Words by Kirsten Durward, Photos by The Yum List (Monica Tindall)
We’re always on the look out for fun events offering mingling opportunities alongside great food and beverage pairings. And the monthly ‘Wine Dating’ at Villa Danieli certainly ticks all the boxes. Each month a different theme is followed as participants taste, sip, chat and learn. This month, with the Earth theme the food is all about earthy flavours and earthy textures, while the winery featured is well known New Zealand brand Oyster Bay, a good mid range favourite. With a surprise thrown in at the end. Wait and see.
We are guided through the food stations by the chefs and we have an expert sommelier on hand too for all of our wine queries.
Live in Earth
The first tasting station impresses instantly with innovative platings of imaginative combinations. The first I taste, balanced on a sliver of glass, is a delectable concoction of poached beetroot with cream cheese espuma and a sweet pearl onion pickle. It’s definitely earthy and very more-ish: mine are not the only fingers snatching for more! Venison is not often found in KL so I delight in the next morsel, where the gamey meat is combined with carrot confit, and enhanced with an organic cinnamon orange jam. Both of these tasters are a good pairing for the Oyster Bay Merlot, which both Monica and I are slightly surprised to enjoy so much. It’s very plummy with rich berry fruit notes, and hints of spice, oak and chocolate. Very enjoyable and it will be joining its Sauvignon Blanc cousin on my ‘best value wine’ list.
But, you know, us YumListers are always on the look out for a bit of a show and it’s the blowtorching of the salmon tartar in a petri dish that really gets my epicurean juices flowing. And not just for show either, the slightly seared mouthful is a flavourful mélange of salmon with capers and shallot, drizzled with basil oil and served on a fresh light Parmesan crus. Epic. Delicious when nibbled together with Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc. The crisp elegant notes of the wine burst with aromas of gooseberry and tropical fruits, but the pairing is robust enough that the food is not overwhelmed.
The next station raises a sigh from Jonathan Cheah (the evening’s wine expert) as he muses how much of a headache it is for a sommelier to pair wine with soup. I’m interested to see the results, being somewhat of a soup fan. The first occurrence is that it’s impossible to eat soup standing up while holding wine, so my new foodie friends and I have to perch up at a nearby table to make the most of our tasting. The first soup is potato, thick, creamy and filling. I try not to spoon too much of it as I’m eyeing up the pumpkin which is being spooned out into scooped out tomato bread. Surely pumpkin soup has to be one of the most soothing dishes in the world? This one is made from whole roasted pumpkin, which is peeled then cooked up with chilli. We are loving its rustic elegance, and exclaiming over the unusual pumpkin seed and risotto sheet for dipping in – something old, something new. The pairing answer appears to be the Oyster Bay Chardonnay. Jonathan explains the importance of having a wine with body when serving soup, so this choice, which fills the palate is a good one. New Zealand is not well known for Chardonnay but this proves to be a decent cool climate presentation with flavours of stone fruit and citrus balanced with a light oak finish. Again, not a wine I had tried, but I would happily drink again. And that’s part of what these events are about: stretching your taste choices, expanding your palate.
From Earth to Human…
Chef’s troops surpass themselves with our next station, where our moans and exclamations are drawing interested glances from regular diners. Everyone has a favourite sampler from the four options spread before us. I’m delighted to note that this course, along with the others, does have a vegetarian option, and it’s one definitely worth tasting. It’s a dense root vegetable strudel with a warm and tangy black tomato dip, and perfect for a revisit to that Merlot. Meat eaters though would be very pleased with the filo pastry rolled roasted beef with mushroom duxelle and shallot-wine jus. The jus is so good I would happily drink it on my own. My new Chinese drinking buddies and longtime Yum List fans are in ecstasies over the mini foie gras tortellini in aromatic truffle duck broth and fresh chive, telling chef that the duck broth is ‘to die for.’ Wow, there is an accolade. But my choice for dish of the evening, just narrowly eclipsing the beetroot, is the tiny rosemary waffle topped with slithers of 8 hour braised lamb rib and a berry compote that I truly want to keep spooning all night. Who needs dessert with something so delicious and rich for third course?
Our Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc are brought back as drinking choices for the main course (I cannot fault the generous provisioning of wine at the event), but Jonathan also introduces us to the Oyster Bay Pinot Noir. This proves to be a surprisingly complex wine for its price point with intense cherry and gamey notes that sit well with the ‘Earth’ theme. The long savoury finish makes it a solid choice for any meat dish, but I suspect it is the fruity hints through most of the tasters that bring out the value in the wine. It’s another strong value option from Oyster Bay.
I could happily finish here, and indeed my new buddies are bowing out, citing early flights and a long drive. But a committed YumLister does not exit before dessert and it looks like we are getting another little show to boot.
When Earth still standing…
The health conscious amongst us would be taken by a shot of wheatgrass juice with a jelly topping, and that certainly goes alongside the Earth theme. But my eyes and tastes are more drawn towards the Rustic Tiramisu and Deep Fried Chocolate Truffle, both of which are being assembled at a live station. I don’t know which of the two is more decadent. First I try the hand built tower of almond tuile, whipped mascarpone cream, coffee soaked sponge, more cream, and fresh strawberries topped by chocolate. ‘Man that’s rich!’ calls a voice, and I have to concur – richly delicious.
Meanwhile chocolate truffles are being rolled in fresh coconut then dipped in melted chocolate before being deep-fried to order. Oh dear. Badness upon Badness. Biting through the crisp hot outer shell to the oozing cool centre, I have to close my eyes. It is almost too much chocolateyness in one bite. The coconut gives a little boost of texture and an exotic taste note too.
And here is the surprise – As Oyster Bay does not produce a dessert wine, the event organisers have decided to treat us to a taste of Liqueur 43, which Monica immediately enthuses over as a signature Spanish liqueur she is very fond of. Made from a secret recipe of Mediterranean citrus fruits and select herbs and spices, one of Liqueur 43’s tag lines is ‘Pura Passion.’ Ahem! Beloved all over Europe the name refers to the 43 ingredients. And how does it taste? Wonderful! The initial aroma is sharp, warm, and complex, with front notes of vanilla; and then tangy sweet fruit, spices, and an aged rum like presence. The flavor is strongly vanilla, complex intermixed spices, tangy fruits, and hints of citrus. It tastes so spectacular with my chocolate truffle that I’m forced to take another one. What? Just doing my job!
The evening ends with a fun twist – literally. Each guest is invited to spin the wheel to win one of several prizes on offer. Monica and I are both rooting for the spa voucher but I come away with 20 % off a meal at Villa Danieli, nothing to complain about there! It has been a great evening. I’ve met some new people, tried some great food combinations and added new wines to my drinking list. Perfect. You should try it. The next one is soon!
Wine Dating takes place on the last Thursday of the month until the end of the year from 7pm-10pm. Cost is RM220 (nett) and reservations are strongly recommended due to limited space.
Reasons to visit: Fun mingling opportunity, innovative food, charming atmosphere, plenty of wine.