Last year, Villa Maria Estate celebrated its 50th vintage; its first vintage, back in 1962 was off a single acre of grapes, vinified in a small shed in suburban Auckland.
Today, Villa Maria has vineyards in the premium growing regions of Marlborough, Hawkes Bay, Gisborne and Auckland and is able to claim the mantle of being New Zealand’s most awarded winery– a crown it has worn for the past thirty of its fifty year history.
In 2009, founder and winemaker George Fistonich received a knighthood for his services to the New Zealand Wine Industry and whilst many new, New Zealand wine labels have gone on to achieve international stardom, Villa Maria wines remain the benchmark for quality from one of the world’s most exciting wine producing countries.
Owner / Chef of new Phnom Penh eating establishment ‘The Duck’, Dah Lee is a New Zealander with plenty of Food and Beverage experience and savvy. When he and I put out heads together and decided to hold a dinner event at the restaurant titled ‘The Duck does Duck’, it presented the perfect opportunity to showcase Villa Maria’s wines with Dah’s exquisite cooking.
Dah himself isn’t keeping count but, The Duck is about the 16th hospitality outlet he has opened in an international career that has taken in New Zealand, Australia and now Cambodia, he knows how to do restaurants and do them very well. The Duck is a chic yet relaxed dinning space offering fine, bistro style dishes with a modern twist.
‘The Duck does Duck’ was designed to be a duck degustation dinner to show off the skills of the restaurant with the very protein it is named for and introduce this relatively new venue to people at its finest.
On the night, the 50 seat restaurant was absolutely packed, with some inquisitive passers-by deciding to stay on and dine at the bar! This made for an electric and joyous atmosphere that had everyone’s anticipation of a great evening set to high.
On Arrival, guests were treated to a glass (or three) of Villa Maria ‘Slightly Sparkling’ Sauvignon Blanc, the wine is what the Italians would call frizzante style, meaning it has soft, gentle bubbles through it, but the wine remains soft and sensual with the ‘spritz’ offering a final burst of excitement and refreshment on the palate, mid palate are rich flavours of gooseberry and passionfruit with a hint of melon. A very enticing way to start the evening.
First Course: Duck liver parfait, orange marmalade, parmesan crisps, paired with Villa Maria, Cellar Reserve Riesling. A perfect way to commence the degustation, the liver parfait was rich and creamy, yet slightly airy and not too heavy, it was beautifully counterpointed on the palate with the fresh and zesty orange marmalade. The Villa Maria Riesling, with its rich mid palate of slightly sweet orange blossom and elder flowers, finishing with citrus and mineral acidity was the perfect accompaniment to the dish.
Second Course: Duck and Shitake Ravioli in Duck Broth, paired with Villa Maria Private Bin Rose. A stunning dish with ravioli of superb flavour, texture and technique in a broth richly, (duck) flavoured but in balance with the dish and not overpowering the ravioli, a real triumph. The rose had the requisite depth of flavor to meet the weight of this dish but its balance, elegance and freshness saw it as a perfect partner here.
Third Course: Duck Leg confit with rocket and pomelo salad, paired with Villa Maria Private Bin Pinot Noir. Perfectly executed Confit, gamey, crispy skinned and yet still so tender and richly flavourful, the sauce was pure inspiration and a perfect foil for the confit, a hoi sin style, sweet and sour with a hint of spice–it was a canard marriage made in heaven on the palate. Pinot Noir is often my favourite wine with duck and I loved this dish and pairing; the wine has great depth and layers of cherry / berry flavours that matched the weight and intensity of the dish and ameliorated the spiciness in the sauce, whilst the forest floor elements of truffle, damp earth & wild spices added a beautifully complex element to this slightly Eastern accented culinary, ensemble that in some way was perhaps an inspired outcome of Dah Lee’s New Zealand and Chinese genes.
Fourth Course: Seared Duck Breast with Paris Mash & Berry Jus, paired with Villa Maria Private Bin Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon. This dish was just divine, the breast cooked through yet still succulent and juicy and richly flavoured, a very good duck indeed and paired delightfully with the mash and rich, fruity berry jus, this is truly a great duck dish. The plum like richness and velvet like texture of the Merlot component of the wine paired superbly with the breast whilst the firmer Cabernet component and its length were a good counterpoint to the mash and Jus components, another stunning combination on the palate.
The evening was an outstanding triumph for Chef Dah Lee and his restaurant and a real celebration of the ever developing culinary scene in Phnom Penh, not to mention the wonderful culinary possibilities of the humble duck.