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Top 10 Deli Snacks in the Philippines April 8, 2011

Posted by Alex Sawit in Food & Drink, Reviews.
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By Alex Sawit

08 April 2011

 

Although the word delicatessen is of German origin, it ultimately derives from the Latin delicatus, which very loosely translated means, “Little goodies you can’t stop popping in your mouth!” Hence, “delicacies” are happily found when one steps into a modern deli shop.

People’s expectations of deli food vary, however. In North America, it’s popular to think of a delicatessen as a sandwich shop with menus for sit-down customers (my favorite movie reference is Meg Ryan’s famous “faking it” scene at Katz’s Deli in When Harry Met Sally). In Europe, the deli is a specialty grocery for top quality foodstuffs (curiously, in America they refer to this differently as a “gourmet food store”).

In the Philippines, we basically follow the European meaning: a delicatessen is a store that retails cured meats and cold cuts, sausages, cheeses, gourmet breads and other fine foods that can be served with minimum or no cooking. That’s how we at Cyrano understand deli food and this being a wine shop we want what goes well with wine, which is why our bar chow consists of easy-to-serve snacks for wine lovers to nibble on (like an old-fashioned enoteca, right?).

Alas we can’t have everything on our menu. It’s unfortunate because there are lots of good local products to be found, even from the far corners of the country (let’s thank our Cyrano business partners, Joco and Ric, for finding great stuff from as far away as Cagayan de Oro and Davao). The least we can do is acknowledge those we believe are worth praising to you.

So here is your wine shop’s list of what we feel are the Top 10 Deli Snacks made in the Philippines. Chances are you may have already tried or heard of some of them but please seek out on your own the ones that you haven’t. Remember to enjoy them with our wines!

 

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But Before Our Top 10…A Special Mention

Snobs would think it pedestrian to think so highly of pork rinds but what do they know? Our thanks to Manito de Borja, one of our oldest Cyrano friends and the fattest thin man we’ve ever met, for explaining the sophistication of Chicharittos (only an eating machine like Manito would have lobbied for this as a snack with wine). Try Chicharittos in all flavors with a smooth, dry South African Chenin Blanc and ignore those lobotomized Vegans who cannot fathom the rewards of so much unhealthy goodness.

Chicharottos are available at Rustan’s Supermarket Main Branch, Rustan’s Building, Ayala Avenue, Makati City.

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CYRANO’S TOP 10 DELI SNACKS

 

10. Chef Philippe’s Party Breads

Chef Philippe Agnesi, in a moment of candid satisfaction over the caffe latte he was served, told me that our shop makes “very good coffee.” Coming from a French pastry chef with a reputation for being a merciless perfectionist, it was flattering, especially since we aren’t an espresso bar. We now return the compliment. Chef Philippe’s Party Breads are uncompromisingly excellent. They are meals in themselves but are best sliced, as the name implies, as party hors d’oeuvres. Among the savory breads, my favorite is the Mediterranean, a soft brioche that’s a romance of pesto, tomato sauce, ricotta and mozzarella cheeses, sun dried tomatoes and black olives, to be enjoyed with a Côtes du Rhone Villages.

Chef Philippe’s Party Breads are available at Chef Philippe Commissary, 2310 Pasong Tamo Extension, Makati (visit http://www.chefphilippe.org for details).

 

9. Zaragoza Sardines

I’ve been a fan of this Pinoy brand for a while and it impresses me that Zaragoza Foods, which is based in Dipolog, is so consistent on such a commercial scale. Well, okay, they’ve had tiny slip ups but these have been rare. Whatever their secret, these sardines are absolutely the best value gourmet treats in the country, especially for gourmands who know what to do with good sardines. Available in Portugese- and Spanish-style in corn oil and in Spanish-style in tomato sauce, these are delectable with good bread and a Southern French Viognier.

 

 

Zaragoza Sardines are available at Rustan’s Supermarket Main Branch. Export versions in olive oil are available at S&R Price Mart, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig.

 

8. Dial K For Kitchen Pâté

After pursuing culinary careers in Europe for nearly 20 years, sisters Georgina and Kim Ramos returned to the Philippines to nurture something closer to their hearts. The result is Dial K For Kitchen, a gourmet business that radiates with their cultivated food experiences. Among their products, nothing expresses this as luxuriously as their bestselling pâté. “This has got to be the SMOOTHEST, the absolute CREAMIEST chicken liver pâté you can ever find,” they claim on their blog, “with no gamey aftertaste!” I won’t disagree. Bring some to the shop so you can share it with us when you order a South African Rosé.

 

 

Dial K For Kitchen Paté can be ordered at facebook.com/Dial.K.for.Kitchen.

 

7. Malagos Farmhouse Cheeses

Mrs. Olive Puentespina has been making artisanal cheeses in Davao under the Malagos Farmhouse label for several years now, winning acclaim from local and foreign gourmands who are astounded that Western-style cheeses of such quality can be made in our tropical climate. Her fromage de chèvre (French-style soft goat cheese) is a favorite of European expats, who say it’s indistinguishable from the French import. Pile it on thin crisp bread and pair it with a well-chilled Italian Prosecco. I go for the “peppercorn brie” and “demi-blue Styleton” (that’s what I nicknamed the latter because it reminds me of an extremely mild Stilton), made from cow’s milk, both of which are nice with a creamy Australian Chardonnay.

 

 

Malagos Farmhouse Cheeses are available here at Cyrano Wine Shop.

 

6. Chef Cyrille’s Pork Rillette

I’m going to take flak for this because not every Cyrano friend is a fan of Chef Cyrille Soenen’s rillette (our adorable but painfully fussy Cyrano friend, Georgina, derides it by saying it tastes like canned corned beef in fat…ouch!). Many agree, however, that it’s like lechon you can serve with a butter knife and to me this stuff is bursting with flavor. Rillette is meat, often pork, cooked in its own rendered fat and reduced to a spread. Other rillettes can be like fine paste but Chef Cyrille makes a rustic style whose flaky texture I prefer, especially on flat bread. Try it with a Southern French Syrah and then decide if this is the best rillette in town.

