I have to admit that I was intrigued when I received an invitation from 75cl for a wine pairing dinner at Newton Food Centre. It hardly seemed like an appropriate venue for such an occasion and for some unexplained reason, the thought of pairing wines with local cuisine seemed a little far-fetched to me. I am glad to say however, that I was pleasantly surprised by the events that transpired over that dinner. Cedric Mui, the man who helped conceive the plan for 75cl, showed us that wine culture doesn’t have to be one that is exclusive and elitist. Over the course of dinner I spoke to him about 75cl’s efforts to create a new, democratic wine culture that complements our local lifestyle and food culture.
Cedric Mui, 75cl
Can you tell us a little more about what 75cl is about?
75cl is the leading online destination for wine and spirits in Singapore. We source for gems directly from wineries around the world and curate a list of wines that we believe punch above their weight and offer far more value than their price tags would suggest. The large majority of our wines are priced between $40 and $80 and have an amazing quality-price ratio.
The bigger idea is to democratise wine and foster the enjoyment of it without fuss or fear. To do that, we keep the prices of our wines accessible, we offer the convenience of online shopping, and we offer same-day delivery.
How would you define ‘democratising’ wine culture?
Democratising wine culture is to allow everyone the chance to know the joy of drinking wine. Basically, what that means is removing obstacles to the enjoyment of wine and creating new opportunities for discovery.
Singaporeans are starting to have an opinion on wine. There was a time when we would buy wines based entirely on professional reviews and ratings, not our individual palates. That’s changing. We’re exchanging notes with our peers and we’re starting to respect our own tastes. That’s transferring the power from a handful of influential critics to people like you and I, the average wine lover.
To democratise wine, we’re adopting less ‘wine speak’ and jargon that would scare off anyone but a wine geek. Also, at 75cl.sg you don’t have to fork out $100 per bottle or pronounce terroir before we serve you.
Here you’ll also find recommendations not from experts, but local food lovers, chefs, writers and everyday enthusiasts. That’s important because they eat what we eat, and they visit the same hawkers we do.
The flavour profile of local cuisine is completely different from that of European or American food, making wine pairing rather interesting. Yet somehow, we tend to only drink wine at Western restaurants, not with food that we consume daily. It’s a mindset I’d like to change in order to foster a truly local wine culture. To do that, we’re creating opportunities for people to experience wine in everyday settings and with everyday foods. For example, we’ve been organising a series of ticketed dinners where we visit different iconic hawker centres and pair their best dishes with wines. Diners are constantly surprised at how the wines elevate simple dishes like orh luak or satay.
The accessible price point also means our customers get to drink more (and more widely). There’s no better wine education. We’re exploring new and exciting wine regions like Brazil, so there’s always a new grape varietal to discover. We hold casual tasting dinners every week at one of our many partner restaurants, so our customers really get to taste a large part of our portfolio in a year.
How did 75cl come up with the idea to pair wine with local food?
The idea of pairing wine with local food really falls within the greater vision of fostering a local wine culture. We wanted to make wine more relevant to the local food culture which involves flavours that are very different from the Western foods that most experts pair wine with. What’s stopping us from hitting one of our favourite zi char stalls with a bottle of wine?
The hawker dinner is a good way to introduce wine in a familiar setting, with familiar flavours. It’s casual and relaxed, so no one’s uptight about the price and pedigree of a wine. They’re really just there to enjoy the meal and the wine adds a wonderful new dimension to it.
Before each hawker dinner, the 75cl team will trawl for the best foods at a hawker centre or zi char stall, and experiment with different pairings. Hawker foods tend to be spicy with big, bold flavours, and some dishes can be challenging to pair, but that’s the whole point of these dinners. They are expeditions for the palate. We want to push boundaries and challenge the ‘rules’ to get the most intriguing pairings.
What is your favourite wine pairing so far?
It would definitely be Chili Crab with a bottle of off-dry gewürztraminer from Alsace. Chili Crab is a tough dish to pair with wine because there are so many facets of the dish to take note of. The gravy is thick, sweet, and spicy whereas the man tou that goes along with it is oily and toasty. Finding a wine that blends perfectly with these facets requires some alchemy.
The slight hint of sweetness from the gewürztraminer helps to mitigate the spiciness while complementing, but not overwhelming, the sweetness of the Chili Crab. It’s not a pairing that comes to mind instantly, but it surprised everyone with how well it worked. It has become quite a story for us to retell.
What advice would you give a casual wine drinker looking to learn more?
Have an open mind. It’s more important to find something you like and understand why you like it rather than be led by price or expert opinions. The fact is, wines of all prices have their own unique story of climate, terrain and wine-making culture, so prejudging a wine by brand and price robs you of the richness of this experience.
Do you have tips or ideas for people looking to pair wines with their home-cooked meals?
You can start by taking reference from something you already know and like. For example, if you think a bowl of salty French fries goes best with beer, use that as your reference point to find something with similar qualities. Beer is dry and sparkling, somewhat similar to a Cava or a Champagne. So theoretically, both of these could go well with French fries too. Experiment with both wines to figure out if the pairings favour your palate or not. The trick is to deconstruct the flavours and textures into their basic components and relate them to that of wines you have tasted before.