Calera & Kosta Browne Wine – Malaysia
Words: Han Sen Hau
Photos: Monica Tindall (unwatermarked images supplied by winery)
The task sounded deceptively simple, and the setting was familiar. We would be making a return to Quin Restaurant at The Five, though the focus this time would be less on the food (which was remarkable as always), and more on the five bottles of wine arranged neatly in the order we would be drinking them on a table that would serve as the informal backdrop for Karl Coveney’s wine elucidations. Coveney, the Director of Sales for the Duckhorn Portfolio in APAC, Africa, and the Middle East, was in Malaysia with a mission to introduce two wine labels to a select group of individuals, all of whom were impeccably dressed, came equipped with highly sensitive palates, probably hadn’t consumed a drip of burning curry for a week before the dinner, and had some say among the wine-drinking community in the country.
Needless to say, this curry-loving, TOMS-wearing, glows-in-the-dark-when-he-drinks fledgling had to hide behind his notes as he compared each glass with… wonder, amusement, and ultimately awe at every sip, paired with the delicious meals that elicited even more complex flavours, so much so that the initial tension from being presented with such a gilded ensemble quickly melted away. The great equaliser that evening was everyone’s love for a good bottle, and walls were broken down faster than we could finish a glass. What helped, of course, were the four bottles of Calera and the single Kosta Browne—the stars of the evening.
Calera & Kosta Browne Wine Dinner
With histories as fascinating as their flavours, both wine labels had their start with an obsession for Pinot Noir, long before the movie Sideways ordained the grape to be the only varietal good enough for American palates. The story of Calera is inextricably tied to the rise of Pinot Noir in California, spearheaded by the late Josh Jensen, who insisted on locating a limestone-rich area in the state to establish his Pinot Noir empire. Having secured the Mt Harlan American Viticultural Area (AVA), essentially making Calera one of the wineries in the world with its own appellation, Jensen never wavered in his quest to produce bottles of Burgundy that could rival their original French counterparts with an emphasis on terroir and thus made Mt Harlan his stronghold for producing enviable batches of Pinot Noir since the 70s due to the area’s elevated terrain and exceptionally cool climate.
On the other hand, Kosta Browne’s rags-to-riches story is a tale that could be replicated on the silver screen. It began in 1997 with a passion—as these stories often do—and $1,400, which founders Dan Kosta and Michael Browne then used to purchase the equipment and grapes to produce the first 24 cases of Kosta Browne Pinot Noirs, served to VIP customers at the restaurant both were working in. After years of learning the trade, schmoozing up to winemakers, and surviving the lull in sales following the September 11 attacks, the duo got their big break in 2005 when Wine Spectator gave two of their 2003 vintages a 95 score. The brand’s reputation skyrocketed ever since.
Now, these stories are intensely captivating, and we could easily fall into a rabbit hole learning each label’s history, but that would mean completely ignoring how the actual vintages fare with dinner at Quin, so if you’re interested in finding out more about both labels, visit their websites at calerawine.com and kostabrowne.com.
On with the show!
Calera Mt Harlan Chardonnay 2018
Poured immediately upon arrival was a glass of the Calera Mt Harlan Chardonnay 2018, which had a subtly fruity bouquet and a sweet entry that was reminiscent of crisp Nashi pears. Call it confirmation bias, but the Chardonnay had this… gratifying cooling effect on the body, which matches the conditions of the 2018 harvest that was marked by cooler temperatures. A great start to stave off the tropical heat, the Chardonnay was masterfully paired with the preliminary course of bread and butter, where its sweetness and acidity cut through the creaminess of the sourdough brioche and whipped cream cheese. We have previously covered Quin’s beautiful miso sourdough and sourdough brioche in an earlier review, and our ardour for them remains ever the same, especially with the Chardonnay.
Further virtues of the white were explored with appetisers, which arrived in the form of a gnocco fritto with cecina, charred baby corn coated in a yuzu kosho mayonnaise, and pane carasau with obligatory goat cheese. The inherent saltiness of the cecina summoned sweeter notes of the Chardonnay. At the same time, the juicy baby corn elicited the wine’s exquisite minerality. The intensity of the pane carasau and goat cheese was ramped up further with a sip of the wine, sustaining its savoury exit and sharp aroma. Almost chameleon-like, the virtuosity of the Chardonnay was fully showcased through its food pairings. However, such an experience could only have happened in the hands of an equally virtuosic team handling the kitchen.
