Monthly Archives: June 2016

Impertinently Boozing with Francis Balbarin – Part 2


“Some people know what they want to do early on in life. Some find it in high school or even in college. I found my calling pretty late at 26. I may not be a classically trained chef, but I’d like to think I have a lot to offer the culinary world. I like to think outside the box and really push boundaries. I still have a lot to learn, and I do not want to stop learning.” 


This is a continuation of my conversation with Francis Balbarin, stylish bartender extraordinaire and master of the bun (I mean burgers!).


What makes your cocktails yours?

I’m constantly evolving as a bartender. Everyone has different tastes and preferences so I tend to make it up as I go. I try to talk to people at first and ask what their preferences are, whether it’s vodka, gin, whiskey, etc., then

I go from there.

I’ve had so many signature drinks over the years that I’ve forgotten most of them. What I do hate are pretentious establishments. For example, a while ago there was a sudden boom in speakeasies. I’m all for it and the sudden interest in craft cocktails. But (I feel that) it’s more important to try reading guests first, seeing what kind of drinks they could be interested in, and it doesn’t mean the usual, “so what do you feel like having tonight/what are you in the mood for” opening line with a hand flourish and overly theatrical tone. I think this is better instead of pushing drinks down guest’s throats without consulting and asking what their preferences are.

That is part of being a bartender. It’s a skill that’s learned over time. Yes, we are salesmen, but we’re also friends, comedians, entertainers… Or if the situation calls for it, therapists.

Lately though, there’s one drink that I’ve been making where I work that people ask for. It’s fresh muddled ginger, muddled blueberries, vodka, a little bit of spiced rum, and topped off with cider beer. Or sometimes if I see an unusual ingredient that I think can work, I’ll play around with it. I have been playing around with infused spirits for a little bit though. From bacon bourbon, chili infused tequila, ginger vodka to cinnamon and chili whiskey and so on.


Kiko - Bar - Edited

Francis behind the bar, and in front of some of his Infused Spirits (available in Burgers and Brewskies)


What prompted you to pursue becoming a restaurateur? What’s on the horizon for your culinary career?

I’ve always wanted to own a bar. There were a few times where it almost happened but just fell through at the last minute.

In 2000, I wanted to take a short business management course in Manila while I had a brief bartending stint in the now defunct Club Spoon in Alabang. Unfortunately, all the classes were full and I had to pick another course. There was an opening for a certificate course in culinary arts. I figured, I know how to handle the FOH (edit: FOH stands for Front of the House, or everything a guest can see in a restaurant/bar), I should learn the BOH (Back of the House, most commonly the kitchen, storeroom… Areas in a bar or restaurant a guest wouldn’t see) aspect of things.

I DID NOT know how to cook. AT ALL. Prior to that course I was even scared to hold a kitchen knife.

Some people know what they want to do early on in life. Some find it in high school or even in college. I found my calling pretty late at 26. I may not be a classically trained chef, but I’d like to think I have a lot to offer the culinary world. I like to think outside the box and really push boundaries. I still have a lot to learn, and I do not want to stop learning. Maybe in the future I can finally go to culinary school.


Dirty Palmer

Francis’ Dirty Palmer


Based from your experiences, what do you think is the correlation between food and drinks?

They complement each other. The flavor of the drink can both enhance and bring out other flavors in food. It can cool down the spiciness of a dish, or cut down the richness of gooey cheese.

Given that, as a bartender/chef/business owner, it’s our duty to offer that to guests so they can fully enjoy the dining experience. One should not be complacent with the idea of just serving food and alcohol and hope for the best. It is our job to sort of educate them as well in a way, and guide them in what works best with what. We as restaurateurs and bartenders should continue to push the envelope to improve and enhance the guest experience.


“I’m definitely more motivated now than I’ve ever been. Having a supportive wife and 2 wonderful kids, any man would want to provide and give the best for his family.”


What have you learned from your experiences, both as a bartender and as a restaurateur?

I’m constantly learning in this industry. From new recipes and ingredients, to different types of people. Not all places are the same, not all people act the same. I’ve seen and served people from all walks of life. I’ve dealt with the 1% and the masses.

The bottom line is the guest experience. As a bartender, you’re pushing drinks based on their personality, sometimes even personalizing drinks for them. I’ve met some really awesome people while bartending and some of those people became really good friends of mine. I made pretty good money while I was at it too.

