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‘The best job in the world’
Published on: Monday, December 26, 2016

By David Thien
TO wine and dine is the best job in the world, says Fabrice Papin, of his job as Asia Area Manager for Lafite and other wines produced by Domains Barons De Rothschild of France.

His wine class here organised by Winecellars and the event managed by Chua Lai Har was packed.

“I have the best job in the world,” he said, adding that he never does the same thing each day.

He enjoys meeting people, happy to drink fine wines, and is now based in Hong Kong.

The same was echoed by Keisuke Irie, a ‘sake’ (Japanese wine) sommelier who exports five top brands of the Japanese drink to Sabah, steeped in culture and tradition that started in 250BC.

The record price at auction for a bottle of wine (US$156,000) was for a 1787 Château Lafite.

Château Lafite Rothschild is owned by members of the Rothschild family since the 19th century.

The name Lafite meaning “small hill”. Lafite was one of four wine-producing Châteaux of Bordeaux.

Papin is not keen to talk about investment or rather speculation on wine. He says, wine is for drinking, and buyers should enjoy such joys in life, as he always remembers the special moments, the first time to savour a top brand wine with long ones or family and friends.

Nor was he prepared to comment on the unhappy minority in France who wanted to impose their teetotaller creed, who could be happier off drinking wine now than copiously in paradise with virgins.

Recently the 2008 vintage produced a worldwide increase in price of over 125 per cent in 6 months from release, which in turn has come to push some Asian countries to the top of the list of worldwide markets in which investment grade wine is purchased.

Across all vintages Lafite Rothschild is one of the most expensive wines which can be bought, with the average price per 750ml bottle reaching US$911. Prices for Carruades de Lafite rose dramatically due in part to Chinese demand, with the prices of its 2005 and 2000 vintage fetching over £10,000 per case. After peaking in 2011 however, some vintages have seen prices halve in two years.

Fabrice Papin and Keisuke Irie were here at the recent Kota Kinabalu’s Wine Festival Borneo 2016 at the Shangri-La Tanjung Aru Resort, which is putting the State on the food and non-halal beverage map.

So why haven’t Sabah’s local brews from Tapai to Montoku (including Lumberjack brand beer) made it big on the popular and international stage like wine or ‘sake’, although one brewer has bottled its products attractively?

Generally, it is about consistency in quality year after year, and also it has largely to do with the accompanying food, to go with the drinks and the little known popularity of Sabah’s native food, found only in few shops, hampers popularity of local brews to international crowd, long engrossed with fine wines and others to savour with their fine food.

Fabrice Papin gave top marks to the seafood he tasted in the state capital on his first visit, and his company also produce white wine that goes well with seafood in additional to red wines which are more predominant in the Bordeaux region of France, for other meats.

Similarly for Keisuke Irie, he has preference for certain brand of sake based on what he’s eating at that point in time. Sake, unlike wine, can be served cold, cool, at body or room temperature.

The Japanese have a saying: “‘Sake’ doesn’t fight with food”. What that means is that sake rarely clashes with food, and has a refreshing effect on the palate.

For wine, the weather, the soil, the grapes quality of a particular year (vintage) are important to the quality of the wine or a mixture from different fruits or vineyard output to be fermented in cellars stored in wooden barrels.

For this year 2016, the growing season was marked by strong rainfall at harvest time, putting major logistical pressures on the teams. Nevertheless, the red grapes picked show good concentration.

Winter was in keeping with the usual climatic conditions.

The frosts observed did not affect the vines while the rain was essentially concentrated in July.

Spring was characterised by a large variation between night-time and daytime temperatures.

The minimum average temperatures were lower than normal while the maximum temperature went over 35°C, in particular during the months of October and November.

Hot weather set in during the summer and the average maximum temperatures were around 35°C, with peaks of 37.9°C in January and February. March was cooler, however, with a maximum temperature of 28°C.

The cooler weather and the strong reduction in the intensity of the sun’s rays resulted in a large number of cloudy days, which significantly slowed down the ripening of the grapes.

For ‘sake’, the rice quality, water quality, yeast quality and brewing process are important to the quality of the brew, some of which may have addition of alcohol or other ingredients. The top brews are consistently purer without any additives.

Hence, producers are unable to advice local brewers of Sabah brews how to improve their quality.

Sake is made by fermenting a special type of sake rice that is larger, stronger and contains less protein that regular rice – it’s hard to eat but good for sake.

At the beginning of the process the rice is polished to remove the bran and then steeped in water for anywhere between a few minutes to overnight. The rice is then steamed and cooled, and a specialised type of mould – koji- is added and left to ferment for 2-3 days, to turn starches into sugars.

This step is akin to malting in beer brewing. Yeast needs sugars to create alcohol, and koji mould creates those sugars.

Once the mould has propagated over the rice, the rice is mixed with water, yeast and more freshly steamed rice to create the yeast starter.

Over the period of two weeks, as yeasts grow stronger, more water, moulded rice and steamed rice are added until the final fermenting mash is formed. This mash – moromi – is left to its own devices for 20-40 days, until the master brewer determines that the sake is ready.

The sake is filtered from this solid mixture and left to mature for 6-12 months to develop the flavour.

Keisuke Irie says although sake can be kept for 50 years, with only a few exceptions, sake does not generally age past this point and so it is best consumed within a year of being made.

Sake’s overall acidity is up to 10 times lower than wine’s. Sake is also rich in glutamic acid, the key component of the umami, that taste element that is savoury and satisfying. The savoury richness of sake, especially pronounced in junmai type, makes it a great match with equally rich food – cured meats, cheeses, steaks and stews.

Like wine, the biggest sake flavour surprise of all is the floral and fruity aromas of sake’s premium grades, ginjo and daiginjo waiting to be discovered at Wine Festival Borneo 2016 at Keisuke Irie’s booth.

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