Category Archives: Wine

Firenze – September 2018

It’s been along time between visits to Italy and especially Florence. I think as I have gotten older I appreciate the slower pace of this city more. I love the proximity of the city to where food is grown as well. We contemplated a week staying on a farm in Tuscany, but I think at heart I am a city girl and I need to be able to have access to a cafe in the mornings.

I also just feel … at home … in Italy. I can’t quite explain it, but I feel genuinely happy when I am here. There is warmth from the locals and I even feel less self conscious about my attempts at speaking Italian than say Spain or France.

Florence (and in general Italy) to me, is all about comfort food. Of course there can be refinement – but moreso it’s about a generosity with the bounty of fresh ingredients they have access to.

And having lived now in Singapore for 11 years, where mostly everything is imported, fresh is really a treat.

We stayed at an Airbnb literally just off the Ponte Vecchio across the river from the main part of town. Florence is small – and living on he less touristy side of the city means that you are eating with Florentine locals.

Just down the road from us was Il Santino, a tiny and always busy wine bar serving snacks. Before you even get to order your glass of prosecco you are given small bits of crostini with grilled pecorino cheese and thin slices of Parma ham sitting on top, melting lightly over the hot cheese. It’s a tight squeeze I side and often patrons spilled out on to the roadside but everyone was warm and friendly.

“Coronets” or croissants with a slice of prosciutto

Coffee and breakfast at Ditta Atigianale

It’s tough being a tea drinker in Italy. The coffee in any establishment (we had ones in cafes in piazzas, in the shopping area, even near train stations) is fantastic. Robust and rich, almost creamy – not the horrible dishwashing liquid of Starbucks or in any of the coffee chains in Singapore. Add small bites of food like this simple croissant with Parma ham, and that’s your caffeine-fueled breakfast!

Quickly dipping the crusty roll in to the beef broth before adding the bollito in our panini

Markets are still our favourite go-to’s in any city and the Mercato Centrale has had a bit of a face left since we last visited Florence. Upstairs is now bustling with food stalls, bars and cafes and piped with funky tunes for visitors to enjoy. Downstairs of course there is still old favourites like De Nerbone, which sells panini lampredotto (tripe) or bollito. Cheap cuts of meat that have been slowly cooked over hours gives the most flavoursome and tender meat you can imagine, with a bright salsa verde and a spicy piccante sauce, encased in a crunchy bread roll that has been first dipped briefly in to the beef broth. Always a queue, always worth the short wait.

We of course had to reward ourselves with a truffle sandwich at Procacci – a small wine bar in the middle of town – with a glass of prosecco to wash it down. Indulgent treat!

Kneading our pasta dough

Our tagliatelle

Our simple zucchini and ricotta and mint-filled ravioli tossed in a some sage butter emulsion.

This trip we signed up for a pasta cooking class. Pasta is the one thing that is common across the country. Truffles are from Alba, fresh cheese from Puglia, Parma ham from Parma, but pasta, in all it’s various shapes, is truly just Italian. Again, simply prepared – 100g of plain flour mixed with some semolina flour (for “roughness”, to make sauces stick to the pasta) to one egg. Simple. It takes a lot of effort to knead the dough to get it to that smooth stretchy texture and it was to finally feel the dough get to the right texture. I will admittedly probably make pasta at home in my Thermomix but at least I know what the texture needs to be.

Our stunning view from the Ponte Vecchio

D came down with a 24 hour bug and I took the time to wander around the streets with my headphones and ended up standing by the Duomo and felt myself get quite emotional.

Lunch overlooking the spectacular Antinori vineyard

Weather-wise we had perfect weather. Crystal clear azure skies with an almost Arctic wind which kept the temperatures down. Which was perfect for visiting the Antinori vineyard, where we had a tour of the vineyard that ended with a wine tasting (hic) and lunch overlooking the spectacular vineyard. The place is enormous – Antinori is Italy’s largest wine producer with over 140 labels. It really is a big business – expensive videos screened theatre-style – although still family run. A stark comparison to the small, also family run Zenato vineyard near Verona. Both were thoroughly enjoyable days drinking Italian wines in the Italian countryside.