As a restaurateur, everything is still pretty new to me. Sort of surreal, still. Everything is still a learning experience. At this moment in my career, I’m very fortunate to have met some very talented chefs, restaurateurs, and craft brewers, whom I have been learning a lot from. They have given me precious and priceless advice and continue to do so.

What I can say though is that it’s very important as someone from the BOH to sometimes go out and talk to guests and get their feedback, whether it’s negative or positive. Get to know the guests. They are the reason we are in this business.


Francis, his beautiful wife (renowned makeup artist Mayone Bakunawa-Balbarin), and their lovely children (photo used with permission from Francis Balbarin, photo by ProudRad)


How does your becoming a dad translate to your work as a bartender/restaurateur?

I guess the obvious answer would be motivation. I’m definitely more motivated now than I’ve ever been. Having a supportive wife and 2 wonderful kids, any man would want to provide and give the best for his family. I became more responsible and more conscientious of what I say to people now, believe it or not. Being a father has given me some sort of “filter” when I talk to rude guests. Anything I say may have repercussions and cost me my job. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still give a little jab of snarkiness here and there, but nothing compared to what I would’ve said a few years prior.

As far as being a restaurateur, I don’t know. Everything happened after I had my kids. I can tell you that my wife and kids are and always will be my good luck charms.

What I do want to teach my kids, though, are the value of hard work and work ethic. We have, on occasion, had our eldest work at the restaurant as a server. We’ve gone as far as to instruct the staff and management to not give him any kind of special treatment. No phones, no dilly-dallying, he goes on break when they go on break, etc. I even told my supervisors that they’d get into more trouble if they treated him any differently. We would also do this to our youngest son when he’s of age. It’s about instilling and drilling hard work in them.

It doesn’t matter what line of work they get into in the future, I’ve made my peace with the fact that they might not continue what we’ve started. But learning how to deal with guests, coworkers, bosses, will translate into whatever job one might get into in the future. The sense of working hard for what little money that you’ll get at the end of the day and learning how to value that amount is priceless.

Sadly, nowadays, these qualities have been lost on the new generation. They feel like the world owes them something.

I admit that one of the reasons I decided to feature Francis’ story for Father’s Day because his story is what it is: The adventures of a talented mixologist, a promising and creative restaurateur… But above all else, a wonderful, doting (and unbelievably dapper!) father.

To Francis and all other amazing fathers out there, may you and your family be continually surrounded by an overflow of love on Father’s Day. Cheers!



Impertinently Boozing with Francis Balbarin (Part 1 – NSFW)


“People reading this might say that I’m an idiot and I have no idea what I’m talking about and I’m probably talking out of my ass. Maybe. But a little under 2 decades behind the bar gives me a little credibility, don’t you think?”


Snarky people get along well.

Snarky people who enjoy a good drink get along better.

That’s what I thought when I met one of my favorite people, Francis Balbarin: Co-owner of the legendary Burgers and Brewskies (Capitol Commons and Burgos Circle) by day (or 6 months of the year, depending on how his schedule is), talented NYC bartender by night… And an awesomely stylish dad all day long (yes, we even bonded over kicks).

I met him during our Baguio trip where we drank the week away did research on farming and Baguio Craft Brewery.

During the ride to get to a hillside farm, we got to talk… First, about how his fancy orange Nikes would survive the slightly muddy hike (#priorities)… Then, about what he does for a living (both here and abroad).

We got to compare how things are done in the Philippines and in NYC, and his particular disdain (which I share) with the current crop of fresh grads looking to find jobs bartending. This struck a chord with me… After all, I was once upon a time a university professor in one of the best hotel schools in the country.

Here’s the thing: Most kids fresh out of hotel school would boldly go and try to get employment in a bar, boasting about bartending skills when they couldn’t even tell potential employers the alcohol bases of basic cocktails.

But they can flair.

This bothered me.

After the trip, I decided to ask one of my other favorite people for his opinion: Internationally acclaimed, multi award-winning, proudly Filipino flairtender Paul Ceron (also a former colleague of mine in University) his opinion.

Knowing how to mix is the most important (thing), as well as the service procedure and customer relations. Flairing is not a requirement, but there are some bars that require entertainment. I always mention in my seminars that mixology comes first, then bar knowledge and set up… All of that comes first before flairing.”