 

 

Chef Cyrille’s Pork Rillette can be ordered from Cyrille Soenen Restaurants, Inc. (visit http://www.restaurantcicou.com for details).

 

5. Säntis Chorizo

I order this in advance at Säntis Forbes because they can run out as quickly as it arrives. Säntis Delicatessen has been selling beer sticks for years but something clicked last Christmas season when customers in the affluent neighborhood developed a liking for this Spanish-style, dry-cured sausage (so it’s technically not a chorizo but a salchichón). Suddenly, folks were loading them in gift baskets and hoarding them for their pantries. Its chewy tenderness and mildly sour, mildly spicy meaty flavor make it so versatile, allowing you add it to anything from fresh salads to different pastas. I like slicing it into rounds as a snack, preferably paired with a red like a Spanish Tempranillo.

 

 

Säntis Chorizo is available at Säntis Delicatessen, WIC Building 7431 Yakal Street, San Antonio Village, Makati.

 

4. H-Cuisine’s Frozen Microwavable Takeaways

Chef Hannah Herrera gets great reviews for her catering service, H-Cuisine, and folks who visit her stall at the Salcedo market can’t get enough of H-Cuisine’s famous slow-roasted Angus beef belly. There’s also marrow-filled ossobuco and rich callos and a whole lot more. Here’s the kicker: H-Cuisine also offers these items as frozen takeaways that are awesome after proper reheating (folks at the shop were surprised at how yummy they turned out after microwaving). Nothing beats food fresh from the kitchen but this shows what’s possible if you know the tricks of reheating (Chef Hannah includes precise instructions with the frozen products). Try the beef belly, ossobuco and callos at the shop “pica-pica style” with a smooth Aussie Cabernet Sauvignon.

 

 

H-Cuisine’s Frozen Microwavable Takeaways are available at the H-Cuisine stall in Salcedo Market, every Saturday at Salcedo Park, Leviste Street, Salcedo Village, Makati.

 

3. Donau Deli Sausages

Anyone who knows anything about charcuterie would be foolish to dispute that Donau Deli makes the best sausages and cold cuts in town. Founded by Chef Roland Sager and his wife Marietta, Donau is so reputable that they regularly produce sausages and cold cuts for other delicatessens, who then proudly package them as their own (shame on Mickey’s Delicatessen for not giving credit where credit and more are due). They make a wide variety of classic German-style sausages but ironically my favorite is the fully cooked Polish-style Kielbasa, a glorious meld of lean and fat with the right sweet smoky flavor, all nice with a Chilean Pinot Noir.

 

 

Donau Deli Sausages can be purchased at Donau Deli, 7904 Lawaan Street, San Antonio Village, Makati (for inquiries, call 899-6810 or send an e-mail to donaudeli@yahoo.com).

 

2. SLERS Pastrami

I must confess that I had misgivings after I tasted a new batch recently only to find that the product was a bit underwhelming. It was very good, mind you, just not as impressive as what I’m accustomed to because the SLERS Pastrami that I know and love is unassailably delicious. I wasn’t fond of pastrami until I tried SLERS. What an epiphany! SLERS breaks away from the popular style of American pastrami by making something truly ebullient – it’s more tender and juicy and much more flavorful, with more of the natural sweetness of the beef coming through (even our Teutonic Cyrano friend, Thilo, who is always on the lookout for products for the German Club, called this the best pastrami he’s tasted). SLERS is a small family-run business making high-quality meat products in Cagayan de Oro, so the brand isn’t visible in Makati’s premiere supermarkets. But all their products are top notch and I’m envious that the folks in CDO have this for their daily sandwich satisfaction. In the end, the new batches I’ve tasted are probably just rarities of inconsistency, so future ones should be perfect again, especially when paired with a good South African Côtes du Rhone-style red blend.

 

 

SLERS Pastrami is available here at Cyrano Wine Shop.

 

1. Feng Wei Wee Smoked Duck

Of all those honored in our Top Ten list, our No. 1 has an unbeatable “wow factor” thanks to a winning combination of lip-smacking goodness and impeccable consistency. Feng Wei Wee Taiwan Cuisine in Quezon City is a no-frills eatery that is guarded by its Chinese patrons (even those who live out of the way insist on coming here rather than to the more convenient branch in Green Hills). Forget the cafeteria-style setting; if you’re no snob, this deceptively inexpensive place will rock your world. The bonus was recognizing a snack that pairs with wine. Their smoked duck breast elevates you to a state of bliss, especially when harmonized with the light sauce accompanying it. Serve it as cold hors d’oeuvres, slicing it thinly to show off the wonderful layer of duck fat against the meat, to be enjoyed at leisure with a superb Chilean Carménère.

 

 

Feng Wei Wee Smoked Duck is available at Feng Wei Wee Taiwan Cuisine, No.82 Banawe Street corner Samat Street, SMH, Quezon City.

 

 

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In-Store Review: Laurus Syrah 2007 January 11, 2011

Posted by Alex Sawit in About Wine, Reviews.
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By Alex Sawit

11 January 2011

 

——————————————–

OUR WINE RATING GUIDE

                                 Great = 10
                                 Exceptionally Good = 9
                                 Very Good = 8
                                 Good = 7
                                 Extra Fair = 6
                                 Fair = 5
                                 Poor = 4
                                 Very Poor = 3
                                 Horrifically Poor = 2
                                 Abominable = 1

To learn more, click here.

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Many years ago, I asked a sweet old Spanish lady to explain to me what a salerosa is.

Although no one really says this Hispanic word in the Philippines anymore, I’d heard that generations ago it was eagerly exclaimed by smitten colonial bachelors, who used it to describe the bewitching mestizas of our country whom they fell madly in love with. The lady explained it to me vaguely, however. She simply said that a salerosa is a pretty girl with a certain something. “It means cute,” she cheerfully added after phoning a friend just to offer me a second opinion.

But there are cute girls and then there are cute girls. Reading between the lines, I realized that no proper Spanish lady could bring herself to explain it any further, especially to a young man. Only gentlemen of a bygone era were free to talk about the fairer sex that poignantly. How the world has changed. Nowadays we vulgar brutes just say, “Dude, that chick is ******* hot!”

I’ve been using this elegant word ever since.

