“Could you taste some sparkling wines; maybe some liqueur and a little grappa, too?” The woman asked over the phone. Who was I to say NO to such a request? My only criteria: I would only give an objective review, which meant if it tasted lousy I would say so and the producer was stuck with it. So it better be good.
Before I moved here the concepts of “Singapore” and “wine” never fired in the same synapse. Hot, humid tropics didn’t seem a natural backdrop for fine wine. And while I am one of those people who views any freshly-delivered box of wine at their doorstep much the way a child views a shiny new bicycle beneath the tree on Christmas morning, I was sceptical about what I would be sampling. But when I scanned the selection that Distilleria Bottega had chosen for my tasting that scepticism began to fade. Inside was a kaleidoscope of libatious bling: bottles of gold, silver, pink, yellow and cool, crisp clear. My exuberance — perhaps revealing of my hedonistic tendencies — was full fledged. My palate watered and I suddenly felt an insatiable thirst. But these were Italian wines of allegedly high esteem, which meant pairing with simple food and – most importantly – good friends.
Thus came the task of deciding with whom to indulge in the offerings of master distiller Sandro Bottega who, at just 19 years old, assumed control of the company due to his father’s untimely death and built it into an internationally recognized wine and grappa producer. We would be drinking selections of Bottega’s Il Vino dei Poeti (wine of the poets) and while regrettably I do not have a poet’s cellar in which to imbibe, I could at least invite the proper temperament of friends who would have greatly appreciated it if I did. I wanted people who enjoy simple, high quality moments in life and would find great joy in toasting to them.
The beauty about the Il Vino dei Poeti collection is that Bottega seems to have found a happy balance between wines that occupy a place in the world of serious, stern looking oenophiles – sipping, spitting and talking about micro-climates, soil content and terroir – on the one hand, and delicious, fun wines that are slurpable at any time for no particular reason, on the other. And while Bottega has ranked high among Italy’s award-winning sparkling wines and grappa, they are intended to evoke sentiments not of heavy tasting panels and curtained backdrops, but relaxed, casual fun. And for me, I’d much rather be unwinding in a club chair swilling flavorful wines with friends than sitting uprightly in a stuffy restaurant, hoping not to expose my ignorance to the sommelier.
My guests – skilled in the art of joyful indulgence – lounged around the room; candles lit, the food simple and light. Our beverage lineup started with Limoncino Bottega, thickened slightly by the chill of the freezer and as yellow as the bright Sicilian sun. The citrus bite of lemons danced with the sweet tickle of Veneto grappa, announcing the evening’s forecast: spontaneity and fun with a chance of sudden song and a scattering of naughtiness. No talk of road tar and dry earth tonight. No discussion of maceration, distillation or even the noble rot. This was all about friends just hanging out.
We quickly worked our way to the sparkling stars of the evening. The gorgeous pink hue of the Vino dei Poeti Rosé was fruity and conservatively sweet, the toothy hint of raspberry nibbling at our olfactories with a delicate richness that I could enjoy all day long. We finished it quickly, feeling an inexplicable desire to go pick wild roses as the flavor lingered in our mouths.
Moving to the whites, we did, admittedly, take a moment to focus with just a hint of seriousness on the Vino dei Poeti Bottega Gold – a spumante brut – since, with such a beautiful bottle, it was something to ponder. The first sip was careful and studied. We agreed that the light, complex bouquet of the sparkling prosecco was redolent of exotic fruit and golden apples. We paired it with succulent chicken breast, cooked gently with apricots and baby spinach and a few snap peas alongside. The glera grape made for a soft yet dry taste, easy and elegant, which matched the lightness of the dish perfectly. It was a natural combination, pulling out the fruit and spice and blending it with the savoriness of the poultry. And after a moment of obligatory introspection to justify the occasion, we quickly reverted back to frivolity and slurped it down with great enthusiasm, wishing only that we had more.
We moved on to the Vino dell’ Amore Moscato Petalo – a moscato spumante – accompanied by very fine Belgian chocolates. The intense, “tastes like a whole grape” sensation of the moscato fruit struck us at the first sniff and continued through its lengthy aftertaste, hinting perhaps of some flower blossoms thrown in for fun. It harmonized with the tight bitterness of the dark chocolates, balancing the sweetness and sending each to new flavor heights. It was a perfect palate closer.
But we were not quite finished with our cheerful romp among the Bottega family’s claims to fame. We stared at the crystal clearness of the Alexander Grappa di Amarone through it’s beautifully simple, hand-blown bottle designed by Sandro Bottega himself. The grappa is absolutely colorless, giving it a luster and beauty that is topped only by its strong, grapey and spice bouquet, followed by its robust, mouth-warming attack and gently bitter, raisin-like aftertaste. We drank it chilled, then considered adding some espresso to end the evening with café coretto. But a little grappa goes a long way, and the warmth of the pure nectar was all we needed on this midsummer-night’s dream of bubbles, grapes and grappa.
So how do I repeat – or expand on – my evening with Distilleria Bottega? The good news is that they are available at any Duty Free store in Singapore’s fabulous Changi Airport — indeed in nearly every Duty Free Store around the world. So not only can I share it with my life-of-Pan friends on every shore, but I can do so below liquor store prices, too. So I must now add ten minutes of duty free shopping to my airport exodus process. But I suppose even fun comes at a price.