Gris 2009 - Pale straw yellow, spiced pears nose. sweet to the palate, spice and honied. Priced at RM105 per bottle.
Astrolabe Voyage Sauvignon Blanc 2010 - Medium bodied wine with lemongrass, lime rind and elderflower flavours. Priced at RM105 per bottle.
Astrolabe Awatere Sauvignon Blanc 2010 - Medium bodied wine with red capsicum, white currants, and gooseberry flavours. Priced at RM107 per bottle.
Astrolabe Kekerengue Coast Sauvignon Blanc 2010 - Medium bodied dry wine with citrus rind and salty flavours. Priced at RM115 per bottle.
Astrolabe Chardonnay - Wine with ripe melon and dried stone fruit flavours.
Astrolabe Voyage Pinot Noir 2008 - Full to medium bodied wine with savoury, ripe plums and cherry flavours and a hint of smoky oak. Priced at RM127 per bottle.
Astrolabe Gewurztraminer 2009 - Medium to full bodied wine with turkish delight and rose petal aromas. Priced at RM123 per bottle.