62 degree egg


Coffee mascarpone

And what is Italy in autumn without the white truffle?? After getting lost before finding out the restaurant was tucked away inside a hotel we found Savini Tartufi where we basically had white truffles shaved over all three courses. First was a 62 degree cooked egg, second was over a simple tagliatelle and finally dessert was over an airy mascarpone cream which was divine.

Zenato Wine Tasting

The main reason we decided to stay in Verona in the first place during our recent trip to Italy, was to visit the vineyard of our favourite wine label, Zenato.

Trebbiano grapes with the Italian Alps in the background

Zenato have two vineyards. One in the Valpolicella region, to the east of Lake Garda, where they grow Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes to make their wonderful red wines, like amarone, and one in the Peschiera Del Garda, at the south east tip of Lake Garda. Here they grow Trebbiano grapes to make white wines like their Lugana.

Zenato also grow their own olives to make their olive oil

Our friendly guide, Anna, walked us through the wine making process, where we found out what a truly complex art it can be. The flavour of each wine is so reliant on seemingly endless factors from nature, from the soil composition and weather to the types of plants that grow near the grapes – all encapsulated in the terroir that gives each crop their unique qualities.

Grapes drying to make amarone

While all of this was fascinating to me, we also had the benefit of being able to take in the spectacular scenery of the Italian Alps in the background, as well as seeing the grapes to make amarone being air-dried in crates before being pressed. The end result is an sweet, intensely flavoured wine that we just love.

No swans were harmed in the making of this photograph ! The awesome Lake Garda

Getting dropped off at Lake Garda on a stupendously gloriously sunny day after going through tasting eight of their wines made a slightly tipsy D and I a little emotional at just how good life can be.  La dolce vita !

Zenato Azienda Vitivinicola
Via San Benedetto, 8
37019 Peschiera Del Garda (Verona) Italy

Zenato wine tasting @ Basilico @ the Regent Hotel

Yellow-fin tuna and salmon tartare with toasted pistachios, wild fennel and citrus dill oil

Ponti Wine Cellars recently held another Zenato wine tasting.  The last time was at the Imperial Treasure Peking Duck Restaurant, where they paired various Zenato wines with Chinese food, which I don’t usually associate with wine, and found to my delight that wine enhances Chinese food as well. This time around, it was with more traditional Italian cuisine at Basilica in the Regent Hotel.

We started the evening with a prosecco – Lugana Metodo Classico Brut.  Crisp and dry, this was a perfect way to end a Thursday night after work and to ease ourselves into the rest of the evening.

First course was a yellow fin tuna and salmon tartare with toasted pistachios, wild fennel and citrus dill oil, paired with the Lugana San Benedetto 2009. But food first. The tuna and salmon tartare was firm and sweet and we noticed that it was not even seasoned, leaving the additional flavours coming from the fennel (ho hum), the pistachios (a surprisingly fanastic pairing) and the dill (for me the strongest and best flavour with the fishes). The wine was certainly one of those you’d easily drink all evening, but seemed to lack any punch (like I would expect with a pinot gris) which I think would pair well with the more neutral flavours on the plate.

Wild boar and ricotta agnolotti with black truffles and baby artichokes

Second course was a wild boar and ricotta agnolotti which is similar to a ravioli, but rather than having two sheets of pasta and then sealing it, it is simply one piece of pasta folded over – a technicality to me. The pasta was served with black truffles and baby artichokes. Maybe because of the truffles, but the three squares of pasta filled with delicate, tender wild boar with just a hint of creaminess from the ricotta left us almost gagging for more. The thing I find is, similar to sashimi, there is a limit to the amount of really good food that you can eat, before it becomes too much, and I presume three is the limit, but gosh on the night we all felt like we could have eaten at least another serving each.  Paired with a Cresasso Corvina Veronese 2005 (the corvina grape is the main grape in an amarone) this single grape wine was a good all-rounder, but nothing to write home about).