Given that even one of the best flairtenders in the country share our “sentiment”, I decided to really see what’s going on at the other side of the world and get a more detailed insight from Francis himself.


How did you get from Bartending to becoming a restaurateur?

It (started with) the typical “move overseas for a chance at a better life” story: The whole family migrated to the States in April ’91 when I was 13 years old.

At 18 I eventually started working at this Filipino club in Astoria, NY as a club promoter/occasional waiter. One day, the owner asked me if I wanted to bartend and of course I said yes.

Little did I know I was going to start that very night because he just fired the resident bartender for theft. Talk about trial by fire. A sea full of people asking an 18 year old for drinks left and right with no experience and knowledge of drinks whatsoever!

*Side note: I actually learned how to pour a shot when I was 9 or 10 years old. We went to a house party with a few of my altar boy friends (yes, I used to be an altar boy) and one of the older ones was a bartender at the Hyatt Hotel. He had set up a mini bar in the backyard where he would make cocktails for people. Curiosity ensued and after a few questions, I was making drinks for people. He also taught me how to pour a proper shot. Naturally, I forgot most of the things he taught me with the exception of the usual Cuba Libres, gin tonics, cape codders, and how to pour from the bottle.

If there were drinks that I didn’t know how to make, I’d ask the guest if they knew what was in them and if I had the ingredients, I’d make them.

On my days off, I took the time to buy books and read about cocktails and proper procedure. Eventually, I got my act together and became very proficient at it.

I’ve tended bar on and off at different places for over 18 years now. I presently work at Dave & Busters in Times Square (whenever I’m in the states). I even won the Stemmon’s Bar Showdown bartending regional championship in 2012, and went on to compete for nationals.

Unfortunately, I lost the competition due to a terrible case of stage fright. At least, I can say that of the 6 competitors, I was the only one that did not know how to flairtend but came close to winning with sheer speed, accuracy, and creativity.

Given all my experience working in bars, it just all made sense that I open one of my own. Two things that I love: a good burger to go along with a really cold one.

So, through numerous R&D and using my friends as guinea pigs, I finally tried (making burgers) during a Manny Pacquiao PPV that my friend hosted in New Jersey in 2007. I decided to do bleu cheese stuffed sliders topped with caramelized onions and granny smith apples and they were a hit. I knew then and there that I had something.

A really good friend of mine asked me to sell them with her at her stall in Salcedo market for a day. She then featured me in her food blog, and eventually a feature in The Philippine Inquirer. That’s when I thought to myself that it could be a pretty solid product and concept: Beer and burgers.

After a few years and few failed attempts at pitching the idea in the hopes of getting investors to finance the project, I finally found a couple of partners who thought the idea could be feasible.



Francis in New York (used with permission from Chris Ordas and Baguio Craft Brewery)

Please share stories about your bartending experiences in NYC.

Where to start? Haha! I could write a book about it (I’m seriously thinking about it!). I’ve been known to post my funny encounters behind the bar. I admit, most of the time I’m snarky with guests, which they actually love. I guess that’s one of the reasons why I love being behind the bar: (having the) freedom to get away with saying or doing certain things. It’s part of the bar culture, part of entertaining your guests.

Here’s one: A 6’4” tall, middle aged man that’s about 250lbs went up to the bar and ordered 2 strawberry daiquiris for his wife and himself and proceeded to pay for it. After I made it and handed it to him, he thanked me and said, “Do me a favor, on the next one, can you give it to me in a ‘Man Glass’?” I said, “Sure, dude. No problem. But next time, how about you order a ‘Man Drink’ so I can put it in a ‘Man Glass’ for you”. He looked at me dumbfounded while the people around the bar started laughing. He shook his head and smiled, and gave me a nod that said, “aight, you got me there”.

Here’s another one: Another middle-aged guy arrived with a bunch of other dads and their kids bearing a trophy of some sort. They looked like their kids just won a football tournament or something. So while the kids were playing in the arcade (Dave & Busters is a huge arcade with a big restaurant and a couple of full bars inside), the dads were hanging out at my bar drinking Bud Lights and shots of Jameson. My bar manager and all the other managers were trying to get us to push these alcoholic snow cone type cocktails with a plastic glowing ice cube called “Glo Cones”.