But being a wine lover, I also find it fun to describe a sensuous, luscious bodied, amorously arousing wine that catches my fancy as a “salerosa” (the last time was for a pair of Chilean beauties, whose Hispanic backgrounds made the description perfectly appropriate). That’s just how I want to describe the Laurus Syrah 2007, which has become the new darling of folks at the shop.

Laurus is the prestige brand of Maison Gabriel Meffre, a highly esteemed winery and négociant founded in 1936 in the Rhône Valley wine region of France. To Cyrano friends who have tasted the Laurus Syrah, if you’ve sensed something familiar it’s because Gabriel Meffre also produces the Fat Bastard Shiraz that you like.

But as much as you and I enjoy that Shiraz with the happy hippo on the label, it comes across as thin and rough by comparison. The more graceful, deeply purpled Laurus Syrah is all about what’s ripe and ravishing. On the nose, there is greater depth to the Laurus, melding dark espresso, violet and faint traces of cinnamon. In the mouth the difference intensifies. The Laurus feels shapely and smooth, its taste offering a seductive concentration of stewed blueberries, cocoa and licorice, ending with a peppery, long-legged pose of spice and everything nice. Darn, I love this wine! It hits the spot.

Laurus Syrah 2007 retails at the wine shop for PhP 700 a bottle, actually a down-to-earth price for something so alluring. For me that’s like finding a gorgeous woman who is the honest opposite of a high-maintenance princess.

What real man wouldn’t want to drink that? Viva salerosas!

 

 

laurus_syrah_bottle.jpg

 

CYRANO’S RATING:

  VERY GOOD (Score 8.0)

 

Wine: Laurus Syrah 2007

Grape: Syrah 100%

Country: France

Wine Region:
  Sud de France / Languedoc-Rousillon

Category: Vin de Pays d’Oc

Ageing: 9 months in 275 liter oak barrels

 

Suggested Food Pairing:

– Barbecued baby back ribs
– New Zealand vintage cheddar

 

Cellaring Options: Drink until 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s Our Wine Rating Format January 10, 2011

Posted by Alex Sawit in About Wine, Reviews.
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By Alex Sawit

10 January 2011

 

Happy New Year, Cyrano Friends!

To start the year right, I’m introducing our “In-Store Review” feature in which I’ll be reviewing newly added wines in our inventory. These reviews should be especially welcome to those of you who ask me every once in a while about what wines I personally like and why.

I’ll also be rating these wines to guide you better, although I still feel a little wary about doing this for a wine review. There are just too many wine critics in the world devoted to giving ratings with ultra-precise point scores and I feel that it’s misleading when critics insist on precise numbers to quantify something that is so subjective. I honestly feel that descriptive words can more faithfully communicate the quality of a wine than a numerical score can.

Yet the reality is that consumers prefer scores, which make life easier for anyone who simply wants to buy and enjoy a nice wine. So I’ll harmonize my descriptions and scores together this way (scores are from 1 to 10, allowing increments of 0.5 points):

 

    Great = 10

    Exceptionally Good = 9

    Very Good = 8

    Good = 7

    Extra Fair = 6

    Fair = 5

    Poor = 4

    Very Poor = 3

    Horrifically Poor = 2

    Abominable = 1

 

Now my reviews and ratings reflect my preferences, which may or may not agree with your own. So it’s more important to remember that my purpose is merely to help you make better-informed decisions about which wines to choose. At the end of the day, the final proof about whether you like something or not is entirely up to you.

So let’s get ready for the first review.

 

 

Best Beers of Southeast Asia 2010 (That’s It) December 9, 2010

Posted by Alex Sawit in Food & Drink, Reviews.
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By Alex Sawit

09 December, 2010

 

A jovial German customer of ours tells this joke whenever someone orders American beer at the shop.

“What does American beer have in common with canoeing?” he likes to ask with a big grin before the punch line. “They’re both just above water.”

It’s an unfair generalization, I must say, one that accounts only for those watered-down U.S. brands that are being dumped on the world’s supermarkets in the name of globalization (our shop, by the way, only serves the good stuff from coast to coast, from Boston’s Samuel Adams to San Francisco’s Anchor Steam Beer). Unfortunately the Germans with their Old World heritage dismiss all American beers as a symptom of a culturally challenged way of life. As far as they are concerned, grown-ups – meaning Germans – bask in the glory of what they call Oktoberfest, while juveniles – meaning Americans – go nuts for that annual beer-and-bikini riot they call Spring Break. End of discussion.

Seriously, my Teutonic amigo is right about one thing. That is, if a beer can be poked fun at then it isn’t worth the time and effort to accord proper respect.

So I’ve come to a sobering decision. This shall be my last “Best Beers of Southeast Asia” post.

 

beerlao_screenshot.jpg

Screenshot of “a laid-back place with a laid-back beer.”

 

I’ve thrown in the towel. I now acknowledge that keeping an annual review is a pretentious thing when the pickings in Southeast Asia are painfully few and far between. How few? For me, only TWO beers deserve to be recognized for genuine excellence.

Beer Lao is an enigma to me. I’m echoing the amazement Time Magazine expressed when it declared Beer Lao as the best beer in Asia. Like most of my countrymen, I grew up believing that the Philippines had a lock on making beer in the region. All this changed years ago once I had a taste of that beautifully clear, golden Laotian brew. It was humbling but I am grateful that my preconception was overturned.

Yet Beer Lao is not the best in Southeast Asia. That honor goes to Cerveza Negra San Miguel of the Philippines (this is the domestic release of San Miguel’s dark lager and must not be confused with the mediocre export versions). With its supple balance of semi-bitter chocolate and sweet toffee flavors, I have always thought more highly of it than the brewery’s flagship, San Miguel Beer. Though Negra was plagued by unreliable quality in the past due to the token attention it gets as a “toy brand” in the company portfolio, I now believe consistency is no longer a deciding factor (to read the back story on this, click here).

There you go, Beer Lao and Cerveza Negra San Miguel.

Sorry but major brands like Singha of Thailand and Tiger Beer of Singapore don’t cut it. Nor is there any hope for Anchor Beer of Malaysia, Angkor Beer of Cambodia, Bintang Beer of Indonesia, Beer Mynarmar of Burma, Saigon Beer of Vietnam and whatever else is floating out there. Drinkable? Yes. Good? At least they’re above water.