Roasted wagyu beef tenderloin 9+ with asparagus, ratte potatoes and roasted cherry tomato

The meat course was a roasted wagyu beef tenderloin 9+ with asparagus, ratte potatoes and a roasted cherry tomato.  Ratte potatoes are from France and lay claim to being “the potato” by several high end chefs like Joel Robuchon, but for me, the single roasted cherry tomato held the best flavour that married with the tender melt-in-the-mouth tenderloin.  The tenderloin was absolutely bang on perfectly medium-rare and ok I admit all three of the vegetables went well with it, but perhaps it was just so delicious that you could have stuck boiled brussel sprouts next to it, and they still would have been delicious. Paired with this was the Zenato Amarone Valpolicella Superiore 2007.  We thought the Cresasso Corvina was good, until we tasted this and we shouldn’t have been surprised but you just can’t go back once you’ve tasted the amarone.  Strong concentrated berry flavours hit your palate with hints of truffle in a gorgeously mellow wine.

Roasted peach with almond ice-cream and crushed amaretti biscuits

Dessert was a roasted peach with almond ice-cream, biscotti and crushed amaretti biscuits.  And with this, I had for the first time, a red dessert wine – Zenari Reciota della Valpolicella  Classico 2006.  I always think of dessert wines as having a syrupy texture.  This wine was dark cherry red in the glass, had lots of legs when you swirled it in the glass, and had all the sweetness expected with a dessert wine, but a surprisingly light and almost refreshing lightness in texture.  Amazing stuff.

We are still such novices when it comes to wine, but we do know what we like, and D and I are planning our entire trip to Italy later this year around a visit to the Zenato vineyard.  Each time I sample their wines, that trip is simply too, too far away for my liking.

Ponti Wine Cellars stock Zenato wines
G/F 204 Telok Ayer Street
Tel: 6733 0369

Basilico @ the Regent Hotel
Second floor, One Cuscaden Road
Tel: 6725 3232

Oenotheque by Wine Universe

Potatoes roasted with garlic, thyme & smoked paprika and aioli dip

I was lucky enough to score some drinking time with my friend C, and as I was around Suntec, we decided to go to Oenotheque by Wine Universe, a modern French and Swiss wine bar/restaurant. Part-owned by Mag of Mag’s Wine Kitchen on Circular Road, I had the pleasure of attending their opening in 2009, and D and I have eaten there a few times, but it has been a while since I’ve been, so it was good to know that it’s still as stellar as I remembered it to be.

We started with an Alsace Pinot Gris which was suspiciously rosé coloured and came in a frosted riesling bottle – which screamed sweet and sticky to us, but it was a lovely refreshingly light and crisp wine that went down a treat in the heat of the evening. We then moved on to a Pinot Blanc, although I have to admit that by that stage I didn’t pay much attention to the label or where it was from 🙂

We ordered from the snack menu (although it’s referred to as tapas menu, which I thought confusing as to the type of cuisine you get there) and all the recommendations from the friendly staff made C and I ‘exclaim’ a lot about just how yummy they were.

The three dishes we snacked on were potatoes roasted with garlic, thyme and smoked paprika that was served with a mild aioli dip, parma-ham wrapped asparagus and enoki, and tiger prawns baked with spinach and raclette cheese.

Unfortunately the photos that I took from my iPhone in the dim lighting didn’t do the food any justice at all, which is a shame, because the asparagus and prawns were both outstanding. Asparagus, mushrooms and ham are a great combination and they were cooked to perfect crunchiness (for the asparagus), squishy juiciness (for the enoki) and salty crispiness (for the parma-ham). The prawns were served four on a plate with spinach, and with four squares of raclette cheese grilled on top (so that the plate was searingly hot). The melted cheese made them look almost like translucent ravioli on the plate and the delicate flavours of the spinach and prawns complemented the strong raclette cheese.

Wine Universe is located at Millenia Walk, and although it’s a large restaurant on a corner, it’s understated decor means it’s easy to miss – although I am sure it gets tons of business from the Suntec area.  Which is fab because we want it to stick around for as long as Mag’s !

Oneotheque byWine Universe
9 Raffles Boulevard #01-109, Millenia Walk
Tel: 63380717

Le Carillon de L’Angelus

Camembert/blue cheese and cold cut platters

A charming place to have a relaxed lunch or after work drinks.  I find it hard to go past the cheese and cold meat platters, but the escargot are all garlicky buttery goodness, especially mopped up with Le Carillon’s fresh bread rolls that are baked on the premises.

Doesn’t hurt that their wine list is pretty awesome as well.