Now, I’m all for selling novelty drinks, but to try and sell to those pretty chill dads was a no-go. One can try, but you still have to pick and gauge whom you can sell it to.

So, my manager asked me if I tried, and I said, “not yet, still trying to feel them out”. He jokingly told me that I “sucked” and proceeded to talk to one of the men and try to sell a “Glo Cone”. I think out of politeness, the guy obliged and bought one. My manager gave me a look of defiance as if to say, “I told you so”.

In turn, I went up to the man holding this ridiculous cocktail while the other dads were double fisting, holding their Bud Lights and shots of Jameson, and sarcastically asked him (within earshot of the manager of my bar manager who sold him the drink), “So, sir, how do you like that girly glowing cocktail of yours?” He said, “It’s pretty good. I tell you my vagina feels a lot better now, thank you very much.”

With a smug look on my face, I looked at my manager, who was sort of embarrassed; I looked at the man then proceeded to give him a high five.

From that moment on, whenever I would sell one of those Glo Cones, they were referred to as “Vagina Cones”.

It really is a fun and interesting profession. I constantly get to meet and know all personalities, all races. Some are nice, some not so nice. (There are) those that tip… Some are more generous than others, some not at all. Some sadly fit the stereotype, while some of them break the stereotype. Over time, I’ve been able to gauge if people will “take care” of me or not. There are even a few guests that will do anything to try and get stuff “comped” (industry speak for not paying at all).

Some of the easiest and best guests to have are those that work in the same industry. They understand the value of your work and are usually pretty chill and low maintenance as long as you do your job and do it well.



Francis in Action

What would you say are the differences in the bartending scene in NYC and in the Philippines?

There are a ton of differences… From the practices to the way things are run.

The goal obviously is to make money and maximize profits. I’ve worked in both the states and here in Manila and I have to say hands down bartending in NYC is much better. Not only is it more fun, you have more freedom, and it gives the bartender and the proprietor a chance to make more money.

For example, bartenders in the States have certain privileges that they can use to make some money for themselves and possibly the company. One of those is called a buyback. Basically, we have the power to buy someone a drink after they’ve bought and paid for several ones. It’s as if to say, “thank you” (to the guest). This makes guests feel welcome and appreciated and in turn, they spend more on drinks in the hopes of possibly getting another buyback. Not only do they tip well, the company makes more revenue because instead of the 1 or 2 drinks that they initially planned on consuming, guests end up buying about 6 to 8 (and get 2 for free). It really doesn’t cost the company a lot of money to give one or two away, and the added sales and revenue for that particular transaction and the possible future transactions from guests who’ll most likely return to the establishment is priceless.

Here’s a suggestion: Most purveyors will give a case or two of free beer (or a couple of free bottles of liquor) with a big alcohol purchase. Instead of just thinking they’re freebies and just sell them as is (totally nothing wrong with that), use those freebies for buybacks or a happy hour specials on slow days. It’s a great way to market the establishment.

People nowadays forget the culture behind the bar. Being a bartender, we not only serve drinks to our guests, but we also make sure that they have fun and enjoy their experience.

I guess that goes for both bartenders and servers, but working behind the bar has certain perks. We have to talk to our guests and try to entertain them. First, the profit margin for alcohol is much higher than food.

That being said, bartenders actually have the power and should have the skills to upsell and/or make them order more. As long as people are having a good time, they wouldn’t mind spending money (or they’re too drunk to keep track of the tab J). Either way, it’s killing 2 birds with one stone: The establishment is making money, and at the same time the bartender is ensuring future sales… Because the more fun guests have, the likelier they’ll be back (and spend more).

Bartenders don’t even have to know how to “flairtend” or anything like that. For me that is so passé. A bartender could be the greatest flairtender in the world but if he can’t hold a conversation, he is useless to me. I’d take a really fast bartender or a really good conversationalist any day.

Then again, to each his own, right?

Think about it: It takes around 5-10 minutes to get a drink in the Philippines.

Bartender gets order. Bartender writes it down. Bartender gives it to the cashier. Cashier rings it up. Cashier puts the receipt in a bill jacket.

