THE deceptively young looking and energetic recent septuagenarian, Tita Meneses Trillo — simply Tita for short — is the undisputed queen of Philippine wines. Her name resonates among wine lovers in the country. Tita has really been one of the true pioneers of wines in our country, and she is an extremely positive influence on the newer industry players, including myself, who are all trying to make it in this challenging yet quite exciting local wine business scene.
Tita has seen the fledging local wine industry grow to its present more conspicuous level. She was one of the founders of Anthony’s Wine & Spirits, Inc. way back in 1982. Tita helped build Anthony’s Wine & Spirits into one of Philippines’ biggest wine importers before the new millennium. Elite wine brands that are still very much leaders in their respective wine categories, such as Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Robert Mondavi, Antinori, Champagne Bollinger, Joseph Drouhin, Trimbach, Lindemans, and Concha y Toro, to name a few, at one time or another went through Tita’s wine savvy hands in the country.
By 2005, Tita would team up with her youngest brother, the very affable Jose “Joe” Meneses to form Titania Wine Cellar, Inc. Tita retained some core brands from her Anthony’s Wine & Spirits days, including Bordeaux’s leading winery, Baron Philippe de Rothschild SA, Tuscany’s 137-year-old brand Piccini (famous for their Chianti fiasco bottle in straw baskets), and one of Spain’s largest wine companies, Felix Solis Avantis. One thing in common among these wine principals that Tita maintained is that all of them are family owned. Tita is very proud of saying that her close-knit relationship with her wine principals is more like family than just a business partnership. Other Titiania exclusive brands include Champagne Baron de Rothschild, Escudo Rojo (Baron Philippe de Rothschild’s Chilean winery), Caliterra (also from Chile, the partnership between the famous Robert Mondavi and Vina Errazuriz), Bodegas Sta. Ana of Argentina, and more.
CRYSTAL ANNIVERSARY AND SHARED WISDOM
Titania Wine Cellar is soon going to celebrate its Crystal Anniversary — its 15th year — and the company is still growing stronger. Titania has a nationwide distribution network, including nine wine shops nationwide. Five of these are in Metro Manila, one is in Northern Luzon (Baguio), two are in the Visayas (Cebu and Boracay), and one is in Mindanao (Iligan). As a business model, Titania only sells and carries its own wine imports. It is not being selfish, as it is simply being practical. As it stands now, Titania already has a wine portfolio covering almost 200 wines. The Titania shops allow their wine principals to have a showroom for their wines and consistent brand exposure nationwide.
In our casual lunch at the Titania Grand Cellar in Yakal St,, Makati, Tita shared her wisdom on managing the wine business. “To survive in this business, you have to limit your number of wines or SKUs (stock keeping units). In the past three to four years, we have already stopped adding more wines to our portfolio, and have in fact consciously tried to reduce our portfolio.” This makes so much sense. I noticed new wine importers tend to be overzealous when it comes to adding more brands and more SKUs. While it is true more wines mean better depth and breadth (a wine lover’s dream), it also, sadly, means new inventories and more resources tied to stocks. While several wine principals are constantly wooing Tita to carry their brands, Tita has nonchalantly turned them down. “There are just too many wines around, and I think we need to focus on our core brands and help grow these brands organically.” she added.
ARGENTINE WINES ON THE RISE
One of Titania’s fastest growing brands now is the fascinating Argentine range from Bodegas Sta. Ana. The winery was founded in 1891 by Italian immigrant Luis Tirasso — one of the pioneers of wine making in Argentina. Now almost 130 years old, Bodegas Santa Ana has combined its rich history with modern technology to become the top selling winery in domestic Argentina. Bodegas Santa Ana is also getting better known in international wine circles, with distribution in 45 countries and counting.
Within the Santa Ana portfolio is the higher range Mascota Vineyards. The vineyard for Mascota is located at the foothills of Los Andes, barely a kilometer from the Mendoza River, and provides the vines with the ideal cool breezes from both mountain and river influences. This vineyard is easily one of the oldest and finest viticultural areas in Argentina. Chief wine maker Rodolfo “Opi” Sadler, one of Argentina’s most recognized wine makers, also makes his eponymous Opi wines under the Mascota Vineyards label.
BIG BAT CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2013, UCO VALLEY
Spending time with the queen of Philippine wines would not be complete without sharing a good wine. And true enough, Tita pulled out one of her cherished wines for us to drink with our lunch. This was the Mascota Vineyards Big Bat Cabernet Sauvignon from Bodegas Santa Ana. The wine has been getting many accolades from the biggest wine critics in the world.
While I was fortunate to be able to try other Santa Ana wines like the La Mascota and Opi range, this was my first taste of the Big Bat label. As Tita discovered, the Big Bat name refers to an actual bat that serves as the guard and gatekeeper of wine maker Opi Sadlers’ special wine selection.
This choice of wine for lunch was a bit of a pleasant surprise as normally one would expect a Malbec when it comes to Argentine wines. But Tita went with the 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and it was an exceptional choice. The wine has a Napa Cabernet-like quality to it, as it exudes a lot of ripe berries, eucalyptus, and creaminess. On the palate it is super silky with luscious sweet tannins, juicy, and caramelly at the end — this wine was perfect for our Angus steak. It is a beautiful Cabernet Sauvignon that can easily rival those of Napa and Bordeaux left bank.
While calling her “queen” may be too flamboyant, I think her name Tita is just perfect. After all, Tita also means aunt or auntie in our vernacular, and is a respectful alias for everyone’s favorite Tita in the wine industry, the one and only Tita Meneses Trillo.
The Titania Wine Cellar head office is located at 7435 Yakal St., San Antonio Village, Makati City, with contact numbers (02) 894-1316 to 74, and fax number (02) 894-1378.
The author is a member of the UK-based Circle of Wine Writers (CWW). For comments, inquiries, wine event coverage, and other wine-related concerns, e-mail the author at email@example.com. He is also on Twitter at twitter.com/sherwinlao.