Sabor, por favor

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By Joseph L. Garcia, Reporter

WHEN WE SEEK pleasure in dining, is flavor enough to carry the whole experience, or is exploration, adventure and atmosphere vital to achieving complete sensory pleasure?

Novotel’s new wine bar, Sabor Bar de Vinos seeks to place wines and tapas in a casual, non-threatening atmosphere. The space, once just a nook under one of the hotel’s escalators, was renovated and turned into a bar that extends all the way to the hotel’s smoking area. By the ashtrays, a mural of a heavy-lidded woman with roses in her hair sips from a glass of wine while observing the scene.

The casual vibe relaxes the mind and allows one to enjoy what is served without fear of being judged. “Novotel is a fun brand. We’re not really the sophisticated type,” said Nonito Cuizon, the hotel’s assistant marketing and communications manager, during a tasting last week. Novotel is under the Accor hotel group, which also owns Sofitel.

In that light, serving Japanese favorites like shrimp tempura and a Filipino classic dinakdakan (think of it like a wet version of sisig, with coconut milk) is served alongside wine, in which case, Mr. Cuizon gave BusinessWorld carte blanche on what to order: no strict pairings here. We decided that evening on a Castillo de Almansa Verdejo Sauvignon Blanc from Spain, a Candidato Tempranillo from the same country, and a Clarendelle Rouge from France.

We paired the Tempranillo with the dinakdakan, rich with cartilage and other chewy, crunchy bits, creamy with coconut milk. The pairing was unorthodox but worth it. The Tempranillo was dry, with a bit of plum, and an ending note of smoke. Paired with the dinakdakan, the wine gave the creamy dish body, its sharpness cutting through the softer flavors of the dish.

We then switched to the Sauvignon Blanc. The white wine had a scent like perfumed stationery; a light, creamy opening note; and a burst of fresh limes at the end. The combination of the dinakdakan and the Spanish white heightened the creaminess of each element, resulting in a buttery flavor. We were happy, meanwhile, to pair this wine with the fluffy tempura: the crispness of the latter lent body to the wine, while the wine enhanced the softness and freshness of the shrimp.

The Clarendelle, a special from the Domaine Clarence Dillon (presently presided over by Prince Robert of Luxembourg), had a relaxing woody aroma and a smooth velvety finish. We paired this with bitterballen, breaded veal meatballs inspired by a snack from Holland. These two brought out the best in each other; the wine especially highlighting the veal’s mouthfeel.

While other wine bars dot the metro, Mr. Cuizon is content to say that Sabor (Spanish for “flavor”) combines easygoing style with the nonpareil service of a hotel. “Iba naman talaga when you’re in a hotel (It’s really different when you’re in a hotel),” he said. “You’re pampered, you’re given the best.”

Sabor Bar de Vinos (open Tuesday–Saturday, 5 p.m. to 3 a.m.) is located on the ground floor of Novotel Manila Araneta. For inquiries, call 990-7888.