The Burgundy Merchant
The wine for fine Asian food is not a buxom Bordeaux but an exquisite Burgundy, suggests the distinctive gentleman, Yuhei Teraoka. Few can match make like the elegant Japanese sommelier who came to Malaysia, incipient food capital of the world, almost two decades ago.
Teraoka touched down with tasting glass and decanter in hand, as the city’s fine wine scene was just becoming a thing. He’s well aware that Burgundy is a minority sport here, despite his unconditional love and advocacy of the stuff. And it must be why he’s established Y Burgundy Merchants. Y, indeed. Because, like fine cuisine, Burgundy needs no “secret sauce" to compensate for the absence of exceptional subtleties. Made from Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, they are living proof of how you can find the universe in a single grape, if you pay it attention.
It’s a delicate thing; the fewer the ingredients, the more exposed their quality upon first swirl. In skilled hands, fine burgundy yields a perfume that unravels vows of abstinence.
“It also matches the char of the Jalan Alor chicken wing," says Teraoka of one of the city’s most-referenced street food meccas. “Char siew, duck and quail," he whispers, then tips his hat to chef Takashi Kimura at Cilantro Restaurant and Wine Bar, whose Japanese-inflected French cookery he says is like burgundy’s BFF. It was also here, Teraoka’s first Malaysian stomping ground, that he created a 65-page wine list at a time when sommeliers were not seen, and often misheard as being from Somalia, he recalls. Why 65 pages? “So diners would definitely have to ask me what to drink."
If burgundy still flies under the radar despite popping up to smash wine auction records (e.g. a bottle of Romanée Conti 1945 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, US$558,000), it’s because Burgundy the region’s Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée classification has more complications than the Vacheron Constantin ref 57260. As usual, it assigns higher quality to smaller, specific units of geography i.e. Region, Village (commune) and Climat (single plots of particular terroir). But this is overlaid on a historical pattern of individual vineyards (lieux-dits) that are tiny from being continually subdivided by ostensibly egalitarian inheritance law (all heirs must inherit equally). The rarity of Burgundy’s Grands Crus, especially, is because they must be made from grapes of a particular Climat or lieu-dit.
So, unlike in Bordeaux, which classifies quality by producer or chateau, winemakers in Burgundy can buy their neighbour’s vineyards, but cannot label it as their own. There are 1,247 different Climats along the 60km of terroir between Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits in Burgundy which were finally listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2015. It’s all enough to drive you to drink… Bordeaux.
Collectors might want to stock up for posterity, though. Burgundy’s vineyards are mostly family-owned but the success of their wines has increased the value of their vineyards and some winemakers can no longer afford to pay inheritance tax. Those who aren’t thinking of selling their land have ramped up prices to the outrage of regulars.
Hence, Y Burgundy Merchants. Teraoka is a perfectly suited navigator; his mother was a popular food critic, and he trained as a pâtissière, working in original Iron Chef Yutaka Ishinabe’s Queen Alice restaurants in Tokyo, and in Michelin-starred restaurants for seven years before flying south. It was a Richebourg 1978 Henri Jayer a customer shared that sealed his conversion experience. Burgundy is “really big in Japan," he says, pointing out that Takashimaya, distributors of Domaine Leroy since 1972, had already bought a third of its vineyards in 1988. There might still be a Richebourg 1978 at Kikubari in Kuala Lumpur, where Teraoka is chief sommelier, if you get there fast enough.
Otherwise, behind the armoured door to the lounge area of Y Burgundy Merchants is a stash that includes some Domaine Ponsot, at “not crazy prices" that will make you a believer.