Cecile G. Mauricio

49 posts

When wine is sweet

IS this wine dry? Yes ma’am, this wine is not sweet, I heard the server say. But I want a dry, sweet wine, the customer shot back. Overhearing the exchange made me realize how sometimes the word “dry” is still misunderstood. Just like sweet wine.

When you won’t have tea with dim sum

WHEN Kowloon House down the block from my house took down its sign, I felt a profound sense of regret. It was a neighborhood fixture where even nonresidents would stop by to have their mami and siopao by the take-out counter, or at one of the two tiny wrought iron tables under the tree that shaded them. It had also been the unlikely venue for the impromptu wine tasting sessions with my good friend Jolo when the hankering for siomai trumped whatever wine was up for tasting. But the wine somehow always came through and I’d walk away from those sessions thinking about what else will work with dim sum—and Chinese food.

When sparkling wine isn’t Champagne

IT had to be said again. “Not all sparkling wine can be called Champagne.” The repetition can get boring but it is still a helpful reminder, said one wine instructor I know. At one tutored tasting session, the lecturer put it another way. If you called your wine Champagne, but you didn’t make it in the Champagne region of France, you’ll end up in jail, she said. Misappropriation of the name can lead to a lawsuit, protected (fiercely) as it is by the Comité Interprofessionnelle du Vin de Champagne. And the CIVC always wins, she added.

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The reason for Riesling

FIRST, there is the bottle, long and tapered unlike the familiar wine bottle with shoulders. Then there is the low alcohol level with some examples hovering at 8 percent, giving the impression that the wine is wimpy and spineless. And then because the wines are virtually oak-free, they are deemed unfashionable, swimming against the tide of rich, buttery, toasty whites that have had time in new oak barrels. Though still bypassed in favor of the more familiar wines made from chardonnay or sauvignon blanc, Riesling is widely considered as the greatest of white-wine grapes. Here is why.

Tasting greatness

THE Unico 2005 gleamed ruby red in the glass. Fresh, vibrant, elegant—my notes read. This wine was the highlight of the Vega Sicilia tasting session that was held just this week, led by Antonio Menéndez, managing director of Tempos Vega Sicilia.

Saké rising

NAVIGATING the world of saké can be as fascinating as it can be overwhelming. The terminology alone, coupled with the language barrier can be intimidating. And then there are the labels that only one familiar with the Japanese writing system can decipher.

A bubbly Year of the Pig

THERE is no doubt. Lechon, the king of roasted pig cookery, will be big in the Year of the Pig. From the oven-roasted suckling pig cochinillo, so tender it can be sliced with a plate or a platito, to the spit-roasted heavyweights, the lure of the lechon is more than skin-deep. What wine to drink with all that porky goodness? With the crisp skin, something that crackles and pops as well, like sparkling wine. The juicy, fat-speckled white meat on its own can go with a lightly oaked white. The leftovers that will star in lechon paksiw will go with a rosé or a light-to-medium red. But if I were to choose just one wine, bubbly is on top of my list.

Time-out at Terry’s

SHOULD I have the usual or do I order something I haven’t tried before? I was at the Terry’s at the Podium, torn between having a quick bite or taking a leisurely lunch. “Quick” would mean my favorite Cinco Jotas Béchamel Croquettes and the MESS sandwich afterward. An unhurried lunch would mean I can browse among the wine shelves while waiting for my Dinuguan Risotto (preparation time: 25 minutes) and then have the Tarta Rusa Imperial for dessert afterward.

Moonlight and Penfolds

Red was the expected dominant color at the launch of the Penfolds Collection 2018 just this October 25 in Bangkok. The 2014 Grange was, after all, the acknowledged star of the night, leading the charge of the collection’s seven varietals, spread over five vintages and 15 regions across Australia. But the whites made a dramatic entrance, the front act of the gala event that was unfolding that evening. The Bin 51 Eden Valley Riesling 2018 was poured from limited-edition magnums, specially made for the collection’s launch in key cities across the globe. Vibrant, poised—it was difficult to tear myself away from the Bin 51 and the equally gorgeous Bin 311 Chardonnay 2017, the latter a study in balance and restraint, like a ballerina en pointe. It is true: “Elegance is the art of not astounding.”

