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Journeys in red and white.

Sunday brunch at Spiral with its free-flowing Henriot champagne that accompanies one's epicurean journey through the 21 dining ateliers has been a staple for regulars. The "Dining with Dionysius: A Legacy of Wine" brunch I attended, however, delivered a gastronomic feast unlike any other, featuring 80 featured vintage from various wine regions around the world in an interactive experience that encouraged diners to experiment, taste, and indulge their curiosity. It was as if Dionysius, the god of the grape harvest, winemaking, and wine, of ritual madness and ecstasy, created the spread himself.

AMBROSIAL PAIRINGS

The extensive selection of wine arrayed on the tasting table was quite formidable. There were wines from New Zealand, Argentina, United States, Italy, Spain, different regions of Australia, and of course, from the different regions of France. My lackluster knowledge when it came to the finer nuances of wine-tasting seemed quite a handicap in the face of more Rieslings, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blancs, Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, Zinfandels, Syrahs, and RosAaAaAeA@s than I could physically tas in a couple of hours. Thankfully, the wonderful sommeliers were there to suggest ambrosial pairings that turned brunch into an insouciant affair for me.

My first stop was the Hot Japanese atelier where I got sukiyaki, tempura, and ebi furai with tartar sauce. While both tempura and the ebi furai are prepared by deep frying shrimp, they have a different consistency and flavor because of their ingredients. The 2013 Parducci Pinot Noir, a medium-bodied red from California with its aromas of juicy, ripe raspberries, and strawberries, paired excellently with this plate. Its rich and full berry flavors with a hint of cedar in the finish brought out the nuances in the dashi, mirin, and soy sauce of the flavorful sukiyaki broth that was sweet and salty at the same time.

I had the Allan Scott Pinot Gris 2014 from Marlborough, New Zealand next, paired with Peking Duck with leeks and hoisin sauce from the Peking Duck Oven. While Peking duck was already a favorite of mine, the softness and smoothness of the wine with hints of red apple and orange pith paired well with the tanginess of the hoisin and fattiness of the duck. Surprisingly, this wine works just as well with shrimp hakao and pork and vegetables dumplings dipped in chili sauce mixed with soy sauce and a touch of calamansi juice from the Steam Basket atelier. The lingering creaminess of the wine takes the edge off the hotness of the chili sauce giving the dish a rounded finish.

The French Stove atelier was my next adventure. The escargot looked particularly inviting with the snails already out of the shell, drenched in cream and herbs in warm blue ramekins. The Layer Cake Chardonnay 2012 from California was an excellent suggestion. An initial whiff brought about thoughts of Meyer lemons and Kaffir lime blossoms and, at first taste, flavors of lime, guava, and pineapple poured in. The fresh, crisp lemon notes of this wine with its buttery overtones complemented the dish well.

The Bread & Butter Pinot Noir 2013, a deep, rich, "sinister red" wine from Napa Valley, was quite a satisfactory pairing with ham with honey mustard sauce and other French pork dishes. While the wine has dominant flavors of ripe cherries and dark chocolate, the hints of raspberries, roasted nuts, and orange liquor made the pairing even more elegant and balanced. Also pairs well with salmon, pastas, duck, game, desserts, and cheeses.

While the Italians have sorbets as palate cleansers, water or a neutral tasting bread such as a baguette works best when tasting wine. Contrary to the recommendation, however, I decided to sample Spiral's signature olive bread, baked in-house and shaped like a boulAaAaAeA?. It is best pair with the Vina Pomal Crianza 2011 from Bodegas Bilbainas. This wine has won numerous prizes, including the Decanter World Wine Awards in 2011 (Silver) and the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles in 2008 (Silver).

I headed to the Chocolaterie next for chocolate truffles, chocolate cake, chocolate mousse tarts, and all other things chocolate, best paired with the Bodegas Emilio Moro 2011 from Castile and Leon, Spain. Bright violet in color, its intense blueberry and cherry compote flavors with a touch of spice cake as well as hints of vanilla and smoke blend well with chocolate. For other types of desserts such as cheesecakes, eclairs, and cream puffs, Sweet RosAaAaAeA@ wines and White Zinfandels fr California can enhance the sweet ending to your meal.

The Cheese Room (L'Epicerie) was my last stop. Climate controlled and accessible by automated sliding door, this atelier is the most striking one of all. One could feast from a wide variety of premium aged hams--including jamon Iberico, charcuterie, smoked fish, artisanal cheese from France, Spain, Italy, Germany, and Switzerland creamery products. Manchego, Tomme de Savoie, Gouda, Gruyere, Comte--you name it, it was there.

I learned from the sommelier that the various cheeses were best paired with different vintages. For the goat cheeses, the Clarendelle by Haut-Brion Blanc 2012/2013 was an excellent recommendation. This dry white wine representative of Bordeaux and rated Premier Cru ClassAaAaAeA@ (First Growt was very concentrated and vivacious on the palate with menthol nuances that maintained its freshness and contributed to a pleasant aftertaste along with the cheese. Grilled and sauced fish, seafood, and veal with sauce would also work well with this wine.

The blue du bocage (blue cheese) required a different pairing on its own. This aged cheese was like a white moist paste laced with a grayish-green blue, sweet and milky, spiked with a sharp saltiness. The Allan Scott Riesling 2014 from Marlborough, New Zealand, gold medalist in the Air New Zealand Wine Awards 2013, was a perfect partner to it. Made from only the moldiest, ugliest looking grapes, which hide what can only be described as liquid gold, the lemon and lime citrus, together with its underlying tropical notes, create a striking balance with blue cheese and the softer cheeses such as the Brie, Camembert, Maroilles, and Coulommiers.

The hard cheeses on my plate, however, such as Manchego and Pecorino Tuscano, paired wonderfully with the Allan Scott Base Pinot Noir 2013 from Central Otago, New Zealand. This deep red wine tasted of dark cherries and ripe plums, dried herbs with a hint of chocolate and spice. The layers of oak make for a strong luscious finish, which tames the intense flavors of aged hard cheeses.

CROWD FAVORITES

Tanguy Gras, Sofitel's assistant food and beverage manager, is the man largely responsible for the list of suggested pairings given to every guest who attended the event. Happy about the event's success, he says, "We really want our guests to discover wine for themselves. Every wine has a story with a world behind it. All wines are different, unique, and while the way it pairs is not an exact science, there are so many possibilities, which make it really interesting."

Crowd favorites during this event were the Clarendelle Haute-Brion Rouge 2009, which he recommended be paired with the blue cheese and a lot of desserts; the Chateau Roubine Cru Classe RosAaAaAeA@ 2014 from Proven because it pairs well with a lot of food, especially sashimi and tuna based dishes; and the Septima Gran Reserva 2012 from Malbec, Argentina, which goes well with bopis, BBQ, steaks, and sausages.

Every year, from Sept. 21 to Oct. 31, Sofitel hotels around the world join France in celebrating the traditional harvest of the grapes through its "Sofitel Wine Days." This event, however, is set apart from the rest as it featured the largest, most extensive selection of wines from various regions. While my curiosity piqued me to try more wines as the event was coming to a close, I comforted myself with the fact that there would always be next year to look forward to. In the meantime, as Dionysius, the god of wine and grape harvest, would urge, "Eat. Drink. Be Merry." With the rest of the Sofitel Wine Days still ahead of me, that won't be difficult to do.

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Title Annotation:Life & Leisure
Publication:Manila Bulletin
Article Type:Restaurant review
Geographic Code:8NEWZ
Date:Oct 18, 2015
Words:1337
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