The truth is that the big breweries of Southeast Asia don’t show the kind of passion and craftsmanship that are the foundations of great beer making. There’s a kind of indolence in this, reminiscent of those colonial-era comments that self-righteous Occidentals used to make about Southeast Asians, saying that we are too laid back, that we don’t have the drive to do more or keep improving things (how ironic that Beer Lao, which is made with superb effort, markets itself by promoting Laos as “a laid-back place with a laid-back beer”). Southeast Asia is a lucrative beer market yet breweries are pulling big profits with lousy but popular stuff. Why fix what ain’t beer-roke? With no incentive to elevate local palates, they’re happy to keep brewing the same barnyard flush for consumers, who don’t know enough to ask, “Why the hell are we paying good money for bottled horse piss???”

The biggest disappointment is the Philippines, which has the proudest brewing tradition in Asia but is now drowning in a sea of equine fizzy relief. What a sinking feeling. What I feel just from glancing at brands like San Mig Light or Manila Beer is comparable to what I feel whenever I see our politicians running yet again for national office.

Let’s be honest, my fellow Filipinos. We know in our hushed thoughts that these political gargoyles always reveal themselves to be the same unholy thing – ineptly out of their depth or corruptly self-serving or, as is normally the curse, both (while the good people stay in the private sector as far away from the inferno as possible). As I tell all my foreign friends, the Philippines is a feudal society masquerading as a modern Western-style democracy. Unless we Filipinos first destroy our deep-rooted feudal culture, then democratic elections will merely perpetuate our socio-economic problems, not solve them.

Sigh…forgive me. I digress.

Many nights ago our Cyrano friend, Bobby, was at the shop lamenting how disenchanted he is with San Miguel Beer. A retired ad man with an educated taste for drink, Bobby, after polishing off a great Czech beer, went on to say that he has written off this Filipino classic. “It’s beyond salvation,” I seem to recall him saying.

“San Miguel makes Pale Pilsen on the cheap now,” I said, as Bobby switched to a Dutch lager. “The key ingredients are imported and expensive, so they’re cutting corners. They’re cutting down on barley malt and increasing the use of cereal extenders.”

We proceeded to talk about other local brands but it only made him more miserable. Feeling the need to switch to cheerful conversation, we closed by agreeing that San Miguel Premium is for gullible, status conscious posers and that the newly resurrected Manila Beer should have remained entombed in Asia Brewery’s graveyard of dead brands.

That’s it. End of story. If memory serves me right, we moved on to an intellectually discriminating, emotionally gratifying discussion about the ever expanding list of hot babes who hang out at the wine shop.

Haha…now, THAT is something worth making an annual review of.

 

 

POSTSCRIPT: Here’s a consolation prize. San Miguel Super Dry tastes better now, a whole bloody lot better. Though it still doesn’t taste like it did when it first rolled out some twenty years ago, the heft and richness are noticeably superior to its immediate sibling, San Miguel Pale Pilsen (I venture to guess that its malt content was restored to a higher level). Does this have to do with Super Dry’s repositioning as the premium beer of the two, reflected in its higher pricing? Go Super Dry, baby!

 

 

 

 

Cyrano’s Silly Six November 26, 2009

Posted by Alex Sawit in About Wine, Reviews.
2 comments

By Alex Sawit

26 November 2009

 

“Oh, that is so cuuute,” gushed another female customer. “There’s a fat smiling hippo sitting on the corner of the bottle!”

Sigh. Girls will be girls. They all give the same reaction when I show them a bottle of Fat Bastard, which is now quite popular at the shop. I do tell them about the unusual crafting that goes into producing this delightful wine from the South of France. It’s all about the wine, I explain. But ladies just can’t help going all goo-goo and gaga over that happy little hippo weighing heavily on the front label.

Welcome to life at our re-booted Cyrano Wine Shop. It’s been a month since we celebrated our fifth year anniversary and it’s clear that customers love the new concept. Our new slogan says it all: “Fun wines, smart buys!”

That means fun flavor, fun character and just plain fun to drink wine that’s good value. I like to think, of course, that Cyrano has always been about fun wines. We just never thought of positioning ourselves this way to the public before. From now on we want Cyrano to be known for really fun wines, stuff so endearingly outrageous you won’t expect to find them in any typical retail establishment (and definitely not on any supermarket shelf).

Hence, we’ve proudly assembled half a dozen unique wines on which to build our new reputation. We call them Cyrano’s “Silly Six.” Made by some of the most unconventional, anti-establishment winemakers in the world today, these six wines are sure to impress customers by being every bit as quirky as they are delicious.

Remember: It’s all about the wine… duh! Cheers, Cyrano friends!

 

 

The revoultionary wines of Los 3 Bandidos.

 

Los 3 Bandidos. Don’t be fooled by the Spanish name. Los Tres Bandidos (“The Three Bandits”) is 100% French. This amusing fact recently offended one Spanish visitor at the shop. “Why are these Frenchmen,” complained the indignant Spaniard, “using a Spanish name for a French wine?” Lighten up, amigo. It’s made by wine rebels in the South of France who produce full-bodied wines as they please. See those bullet holes in the bottle label? That’s because Tres Bandidos is named in honor of Mexico’s three most famous revolutionaries – Pancho Villa, Emilliano Zapata and Venustiano Carranza. Maybe the name is due to the red wine being made entirely from the Grenache grape, called Garnacha in Spain, which is used to make classic Spanish reds. Or maybe it’s because the winemakers recommend it with Mexican cuisine. Or maybe it’s just a bold statement about how they make “revolutionary wines” that defy French tradition (yes, they actually describe it that way in their promo materials). French wine with a Spanish name… so what? Tres Bandidos is hilarious and, more importantly, it tastes really nice. And it’s fantastic with lechon. “Ay caramba!”

 

Our CSI officer took this closeup of the bullet holes. Note the
points of entry, indicating the precision with which the shooter
avoided the logo. But there are no marks to suggest that
blunt force trauma was suffered during the attack.

