By Dom Galeon
Images by Noel Pabalate
You can’t go wrong with an evening of fine dining and wines. A couple of weeks ago, I had a chance to be invited to one such evening at the Peninsula Manila’s Old Manila. And with wines as superb as those by Chilean winemaker MontGras, the evening was something to die for.
Initially, expecting a more intimate affair, I thought the wine-pairing dinner was going to be inside Old Manila’s private function room. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that the entire Old Manila had been reserved for the event. After all, a wine is only as good as the company you drink it with.
It’s a sentiment MontGras area sales manager for Asia Pacific Guillaume Leclercq shares. “You can have a really good wine but very bad company, and the wine will be bad. You can have a really good company but an average wine, and you might still enjoy,” he told me during a short tête-à-tête before the start of the dinner. Of course, that evening, we had the best of both worlds—excellent company and fantastic wines.
MontGras started making wines in 1993, after brother Hernán and Eduardo Gras partnered with Cristián Hartwig to put up a winery. Now, they produce three wines coming from the three main wine regions in Chile, all along the Andes mountain range, with wineries in the valleys of Maipo, Colchagua, Leyda, and Itata. This diversity of wineries—or of terroir, that French word that denotes everything the comes from land, which in the case of wines is apparent in the different tastes of grapes depending on where they are grown—is reflected in the rich flavors and textures of MontGras’ wines.
“Tonight we’re going to try our top wines, moving from one region to another. MontGras produces wines in Leyda Valle, where we do our Amaral Sauvignon Blanc, perfect for the cool climate there,” Guillaume explained, while both of us sipped our Amarals. “We also have a Chardonnay from Itata, which is something new from us, from south of Chile. Then we’re going to try our two limited syrah, the Intriga Cabernet Sauvignon from Maipo—ultra premium!—and our Ninquen, from the first mountain vineyard in Chile, some 500 meters in attitude. And then we’re going to finish with a surprise wine,” he teased.
This diversity of wineries is reflected in the rich flavors and textures of MontGras’ wines.
As soon as most of the guests were already there, the dinner started. We had a four-course dinner prepared by Old Manila’s chef de cuisine Allan Briones, and each of the courses were paired with a glass or two of MontGras.
For the first course, Salmon Mille-Feuille made with crepe, egg, pistachio, keta caviar, and dill, we had more of the MontGras Amaral Sauvignon Blanc. It was delightful, as the fruitiness of the wine mixed well with the strong, salty flavor of the salmon. Next came the Charred Octopus, with smoked peas, chorizo, and white bean ragout, served in chili oil. This one matched perfectly with the MontGras Antu Chardonnay, which had a stronger and fuller body than the Amaral, an exquisite match for the burnt, smoky octopus.
After the whites came the reds, which were served with Chef Allan’s Duo of Braised Short Ribs and Lambchops, with sweet potato, banana heart, king oyster, cashew, haricot vert, and sassafras jus. It was a bit tricky for me, at first, as the course had two red meats. And I had to try and see which meat, the beef or the lamb, worked well with the MontGras Intriga Cabernet Sauvignon and the MontGras Antu Limited Syrah—both offered full-bodied tastes and darker fruit flavors. After a couple of bites and a sip or two from each reds, it seemed that the Intriga’s fuller flavor paired best with the short ribs, and the Antu mixed better with the lambchops.
Next came our dessert, which was a plate of imported cheese, served with dried fruits, onion jam, gherkins, olive, and mustard. They gave us a glass of MontGras Ninquen, a Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah from Colchagua Valley, which Guillaume said was the first mountain vineyard in Chile. All I can say about it is that it matched every single one of the cheeses, a bite for a sip, or a sip for a bite, whichever works for you.
Usually, after a hearty meal, I would ask for coffee or tea, depending on how late into the night I was. But not this time. Guillaume approached my table and, like someone with a very big secret, gestured and whispered for me to come to him. So I stood up and he showed me the surprise wine for the night, a bottle of MontGras Intriga Maxima. It was red, like its CabSauv cousin, but it had a stronger and fuller flavor. All in all, it was a satisfying mix to add to the night’s already rather satisfied guests, if the loud laughter and non-stop conversations from every table was any indication.
I couldn’t resist but ask Guillaume, who was French, what the difference was between how they make wines in France and in Chile. He said that there isn’t much, really. “The only difference for me, and I’ve spoken to many winemakers, and they told me that nature does 90 percent of the job,” he explains. This is the reason why MontGras puts a premium on the terroir of their wineries—plus they employ some of the world’s most talented winemakers—and that does the trick.
Now, if you’re interested to join similar wine-pairing dinners, you don’t have to worry. It’s not a once-in-a-lifetime event. In fact, the Philippine Wine Merchants, the distributors of MontGras in the country, organizes these wine-pairing dinners and wine-tasting events every so often.
“We do wine dinners in partnership with our clients to promote the brand to customers and our hotel clients, to help promote the restaurants of our clients, and to allow people to discover how simple and enjoyable wine and food pairing is,” said Renzo Joseph, on-trade sales manager from Philippine Wine Merchants. “When it comes to wine tastings, we focus more on helping people enjoy and learn the fundamentals of wine without overcomplicating it.”
They have a big one coming up, The Grand Wine Experience this Nov. 16 at the Grand Ballroom of the Marriott Hotel at Newport City, which they organize in partnership with Marriott Hotels, Resorts World Manila, and the Department of Tourism.