How to enjoy Champagne

THE evening was off to a good start. There was gin and tonic with the salad—shredded lettuce, diced shrimps and singkamas with a creamy, lemon grass-tinged dressing, spooned onto freshly popped shrimp crackers. And then we had everything with Champagne. Duck pancakes—shredded itik duck meat and wisps of carrot, bound together with a sweet-tart sauce and tucked into fresh tortilla pockets. Fillet of tilapia cooked in coconut milk on a bed of malunggay leaves. Lechon kawali with liver sauce. Nicolas Delion, Champagne Taittinger export director, was grinning broadly. It was his first encounter with Filipino cuisine at Sentro 1771. He liked everything, he said, and the deep-fried pork belly (lechon kawali) was the best—with the Taittinger Nocturne Sec.

In high spirits

THERE was brandy waiting from a smartly dressed server when the elevator doors slid open. But I passed off on the proffered drink and requested for water instead. I had to catch my breath (after the torturous ride through the Friday afternoon traffic) and take in the elegance of the sprawling room and the magnificent view from beyond the glass walls. This was after all The Manila Hotel’s Presidential Suite which has been the favored setting for many momentous events.  Like this one unfolding just when the sky was ablaze with the colors of the glorious Manila Bay sunset.

When Don Melchor came to town

One of the most renowned names in the wine industry may well be Don Melchor, Concha y Toro’s iconic Cabernet Sauvignon. In June the stately Don made a rare appearance in Manila, at the Discovery Primea with winemaker Isabel Mitarakis for the presentation of its current vintage, the 2015. But there was more. Mitarakis would also lead the tasting of Don Melchor’s 1998 and 2008 vintages to constitute what would be like a mini master class. And as befiting an honored guest, a wine dinner would cap the evening, hosted by Jun Cochanco, president of Fly Ace Corp., whose company has been in partnership with Concha y Toro for more than 12 years for the importation and distribution of its wines in the Philippines.

When it rains, it pours

HALF an hour had gone by and still no luck with a taxi or a Grab. It didn’t help that it was raining hard and cars were piling up in the ensuing traffic. There was no way I was going to make it in time for a scheduled 6:30 pm tasting session.  I decided to wait it out until I got my ride in the restaurant just down the street. And that was when serendipity struck.

A California master class

IT was the wine class that began with coffee and a generous buffet of sweet and savory bites. Replace that coffee with wine, I thought, and it would be a cocktail party. But it was 9 in the morning and breakfast was the first order of the day to start off the 2018 Californian Wine Academy. And rightly so, because breakfast would ensure that stomachs would be primed for the wine tastings that are integral to the class.

The Odfjell Challenge

THE wines will still be drinkable after seven days. If not, I’ll replace your bottles. You don’t have to use a wine saver…the cork will do.” Laurence Odfjell had just proposed a most interesting experiment with his wines. We were to choose two bottles each to take home and drink over seven days. Of course, the opened bottles would have to be stored in the wine chiller or refrigerator. But still, I thought seven days was stretching it. I chose the Armador Carmenère and the Orzada Carmenère, both 2016; the former aged in oak, the latter in stainless steel. Five days was all I was giving the wines. But that’s getting ahead of the story—which began at lunch.

Limari is cool

IT was the wine session that almost never happened. Had it not been for the serendipitous alignment of schedules, timing and the traffic situation, the opportunity would have been lost to meet a winemaker and taste examples of wines from what is touted to be Chile’s most exciting and innovative wine region. And so, with the late afternoon sun portending a warm, rainless evening, my encounter with the wines of Viña Maycas del Limari that day in November last year went off to a good start.

The scent of truffles

THERE was a pause, like a faint tremor of silence, with the first spoonful of poached egg. Talk was suspended in midair to give the dish due attention. But then this is what happens when egg, simply cooked with cream and parmigiano-reggiano, is crowned with shavings of trifola d’Alba.