 

 

Goats Do Roam. For sillier stuff, try this one from South Africa. Created by folks who are mad about French wine appellations and goat herding – at the back of the bottle, the estate owner cheerfully describes the vineyard as a pseudo goat farm – this un-oaked wine adapts the same grapes used in France for making a white Côtes du Rhône (say “coat-doo-roan”). Rename it Goats Do Roam and you’ve got South Africa’s irreverent version of a French classic, its refreshing, crisp character evoking ripe citrus and gooseberries. We still don’t have the red one, which is their original effort, but we’re working on it.

Here’s the kicker. Back in France, the higher classification of a Côtes du Rhône wine is called “Côtes du Rhône Villages” (it’s French, so say “vih-LAJ” please). So we shouldn’t be surprised that those South Africans also make a higher variant of their version. Goats Do Roam in Villages is lightly aged in oak barrels, resulting in a softer, creamier white wine.

Baa-baa…

 

 

Fat Bastard. Business partners Thierry and Guy, a Frenchman and a Brit respectively, decided to thumb their noses at France’s old fashioned wine industry by running a rebellious operation of their own in the Languedoc region in the South. Armed with winemaking ideas and technologies pioneered in the New World, they produced exactly the kind of rich flavors they were hoping for. “Now,” proclaimed Thierry after tasting his creation, “zat iz what I call eh PHET bas-tard!” It’s a British expression but the name stuck. Fat Bastard comes in Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah/Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, all with discernable French character but with a twist of delectable of richness. By the way, nobody sober at the winery seems to remember how the heck they wound up with a fat golden hippo on their label.


L to R: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Shiraz.
All varietals (plus the Pinot Noir, which is not depicted) except
the Sauvginon Blanc are now available at Cyrano.

 

 


Goat Door. Those winemakers at The Goats Do Roam Wine Company just won’t quit with the homonyms. This time they take inspiration from the area known as the Côte d’Or (“Golden Hillside”), where the most famous and most expensive white wines in France’s Burgundy region are produced entirely from the Chardonnay grape. Likewise, Goat Door is exclusively made from Chardonnay, lightly aged in oak barrels to preserve the freshness that is the hallmark of the Goats Do Roam style of white wine.

 

 


Bored Doe. One day, the folks at The Goats Do Roam Wine Company had another smashing idea. “Hey,” they thought, “in South Africa we have all five grape varietals used in Bordeaux to make red wine. Why don’t we make our version of a classic Bordeaux red?” So they blended Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, aged the wine in oak, put it inside a claret bottle and stuck it with an old château-style label illustrated with a pretty little French deer frolicking around (she’s described as “an udderly gorgeous doe” on the back label of the bottle). Just don’t expect Bored Doe to be like its French counterpart. South Africa’s terroir produces a richer, fruitier savor in its wines and this one is decidedly, though elegantly, full-bodied in style. But yes, it’s good – different but darn good. How ironic that it should go well with venison, heh-heh…

 

 

“The goats will roam… capisce?!”

 

The Goatfather. The last of the Silly Six is my favorite among the wines of The Goats Do Roam Wine Company. A blend of several varietals that includes four grapes of Italian origin – Barbera, Sangiovese, Primitivo and Nebbiolo – this is a remarkable mimic of a Northern Italian red, comparable perhaps to a praiseworthy Chianti Classico Riserva. It even bears some comparison to a classy Sicilian wine we also carry at the shop. Whether it reminds you of Northern or Southern Italy, either way The Goatfather is serious Italian-style vino at heart… uh, with a gratuitous portrait of “Don Goatti” on the bottle for laughs. Never mind. This stuff is wonderful. Starting with soft lavender and subtle mocha on the nose and ending with a touch of cranberry on the palate, The Goatfather is a suave, tangy red that makes for eminently comfortable drinking.

 

In case you thought we were kid-ding about The Goats Do Roam Wine Company, here’s owner and winemaker Charles Back with The Goatfather
along with his property’s very real livestock. Baaa!

 

 

 

 

Best Beers of Southeast Asia 2009 (Thanks to “The Godfather”) May 13, 2009

Posted by Alex Sawit in Food & Drink, Reviews.
2 comments

By Alex Sawit

13 May 2009

 

I’m thinking about a scene from The Godfather. It’s the one where Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) confronts his sister’s traitorous husband, Carlo, telling him to fess up about his complicity in the horrific machine-gun slaying of Michael’s eldest brother. “You think I’d make my sister a widow?” he says to his terrified brother-in-law, assuring him that his life would be spared if he stopped protesting.

“Just don’t tell me you’re innocent,” Michael warns coldly. “It insults my intelligence.”

As fans of the movie trilogy know, what came next was one of the most brutal mafia executions in cinema history, with Carlo admitting his guilt only to be garroted inside the car, the killer uprooting him so violently out of the front seat that his shoes smashed the windshield as he kicked and struggled to his death. All of it had the effect of turning Pacino’s words into a chilling catchphrase.

Don’t tell me you’re innocent. It insults my intelligence.

I’ll take my cue from that, thank you very much. Like Pacino’s fictional character, I too find it insulting when I hear declarations of innocence from those who are blatantly and stupidly guilty.

As it happens, I’m annoyed at a bunch of sneaky executives at the country’s biggest brewing company, San Miguel. They’re the ones whose bright idea it was to reformulate San Miguel Pale Pilsen. In my last review of Southeast Asian beers, I chastised them for ruining this classic brew beloved by generations of Filipinos. The reformulated beer is now a hollow-tasting shell of its former full-flavored glory, all because of the decision by management to reduce the amount of high quality malt used in the recipe and substitute it with a higher proportion of cheaper cereal extenders.

But there’s more. I just found out, belatedly, that those same penny-pinching corporate clowns have been lying through their teeth to their own advertising agencies about what they did. This didn’t reach my ears, however, until someone from an ad agency that handles San Miguel beer brands dropped by the wine shop last week and relayed to me the “official story.”

“The reason San Miguel decided to reformulate Pale Pilsen,” the fellow sincerely explained based on the briefing he received, “is because the brand has been losing market share to San Mig Light. They altered it to make it taste more like San Mig Light, which is what their research says consumers prefer now.”

