Gastrobars in Singapore: Ma Cuisine in Tanjong Pagar serves over 800 red and white wines

Ma Cuisine founders Anthony Charmetant and Mathieu Escoffier

Unlike other gastro wine bars, Ma Cuisine founders Anthony Charmetant and Mathieu Escoffier offer a personal touch

Gastro wine bar Ma Cuisine has been quietly winning over oenophiles since it opened in January. The recipe for its success? A wine collection of more than 800 labels – one of the most extensive in Singapore. But more important is the passion, charm and encyclopaedic knowledge espoused by owners Anthony Charmetant (above, left) and Mathieu Escoffier (above, right). Their mission in life? To share this knowledge and enthusiasm with customers. Here, Charmetant and Escoffier share their verve.

What’s the most interesting story about a winemaker that you’d like to share?

Anthony Charmetant (AC): I chanced upon winemaker Hans Herzog in Marlborough, New Zealand when I first left France for work. Hans completely changed everything I thought I knew about the world of wine and winemaking.

When everyone else in Marlborough was planting the same grape variety, here was a winemaker going back to the basics of wine cultivation, planting over 20 grape varieties on his small 11.5-hectare patchwork plot of land.

It is extremely rare to see anyone still working this way, like a 19th-century monk in the 21st century, meticulously planning and allocating the best plots to each respective vine; – one line of Viognier, two lines of Semillon and three lines of Montepulciano.

It was exhilarating to realise these possibilities and questions about the new world and new way of wine; I’ve never looked back since.

Mathieu Escoffier (ME): I had the honour of blind-tasting five outstanding bottles with the legend Bernard Noblet, winemaker of the highly revered Burgundian estate, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, in their secret cellar.

It was an experience I’ll never forget. I tasted a wine with massive structure yet subtle elegance. I guessed it was a 1990 Richebourg. To my surprise, I was right! With the perfect conditions and conservation, the wines can easily pass off as 10 years younger and are notoriously difficult to guess correctly.

I appreciate fine wines but am by no means a trained sommelier, so I was secretly very pleased to have guessed this right.

What is something unique about a particular wine that you like, that very few people know about?

AC: I like the Hermitage for its rich and untold history. Dating back to the 17th century, the hill of Hermitage is one of the oldest areas in France where one can produce vin de paille – a small group of expensive but delicious, sweet white wines with excellent aging potential.

Planted over 2,000 years ago, the fact that it is still cultivated today is completely crazy! The appellation is incomparable for its unique geological makeup and the Ermitage Vin de Paille Blanc Maison Chapoutier 2007 is an example of this. There was a time when it even used to be more expensive than a Montrachet!

ME: I adore the Aligote. While Aligote is usually known as an overly-acidic grape planted in bad plots, Aligote was once planted on the top plots of 1er cru and Grand Cru of Cote de Beaune pre-Phyloxera.

It has since been replaced by Chardonnay, which is easier and faster to grow. I’m curious to see if winemakers in the future will ever have the same audacity to plant Aligote on prestigious land such as Puligny Montrachet or Chassagne 1er cru.

The monks who planted Aligote were right. Given a good plot, Aligote can achieve the perfect balance from a complex and rich soil.

If a customer walks into Ma Cuisine and is celebrating a special occasion, what (non-sparkling) wine would you recommend?

AC: There are many factors involved in recommending a wine best suited for each occasion. We might recommend one of our magnums which are always good for a celebration – and they are well-priced, too.

We might ask our guests what they are celebrating, if there is a special year, how adventurous they wish to be, if they prefer to sit down while drinking (as one should sit with a stronger, more “serious” wine).

For instance, Fleurie Clos de la Grand’Cour Domaine de la Grand’Cour 2014 is the perfect juice, made of the Gamay variety and easy to drink. Winemaker Jean-Louis Dutraive achieves a beautiful, complex structure that is simple and elegant with soft red fruit on the palate.

ME: I would recommend a wine based on their year of celebration (birth year, wedding anniversary, etc.). We could then also explore our extensive Port and Madeira wine selection, one of the largest offerings in Asia.

It’s like drinking history and in this case, your history, which is even better! For instance, if one was born in ’62 like my mother, I would recommend a Petrus ’62.

What wine would you bring to your best friend’s wedding, and why?

AC: I’d bring a Jeroboam of Domaine de Montcalmes 2014, a wine with no pretence, ready to be drunk at any time and enjoyed by all. Knowing your audience is important. I wouldn’t want to exclude friends who aren’t in the wine industry; I prefer to impress them with something simple yet outstanding and accessible.

The diverse terroirs of Terrasses du Larzac, a rising, newly-created appellation in Cotes de Languedoc, gives this Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache blend balance, complexity and a gorgeous finish.

ME: If I have to, I will bring a wine that we have enjoyed the most together, because wine is memory. It would have to be a magnum of Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape Hommage 2000; I know my best friend will remember it and be thankful for it.

Will you be visiting any vineyards or regions soon?

AC: I will be going back to the Rhone Valley in France, my hometown, where I’ll introduce my favourite experiences to Mathieu and cover over 20 places, meeting and discovering the new wave of winemakers from the region.

I also plan to explore Hungarian wines further and travel to Georgia for the first time, the oldest wine region and motherland of winemaking.

It’s important for Mathieu, my business partner, and I to embark on trips together each year to familiar and unfamiliar terroirs. Because we always return with new, exciting bottlings to add to our library.

ME: I’m looking forward to visiting the Douro Valley in Portugal to discover Porto estates for the first time with Barao de Vilar’s winemaker, Alvaro Van Zeller. Anthony and I will be following his advice on winemakers to visit – but we know the whole area is worth a visit!

Ma Cuisine