A Gonzalez Byass Wine Dinner @ Grand Hyatt KL

Up till this point, I had never heard this word spoken as often as I did this past week, Bodegas.

And when you talk about Bodegas, you talk about Sherry.

Bodegas are actually storage houses where sherry is aged and matured. And up till today, I only knew of one sort of Sherry. The sweet sort. And I wasn’t really that big a fan, as I don’t like my drinks sweet.

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Well, Tio Pepe has singlehandedly change the way I perceive sherry. As of last week, my understanding of this tipple has deepened, just as my love for it. González Byass has opened my mind and palate to bone dry sherry, completely dispelling my misconception of sweet sherry that old fogies sip on as they play chess in the dark.

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You see, if you have not already heard of, González Byass is one of the “classic bodegas” of the Sherry Triangle (Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlucar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa Maria). In the early 19th century, Jerez, Spain had become the wine capital of the world. In 1835, Manuel Maria González Angel put all of his savings into the founding of a small winery and within 20 years González Byass grew to become the leading exporter of sherry wines in Jerez.


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Out of their loins comes the flagship Tio Pepe, Nectar Jerez Pedro Ximénez, La Concha, San Domingo, to name a few.

So imagine our excitement at being invited, not once, but twice (two nights in a row) for an evening with Tio Pepe cocktails first, and then to a second event called the Gonzales Byass Wine Dinner, at the Grand Hyatt KL. Words could not describe our elation.

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Yes this week was definitely a first for many things.. the first time seeing a contraption called the Venencia. A first at trying my hand (don’t laugh) at Venenciador, err.. for sure a first at drinking such copious amounts of Sherry, and definitely a first, pairing it with fine food.

So to kick off dinner at any tres chi chi location, it’s customary to set the mood and get the guest warmed up, with some equally tres chi chi  canapés. We hung out at Thirty8, looking all posh and allowing the “master” venenciador himself, to pour sherry for us, glass after glass with little, if any spillage at all, on Grand Hyatt’s polished floors. Mixologist Johan Holmberg, was probably the coolest person I’ve met all year, and all he did was serve me Tio Pepe, in a most skilled fashion.. via a Venencia. And he makes Venenciador look so easy. Trust me, it’s not, and you will see why later!

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Johan puts the finishing touches on the Jerez Spritz

Johan Holmberg has been creating cocktails since the young age of fourteen and has gone on to win many awards. He was the youngest person to win the Master Mixologist title and has started up and runs five bars and restaurants of his own.

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This famous yet modest head barman from El Coctel Shanghai has “shaken and not stirred” for more than 154 countries worldwide.

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We tried cocktails such as the Jerez Vesper, Pepe Rosado, La Modena & the Jerez Spritz.

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Love the way the glass “bleeds” balsamic! 

Of these, my favorites were the La Modena which had a delicious rim of balsamic vinegar, made with Gin and Solera 1847 Sherry, with lovely notes of basil and orange bitters.

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That and also the Pepe Rosado – a photogenic rose petal, tio pepe, lime juice concoction, topped up with sparkling wine that’s guaranteed to hit the spot. All the cocktails were fragrant, balanced and had a lovely permeating Sherry core that was hard to resist.

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Another big favourite of mine was the super smooth gin tonic, made with the London No.1 Gin. A lovely pale blue, it’s hard to describe your fist sip of this gin, which will probably be branded into your psyche for the rest of your life.. words cannot describe the sheer bliss derived from a mouthful of such a classy, subtle, not-in-your-face gin.

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Anyway, on the Second night back at Grand Hyatt, for the Wine dinner, we were in for a bigger treat…

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L – R, Sergi Rostoll (Regional Sales Director Asia Pacific for Gonzalez Byass), Matias Calleja Ugarte (Beronia Wine Maker) & Florian from Iconic Wines Malaysia

What can I tell you.. two days in a row, with fine wines and food for company.. I can’t say I was complaining. If the first night with Tio Pepe, was like foreplay, then this, my friends was really popping that Sherry. The Gonzalez Byass Dinner would be one to remember.

And who can possibly say, that they are not fans of Rioja wines? Beronia for me, is one of those wines that can totally rock my palate, Rioja style. I have always found the wines extremely affordable, great value for money and made with great passion. Meeting winemaker Matias Calleja Ugarte was a great pleasure, and with what little Spanish I had, I tried to convey that feeling to him. I think he got my message.. eventually.