Cashier hands it to the bartender. Bartender hands it to guests. Guest pays for it. Guest gets his change. Bartender cracks open guest’s beer, or crappy mojito, or what have you.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand the reason for the process: Bartenders want to be as accurate as possible, with the paper trail to back it up. It also keeps theft at bay. But playing with all that process and doing everything by the book sacrifices speed of service and quantity, and more importantly, guest experience. The faster drinks are sold, the more money the bar makes.

This is how we do things overseas: Guest sits at the bar, then orders from the bartender with his credit card or cash in hand. The bartender makes the drink, and then hands it to the guest while taking the payment. The bartender rings it up, then gives the change.

At this point, the guest is enjoying his beer or whiskey on the rocks (or both) in about a minute, tops, depending on how busy the bartender is.

A bartender can do that with maybe 34 customers: take orders and payments, and multi task. At this rate, he could help out about 710 people in about 25 minutes.

Compare that to 1 customer in 5 minutes.

Imagine the really busy clubs here in Manila where people have to go through the same thing. For one thing, the establishments here are overstaffed (editor’s note: I completely agree… Bistros in Europe that could seat 40 people are usually run by an average of 2 people). There are 3 or 4 people behind the bar when all that’s needed are 2 good ones.

The constant backlog of orders due to unnecessary waiting at any given night amounts to thousands of pesos in lost revenue.

People reading this might say that I’m an idiot and I have no idea what I’m talking about and I’m probably talking out of my ass. Maybe. But a little under 2 decades behind the bar gives me a little credibility, don’t you think?

I get that the bar culture here is different. People’s mentality here is different. People see bartenders, servers, or anyone serving them anything and what they see are people that are beneath them. It’s generations and generations of that old colonial thinking. I’m sure there are places here that think like me or are trying to do the same thing and break the mold. But as of now, that’s just my observation.


End of part one. Will return for more of Francis in the next installment of this article. Cheers! 🙂

Vinexpo 2016 Part 2: The People Behind the Glass


Here’s the thing about me: I rarely get star-struck.

When I do, I tend to babble incoherently. People get giddy with actors, personal heroes (my husband swears he’d probably freak out if he meets Elon Musk)…

I’m a beverage geek, and I get star-struck over legendary winemakers, wine critics, and head distillers.

Here’s how much I could prattle on: During the Vinexpo, I simply HAD to go the Errázuriz booth and check out Seña, the multi-awarded wine I wrote about early this year.

chadwick, baettig

Photo courtesy of Seña Wines

Lo and behold, both Eduardo Chadwick (President of Viña Seña) and Francisco Baettig (Seña Head Winemaker) were there, in the flesh.

I sat on one of their bar stools while waiting for a turn to meet them, explaining to the two lovely ladies behind the counter who I was, and that I wrote an article about their wine (with help from their wonderful colleague, Veronica Steinbrugge).

During the course of the conversation, I found out that the people in Errázuriz liked the article so much that they featured it on their newsletter.

Flabbergasted, I proceeded to thank them (I totally felt unworthy) while they treated me to some of their best wines.

At this point, I broke my promise of not drinking wines during the expo and just drank… Seña across all vintages is just so divine that it would have been criminal to spit it out.

One of the women who poured wine into my glass was Magdalena. Young but not new to Asia, we got to chat about the possibility of her visiting the Philippines to enjoy our awesome beaches and underwater caves…

Then Eduardo himself came to the table.

I rambled about how I was such a fan, telling him that I was from the Philippines, and that I wrote about him but never got to meet him in person, and how it was truly an honor to finally have met him in the flesh…

Then Magdalena laughed and told me, “He’s my father”.


Eduardo and Magdalena Chadwick, with their legendary wine

It was one of those moments in a person’s life when time stands still, and everything was blurry (maybe it was the alcohol?), and all I could think of was trying to find a way to get my foot out of my mouth (or possibly blame it on the alcohol).

We proceeded to have further conversation, more of their awesome wines (did I mention how magnificent the 2013 vintage is?), and promised to keep in touch.

Willing myself to avoid being too much of a fangirl for the rest of the expo, I went out and decided to look around the Chilean booths.


Tasting room of Via Wines in Chile (photo from an old article)

I stumbled upon Via Wines, which I’ve featured in a past entry as one of the more breathtaking places I’ve visited in Chile.


I told the person behind the table that I have actually been to their gorgeous tasting room on a lake, and that I loved every minute of that gastronomic treat.


