Urban Dictionary defines the term “spirit animal” as “a person or character that represents your inner personality… This is a positive way to describe someone who you relate to in the way they react to situations and interact with people.”
When I had the privilege to attend the “Summer in Canton” dinner held in Summer Palace, Edsa Shangri-La, I never knew I’d meet someone I would consider to be my spirit animal: Yang Lu, Master Sommelier and Corporate Wine Director for Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts.
I say this because we share similarities in terms of our background. In our youth, we never thought to make a career out of wine and took science courses (he took up Astrology and minored in Mathematics), but the pursuit of all things alcohol was just something we couldn’t ignore. And like people fond of academic pursuits, we decided to study alcohol and go through the WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) program. I only managed to obtain a Level 3 Award in Wines and Spirits, but he managed to get a Level 4 Diploma Award, then went on to become the only Chinese Master Sommelier in the world. He is the champion of the Best Sommelier Greater China Competition in 2014, as well as three major sommelier competitions in China. As one of the most influential sommeliers in the global wine industry, he has shared his wine knowledge as an educator, judge, writer, and speaker.
Speaking of learning and well, speaking, Lu made sure that the evening at Summer Palace was a gastronomic, entertaining, and educational experience. He didn’t stick to the usual rules, and instead selected wines not from the usual French wine regions. These paired surprisingly well with one of the more unusual, and challenging, cuisines for wine pairing—Chinese food.
Chef Tony Sum prepared a sumptuous five-course dinner that highlighted the nuanced flavors and textures of Cantonese cuisine. For the appetizers, Yang Lu featured the Domaine Huet Vouvray Pétillant Brut 2013 from the Loire Valley. According to Lu, the winery is famous for making sweet wine, and has only recently started getting into making sparkling wines. American Chinese millionaire Anthony Wang owns the winery now, which is considered the most famous in Loire. I’ve never had Vouvray in a Pétillant style before, which is a state of effervescence in between a Spumante and a Frizzante. The wine was pretty well rounded and able to hold its structure with the flavorful appetizers.
Lu then paired the Spicy Thai Soup with Scallop, Sea Cucumber, and Crab Meat with the Bénédicte & Stéphane Tissot “En Sursis” Côtes-du-Jura Chardonnay 2011. It was completely out of the box, as Jura is a French wine producing region famous for making wines similar to sherry. It’s rare to find Jura outside Europe, and it can be polarizing, but if the drinker understands its intent, it could make for a great conversation beverage. I particularly appreciated how the little seemingly oxidized nuances played off the delicate flavors of the soup.
For the Roasted Baby Duck with Plum Sauce, Lu paired it with the Marcel Lapierre Morgon 2016, a wonderful Beaujolais. As Lu said, the classic red wine pairing for duck is typically a Pinot Noir, but a carefully selected Beaujolais can also be a good option. This combination brought out the smoky characteristics of the duck without overwhelming its subtle spices.
Lu next paired Pan-seared Beef Tenderloin with Stir-fried Angel Hair Noodles and Prawn with the M. Chapoutier Saint-Joseph “Deschants” 2014. M. Chapoutier is one of the biggest wineries in the Rhône region, famous for its diverse, award winning wines, and having Braille on its labels to help blind people buy wine on their own. I liked this Syrah wine on its own, but it interestingly went well with the prawns.
For dessert, Lu paired Chilled Lemongrass Jelly with Calamansi Sorbet with Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Gewürztraminer 2014 from Turckheim, Alsace. The key characteristic of a Gewürztraminer is its aromatic floral notes, which the bottle had. Alsatian Gewürztraminer is typically dry, which made it great paired with the mildly tart flavors of the dessert.
All in all, the dinner is a perfect illustration of Yang Lu’s perspective on wine, which I share: one should always have a spirit of adventure when it comes to pairing food and wine.
Summer Palace, Edsa Shangri-La, 1 Garden Way, Ortigas Center, Mandaluyong, (02) 633-8888
Select photos by Gail Sotelo
Gail Sotelo has a WSET Level 3 Award in Wines and Spirits. She is a wine consultant, blogger, and lecturer. She owns the drink blog 2shotsandapint.com which aims to make wine and other drinks accessible to everybody, and holds classes at Enderun Colleges.