Fine drinks, good food, great company – and a trip down memory lane

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Having attended the inaugural Master of Spirits and Master of Spirits II the past two years, you can say that I’m pretty much a veteran of the event by now. So when I received my invitation to the third annual Masters of Wines and Spirits, I wondered what kinds of tricks DFS had up its sleeves for its latest edition.

As the world’s leading luxury travel retailer, offering its travelling customers a carefully curated selection of products from over 700 leading brands through 420 locations on three continents, creativity and innovation run strongly in the Group’s DNA, so I (as well as DFS’s top customers, many of whom will surely be attending the event) was expecting to be surprised.

DFS Group Chairman and CEO Philippe Schaus: “We hope to share with our guests a deeper appreciation of what Masters of Wines and Spirits offers: a holistic understanding of the intersection between exceptional drinks, fine cuisine and good company”
Philippe Schaus: “We hope to share with our guests a deeper appreciation of what Masters of Wines and Spirits offers: a holistic understanding of the intersection between exceptional drinks, fine cuisine and good company”

And boy was I surprised; I was practically blown away. For the first time in the event’s history, DFS had organised an exclusive dinner for a large contingent of international press that was inspired by “the singular experience of pairing exquisite drinks with fine cuisine and good company”. In an elevation of the luxury experience, DFS said its aim was to demonstrate the art of curating not only an entire category of luxury – but the very lifestyle that it represents.

DFS Group Chairman and CEO Philippe Schaus explained: “Encounters with some of the world’s rarest wines and spirits, as well as the very Masters behind them have defined this event for the past two years. Now, we also hope to share with our guests a deeper appreciation of what Masters of Wines and Spirits offers: a holistic understanding of the intersection between exceptional drinks, fine cuisine and good company.”

And those three elements – exceptional drinks, fine cuisine and good company – were had in spades.

The Salt Grill & Sky Bar provided an elegant setting for a relaxed evening with its sunset views, high ceilings and soft lighting
The Salt Grill & Sky Bar provided an elegant setting for a relaxed evening with its sunset views, high ceilings and soft lighting

The media dinner took place in style at the ION Orchard’s Salt Grill & Sky Bar, a modern Australian restaurant overlooking Singapore’s premium shopping district from the 56th floor. With its sunset views, high ceilings and romantic ambience, I was almost disappointed that I wasn’t here on a date – well, technically it was a date with work – but the company I had at my table more than made up for it. I had the honour of being seated beside Chivas Brothers and Royal Salute Heritage & Brand Experience Director Peter Prentice, who regaled my fellow journalists – Insider Associate Publisher Wally Zhu and August Man Features Editor Lance Lim – and I with humourous anecdotes delivered with truckloads of Scottish charm.

We were treated to a delectable four-course menu with fine wine and spirit pairings developed by Australian chef, restaurateur and television personality Luke Mangan, who made a point to stop at each and every table to ask guests if they were enjoying their food. Talk about hospitality at its best.

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Each dish was done to perfection – there were two types of dessert – and expertly paired with a fine selection of Champagne, wines and spirits: Dom Pérignon Vintage 2004, Château Cos d’Estournel Vintage 2000, Penfolds Grange Vintage 2007, Richard Hennessy, and The Royal Salute Kensington Blend Essence – 49 Year Old.

My favourite course of the night: New Zealand grass-fed beef fillet, pumpkin, grains and seeds, red wine jus
My favourite course – New Zealand grass-fed beef fillet, pumpkin, grains and seeds, red wine jus – paired with Penfolds Grange Vintage 2007
One does not simply say no to two types of dessert
One does not simply say no to two types of dessert
Richard Hennessy, paired with better chocolate tart, salted caramel, whipped cream and candied orange
Richard Hennessy, paired with bitter chocolate tart, salted caramel, whipped cream and candied orange

Brand ambassadors added value to the dining and tasting experience by presenting the story behind each drink, as they stood alongside the five respective masterpieces for Masters of Wines and Spirits which guests were privileged to preview at the dinner. The five products consisted of the Château Cos d’Estournel Vintage 2009 Pyramid, Hennessy Edition Particulière, Penfolds Grange Gold & 100 Point Collection, Royal Salute The Kensington Blend, and Dom Pérignon Balloon Venus by Jeff Koons. It was almost like a private viewing for those present – it doesn’t get more VIP than this.

In a further elevation of the dining experience, Mangan joined two other special guests – Ch’ng Poh Tiong, acclaimed wine critic and Publisher of The Wine Review, and Aki Eguchi, award-winning bartender of Jigger & Pony – in a lively dialogue with DFS Group President of Global Merchandising Harold Brooks about “the sense of harmony that develops from the perfect balance of exquisite drinks, fine cuisine, and the best of company”. The topics covered were diverse: Mangan elaborated on the inspiration behind the evening’s menu; Ch’ng deliberated on the differences between the pairing of drinks for Chinese and Western cuisine, while Eguchi affirmed the humble punch as the most suitable drink – the one-drink-fits-all, if you will – for big groups of people.

Luke Mangan, Ch’ng Poh Tiong and Aki Eguchi engage in a lively dialogue with DFS Group President of Global Merchandising Harold Brooks
Luke Mangan, Ch’ng Poh Tiong and Aki Eguchi engage in a lively dialogue with DFS Group President of Global Merchandising Harold Brooks

The dialogue session concluded with a simple topic that called for guests to take a walk down memory lane: our most memorable food and drink pairing, and the special occasion associated with it.

“I would like all of you to sit back and think about that very special evening, that very special drink, that very special food that you ate with it, and I think that truly says something about what we’re here for tonight – to celebrate the luxury that is great food, great wine, great spirit and most of all, great company,” Brooks said.

Well, here’s my memory for the book: It was the launch of the Rémy Martin Louis XIII Rare Cask 42,6 (which coincidentally is being showcased at Masters of Wines and Spirits) in May this year, at a similarly elegant dinner organised by DFS and Rémy Cointreau Global Travel Retail. The product was the second such cask from the Cognac house’s Rare Cask collection, bottled in a limited number of 738 stunning Baccarat black crystal decanters.

The invite-only dinner was held at the Joël Robuchon Restaurant at Resorts World Sentosa, where I was sat in a cosy corner with Rémy Cointreau Global Travel Retail’s Michael Chew and Ee Lin Siah – two of my favourite people in the business – and enjoyed an exquisite degustation menu of French haute cuisine prepared by Executive Chef Tomonori Danzaki. And while we could only admire the beauty of the Louis XIII Rare Cask, we still got to experience a special tasting of Rémy Martin Louis XIII (among others) led by Louis XIII brand ambassador Vincent Cleme.

The big surprise of that evening was a private performance by acclaimed Singapore singer-songwriter Dick Lee, who delivered a medley of his signature songs – including a favourite Cantonese tune of mine – with great panache. At one point, he stopped at my table and it almost seemed like he was serenading me and me alone.

Dick Lee and I - forgive my starstruck grin and holiday tan
Dick Lee and I – forgive my starstruck grin and holiday tan

As Schaus puts it: “Our inspiration has been to pair exquisite champagnes, wines and spirits with fine foods and to elaborate on the role that this pairing plays in creating memorable shared experiences and great company.”

DFS certainly delivered on its promise to curate an experience like no other: Fine cuisine, check. Exceptional drinks, check. Good company, check. The creation of a shared experience that will live on in my memories in the years to come – you bet.

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