Calera de Villiers Vineyard Pinot Noir 2019
Our first Pinot Noir for the evening was a Calera de Villiers Vineyard Pinot Noir 2019, a sweet and robust red that coated the tongue with layers of blackberry and chocolate, especially with the accompanying Tartare de Saumon. The de Villiers was surprisingly luxurious with the silky salmon. The rich umami flavours from the ikura and tobiko only intensified the layers of fruity confection floating just above the palate, occasionally teetering towards port wine territory with its velvety mouthfeel and sweet finish.
Calera Ryan Vineyard Pinot Noir 2018
The second Pinot Noir hailed from the Ryan Vineyard. A complex red characterised by its subtly peppery bouquet, tenacious tannins, and acidic finish, the wine transformed beautifully on the tongue from entry to exit. Its flavours bounced ever more with the complementary Ravioli de Cigale de Mer. The luscious slipper lobster and foie gras sauce glided on the tongue and filled the nose with a buttery aroma, and it is those qualities that allowed the Ryan to flaunt its zesty personality.
Calera Jensen Pinot Noir 2019
“Elegant” was the unanimous adjective attached to the final Calera of the evening from the 50-year-old vines of Jensen Vineyard. Served with the earthy Cannelloni aux Champignons featuring a hearty dose of cèpes and truffle pate doused in parmesan sauce and sous vide yolk (it was decadent alright), the Jensen introduced a brighter dynamic to equilibrise the heftier flavours of the cannelloni. Its fruity flavours “floated” above the tongue instead of coating it like the de Villiers, and while it is lighter on the palate than the Ryan, it had a sharper entry.
If I had to whip up an analogy to compare the three Calera Pinot Noirs, the Jensen shimmered like a soprano, the de Villiers dripped sultry contralto notes, and the Ryan was the lush mezzo-soprano. Each bottle had a unique personality that shone as brightly and distinctively as a line of chorus singers with different vocal registers, which goes to show how even a single grape varietal plucked from the same AVA can still produce a wide range of flavours.
Kosta Browne Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2020
The pièce-de-résistance of the evening, a 7-day-aged duck that is the pride of Quin, met its match in the equally magnificent Kosta Browne Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2020. Smelling like freshly baked pastry with a lingering citrusy profile that travels along the tongue, the full-bodied Kosta Browne worked well together with the pickled cherries and cherry port sauce to elevate the mouthwatering cut of canard on the plate. Unlike the Calera, which heavily emphasises harvesting from single vineyards, the Kosta Browne is a blend of several vines around the Russian River Valley. However, the resulting concoction retains a distinguishing “heavy” mouthfeel, allowing it to compete with equally domineering flavours like the duck.
Interestingly, those same flavours worked rather well with the Mille Feuille à la Banane that concluded dinner. However, for a completely different expression of flavours, the Calera de Villiers compounded the caramel-y sweetness dribbling off the flambéed banana with its irresistible chocolate notes.
Final Thoughts – Calera & Kosta Browne Wine Dinner Malaysia
While Calera dominated our palates for the evening, Kosta Browne successfully stole our attention with just a single bottle. Alas, there were only so many entrées we could enjoy and only so many bottles of wine Karl could carry with him this round, though we thank our lucky stars to have been fortunate enough to examine at least one Kosta Browne bottle. Does this mean that the Kosta Browne reigned supreme over the others? Nay, and we hope our review has helped to showcase how the different bottles work differently to suit different pleasures.
Many thanks to the astute team from Quin, who painstakingly prepared a cohesive menu that extolled the many merits of the wine we sampled throughout the evening, and also to Karl, who still hasn’t quite convinced us he isn’t seriously American. We certainly look forward to writing more about the Duckhorn Portfolio when the opportunity arises and to dive further into the viticultural trends that are sweeping the United States.
Calera & Kosta Browne Wine Dinner Malaysia – Quin Restaurant at The Five
A-GF-01, Ground Floor, 5th Place @ The Five Bukit Damansara 49 Kompleks Pejabat Damansara, Jalan Dungun, Bukit Damansara
50490 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Quin Restaurant at The Five Opening Hours
Daily: 12–3 pm & 6–11 pm