Patience rewarded: The Penfolds Re-corking Clinic experience

I LOOKED on as Peter Gago, Penfolds chief winemaker, signed my copy of the seventh, and latest, edition of The Rewards of Patience. I was thrilled. This is Penfolds’s groundbreaking book that’s as much a vintage-by-vintage guide to the cellaring and enjoyment of Penfolds wines as it is a chronicle of the continuing Penfolds story. Gago had been waylaid into the impromptu book signing and photo session just as he was leaving lunch—and the roomful of writers and editors who were still enjoying the 2013 Penfolds Grange with the cheeseboard selection.


THE last couple of weeks saw wine industry professionals visiting Manila to do business with importers and meet consumers via tasting sessions over lunch or dinner. More than occasions to taste new wines, these were rare opportunities to learn from those directly connected to the wine—and winemaking.

Stairway to heaven

THE roomful of people was rapt at attention when I walked in. I had come late for the presentation of the wines of Scala Dei and the tutored winetasting that came with it. We’re already into the second wine, whispered Isay Miranda, Chateau and Estates Wine manager for Premier Wine and Spirits, as she handed me a glass of the Scala Dei Garnatxa 2015—the first wine. Fresh, juicy, 100-percent Garnacha—I scribbled in my notebook. And then I caught the words “slate and clay soils” from the winemaker, as he talked about

Smooth sailing

IT must have been quite a sight even in 16th century Bordeaux. Ships lowered their sails as they cruised past the grand château by the Gironde, a sign of deep respect for its owners, the Dukes of Eperon. That was how Château Beychevelle got its name—from “basse voile”, the French dialect of the times that meant “to lower the sails”. That maritime reference was also the inspiration for the sailing ship that adorns the château’s bottle labels.


The Trivento Eolo 2013 made its appearance without fanfare—with the dinner ending, as dessert was served. “Valrhona Chocolate Tart” seemed like a lame name for the gorgeous confection that arrived at the table: salted dulce leche ice cream nestling inside a chocolate shell dusted with toasted coconut and puffed rice. Dessert was threatening to upstage the wine. But that’s getting ahead of the story.

The colors of Wolf Blass

IT was a heady, wine-filled three days. Wolf Blass Wines came to town with the Treasury Wine Estates top brass in attendance, for a series of wine activities that included a wine dinner, a master class and a tasting session of the flagship Wolf Blass wines. I missed the master class and its highlight—a wine-blending exercise/contest that had the best blend (and blender) up for a WSET scholarship, courtesy of the Wolf Blass Academy. But I made it to the wine dinner at the Hotel Sofitel’s La Veranda and the wine socials a day after at the Makati Shangri-La’s Sage Bespoke Bar and Grill.  On both occasions, I had the rare opportunity to engage in wine talk with Stuart Rusted, Wolf Blass Ambassador, and Yodissen Mootoosamy, Treasury Wine Estates regional business manager-South Asia, Indochina, Philippines, Indonesia and the Pacific.

Beau Lieu

cecille g. mauricioTHE Chardonnay was a departure from the buttery, toasty, richly oaked style that says “California”. But that’s because of minimal oak treatment, explained Jeffrey Stambor, director of winemaking at Beaulieu Vineyard. The Beaulieu Vineyard Chardonnay 2015 had that barely-there toastiness under apple-citrus notes, and a lovely poached pear finish. Restraint—the word came to mind and would come up again during the evening.

Truly Friuli

Cecile G. MauricioTastes like cherry soda. Are you sure it’s the same wine? I was flabbergasted. My dear friend, an avid contributor to Vivino, had just panned the wine I thought was absolutely gorgeous.  The next time we met up for dinner, it was her turn to be completely floored. Are you sure this is the same wine?

Pirramimma rocks

THERE were 14 wines up for tasting, paired with whatever one would like from the splendid buffet spread. Choose the wine, decide what to eat with it, and then sit down at your designated place at the elegantly set dinner table. Want to know more about the wine? Go back to the wine station, and ask the winemaker himself. Brilliant.

When only red will do

THE crab cakes were forgotten for the moment. It would have been a sin to keep the wine waiting, gleaming a pale, golden yellow in the glass. Melon, pineapple and jasmine notes. The initial sip brought a rush of zesty freshness. Doesn’t it remind you of a Pinot Grigio? Or a Chenin Blanc, I thought. The Joseph Phelps Sauvignon Blanc Saint Helena 2014 (100-percent estate-grown Sauvignon Blanc) did not fit the mold of the grape’s green, grassy profile. There was more tropical fruit than greenness, riding on the bright zestiness that is so Sauvignon Blanc. The Chardonnay Freestone Vineyards 2014 (100-percent estate-grown Chardonnay) was poured next, just as the thick mushroom soup was served.  Buttered toast, lemon curd and tart green apple with the same racy acidity of the Sauvignon Banc. Red was the color of the evening, but the gorgeous Joseph Phelps whites were holding their own.