Really… that’s what they’re saying? Excuse me for a moment, readers…

[SFX: Imaginary footsteps of me walking around the room LMAO!!!]

Yup, San Mig Light, one of the blandest beers on the planet, something so hilariously lousy that horses would take offense if you were to liken it to their piss. Unfortunately, it’s an important part of the San Miguel brand portfolio, enjoying strong sales among pretentious teens and status-conscious young adults who’ve bought into the glossy ad message that light beer is “cool.”

“It’s a bogus explanation,” I said to my customer in so many words. Having once been in the ad industry myself, I still have insider friends of my own who are connected in one way or another to the local beer industry. Based on what they told me, I told my customer that the reformulation was a cost-cutting move in response to rising prices of imported barley malt.

“San Miguel owns both brands,” I continued. “Both sell for the same price even though the low-calorie variant is significantly cheaper to produce. They make more money selling San Mig Light, so it’s in their interest to push this brand even if it cannibalizes market share from Pale Pilsen. Like I said, they own both brands, so in reality they don’t lose market share at all.”

My customer was swayed. “You know, that actually makes more sense,” he said. “Now that I think of it, I think the story you received was the genuine one.”

The truth still annoys me, though.

I miss the old San Miguel Beer. I can only hope that someday in the future those manipulative liars at the company will be gone, allowing a new generation to set things right. It’s either that or Filipinos might just decide to take matters in their own hands.

Why not? Vengeful things can always happen if there are enough outraged consumers who feel insulted… capiche?

 

 

BEST BEERS OF SOUTHEAST ASIA 2009

Note: Only beers available for retail were considered for this review.

 

oktobrew

 

Best Pale Beer, Philippines – SAN MIGUEL OKTOBERFEST BEER

Producer: San Miguel Brewery

Alcohol Content: 3.6% vol.

In 2008, Philippine brewing giant San Miguel launched two all-malt beers for the domestic market: San Miguel Premium and San Miguel Oktoberfest Beer. The former is actually an old brand that disappeared from local shelves many years ago but remained in production for a few foreign markets. That’s beside the point, though. Premium is an overrated brew that has an odd, mild finish that really disappoints me, a far cry from the rich taste of the original San Miguel Premium that I remember from some twenty years ago.

San Miguel Oktoberfest is better. Though still not as full-flavored as I would prefer, it is slightly more tasty and much better balanced than the other all-malt beer despite its lighter body. Too bad, though, that this was just a limited edition brew for the company’s Oktoberfest marketing promotions last year. It’s not easy to find, but as of this writing you can still find it at a limited number of Seven Eleven outlets in Metro Manila.

 

Best Beer Overall, Philippines – CERVEZA NEGRA SAN MIGUEL

Producer: San Miguel Brewery

Alcohol Content: 5% vol.

Cerveza Negra was tops in last year’s review for this category and it looks like it will stay there for the foreseeable future. I have no problem with that. Though it has traditionally been overshadowed by its Pale Pilsen counterpart, Negra has never been anything less than its equal and in the minority opinion of a few discerning local connoisseurs is even seen as the better of the two.

 

Best Dark Beer, Southeast Asia – CERVEZA NEGRA SAN MIGUEL

Nobody else in the region has ever made a better dark lager than this. Period.

 

Best Beer Overall, Southeast Asia – BEERLAO LAGER

Producer: Lao Brewing Company

Alcohol Content: 5% vol.

The “laid-back beer” of Laos stays at the top of the list this year, though I get the feeling that Cerveza Negra San Miguel could displace it with a little bit more tweaking and a little less inconsistency. It’s just a pity that BeerLao isn’t available in the Philippines, because I’d take it any day over any pale beer from any of the local breweries.

 

 

UPDATE (24 May 2009): In case anyone wants to know, the current suggested retail selling price for a bottle of San Miguel Beer is PhP 19.00, while that of San Mig Light is PhP 22.00 a bottle. What a rip-off.

 

 

 

 

Stumbling On a Tequila September 9, 2008

Posted by Alex Sawit in Food & Drink, Reviews.
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By Alex Sawit

10 September 2008

 

Left to Right: Don Alvaro Tequila Añejo and Blanco.

 

Although the Western world is littered with staggering bar-room drunks armed with salt and lime who can merrily relate to the title of this story, it is really intended to mean something else. For me, it’s an entirely sober headline that expresses the joy of discovering one of the finer examples of Mexico’s famed spirit drink.

There is always a sense of “Eureka!” when you stumble upon a find you weren’t expecting. Here you are, minding your own business and not looking for it when you suddenly trip over something that seems at first unremarkable. Then you examine it more closely and a spark of electricity wakes you up. That’s when you know you’ve found something good. So it was that, thanks to the kindness of one of our Cyrano friends, I was introduced to Don Alvaro Tequila.

It was another Friday night at the wine shop when Bochok’s younger brother, Pat Pavia, showed up, having just been picked up at the airport by his older sibling. While Pat has been residing in California for a long time now, he has been coming home to visit more regularly in recent years. Happily for us, Cyrano is now one of his stopovers whenever he’s in town.

Filipino traveler that he is, Pat likes to bring back the customary pasalubong for the crew, who erupted with “oohs” and aahs” upon seeing his latest gift. This was one sophisticated looking bottle of tequila, its refined appearance seemingly more suited to expensive perfume than an alcoholic spirit. As the finely crafted glasswork accumulated everyone’s fingerprints, I focused my eyes on the wording “Don Alvaro Tequila Blanco Reserva Limitada.”

Yet even as helpings were poured into our waiting glasses, I must confess that I was at that point more taken by the luxurious design of the bottle than by the promise of its contents. This was tequila, after all, and I had never been won over by any of the stuff I had previously tried.

For years I’d hoped to encounter tequila in its highest form, the connoisseur’s tequila, the kind I’d heard that Mexican hacienderos bragged about as their birthright, which they sipped from brandy snifters while leisurely enjoying themselves on their lavish plantation estates. Alas, this fabled drink had never presented itself and ages of waiting had left me feeling apathetic, even skeptical. Who could blame me? Our country may be a notable market in Asia for the Mexican product, but we remain a dumping ground for the ubiquitous Cuervo Gold and a host of other wannabes, all equally mediocre and all perpetuating the use of tequila as a brain-retardant for college kids and stressed-out office workers, whose battle cry of “Lick, shoot and suck!” defines the limitation of their palates. Even the arrival in recent times of the much-hyped luxury brand Patrón, currently the status symbol tequila of American popular culture, proved to be a severely offensive disappointment (having once tried the top-of-the-line oak-aged Patrón variant, I cannot help but wonder if wood varnish would make for a more suitable after dinner drink).