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Before the Beronia Wine dinner, guests mingled,  sipped Tio Pepe cocktails, chatted with the Beronia winemaker, and nibbled on Parmesan cream toast, Teriyaki Chicken & Leek Skewers, Roasted Beetroot, Goats cheese and basil pesto with Toasted Almond & Crispy fried Whitebait. The night was off to a great start.

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Classic Tio Pepe Jerez Sherry, Palomino fino & Sherry based cocktails especially created by Johan paired with finger food

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Then we proceeded to dinner… but first, we had to work for our meal!

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Here we are, trying our hand at the Venencia.. It’s a lot harder than it looks and you’d be lucky not to get half of it on the floor!

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Here’s me, trying not to get it on my shoes! Not very skilled at all! 

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Right, survived my first Venenciador experience without wetting my dress or myself.  I guess you could call it a successful first try! 

We were ushered into a private dining room with a huge open kitchen up front. After settling down, it was time for dinner.

Matias And Sergi give the opening remarks and introduced the wines. Matias has been at Beronia for 32 years starting off as an assistant winemaker, working his way to production director to head winemaker to general manager. They are the pioneers in the use of mixed oak barrels combining French and American oak to make their Crianza and Reserva wines, while in keeping with tradition, the Gran Reservas are still made in 100 per cent French oak. Matias believes a healthy environment is key – The wines are organic and the vineyards are farmed sustainably using organic viticulture processes.

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To set the mood, Flamenco! Ole! 

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Executive Chef Tommy Franssila putting the finishing touches on our first entrée.. an open kitchen means we get to see everything

I am a huge fan of Swedish born Chef, Tommy Franssila’s cooking. Balance is the word that comes to mind when describing his food.

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Seared Scallops, celeriac and potato espuma, paired with the Vinas del Vero, Somontano Chardonnay 2013

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Perfectly seared scallops which were still moist and delicate, were the perfect pair for this Chardonnay that exhibited Floral herbs, a nice minerality, with a dense, rich and citrusy finish. Loved every mouthful.

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Duck Confit, beetroot marmalade, morel mushroom fricassee – best dish of the night for me.. loved the way the earthy beetroot found its match in the gamy duck. More earthiness from the Morel mushrooms which are my Achilles heel, so obviously I was gaga over this dish.

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And to pair the Duck Confit with this amazing Beronia Special Edition Tempranillo 2011, was perfection personified. Sweet savory notes of dark berry fruit, cedar and spice, a medium body and a tannic finish is what this wine had going for it. Who can say that a different pair might pair worse, but this was just sublime.

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Chef Tommy again adding the finishing sauces to the Roasted herb crusted Australian Lamb Loin, Eggplant Cannelloni, pine nuts crumble. This would be paired with a wine I was rather looking forward to taste.. the Beronia D.O.C. Crianza 2011.

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A nice medium to medium rare.. could have been bloodier! 

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The Crianza is also made from the Tempranillo grape. This was a more robust red with aromas of vanilla, berries and spices. However, I had expected more from this wine. Definitely tannic and acidic, I think it would have been better, drunk in the next 5 years or so. Still needed time in the bottle this one.

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Chocolate quenelle, Raspberry jelly, flour less chocolate cake paired with the Cristina Jerez Sherry Palomino, Pedro Ximenez.

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I hate it when dessert wines have you gagging on their sweetness.. it’s really not pleasant at all. But the Cristina Jerez Sherry Palomino, Pedro Ximenez is a trickster of sorts. Taking a whiff, this sherry smells like it’s super, honeysuckle sweet, but when you sip it, it has a great, lingering fragrance but not that much sweetness on the tongue at all. What a pleasant change from being drowned in sugar.

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A medium-sweet wine, this one is on the drier end of medium-sweet, offering plenty of smoky oak, spice and almond skin notes mingling with dried fruit and caramelized brown sugar. I could drink half a bottle of this and not feel sick I tell you. Delicious!

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The Chefs take a bow for their fine work! 

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With Florian of Iconic Wines Malaysia

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What an exciting and near life changing encounter with Tio Pepe Sherry and fine Beronia wines.. I think I won’t soon forget such a well executed Wine dinner for the rest of the year.

Can’t wait to hear more from Gonzalez Byass in 2015. Where fine food and wine is concerned, we live in exciting times, I tell ya.

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