"100 Wines," 100 Delights

Sommelier Selections' "100 Wines" was a virtual tour of wine across all 12 major French wine regions, 30 appellations, 30 award-winning wineries and 40 grape varieties.

Who knew Manila could be an interesting city for wine with bottles you can't find in the rest of Asia? A special find that you might not have heard of yet is Sommelier Selection, an exclusive seller of French wines with a cozy tasting room tucked away on Chino Roces Extension in Makati. Although Sommelier Selection is the country's largest importer of French wines with more than 140 labels, what really makes it interesting is the company's singular focus on boutique French wines.

All it took was one enterprising Frenchman passionate about bringing small, artisanal wines to the Philippines. Proprietor Jérôme Philippon has one of the world's best jobs–hopping around the French countryside each year visiting off-the-beaten-path estates, interviewing winemakers, and tasting hundreds of hard-to-find wines. "I started the company because I was interested in bringing elements of French culture to Asia," says Mr. Philippon. "Boutique wines can be very special and of great value. They do not include much marketing cost in the price unlike the heavily branded wines."

It turns out "boutique" doesn't have to mean expensive. Philippon offers a surprising range from great value "everyday" bottles to exquisite "cellar" bottles for the wine nerds: Plenty of artisanal value without paying extra for the name.

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One lively Friday night last week, Philippon opened his doors to the public with an annual tasting event at White Space called "100 French Wines," a virtual tour across all 12 major French wine regions, 30 appellations (special geographical areas), 30 multiple-awarded wineries, and 40 different grape varieties. The appellations ranged from the traditional to the trendy, including Alsace, Chablis, Côtes du Rhône, Brouilly, Cahors, Pouilly Fumé, Côtes de Provence, Coteaux de Languedoc, Crôze Hermitage, Gigondas, and Puisseguin-St Émilion, Bordeaux. The depth and quality of the selections were evident; the only real challenge of the night was learning to pronounce the names with some grace and style.

For the self-guided tasting tour, Philippon thoughtfully provided a wine passeport with suggested routes and writing space to note the memorable wines of the night. Prices were noticeably absent as Philippon (and most wine connoisseurs) say that the best measure of a wine is whether you like it or not, irrespective of price.
I started in Provence with a 2007 Chateau de Roquefort "Corail,"a lively, refreshing rosé with flavors of fresh strawberries (P910). Burgundy offered a surprising contrast of Chardonnays, each with characteristics unique yet representative of the region. One standout was a 2004 Domaine de Roally produced in Viré-Clessé, a fresh, full-bodied   Chardonnay with pleasant flavors of honey and minerals (P1,365).   However, the hit of the night among the white wines was an elegant 2005 Domaine Bott-Geyl Riesling "Les Elements" from Alsace, a well-balanced, dry Riesling with a hints of peaches and minerals (P1,220).

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One unusual but wonderfully rich wine came from Southwestern France, a 2005 Malbec-Merlot blend from Château Lamartine. This robust red produced in Cahors offered intense currant and plum flavors and a slightly spicy finish, ideal as a partner to heavier meat dishes (P925). A similarly sturdy partner was the 2006 Domaine des Escaravailles Rasteau "La Ponce" from southern Rhône, a Grenache-Syrah blend with flavors of black cherries, spice, and even tobacco (P1,330). Perhaps the most surprising wine of the night was the 2006 Alexis from southern Rhône–Sommelier Selections' specially blended Syrah named after Philippon's two-year-old   son. Well-balanced with soft flavors of black pepper and berries, the wine seemed like a steal at P345.

Colin Mackay, chef of Sala, Sala Bistro and People's Palace, found his own favorites. "So many good wines and some excellent...especially those from the southern Rhône, including the impressive Gigondas and super stylish Côte Rôtie. I think the range offers quality and value at almost every level from everyday wines from the Southwest to specialist wines from personally selected producers, some of whom even operate organically. The event was a great introduction to French wines with diverse style at all prices."

In between nibbles created by Chef Rolando Laudico, the eager guests sipped and spat (to clear the palate between wines) all evening long. Some jotted down notes about their selections, but half the fun was that people didn't take themselves too seriously, which is a great way to enjoy wine. It was an entertaining night no matter what experience level the guests already had with wine. Concluded Mackay, "I think Jerome's portfolio gets better every year." I couldn't agree more.

Images by Coby Mendoza.

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