Helmed by the Australian team Ainslie Kenny and David Elliott, Merchants Wine Cellar is a wine bar and wine store on Duxton Road that exclusively carries wines from Australia and New Zealand in its portfolio, focusing on talented, small, top-class wine producers. While I was in Singapore in October 2014, Merchants organized a winemaker dinner with Frank Butera, owner of and winemaker at Bass River Winery in Australia, which I was happy to attend. Exchange rate at the time of my visit: S$1 = US$0.8.
Wine in Singapore
Singapore - known as The Little Red Dot - covers just 700 square km and has a population of a bit more than 5 million people. It is a very expensive city (and became the most expensive city in 2014 according to the Economist) and also a popular tourist destination; on average every day, there are 36,000 additional people on the island.
The restaurant, bar and club scene is amazing, ranging from inexpensive hawker centers to premium restaurants serving both eastern and western cuisine.
Axel Ritenis: I have been constantly amazed at the explosion of gastronomy and culinary delights that has occured here ...in this latest developmental wave,.. and I amazed by the sheer diversity and quality of food available! If this is not the food capital of the world,.. I don't know what is? The latest wave has seen the arrival of the French and Italians,... with many newly opened wine bars and restaurants manned by enthusiastic young chefs and sommeliers,.. and other wine and food professionals,.. intent on carving out a business niche for themselves,.. and succeeding in a dynamic Singaporean economy as opposed to the stagnant European market that many have escaped. And wine culture is exploding as well, needless to say there are many new Wine Bars and Stores specializing in Fine Wine in spite of the exorbitant import taxes and duties.
Traditionally, Singapore’s wine market has been dominated by French wine. The selection of Bordeaux and Bourgogne wines, including older vintages, in the large number of wine bars and restaurants in Singapore is amazing. Today, the interest is shifting to other red wine regions. “But more importantly white wines are increasingly popular and after the Sauvignon Blanc boom, finally fine Rieslings or Grüner Veltliners are offered by the glass in some of the top restaurants” says Michael Thurner, who founded Austria’s Fine Brands in Singapore.
According to the International Enterprise Singapore, a government agency, six countries account for more than 80% of import volume into Singapore. Australia and France are at the top with 31% and 26% of volume share, respectively, followed by Chile (9%), Italy (7%), US (6%) and New Zealand (6%). Spain, South Africa, Argentina and Germany each have approximately 3%.
Who’s buying? With US 55.000, Singapore has a higher per capita income than Germany and the US, for example.
On the supply side, the number of importers has mushroomed in recent years. Berry Brothers and Rudd moved into Asia in 1998, establishing offices in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Japan, is now also present in Singapore. Berry Brothers and Rudd predicts that its Asia businesses will account for half its global sales in five years’ time, up from 15% currently.
“People have always looked at Singapore as a small market rather overshadowed by China, Hong Kong and Japan. But people are realising that it's not just an interesting market by itself, it’s a hub for Southeast Asia too,” said Simon Berry, chairman of Berry Bros.
Merchants: Merchants is a boutique wine cooperative of almost 40 independent winemakers from 26 regions in Australia and New Zealand. We have set up ‘Cellar Door’ stores for the winemakers to visit Singapore and pour their wines for tasting, and share their knowledge, experiences and stories with the wine lovers of Singapore in a relaxed and friendly setting. We offer brunch/lunch/dinner at Duxton and we welcome BYO Food at Pasarbella. We also host convivial wine dinners and events at Duxton Road.
Frank Butera and Bass River Winery
Frank Butera is a second-generation Australian. His father came 40 years ago from Calabria in Italy to Australia and established the estate. The first vines were planted in the late 1980s. Today, 12 acres of the total of 110 acres are under vine.
Frank Butera: Bass River wines are made exclusively from grapes grown on our property, hence the labeling “Estate grown and produced”. Bass River Winery is a tiny winery that resembles a small domaine in South Gippsland – in size, approach, passion and very often in the glass. Bordered by the Bass River and southern end of the Strzelecki Ranges the vineyard is ideally located experiencing maritime conditions. The emphasis is being placed on producing small quantities of premium wines grown only from the estate vineyard, expressing terroir. Our philosophy is: the grapes make the wine and not the winemaker. In the wine cellar, there is very little intervention. We just accompany the process of fermentation and aging.