Le Carillon de L’Angelus
24 Ann Siang Road
+65 6423 0353

Why Chef Valentino is a GENIUS

Truffle ice-cream with freshly shaved white truffles

Who else would shave fresh white truffles over truffle/vanilla ice-cream??

In my earlier post on Valentinos, I mentioned that D had loved it so much that he said that Valentinos was where he wanted to have his birthday dinner.  So off we went last night.

Fresh buffalo mozzarella

I had already rang ahead to check if they had any fresh buffalo mozarella that night and was delighted to find out they did.  We had a similar round of starters than we did our first time there – lightly breadcrumbed and deep-fried anchovies, the buffalo mozarella and sweet tomatoes with olive oil and basil, cow’s milk cheese wrapped in proscuitto and pan-fried, and we added a selection of cold meats to make four for the table.

Cherry tomatoes with basil

As before, the mozarella was light and chewy and stringy and milky and all the things buffalo mozarella should be.  Paired with a mouthful of tomatoes and basil and we were transported to our trip to the Amalfi Coast once again.  The cold meats didn’t look like much, but the flavour from the thinly shaved slices of proscuitto, salami and mortadella (something I’ve always wondered about but never tasted) was a perfect way to balance the other dishes on the table.

Porcini ravioli with truffle oil

For seconds we shared two pasta dishes – the porcini ravioli with truffle oil and the house speciality, squid ink pasta in a creamy crab sauce.  The ravioli was just so … mushroomy, for want of a better word.  And the squid ink pasta came in thick ribbons covered with large chunks of fresh crab leg meat, the sauce a mix of cream and tomato and with a hint of heat from chilli.  I couldn’t really taste the squid ink over the flavour of the sauce, so a good thing the sauce was so delicious.

Delicious steak

Mains we again shared two dishes – the veal saltimbocca and a 500g steak, cooked on the bone and medium rare, served thickly sliced over a bed of rocket and tomatoes. Both solidly good.

But I digress.  I am typing all of this as fast as I can just so I can tell you about the special dessert Chef Valentino served D especially for his birthday – truffle ice-cream, with freshly shaved white truffles.  The only time I have seen so many truffles was when we were in Rome at Pietros where they had a tray of fresh black truffles.  Chef Valentino showed us a square bowl full of arborio rice, with the most beautiful smelling truffles dotted on top.  This was how he stored his truffles – in order to further flavour the arborio rice for his truffle risottos.  Another stroke of genius.

White truffles perfuming a bed of arborio rice

He then gave us a martini glass with one scoop of truffle ice-cream – we ate the ice-cream on its own – a rich vanilla ice-cream that actually already tasted of truffles.  Why it works, we didn’t care.  Just trust me when I say it does.  Chef then liberally shaved the fresh white truffles over it and the four of us at our table greedily scooped out spoonfuls of ice-cream with truffles.  There was absolute silence in the room for a few seconds before the exclamations – “mmmmm !”  and “ooooh !” – started of just how good that tasted.

We left happy, full and with a parting shot of Limoncello.  For such an unassuming restaurant, this place rocks.  Apart from the food, the service is just so warm.  Not only is it clearly family run, but clearly the staff are also treated like family, and it really shows.  Add to this the fact that the Chef is an amarone fiend (ask to see his wine cellar!!), means we will definitely be going back again, hopefully very soon !

Ristorante Da Valentino
11 Jalan Bingka
Singapore 588908
Restaurant: 6462 0555

Closed Mondays

Otto Ristorante

Veal ravioli with freshly shaved white truffles

Wanting to catch up with our friends who had lived in Japan and recommended many of the places we visited while we were there on our recent trip, we organised dinner with them at Otto Ristorante at the Red Dot Museum on Maxwell Road.

In the mood for simple pasta, we were wowed into selecting the gourmet degustation menu for three and one at our table selected three dishes from the white truffle menu.  I was in a very indecisive mood and wanted the benefit of small portions of more dishes.

The menu actually draws a lot of inspiration from Japanese ingredients, including sea urchin and scallops – and I started with the carpaccio of Hokkaido scallops.  The scallop itself was wonderfully fresh and paper thin, but the flavours for me left me a little flat.  I didn’t know what the black substance was that was sprinkled over the scallops, first thinking it was caviar, and later finding out it was dehydrated olives.  I think I would have preferred it to be caviar, the flavours were all a bit too delicate for me.