I’d almost given up… almost. I’m grateful that our amigos at the shop possess educated tastes and have the generosity to match. Don Alvaro Tequila changed everything, finally.

It started with one whiff. Expecting to be jarred by a harsh, raw smell, which is what I have learned to expect from the common stuff, I was instead gently roused by the fresh, floral fragrance of sampaguita, which was beautifully melded with the ripeness of guava fruit. But the best pleasure was in the sipping. Smooth in the way that I find Irish whiskey smooth, this had the effect of heightening the soft yet fanciful flavors inherent in this drink, which at times created suggestions of peaches and cream while at other times hinted of citrus and vanilla.

Prompted by my first delicious tequila experience, I went online to find out more. It turns out that Don Alvaro is one of a number of super-premium brands that are slowly redefining the global image of Mexico’s national spirit. With prices upwards of $50 a bottle, these tequilas are meant for discriminating devotees who accord their drink the kind of respect that rivals the way single malt aficionados appreciate their whisky.

Some questions lingered, though.

Tequila (it gets its name from the town of Tequila in Jalisco state, the town and its surrounding areas being the exclusive place from which tequila can be produced) is distilled from the fermented juice of the blue agave plant. I’ve long known that tequila is traditionally made in three types: blanco (white), reposado (rested) and añejo (aged). Tequila blanco or “white tequila” is simply the pure spirit that emerges from the distillation process, which is why it appears clear and uncolored. If this tequila is allowed a short “repose” in oak barrels, where it can relax and soften for a few months, then it is called resposado. Allow it to fully age in those barrels, where it can sleep for one to three years or even more, and then it becomes añejo. The longer it ages, the mellower and more complex it becomes as the wood not only absorbs the harshness of the raw spirit but slowly imparts its own flavor characteristics. Hence the color indicates how much time the tequila has spent in oak; a few months typically give reposado a faint yellow hue, whereas a couple of years will allow añejo to attain a deep gold or even amber appearance.

Yet I recall Pat mentioning that the Don Alvaro Blanco he brought us possessed a unique taste because, he said, it was made with oak. That statement puzzled me. Tequila blanco by definition isn’t aged, so where does the oak influence come from? Only after further research was I able to verify that tequila may be stored in oak barrels and still be classified as blanco, but only if storage does not exceed two months.

Right now I’m more interested in answering the question about whether the pricier Don Alvaro Añejo is the better version. It was implied that Pat didn’t bring this with him because he and his brother are purists when it comes to tequila. “You don’t get as much of the original tequila taste if it’s been aged in oak,” Bochok sort of said as far as I can remember, “because the wood can overwhelm the natural agave flavor.” Though I didn’t have the experience to disagree with him, I tend to qualify his statement as a personal preference rather than as a truth embraced by most tequila connoisseurs.

We shall see. It’s all the more joyous reason to search for the añejo version and make my own judgment. And this time I hope to stumble upon it sooner rather than later.

 

 

[Revised 13 September 2008]

[Re-edited 28 May 2012]

 

 

We Got Beer June 30, 2008

Posted by Alex Sawit in Food & Drink, Reviews.
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By Alex Sawit

30 June 2008

 

It finally happened. We got beer.

Specifically, we got Kaiser Beer. Made by the family-owned Kaiser Brewery in Bavaria, this beer is produced purely from local ingredients according to traditional methods that the family stubbornly refuses to relinquish (I’m told that everything that goes into Kaiser Beer is sourced within an 80 km radius from the brewery in keeping with the family’s commitment to making an authentic-tasting Bavarian beer, even though it is sometimes cheaper to import similar ingredients from neighboring states).

To be honest, we’d previously experimented with ale and stout at the wine shop, so technically we’ve served beer before. But this is the first time we’ve received a “non-experimental delivery” of beer at the establishment, meaning that this is a product that Cyrano is committed to serving and keeping in quantity from now on.

Why the change of heart? I’ll give you two reasons. In spite of my well-established reluctance to serve pedestrian alcohol at Cyrano – we are a wine shop, after all, and we have no interest in competing with the rowdy establishments up the street by serving the same cheap intoxicants made from sugar, rice and a little malted barley – I’d always been open to suggestions that we try serving high quality specialty beers. And (here’s the second reason) when it comes to specialty beers, I’ve always been fond of that wonderfully fruity beverage that the Germans call weizen bier.

Wheat beer is one of the least known beer styles now available on retail shelves in the Philippines. Yet it is the ideal beer to serve in out hot, tropical climate, owing to the fact that wheat-based beers are typically lighter and more thirst quenching than the heavier barley-based beers.  As a matter of preference, I like a good wheat beer that’s full gold in color with a cloudy but appetizing appearance.  I want it to feel light but not thin, typically offering a fresh banana flavor to start and finishing with something comparable to a Bellini peach fizz at the end. True enough, that’s what I discovered in Kaiser.

Unfortunately, in the past whenever I wanted a big cold glass of the stuff, I had to drag myself all the way to Grappa’s, which operates a franchise of the Czech microbrewer Pivo Praha and which offers customers fresh brew from the tap.  Then I discovered Oettinger “Wheat Beer” at the supermarket and thought that was okay.  But it wasn’t until our faithful Cyrano friend known as “X” showed up with a tall can of Kaiser that I finally knew we had to serve this stuff.  It is simply superior to anything else locally available, be it fresh from the tap or out of a can (for those of you who are uncomfortable with beer in an aluminum can, worry not because Kaiser uses steel cans that are not supposed to adversely affect the taste).

So fine, I finally caved in to your demands.  Whoopee.  Marvy.  Wow-dow.  Hubba-hubba.  Just don’t expect me to plan Oktoberfest for you too.