Starry, starry night

cecille g. mauricioTHE delicate nuggets of fish seemed to float on a whiskey-colored sea. Crisp-tender on silky smooth. I mopped up the last of the heavenly broth with bits of bread so that not a drop escaped. Stupendous. And that was just the first course. I sensed a collective “wow!” from the guests gathered in the dining room. It was going to be one interesting, delicious evening.

Rice and shine

cecille g. mauricioWHEN do you drink saké cold, warm or hot? Daniel Blais, head sommelier and beverage director at Solaire Resorts and Casino, posed the question to the assembly of guests at Yakumi, Solaire’s exquisite Japanese restaurant. That depends on the saké style, but go ahead and discover your preference. Even with ice cubes or with a slice of lemon, he added. That set the tone for the evening’s enjoyment of saké—light-hearted and with an open mind.

Y is for ‘Yalumba’

cecille g. mauricioIt was just what I needed after the long, tortuous ride through rush-hour traffic. Bracing. Vibrant. And absolutely refreshing. There was the temptation to down the contents of the glass in one swift swig, but prudence prevailed.  The lightness of sparkling wine is deceptive. Too much, too fast can spell disaster. A proffered platter of dainty Scotch eggs provided relief. (And eggs go so well with bubbly too!) More wine, ma’am? The refill was as pleasurable as it was necessary.

Ingenious, indigenous

Cecile G. MauricioIF Rotgipfler is already a tongue-twister, try Spaetrot or Gemischter Satz. And that is the irony with the wines of Austria—sometimes difficult to pronounce, but oh so easy to drink. That was just one of the discoveries at the wine presentation organized last November by the Austrian Embassy through Advantage Austria Manila.

Dinner with a Marqués

Cecile G. MauricioTHE hushed, almost reverential quiet that pervaded the room was punctuated now and then by the clinking of wine glasses or a flourish on the keyboard from the pianist on the baby grand. Each arriving guest was greeted with a flute of…rosé Champagne? It was, after all, the Manila Hotel’s famous Champagne Room, newly refurbished and as beautiful as ever.

Dinner with a Marqués

THE hushed, almost reverential quiet that pervaded the room was punctuated now and then by the clinking of wine glasses or a flourish on the keyboard from the pianist on the baby grand. Each arriving guest was greeted with a flute of…rosé Champagne? It was, after all, the Manila Hotel’s famous Champagne Room, newly refurbished and as beautiful as ever.

Rippon rocks

Cecile G. Mauricio‘I’LL hold it up to the light so you can catch the glint.” The man then turned what looked a big pebble this way and that so I could take a better photo. This is a piece of home, he had said earlier, when he fished it from his backpack to show everybody who had gathered around the table.

Trulli yours

Cecile G. MauricioFROM where I sat at the bar, the drama in the kitchen was there for everybody to watch. It was extra busy that evening when a team from the Disciples of Escoffier Philippines took over the kitchen duties at the boutique Massimo Trulli Fashion, Food & Wine. Two young chefs, Louise and Victor, were doing the cooking for the wine dinner under the eagle eye of Chef Philip Golding, president of Disciples of Escoffier Philippines. In the case of Louise Mabulo, this year’s Philippine representative to the Disciples of Escoffier Young Talent Trophy Competition, it was an occasion to practice for the upcoming event this September in Hong Kong. For Victor, the boutique’s resident chef, it was a great opportunity to work alongside a veteran chef.

When Cabernet meets chocolate

Cecile G. MauricioTHE 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.