Pan fried foie gras with caramelised onion jam and brioche

Next course was an excellent pan-fried foie gras with delicious onion jam and brioche.  Classic flavours.  Classic dish.  Superb.

I’ve heard that the pastas at Otto are great and I have to agree with everyone on this.  I had a veal ravioli, which was my clear favourite for the night – over the foie gras, suckling pig and a sneaky forkful of my mate’s truffle risotto, which are some of favourite dishes ever.  The veal was melt-in-the-mouth tender, the pasta wafer thin and perfectly al dente, and we had the additional extravagance of having freshly shaved white truffles over them.  YUM.

My friend who didn’t want veal asked to change the pasta for the spaghetti with sea urchin and grey mullet battarga, which is grey mullet roe that has been cured and dried with sea salt and then waxed to prevent further drying.  This dish tasted to me like the essence of Japan – the stronger battarga hit your palette with an explosion followed by the delicate but unique uni flavour that seemed to silkily coat your tongue.

Next dish was steamed sea bass with basil infused fava beans in a white wine emulsion.  This seemed a little flat for me, but only because the previous dish (and my forkfulls from my friends’ dishes) were so strongly flavoured.  The fish was cooked to perfection and I think the three flavours worked very well together.

Final dish was the signature crispy suckling pig, with black locust honey and aged balsamic vinegar.  Perhaps it was because I was already full but for some reason this dish didn’t work for me.  The suckling pug was very well done – tender meat with crispy skin, not too much fat, but the balsamic vinegar seemed almost too strong and tangy, yet I know you need something to cut through the fattiness of the suckling pig.  It was served on top of a bed of baby spinach leaves, which I also didn’t think worked with the slow cooked meat.  Perhaps something more peppery like rocket ?  I’m not sure.

Dessert was a warm chocolate cake / fondant with a vanilla bean ice-cream.  Always a favourite, lots of molten fondant inside.  Can’t go wrong 🙂

It certainly wasn’t a cheap night, but the service was excellent, the wine list solid (although we weren’t told that the bottle of ripassa we started with was the last one they had … until we ordered a second bottle) and the food really very well done.  I would happily go to Otto next time I have a simple craving for pasta.

My only complaint is their atrociously over-designed website.

Otto Ristorante
28 Maxwell Road, #01-02
Red Dot Traffic Building
Tel: 6227 6819

Open lunch and dinner Mon-Fri
Dinner only Sat
Closed Sundays

Zenato Wine Dinner

When we were in Amalfi, we picked up a few bottles of Sergio Zenato Riserva Amarone Classico DOC 2001.  It was the best wine we had ever tasted, and remains our favourite to this day.  D found a few bottles of the 2004 and they are ageing nicely in our wine chiller for a few years before we decide to indulge ourselves.

We were invited recently by Ponti Wines to a Zenato Wine Dinner at the Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck Restaurant last Thursday.  Four Zenato wines were to be paired with a Chinese menu – something they said they’d tried before and felt worked.  Call me old fashioned but I’m still not convinced this is the case.  However, we were eager to try more Zenato wines, and also got to meet the daughter of the late Sergio Zenato who handles the marketing for the small, family-run company.

The dinner was an intimate affair in a private room, with just D and I and two other guests, along with the Ponti Wine representative, and Nadia Zenato, a beautiful Italian woman, who exuded the famed Italian style.  The dinner itself was good – unremarkable and for that type of establishment, I would say even disappointing, but it was for the wine that we attended, and it was the wines that we got.

We started with Zenato San Benedetto Lugana DOC 2009.  For such a young wine, this wine, made with 100% Trebbiano di Lugana  grapes, was a light, refreshing way to begin the evening.

It was followed by the Zenato Pinot Grigio IGT delle Venezie 2008.  100% Pinot Grigio grapes, fermented for just 15-20 days before aging in stainless steel tanks for 6 months, this was crisp and fresh and a perfect accompaniment to the Four Treasures Platter we were served – cold starters.