Oveja Negra – Pastures New: One of my new discoveries from an old favourite

The person introduced herself as Adriana Coderch, CEO of Via Wines. We shared so many stories about my trip to Chile (including the flights) over a glass of their Oveja Negra – Pastures New: This lovely and powerful blend of Garnacha, Mourvedre, and Syrah was amazing, and made me crave for one of their tasting room’s empanadas to go with it.

After this, I decided to take a break from Chile a bit (I was beginning to miss South America) and decided to check out some of the spirits.

lookit that scotch

Up front and loving it! (photo from an old article)

After our favourite couple from Singapore* opened my eyes to the beauty of Islay, my world was never the same. I still love my Asian whiskies, Lagavulin, and many others, but I’ve come to appreciate the peaty, intense, smoky notes of a good Islay.

In the article I wrote about whiskies in that region, I posted a photo that had Smokehead in the front. It was my first Islay, and, as they say, you never forget your first. I remember the smoke characteristics from that glass, balanced out with a certain finesse that allows a drinker to enjoy more than a glass of the scotch without getting overwhelmed by the intensity.

Fast forward to the Vinexpo and me finding their booth… I had to stop and talk to anyone there.


Iain Weir of Ian Macleod Distillers

I ended up meeting Iain Weir, Marketing Director of Ian Macleod Distillers (the distillery that makes Smokehead) and told them how much I loved their whisky. I was treated to a glass and great conversation (including a bit of self-deprecation involving my lack of skills in pronouncing Islay).


Fangirled out, I decided to call it a day and return the next day to learn about other wines and spirits…

…Which I’m saving for a next entry.

This is making me think about my other heroes and what drinks I would have with them… Maybe that’s a good idea for an article. 😉


*Congratulations to A & B! Cheers to your new life together! Love, light, music and Scotch!

Vinexpo 2016 – Part 1


One of my ultimate #lifegoals was to go to Vinexpo, the biggest wine event participated by different wine producers and buyers from all over the world.

I say “ultimate” because, having been around since 1981, this event has grown so large and has developed a massive network of participants that it is regarded as one of the best venues to learn about wines and spirits… From Bordeaux powerhouses, to obscure but ethereal Greek wines, to trendy whiskies and sakes.

That being said, when I was invited by my Hong Kong client Sun Shui Fung International to source wines for them (with allowances to go around and learn by myself), I was there. I consider Hong Kong my second home, and Vinexpo only happens in that part of the world every other year (alternating with Bordeaux for the other years). It’s too close (just an hour and a half away from Manila by plane), and I was sponsored a ticket… It would have been criminal to pass that up.

As I sat down and tried my best to summarize and turn my Vinexpo experience into digestible pieces, I realized that it was impossible… I had so many wonderful experiences in the event that I couldn’t fit it in one entry. So, I did what any non-writer would do: Organize, outline, and divide the entire piece into different parts.


Vinexpo Highlights Part 1 – Reunited with Drinks so Good


I knew that I’ve gone to a few wine expos prior to this one, plus a number of wine tours in different parts of the world… But I didn’t realise how many friends I’ve made, and how small the world actually is.

Here are some of the friends I’ve reunited with during the event:

Chateau Ste Michelle

I met (and bonded with) David Andrews about a year ago during an event held by Wine Depot. We hit it off with our mutual love of wine, and a casual (yet still professional, I promise!) approach to it.

I couldn’t help but pass by his booth and, after seeing that his signature triangular soul patch is alive and well, I decided to bend his ear a little bit.

Classic David (a popular fixture in events like these) had to run around and network, leaving me with bottles of Intrinsic lined up in a row.

I did what any normal woman would do in my situation: make an artsy shot by lining up three bottles in an effort to be artistic:


The three intrinsically artsy ladies of the bottle

When David got back to me, I showed him the photo I took (which I immediately posted on the blog’s Instagram account). David then took off with my phone, looking for Brett Scallan, Vice President of Marketing.

I know it seems like the beginning of an article on mugging, but that’s one of the best things I appreciate about the people of Chateau Ste Michelle: There’s so much love, humour, stories, and attention to detail that it translates into their wines.

Take Intrinsic, for example. This gorgeous wine got its name for being the ultimate showcase of what “intrinsically” makes a Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes that went into Intrinsic enjoyed optimum conditions that allowed a beautiful, truthful illustration of its essence.