Where meat meets Malbec

AT La Cabrera Grillado and Bar, you’re chicken if you don’t try the chinchulines (grilled beef intestine), mollejas grilladas (grilled veal sweetbreads) or even the morcilla criolla (blood sausage pudding). There is chicken (grilled or barbecued), and there’s pork steak too, but these are in the periphery of a beef-centric menu. The restaurant is, after all, a typical Argentine parilla, a steakhouse, where the pleasures of the traditional Argentine asado (barbecue) is the inspiration and the raison d’être.

What’s in a name?

Cecile G. Mauricio‘Chante-Alouette.” “Monier de la Sizeranne.”  “l’Esquerda.” “Belleruche.” “Occultum Lapidem.” These are just some of the beautiful, thrilling wines from Maison M. Chapoutier, one of the biggest names in the wine world today. There is a story behind each name, explained Nicolas Schoutteten, export director for M. Chapoutier. It was a gloriously sunny day. It was lunchtime. And Mr. Schoutteten just said we/I could taste any wine in the room. I counted 17 bottles. Oh, goody!

In high spirits

Cecile G. MauricioWhisky or whiskey? It’s “whiskey,” if it is produced in the country spelled with an “e” in it. So it’s “whiskey” from Ireland and America and “whisky” from Scotland, Japan and Canada. The spelling tip began the Whisky 101 session with Matthew Fergusson-Stewart, whisky educator and Southeast Asia brand ambassador for William Grant & Sons, the maker of the single malt Scotch, Glenfiddich. That set the tone for how Fergusson-Stewart would conduct the class—casually and peppered with humor.

Testing the waters

ARE the bubbles aggressive, super fine or in between? This one has a delicate mousse. The bubbles of that one are fading fast. One would think we were tasting sparkling wine, not water. But water was the subject of the evening, a departure from the dégustations des vins that Kitt Schroeder would regularly hold at Lemuria, her beautiful little restaurant nestled in a corner of her sprawling garden.

Cacao calling

Cecile G. MauricioWHEN Chef Gene Gonzalez did his first chocolate-inspired dinner at his Café Ysabel in the early 1990s, the review was short on praise. This only egged him to do more experimentations, until he debuted an all-chocolate menu for his confreres at the International Food and Wine Society Philippines Branch in 1996 at their monthly gathering. Since then, his chocolate dinner has become an (almost) annual tradition at Café Ysabel—the invitations coveted, the reviews no longer mixed but unanimously approving.

Italy, when it sparkles

Cecile G. MauricioOVER the holidays, there must have been plenty of sparkling wine bubbling away in glasses raised to good health and good fortune. Champagne. Cava. Prosecco. Perhaps Franciacorta, too.

The time for truffles

Cecile G. MauricioDOGS, of course…we don’t use pigs!” Fiorenzo Dogliani was emphatic in saying that pigs are passé when it comes to truffle-hunting. It was the lull before dinner time and over flutes of the bracing Prosecco Superiore Conegliano Valdobbiadene Sette Cascine, he was in his element, discussing the merits of both the wine and Tuber magnatum, Alba’s famous white truffle. He was back in Manila to reprise the dinner he had orchestrated three years ago with his friend Werner Berger, bon vivant and CEO of Werdenberg Corp., the company that distributes his wines. Wine is Dogliani’s calling, but come truffle time, the call of the tartufi bianchi is even stronger.

When wine is unusual

Cecile G. MauricioWHEN Ralph Hochar visited Manila last year, he stayed 24 hours. How long was he going to be in town this time? 25 hours?  Hochar did stay longer (four days), enough to host a media lunch, conduct a wine orientation afterward for the staff of M Restaurant, and then lead the wine-tasting at a dinner for wine enthusiasts. He travels to Asia three or four times a year from his home base in the United Kingdom to promote the wines of Château Musar, the Lebanese winery that his grandfather founded in 1930.

Cutting-edge Chile

Cecile G. MauricioAT a recent wine tasting, the gentleman who took to the floor to talk about the wines was an architect, not a winemaker. Just pronounce “Odfjell” without the “j,” Laurence Odjfell must have explained countless times. The family name is Norwegian, linked with a shipping business based in Rotterdam, the largest freight terminal in the world. Odfjell is also the name of the winery founded in Chile almost 25 years ago by Dan Odjfell, Laurence’s father. What had started out as an orchard, bought by the senior Odjfell in the 1980s, is now one of Chile’s most forward-thinking wineries.