The food and wine pairing attempt fell apart at this point and for food we were served prawn ball with egg white and hairy crab roe, where the prawn was suspiciously ridiculously crunchy, making us cringe at the soda bicarbonate trick to “freshen seafood”, and sauteed pea’s leaf with bamboo shoot.  This was paired with Zenato Ripassa Valpolicella Superiore DOC 2006.  80% Corvina, 10% Sangiovese and 10% Rondinella, the wine is “passed over” the semi=dried skins from the amorone.  This makes for a more intense flavour but the wine would have been perfectly acceptable if it weren’t put side by side with the next two wines.

Pan-fried sea perch with asparagus, roasted Beijing Duck and braised pork with brown sauce and vegetable rice followed with the last two wines of the evening.  The Zenato Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC 2006 – a full bodied, liquorice and berry flavoured wine with little tannins, was a gorgeous wine.  The Zenato Sergio Zenato Riserva Amarone Classico DOC 2004 though, was the clear winner of the night.  Zenato only make the reserva from their best years – 80% Corvina, 10% Rondinella, 5% Molinara and 5% Sangiovese it’s a big, ricjly textured wine – spicy and oaky.  To be paired with big meats – a good steak, rich pastas or even chocolate – this is the ultimate wine for us.

This evening reminded us that amarone is, while not to everyone’s taste, certainly is to our palettes and we look forward to meeting Nadia again in Venetto next year when we plan to visit the Zenato vineyard.  Ah bliss.

Mag’s Wine Kitchen

Behind the hustle and bustle of Boat Quay, on Circular Road, is Mag’s Wine Kitchen.  Run by Mag, the woman who never forgets a name or face, this tiny wine bar/kitchen is another little gem of a find in Singapore.  The fact that it’s still around more than ten years after it has opened, I think, is also testimony to how good it is, in the city where food and eating is a national pastime and choices abound.

Walking in to Mags is like walking in to someone’s house.  The place is small – it only seats maybe 25 people – with the kitchen in full view at the back of the room.  The menu on the chalkboard is simple – never more than 5-6 starters and mains with usually a very limited special (we once enjoyed fresh umi from a dive trip that Mag just came back from – lightly steamed chawanmushi style).  Mag buys her produce from Huber’s, so you know what’s coming is going to be good from the get go.

And she very wisely keeps it simple, letting the produce speak for itself.  Last night I had wagyu beef tataki, flash seared on the outside, raw in the middle, wafer thin so that it melted in your mouth, simply dressed with a light vinaigrette and finely chopped chives with a delicate salad of cress and alfalfa.  D had the foie gras terrine – a generous block of creamy foie gras.  The boys had the lamb rack, which rendered them speechless while they tucked in.

I opted for a cheese platter – I have to say that I do not love everything so French – the three cheeses were … I can only describe them as “ripe” where I felt the acid strip the lining from the inside of my mouth.  A true cheese lover would probably have waxed lyrical about it but for me, the plate was left largely untouched.

Not to complain as they had a Masi Amarone 2006 for me to enjoy while I watched the boys tuck into their lamb.

Mag’s Wine Kitchen
86 Circular Road
Singapore 049438
General: 6438-3836

Monday to Friday
12noon to 2pm
Monday to Friday
6pm to 10pm

6pm to 10pm only
(Closed for lunch)

Closed on Sunday

Ah amarone

When D and I were in Amalfi in 2008, there was a tiny little bottle shop where we found an amarone, which we had recently discovered as a wonderfully big wine to have with big flavours, like a juicy fillet steak.  The amarone we found was Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Riserva ‘Sergio Zenato’ – and we bought two of the four bottle they had, one of which we gave to friends as part of a wedding present, and the other, sat in our wine rack for another year until we opened it on the weekend with friends.

Oh. My. God.

It was incredible.  I know very little about wines, but I do know what I like, and this was it. It was a very ripe, raisiny, big-bodied wine with very little acid.  It has the same grape blend of Rondinella, Molinara, Sangiovese and Corvina as the standard Amarone but has longer oak maturation and older vines from carefully selected parcels.

The best grapes are hand picked and left to dry for 5 months. Skin contact fermentation lasts for 30 days. The wine is then aged in medium sized Slavonian oak barrels for two and a half years, followed by one year in bottle.

Why didn’t we buy the other two ??  We have recently found out that this particular wine is made in very small quantities as production is small and with our new wine chiller on order, the next time we see it available, we’ll be snatching up as much as we can.