It also helped that at the helm of its winemaking process is multi-awarded Argentine winemaker Juan Muñoz-Oca, who was inspired by street artists (and their ability to work with whatever environment they are dealt with to create works of art).

Newsflash: They’ve come up with a new wine called “The Pundit”. This Syrah is a perfect blend of the power and spice typical of a new world Syrah, but rounded out by an elegant, smooth texture… Absolutely unique. Also, who wouldn’t want a photo of this mysterious looking owl in their cellar?


Coming Soon: The Pundit


Cremaschi Furlotti

I love the Executive Oenology Director of Cremaschi Furlotti, Christian Cremaschi. I initially met him for an interview (graciously set up by the Embassy of Chile in Manila), then saw him in a previous HKDTC event, then saw him again in this year’s Vinexpo.

Our friendship over the years has reached a point where we could sit down, talk about flights, the Philippine wine market, his experiences in Asia, and food.

All of these conversations, of course, were done over some of his best wines.


The legendary Christián Cremaschi of Cremaschi Furlotti

There were so many to choose from, but my two favourites were the Edición Limitada Carignan and the Edición Limitada de Familia. The Carignan is unusual… Admittedly, I had hesitations in trying out a predominantly Carignan red because normally, the grape is used for blending, and I’ve tried some from other wine makers that were incredibly off-balanced… So much so, that I promised myself never to write about them. Cremaschi Furlotti’s take, however, balanced it out with a little bit of power and a stronger texture, then anchored it with earthy, masculine, woody notes.

I was sold.

I really don’t need to talk about their Familia wines because it has won double medals in the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America for Best Blend of the Show.

Cremaschi Furlotti has garnered multiple awards over the years for their Single Vineyard Carmenere, Vénere, and other wines… Unsuprisingly. Christian, after all, has fabulous taste.


G.H. Martell & Co.

I got an invitation to this year’s Vinexpo from Rodolphe Le Pesant, who I’ve met in 2014. He’s a very funny guy, and was always willing to let me practice my basic (occasionally horrendous) French on him.


Don’t be fooled by his humorous expression: Those are seriously good bottles of Champagne

His company, G.H. Martell, carries some of the most beautiful boutique Champagne I’ve ever tried. I was partial to the Château de Bligny Le Millesime, which “delightfully combines tropical fruit flavours that bring out all the sensuality of this unique champagne”, the even more unique Paul Louis Martin Le Bouzy Rouge – Millesime (made from 100% Pinot Noir… I’ve talked about the concept of Bouzy Rouge in a previous entry), and the funky bottled La Vielle line.


Quinta Das Apegadas

I met Cândida and António Amorin in my very first wine expo in 2013. I was going around the different Portuguese booths and I happened upon theirs, Quinta Das Apegadas.


I actually got António to smile for this photo!

After my usual opening line (“Can you please tell me about your wines?”), I was shown their lovely Touriga Nacional, a powerful rustic red typical of Portuguese wines.

A particular bottle caught my eye, however, displayed in a different, evidently more special way.


My own bottle of D 60… I was told the winemakers will never make this again, so I had to get one

I had to ask them about it.

António said that they made a very special vintage in celebration of their 60th anniversary, which they called simply Apegadas D 60.

It was what I fully expected of an unshakeable, long-lasting relationship: A strong, comfortable, intense combination of 50% Touriga Nacional, and 50% of “the oldest vines from Quinta Velha”. I truly felt that their passion and love (for each other and the wines) were truly expressed in the bottle.

In fact, it was so good, that it ended up winning awards as well: A silver medal at Mundis Vini 2012 in Germany.

I had to get myself one, and I refused to get it for free.

Hey, support true love and good wine, yes?


So, yes, I may seem to have a fantastic relationship with wine, but I’d like to think that it’s easy enough to do with amazing people behind them.

On that note, part 2 featuring the people behind some of my favourite wines in a next article. Cheers!

A Rosso Coloured Life


Much learning!

There are still times during the course of my job when I have to stop and pinch myself just to make me believe that certain things are happening.

For instance, when I found myself in the midst of tasting 57 top-of-the-line Italian wines, with masters classes provided by the legendary editor-in-chief of THE Italian wine guide Gambero Rosso Marco Sabellico (with the effervescent Lorenzo Ruggeri), I really thought I was dreaming.


