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Philippines Wine & Food Tasting

Manila, April 19, 2012

A unique wine and food tasting event was celebrated at the Café Ysabel Restaurant in San Juan, Metro Manila.

Dubbed as “Sumsuman” – a local reference to the pairing of wine and food – the carefully-selected wines for the occasion were matched with a variety of Filipino dishes crafted by the talented team of Chef Gene Gonzalez.

The members and guests were charmingly enveloped in the turn-of-the-century Manila backdrop of the dining hall.

Illumination came from Echanson Arnie del Rosario and Jay Labrador, Professionnel du Vin, as they led the wine tasting through the no less than nineteen dishes served that evening.

The dinner started with a refreshing take on chicken galantine as it featured chorizo for added depth of flavour. This was immediately followed by a soup that highlighted the enormous Ulang (freshwater prawn) the size of one’s hand and with antennae extending far beyond the plate holding it. Both dishes were introduced by glasses of crisp and citrusy Cava from the cellars of Pere Ventura. Next came the hot flavours of laing – a spicy Filipino vegetable dish cooked in coconut milk – followed by rice noodles and an oxtail stew oozing in rich peanut sauce.

These courses were matched by the equally clean and fruity taste of Villa Wolf Gewurztraminer 2009 from the Pfalz in Germany. The wine’s delicate aroma of spice and fresh roses (with just a hint of litchi and fresh acidity) made it a perfect accompaniment to the Filipino dishes.

There was a graduation to the more complex flavours of the “Bicol Express”, a fiery dish of sliced chilli and minced pork tempered by coconut cream. This was closely followed by shrimp wrapped in fresh mustard leaves and squid ink soup with rice vermicelli noodles.

This phase of the dinner concluded with a vegetable stew including okra, squash and aubergine. A Wither Hills Pinot Gris 2011 from Marlborough in New Zealand was just the ticket as its floral aroma and ripe peach and pear flavours offset the saltiness of the dishes.

After an intermission of a refreshing sorbet from unfermented coconut sap, a celebratory Filipino dinner would not be complete without chicken and pork. Chef Gonzalez graced the table with a speciality chicken dish – a version that is twice-cooked (stewed and baked). With equal billing on the table was roasted pork belly with skin that stayed smooth, glistening and crunchy.

These delicacies were paired with the equally delightful “Laurus” Côte du Rhône Villages 2010 from Gabriel Meffre. A medium-bodied blend of Grenache and Syrah, it was subtle and sensual, yet worldly-wise enough not to upstage the meats.

As if that was not enough, there were more meat dishes led by the garlicky crunch of small sausages followed by tenderly-sauced beef and a goat meat stew slow-cooked in tomato sauce with root vegetables and olives.

These were engaged by an old-school Resalte Ribera de Duero Crianza 2005 (Spain) made from Tempranillo grapes. Its toasty oak and vanilla tones, berry notes, and long, lingering finish made it a real treat for the variety of flavours of the different meat dishes.

Sighs of appreciation came with the service of a dessert buffet on a plate, presented as a salute to the Filipino dining custom of “patikim” (taste-testing).

The tastes were highlighted by a creamy and full-bodied sherry – Nectar Pedro Ximénez from Gonzalez Byass. This elixir gave off chocolate shop aromas and tastes of caramel, nuts and prunes coating the mouth with intense sweet flavours.

As the members and guests went out into the warm Manila air, everyone’s smile confirmed the erasure of any doubt that Filipino dishes – be it paired with beer, whisky, or wine – are the stuff of which any gourmet’s dreams should be made!

Karen and Jemy Gatdula