The Mood before the Food – Langkawi Island, Malaysia – July 22nd

Expounding on a recurring question, “When dining in a restaurant, do you choose the wine then the food, or the food first then the wine”? Logically, the food would normally come first, assuming one is heading to a restaurant with a particular cuisine or flavour in mind.

For instance, I find myself craving duck at least once a week. More specifically Chinese roast duck to which I am regularly propped up at Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck at Paragon Mall on Orchard Road – surely the best duck to be had in all Singapore.

That said, more often than not, for me anyway, it’s ‘the mood before the food’. That is, the overriding factor is what sort of drinking mood I am in. And yes, only a wine obsessed maniac like me could be preoccupied in such a thought process – a right wine-moody bastard.

Mood is of course a very complex issue. There are a myriad of factors that contribute to ones mood, some external such as the weather, or maybe people pissing you off. Some are internal, like fatigue, perhaps feeling off colour, or correspondingly on top of the world and on a high.

Then there’s the metaphysical, the unexplainable, like why is it I am rarely in the mood to drink sauvignon blanc?

The company of another person can also dictate the drinking mood. For example, Nigel Greening, the precognitive practitioner of pinot noir and proprietor of the Central Otago vineyard Felton Road recently stayed with us, having just spent a gruelling four days immersed in pinot noir at the Burghound in Asia, “Unparalleled Passion for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay”.

Nigel was flying out on the Monday evening, late, giving us time for an early dinner. Whenever I have overseas visitors staying, I invariably take them to Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck. It just feels right, going to a Chinese restaurant, in a Chinese cultured town, and I get my duck fix.

You would think when entertaining a pinot noir Jedi like Greening, moreover with duck on the menu, that’s the grape that should have been on my brain. But no, for some unexplainable reason, it was a sangiovese day.

Perhaps it was pinot fatigue that erased the obvious perfect match – duck and pinot. Possible, although I did have ruminations of trips to Tuscany in the shower that morning (a lot of my deliberation happens in the shower) which remained subliminally at the surface of the olfactory gland most of the day. All I could think about, and smell/taste, all day was the 1999 Conti Costanti Brunello di Montalcino – the Tusacan equivalent of La Tache – that my drinking buddy Chris and I drank in La Logia restaurant in Sienna. (

Thus it had to be sangiovese for dinner, and I had just the right bottle in mind; a 2004 Felsina Fontarollo, 100% sangiovese from one of my favourite producers in all Chianti. This is their top cuvee and a conscious effort to eschew international grape varieties and the distortion of typicity that the so-called ‘Super Tuscan’ had inflicted on purity of the indigenous and noble sangiovese.

2004 is also a cracking vintage in Chianti, with good levels of ripeness, but not overly so with invigorating acidity and tantalizing sweet and sour interplay of fruit, and a typical surfeit of chewy tannins that coalesce to a wine that is supremely elegant yet has coiled power and a unique crisp tension in red wine.

Speaking of chewy tannins, I do find it rather curious how many point noir drinkers are drawn to Italy’s two most noble red grapes, sangiovese and nebbiolo, both endowed with inherently firm and persistent tannins, and yet pinot noir’s most recognised and eminently attractive quality is its gentle and silky tannins. In this sense, they (sangiovese and nebbiolo) are the inverse of pinot noir and yet invariably anyone I know who is a serious pinot drinker is partial to a good Chianti or Barolo.

In the same breath, these same pinot lovers (including me) are not enamoured with Bordeaux; that is cabernet sauvignon, because of its assertive tannins? I have also worked out, through extensive trials, that whenever I am angry, upset, frustrated, depressed, anxious, restless, stressed out, or totally over it, the last thing I want to drink cabernet sauvignon, but a good bottle (better still, two bottles) of pinot noir counteracts all of these emotions. Despite any scientific proof, I have come to the conclusion cabernet sauvignon drinkers must be a miserable lot.

Back to our dinner, I confessed my olfactory mood to Nigel suggesting the said bottle of Felsina with the Peking duck, to which he gave an unequivocal benediction. “Brilliant! I love sangiovese, and it will go wonderfully with the duck”, with a beaming grin of conviction that our palates were about to be completely stimulated.

It was indeed an excellent match, the richness of the crispy skin yet gamey, meatiness of the duck flesh on song with the sweet and sour fruit and earthy, dark tea flavoured tannins and tantalizingly sour acidity keeping our palate refreshingly alive. Indeed, so much so we wolfed down the wine halfway through our whole duck.

Fortunately there was a half bottle of the excellent Fontodi Chianti Classico on the wine list to carry us through with more sangiovese, a 2007, which I have to say was drinking beautifully and perhaps advanced being in a half bottle.

I would suggest the parallels between sangiovese and pinot noir, contrary to its robust framework, are in the complexity and secondary nuances of aromas, and the elegant yet vibrant, tense framework.

In general, sangiovese (Chianti, Brunello, Rosso di Montalcino) are elaborately perfumed wines, redolent in wild berries, morello (sour) cherry through to sweeter black cherry, red currants, juniper berry and blood plums with hints of violets, and sometimes rose petal. This seductive bouquet is enhanced by earthy forest-floor and cedar-wood character amongst bramble patch, wild mushrooms, dried herbs and iron-ore mineral nuances.

The aforementioned fruits are echoed on the palate however this interaction is accented on the sour components, that is sour in a positive manner and often becoming juicier with sweeter black cherry and blueberry sweetness mid-palate yet indelible acidity propels the lingering sourness. Sensations of liquorice, tar and soy appear, transcending to earthy, wet-bricks, old-leather and chestnut; with powerful, gripping tannins ever-present, yet smooth and incredibly elegant; tending to finish with the pleasant bitter twist of walnuts, chestnuts or raw almond.

So there you have it. I hope you are now in the mood for some sangiovese and duck!

I’ve actually had a mood swing (I did say I was right wine-moody bastard) and craving some gruner veltliner. I was thinking about it this morning, in the shower, and now my brain is sending strong messages to the olfactory gland, as I am sitting by the pool at the Datai Resort, Langkawi Island, ( ) my favourite resort in Asia.

I have just booked the Thai restaurant for dinner, and there are flavours of pomelo, lime juice, lemon grass, galangal and green mango running through my head… and I have ordered a bottle of my favourite gruner, Undhof Salmon ‘Weiden’ ( )  to be put on ice, cheers Bert!

Here’s to a wandering, moody palate.


By Curtis Marsh | Wanderings | Related to: , , , , , , |

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