Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Throw party at wine shop in Tienmu with organizing help from Sonny and Caroline See

By Nancy T. Lu
Delicious food, excellent wines, and cozy setting not to mention warm and personalized service all combine to help create beautiful party memories for celebrants of happy occasions the whole year round. Those who particularly enjoy wine drinking know that The Vineyard in Tienmu is a reliable place for such events.

Wine expert Sonny See and his charming wife, Caroline See, are ever ready to help orchestrate such happenings. Both speak English very fluently.

“Collecting expensive wines cited by experts for their appellations d’origine for years can be said to be a typically Taiwanese practice,” said Sonny See, a Philippine-born sommelier who opened his wine shop called The Vineyard in Tienmu two years ago. “In fact, the most expensive wines in Bordeaux have for many years been sold to Taiwan, where buyers regard them as a good investment,” he added.

The 60-year-old See would like to change the Taiwanese concept about imported wines. As he put it, “The time has come to learn the French ‘joie de vivre’ by acquiring a taste for good and excellent wines.”

For this reason, See has come up with the unique idea of having a tapas bar at his wine shop. His wine shop, which is located not far from Takashimaya, tries to be more accessible to people.

“Customers can drop by for a glass of wine at the end of a working day,” said See, who served for many years at the Ritz Landis Taipei. “You can have a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon from Australia at lunchtime for as low as NT$100.”

A similar order in a restaurant or bar elsewhere in Taipei is very likely to cost much more.

People in Taiwan tend to have the impression that wines are generally expensive. See would like to correct this misconception.

“Good wine is to be sipped and enjoyed,” said See. “It does not necessarily have to be expensive.”

The range of tapas or hors d’oeuvres on offer at The Vineyard is amazing. See and his very capable daughter, Joanna See, make them, marinating olives with garlic and dried chili. They also saute baby potatoes with anchovies, adding rosemary. Cherry tomatoes with olive oil and balsamic vinegar make great appetizer at The Vineyard, too.

They can fry eggplant in olive oil, infusing it with ginger. They cook sweet pepper in honey with capers. Occasionally they serve pan-fried mackerel with lemon and caper. This wonderful fish is under-rated, said See.

The Vineyard in the past even had a good squid recipe, requiring marinating the seafood in olive oil with lemon juice and dill zest for at least two hours. Letting everything stay overnight was even better. Then the squid was ready to be dropped on a smoking hot pan without oil. The squid’s juice was reduced this way. Lemon juice was squeezed and onion ring slices put on top.

Customers at The Vineyard come in early in the morning for a hearty breakfast. Yes, the See family is ready to serve early in the morning. Dinner crowd shows up at around 7:30 p.m. and See is experienced enough to engage in wine talk with them. The shop is open until 9:30 p.m.

See personally pours champagne for guests celebrating a special occasion in the wine shop’s comfortable basement space. With music playing in the background, the birthday celebrant gets a cake with a lighted candle, too.

See makes sure that the champagne bottle is not too cold. He looks at the bubbles in the glass to check the champagne quality. A clear color also is important. The actual tasting to assess the fruity flavor and acidity follows.

Champagne mellows and changes for the better with age,” said See. “The champagne bottles which went down with the Titanic were very much drinkable when recovered years later.”

See’s wine stocks date as far back as 1986. The Vineyard carries Bordeaux wines of 1990, 1989 and 1986 vintages. The bottles of wines available range in prices from NT$2,000 to NT$20,000. Customers, however, can also order gift baskets worth NT$1,500 to NT$5,000.

The Vineyard is located at 196 Texing East Road in Tienmu. For inquiries, call tel. (02)2834-5026.

All the pictures were taken by Nancy T. Lu.

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