The amazing Marco Sabellico

I wasn’t (and no, I wasn’t drunk).

I wasn’t kidding about the 57 wines, either.


Just one of the rounds we had during the event!

Sampling that much wine with awesome speakers was an amazing opportunity… After all, mastering Italian wines is a bit of a challenge (every corner of Italy produces wine). The key takeaway I’ve always had with Italian wines is that somehow, they always find a way to make their wines to match their food (I did not survive the tasting without having pasta… I just had to).

So, tongue numb and forever spoiled by sampling some of the most beautiful Italian wines, I came up with a few of my personal favorites from the showcase.

Note: These were lifted from my actual tasting notes… I actually included the terms “That’s what a dead deer on a highway could potentially smell like… Gamey and incredibly flinty,” somewhere in my paper. I’m saying to encourage people new to describing wine. Yes, people should write the first thing that comes to their minds upon the first smell or taste. Unless it’s a certification exam, if the first thing that one can think of is “manggang hilaw”, that’s perfectly fine. 😉


  • Lunae Bosoni Colli di Luni Vermento Et. Nera 2015 (Liguria)

Peachy, stone fruits, herbs, sage, basil… I needed to pair this with pesto, stat!

  • GajaBarbaresco 2012 (Piedmont)

One can never go wrong with a Barbaresco. Historically, these wines from Piemonte are consistently divine (and pricey!). It took a while for this particular wine to open up, but it was phenomenal when it did.

  • AllegriniAmarone della Valpolicella Cl. 2011 (Veneto)

This prompted my seatmate, legendary wine enthusiast Jay Labrador to happily exclaim, “That’s lovely”. It was indeed lovely… Rounded and chewy, with just a touch of sweetness.

  • Barone PizziniFranciacorta Animante Brut (Lombardy)

Clean, with notes of citrus and honey, plus a little mint and… Balsamic vinegar from Modena…? Added to tropical fruits (like papayas and pineapples) and flowers… This bubbly Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Blanc combo begged to be paired with food.

  • LivonBraide Alte 2014 (Friuli Venezia Giulia)

Very feminine with floral notes of violets and roses… Extremely aromatic with smells of citrus fruits and candied pineapples (that reminded me of my favourite Aji Ichiban dried pineapples). Balanced out by tastes of herbs, tea, and sweet spices (probably caused by the use of old oak barrels).

  • PrimosicCollio Ribolla Gialla di Oslavia Ris. 2011 (Friuli Venezia Giulia)
orange wine.jpg

Nope, it’s not a filter issue… That is orange!

I knew things were getting interesting when we were presented with orange coloured wine. It wasn’t like anything I’ve ever had to evaluate… I felt it needed its own classification. It had smells of tertiary aromas (strong notes of aged wood), but balanced on the other end of the spectrum by herbs and orange peel. Even the food pairing is quite polarizing, as it can work well with both dried fruits and white meat. It got its color from going through the same procedure as red wine (including the skin of the grapes during fermentation).

  • CottaneraEtna Bianco 2014 (Sicily)

Admittedly, the biggest reason for featuring this is because it came from the same area as Mount Etna (one of the world’s most active volcanoes). This is a surprisingly gamey white, with elements of minerality and spice to it, rounded off with a feminine, elegant texture… I daresay I can have this as an alternative to my white Burgundies.

Was it just another day in a wine specialist’s life? Maybe (I mean, the incredibly raw tasting notes just show what I do), but I’m not complaining.

Apart from the awesome 57 Italian powerhouses, the event also exhibited some of Italy’s finest wines… It was so hard to choose a favorite.


A great gathering of people and wine!

What’s your favorite Italian wine? Cheers!


*Grazie Mille to Marco and Lorenzo of Gambero Rosso for the time and opportunity, and the wonderful people of Felicitas Global (especially Miss Airene and Miss Smita, you are amazing for inviting us to your wonderful event!)

What I’m Working On…

collage - vinexpo

Best moments in Vinexpo 2016

A picture is worth a thousand words.

I couldn’t agree more.

When I decided to be OC about posting original photos and write about each photo, the “thousand words” multiplied exponentially.

That being the case, I admit that I’m working on consolidating (really, shortening should be a better word) my articles for Vinexpo.

Here are just some photos of the highlights. 🙂 Cheers!