THE Prince Albert Rôtisserie sits at the quietest corner of the Hotel InterContinental Manila. There is a sedate, stately feel to this restaurant, aided along by the vintage prints on the walls, the deep carpeting and heavy drapery, and the equally heavy furniture. Here, service is formal, the domed silver plate cover de rigueur when the main course is brought to the table. The open kitchen, set in the center of the restaurant is as much an a attraction as performance area, the chef visibly orchestrating the making of every dish.
Old World wines from venerable vintages are very much at home here, mirroring the classic offerings on the menu. So it was with great anticipation that I accepted the invitation to the Concha y Toro dinner, featuring the Casillero del Diablo label and Chef Jean-Marc Veron’s French-inspired menu. And then came the request from Isay Miranda, senior wine supervisor at Fly Ace Corp., exclusive distributor of Concha y Toro in the Philippines. Can I do the pairing?
Absolutely. I like the challenge and I had always liked the Casillero del Diablo wines. The premium Marques de Casa Concha wines, the Trio range or the iconic Don Melchor are always top choices for wine dinners. This time, an everyday-drinking wine will have its moment to shine in a pairing menu.
In the hierarchy of the Concha y Toro range, Casillero del Diablo occupies that soft spot between entry level and mid-tier. With an annual production of almost 42 million bottles a year, the label is present in over 135 countries, making it one of the best value brands in the world. In 2005, Marcelo Papa, Casillero del Diablo winemaker since 1998, was named “Winemaker of the Year” by the Chilean Wine Guide, citing his ability to craft wines of exceptional quality and produced in big volume.
The range covers 13 variants, the most extensive of a single label in the value category. In the Philippines nine are available: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère, Shiraz and a vintage-dated Brut Reserva.
The menu was deceptively simple—tuna, beef tenderloin, soup and a chocolate dessert. But Chef Jean-Marc Veron’s flourishes marked the difference. There was fresh mango and capsicum with the tuna marinated in soy sauce. Crisp walnut bread contrasted with the subtle creaminess of the fennel and cauliflower soup. With the oven-roasted beef tenderloin he went full-throttle, teaming it with a tian of crab and bacon and basil-accented potato quenelle.
It was clear that the wines would have to stand up to the menu’s complex flavors, not going head-to-head, but coaxing flavors to shine through without the wine fading in the background.
Heavy wine with heavy food. Light wine before heavy wine. Wine for dessert should be sweeter than the dessert. There are many more pairing guidelines, but the success of a food and wine match also involves other factors. Texture, method of cooking, temperature, context. (Sometimes the analysis can bring on paralysis.)
The Brut Reserva, a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, went solo as the welcome drink and palate primer. With the tuna tataki, it was the Viognier, matching the heft of tuna and the juicy ripeness of fresh mango. The Sauvignon Blanc 2013 rode on the creamy green-ness of the fennel and cauliflower soup.
The Carmenère united the robust flavors of oven-roasted beef and its complementary side dishes. But it was the pairing of the Cabernet Sauvignon and the chocolate dessert that drew the most curiosity. The partnership of red wine and chocolate is as risky as it is tumultuous, often ending in disaster.
What the Cabernet Sauvignon had going for it was its vibrant fruitiness and the warm espresso notes. This juicy, fruity profile with just the right touch of oak is shared by the wines in the Casillero range, making them widely likable—and flexible on the dining table.
There was a palpable pause in the rhythm of dinner when dessert and the wine were served. Were the guests rejecting the match? I felt someone tap my arm. It was one of the guests (a chef) seated one person away from me. He had this great big smile and said, “It works.” Cabernet and chocolate can be great together.