 

POSTSCRIPT: We currently serve Kaiser Beer in two variants: Kaiser Weiße (Bavarian wheat beer) and Kaiser Pils (German-style pilsener).  The two variants have an alcohol content of 5.2% and 4.7% per volume respectively.

 

 

Best Beers of Southeast Asia 2008 March 14, 2008

Posted by Alex Sawit in Food & Drink, Reviews.
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By Alex Sawit

14 March 2008

 

shapeimage_pour.jpg

 

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

When a brand name beer is also a national drink, it means that the locals have a strong emotional attachment to it. To the Irish, nothing could be more defiant than Guinness. For Filipinos, nothing unites us more than San Miguel Beer. “One of the world’s best beers,” was an old advertising slogan that went hand in hand with another boasting that this was “Asia’s best beer.” All Filipinos shared in this belief. It’s the beverage that bridges our class divisions. Rich or poor, Filipinos find more unity through our common experience of San Miguel than in all the efforts of our kleptocratic politicians put together. Through thick and thin, it was the taste that never wavered.

So why did the folks at San Miguel change it?

I repeat: San Miguel Pale Pilsen tastes different. It’s been this way for many months now. And it didn’t happen by accident.

When I first noticed it last year, I merely assumed that the beer I was drinking must have been from an inferior batch. It just didn’t taste that good, I commented to my friends at the table. “You can taste the difference?” asked one of them, a former colleague who has links to the brewing company and hence became concerned due to my unenthusiastic reaction (we used to work in the same team developing campaigns for the company’s beer brands). “They changed the formulation,” she felt compelled to confess. “San Miguel changed it.” After that night, I tried it several times more just to see if I would eventually come around and start liking the new taste. I never did.

Try it yourself (if you’re accustomed to drinking beer straight from the bottle, please use a tall glass instead or you won’t be able to taste it properly). The reformulated beer is a shortchanged version of the old one. It’s not as rich or as balanced; it’s thinner and less creamy, magnifying the beer’s less than pleasant metallic aftertaste. Granted, the brewery throughout its history has from time to time made tiny adjustments to the original recipe, but they never got it this badly before. Since San Miguel isn’t going to own up to it in public, I have to guess that the reformulated brew reflects a cutback in imported ingredients – they’re using less barley malt and making up the difference with a less expensive cereal like rice.

It’s sad. To a degree, this review is my way of calling out the penny-pinching pinheads at San Miguel who managed to break something that was already fixed. But this is also an opportunity for Cyrano friends to get to know some beers that you might otherwise neglect. Who knows? Maybe someday we might even try serving them at the wine shop – maybe if we run out of vino or if the espresso machine breaks down.

 

 

BEST BEERS OF SOUTHEAST ASIA 2008

Note: Only beers available for retail were considered for this review.

 

Best Pale Beer, Philippines – RED HORSE EXTRA STRONG BEER

Producer: San Miguel Brewery

Alcohol Content: 6.9% vol.

The country’s original “strong beer” has come a long way since its introduction in the 1980s. For most of its history, it was just a respectable beer – before they improved it, that is. The beer is now quite nice. It’s got more body, better consistency and a sharper malt taste.

 

Best Beer Overall, Philippines – CERVEZA NEGRA SAN MIGUEL

Producer: San Miguel Brewery

Alcohol Content: 5% vol.

This has to be the best beer in the Philippines today and it will stay unchallenged unless Pale Pilsen returns to par. Despite paltry annual sales, Cerveza Negra is one of the company’s most cherished brands, its place in the portfolio guaranteed for years to come (corporate managers who tried to kill the brand in the past were always put in their place by a “higher authority” in the company). I just wish they’d put the beer back in its old stumpy bottle because the current look is both pretentious and generic.

Batches tend to be inconsistent due to the low priority given to the production of Negra, although this is less of a problem now than in years past. The export version is labeled “San Miguel Dark Lager” but is inferior to the locally retailed product (this is generally true for export versions of the company’s beers).

 

Best Dark Beer, Southeast Asia – CERVEZA NEGRA SAN MIGUEL

British visitors who try Cerveza Negra San Miguel tend to compare it to Guinness, the world’s most famous bitter stout. It’s understandable, but it’s an “apples for oranges” comparison. Guinness is a top-fermented beer whose list of ingredients prominently includes roasted barley; the brew is intensely flavored and has a pronounced bitterness. Negra, on the other hand, is a lager; being bottom-fermented, its flavor characteristics follow a different approach even though the beer is made with roasted malt. Its taste is milder only when compared to bitter stout, otherwise it’s a rich beer as lagers go. Remember to serve it well-chilled; unlike bitter stout, a dark lager is much better suited to being served at colder temperatures.

 

Best Beer Overall, Southeast Asia – BEERLAO LAGER

Producer: Lao Brewing Company

Alcohol Content: 5% vol.

Although I question the Hong Kong website’s infatuation with promoting this product by telling us that Laos is “a laid-back place with a laid-back beer,” I won’t dispute the other boast that Beerlao is “Southeast Asia’s finest beer.” Not this year at least. And it’s not because Time Magazine in 2004 named it Asia’s best beer. It’s because Beerlao is somewhat closer to what San Miguel Beer used to be. Though not nearly as rich and full-bodied, the national beer of Laos is crisper and more refreshing. The claim that this is an authentic Laotian rice beer is misleading, however, since local rice is used in conjunction with barley malt (imported from Belgium and France) and hops (imported from Germany along with the yeast). Beerlao is as easy to come by in the Philippines as fresh snow, so ask friends headed for Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam to grab a can or two to bring back home for you (it’s now also available in Hong Kong).

 

beerlao_lager.jpg

 

 

POSTSCRIPT: Beer savvy readers may be wondering why more brands weren’t listed. “What about Singapore’s* Tiger Beer or Thailand’s Singha?” some might ask. I had intended to include some honorable mentions, but after careful consideration I decided against it. I just didn’t feel persuaded by the other beers available both here and in the rest of the region. But I would have done so if the Philippine brewing giant was still offering San Miguel Premium All Malt Beer, which disappeared from the domestic market more than a decade ago.

* Text corrected 27 April 2008. Original text mentioned this as “Malaysia’s Tiger Beer.”