Surely not everyone in the room had heard of chef Willin Low or his restaurant Wild Rocket, but by the evening's end all were raving about his epicurean adeptness. “We thought it would be a good idea to have a great chef from Singapore do this, since we're holding this dinner here,” noted our host Brooke Supernaw, who heads global merchandising for DFS's wine and spirits division, during a six-course opening dinner held inside one of the black-and-white, colonialera houses on Singapore's Mount Pleasant Road.
We were saluting the fourth annual DFS Masters of Wines and Spirits, a showcase of the luxury retailer's high-end beverage roster. I wondered if Supernaw felt her reputation hinged on how her libations meshed with Low's creations, but if so she needn't have worried. The first three alone had slayed me: Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque Rosé 2006 with pomelo salad and tiger prawns in frozen coconut dressing; Chateau Angelus 2011 with chicken wing in chilli and extra-virgin soy; and my winner of the evening, Penfolds Grange 2010 with krapao basil minced pork bee tai mak (a Singaporean pasta-like thingy resembling short strands of udon) encasing an onsen egg.
A heavier set followed, featuring cognac (Martell Premier Voyage, paired with baby octopus in a salmon red-rice donburi), blended whisky (Johnnie Walker King George V, with beef short rib, smoked oyster milk and crisp kale) and single-malt Scotch (The Glenlivet 25, with pandan-infused panna cotta and salted gula melaka). The massive event guide displayed the other goodies on offer, and I particularly coveted the six-vintage vertical flight of Château Palmer (comprising 1981, 1983, 1988, 1989, 1990 and 1995) and of Château Pichon Baron (a “traveller's case” of 1988, 1990, 2000, 2005, 2009 and 2010).
The timing of the event was no mere accident, because in December 2014, DFS introduced its new ordering service, where you can buy online for collection at airport stores, and home delivery is even available. Consumer awareness is key, however, hence we were cosily huddled here – us cultural gatekeepers flown in from Hong Kong, Japan and Indonesia – where, for the two nights, after each cocktail preceding dinner, we toured various rooms of the house to hear the brand ambassadors sing for their supper.
And so, Peter Prentice, the Chivas Brothers heritage and brand experience director, demonstrated The Glenlivet Winchester Collection 1964, the first in a series of rare and precious 50-year-olds curated by master distiller Alan Winchester, with only 50 units released. In another room, master distiller Richard Paterson from The Dalmore presented The Dalmore 54, which he'd personally put into cask back in November 1968, now a limited edition of just 30 bottles, exclusively for DFS.
“Like any whisky, you need to have the perfect wood,” he boomed, “and this started its life in American white oak and was then transferred using 1966 vintage port. It was then transferred into Pedro Ximénez, 40 years old, and finally into Methusalem sherry, 40 to 45 years old. In Spain, I have the sherry remain in the cask for five weeks and it then leaves Spain for Scotland, where we then remove it because you're not allowed to add sherry to the whisky, but ten percent is actually encrusted in the pores of the wood. So it's like a perfume, it will have at least 26 different nuances and when you go back to it and allow it to come up, it will start to open up and you will see the DNA for Dalmore, which is chocolate-orange.”
On the other side of the same room, David Cox, director of fine and rare whiskies for The Macallan, dazzled us with his collaboration with photographer Elliott Erwitt, a bespoken book of 158 images called The Great Scottish Adventure, capturing life in the home of whisky, with an actual 35cl handmade glass flask (containing The Macallan single malt, of course) sculpted into the pages like a hidden treasure. Only three sets were ever made, the very last one available here for a mere S$250,000 (about HK$1.48 million). “Exclusive to DFS,” Cox pointed out, “and, very simply, the message is: beautiful whisky with beautiful creations from other master craftsmen, to enhance pleasure in life.”
Then Simon Cant, the Asia ambassador for South Australia's Penfolds, had us admire the contents of a large cabinet – “The 1990 Collection, four bottles from Penfolds of the 1990 vintage,” he declared. “Grange is our pinnacle wine, made of 100 percent Shiraz, and Bin 707 is our premier Cabernet. Bin 90A – the last time we made this wine prior to 1990 was 1962, so it's on only very special occasions that we make it, and the Bin 920, which we last made in 1966. The other collection is from the magnificent 2008 vintage, kicking off with the 2008 Grange, which was the only Australian wine to be awarded a perfect 100 points by both the Wine Spectator and the Wine Advocate.”
Much as I'd liked the 2010 Grange (yet another 100-pointer) over dinner, I was newly smitten with the 2011 Angelus that preceded it and sought out the chateau's charming French-Vietnamese Asia Ambassador Bong Grelat-Tram, who took me over to a mantelpiece, upon which proudly stood the new Château Angelus 2012. Lacking the usual paper label, it featured only 21.7-carat gold embossing on each bottle, celebrating the fact that, in 2012, Angelus was promoted to Premier Grand Cru Classe “A” in the new Saint-Emilion wine classification (having, since 1996, been at “B” grade).
“In 2012, we made a renovation of the chateau,” she said, “and so we decided to make this design, and the gold embossing was done in Bordeaux. We are smallproduction, only about 100,000 bottles, so there's not much left – about 80,000 bottles are already sold. This 2012 is now exclusive to DFS just for one month. All the Asian countries will receive the wine at the beginning of 2015.”
And so the night wore on, a sneak-peek gussied up as a soirée, to reboot the jaded hardware in us luxury-magazine scribes. The best summation came from the mixologist in the house, Michael Callahan, the wisecracking owner (from “the People's Republic of San Francisco”) of Singapore's acclaimed 28 HongKong Street bar. Two of his cocktails had lubricated us nicely – “Copper and Spats”, made with Absolut Elix vodka and Manzanilla sherry, and “Hotel Guatemala”, so named because it features 23-year-old Ron Zacapa rum. “The best thing with what DFS did here,” he told me, “is it brought together the different worlds of the industry, those of us who are specialists in our fields, in the sub-categories of beverage consumption – the wine experts, the spirits experts, the champagne experts – so not only do we get a chance to appreciate the passion and the dedication in each other's fields but we get to fall in love with the components of the industry that we may have forgotten.
“Here, you have wonderful chateaux next to amazing distillers, and we're all realising we're all not too far off from being cut from the same cloth. And that's something that we often forget in our narrow-minded focus on our own speciality.”
Narrow-minded focus, what concept was that? My evening ended with an old friend, David Launay from Château Gruaud-Larose (here with his own six-vintage case for DFS, spanning five decades) literally dragging me to the after party at the Grand Hyatt, where a grinning Brooke Supernaw greeted us again and a phalanx of waiters proffered oysters and champagne. I made a show of resistance and cheerfully failed. The torrential rain outside might've ruined the weekend for some people but not these people who, even in once-stodgy Singapore, knew how to throw a pretty good party.