Merchants: Bass River Winery, a tiny and award-winning boutique winery in Gippsland, Victoria, will be our special host at Merchants Wine Cellar’s next wine dinner. Frank Butera, owner/vigneron of Bass River Winery, is hand-carrying estate grown fine foods all the way from Gippsland, Victoria to pair with his highly rated wines. Olives, olive oil and limencello are just some of the products that will star alongside his superb wines. All of which are are entirely estate grown and produced at the Butera family property.
This five course dinner will feature an array of beautiful dishes: plump and juicy crab cakes, salmon Nicoise with Estate grown olives, a stunning roast rack of pork, a fabulous homemade Tiramisu with the Butera family’s Limoncello, and the finale – Gippsland cheese platters to share. All dishes will be paired with Bass River Wines.
James Halliday, Australia’s eminent wine critic rated the newly released Bass River Chardonnay at 92 points and Pinot Noir at 95 points. The Pinot Noir was also recently recommended as Wine of the Week by Halliday.
Crabcake + Sauce Remoulade
Bass River Vintage Brut 2011
This sparkling wine was developed using the methode traditionelle. Secondary fermentation occurred in bottle and the wine remained on lees for 6 months. The wine was disgorged in December 2012.
A classically elegant aperitif sparkling style delivers a clean, fresh and crisp plate. This Pinot Gris sparkling shows notes of apple and nashi pear before a touch of grapefruit citrus acid delivers a mouth tingling finish with a slight sweetness.
Salmon Nicoise + Bass River Estate Olives
Bass River Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2013
James Halliday Wine Companion 2015 - 92/100
Patrick Eckel Wine Reviewer 93/100
The two Burgundian varieties produced by Bass River in 2013 received similar treatment with minimal intervention winemaking through the use of wild ferments, extended time on solids, minimal fining and filtration. The resultant wines are textural and have plenty of character.
The Chardonnay is a blend of I10V1 & I10V5 clones from the River and House Block’s. In terms of color the wine is a light yellow with some flecks of green in the glass, the nose shows the extended time on lees with lifted stone fruits, subtle vanillin oak and a touch of almond meal.
The palate has great texture and depth, starting with peach skins and nectarine, the time on solids gives a full mouth feel, the acidity in this wine is precise and along with gentle oak induced spices frames the finish. Drinking well now and will reward short to medium term cellaring.
Roasted Pork Rack
Bass River Pinot Noir 2013
James Halliday - Wine Companion 95/100
Estate-grown clones 114, 777, G5v15 and MV6, hand-picked, destemmed whole berries, extended cold soak and wild yeast-fermented; pressed into French barriques (30% new), until Feb ’14; 150 dozen made. Very deep colour; it has amazing depth of black cherry fruit on the bouquet and palate, but no question about its varietal expression; the palate is well-balanced and particularly long, and the wine will continuously reveal more and more over the next 5 years before entering into an indefinite plateau.
Bass River Estate Limoncello Tiramisu
Bass River Iced Riesling 2011
This dessert-style wine is light to medium straw in color with lemon and orange zest scents, a touch of dried grass and a slight marzipan edge. The palate is bright and citrusy with moderate acid. It is well balanced with the sweetness and has good length.
Cheese of the Grippsland Region, Bass River Estate Olive Oil + Fresh Baked Bread
Bass River Merlot 2010
Deeply flavored and intensely varietal Merlot with firm tannins and rich tones of black cherry and plum.
Bass River Limoncello
Bass River Limoncello liqueur has been crafted from estate grown lemons and is a sweet, rich lemon-flavoured liqueur. The highest quality lemons were traditionally used to produce a sweet and lateral lemon flavour.
Bass River Grappa
Bass River fermented chardonnay grapes distilled in the true Italian Grappa style to preserve full flavour and aroma. Our Grappa describes the true spirit of the grape and region.
Thanks Ainsley and Frank for a great evening!
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