Sunday, November 2, 2014

With Saturday family dinner last night, 1st November 2014, at Champêtre, to pair with main courses (mine was Roasted Veal Tenderloin with Morel Sauce, and a side of fresh Chanterelles):

1997 Domaine Faiveley Corton Grand Cru Clos des Cortons Faiveley - The third bottle of this I've opened this year. All consistent - impressive, firm structure, big-boned, quite full-bodied, with good lift to its moderately spiced, well-ripened fruit. Mild sanguine and iron undertones. Wood is integrated rather well. A complete wine with notable heft, middle, finish, discreetly commanding palate presence throughout (no shouting here). Though still an adolescent, I believe this will continue to improve for many years to come. Enjoyable now; good ageing potential. I must find more of this.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Some Wines Enjoyed in Mamou Too!

I was at Mamou Too 2 days in a row a couple of weeks ago: lunch of Friday the 14th & dinner of Saturday the 15th March 2014, and had some pretty interesting wines.

Friday, 14 March 2014.

Late lunch with Alex and Paolo (Enki was out of town) after a hectic work week (well, they all seem pretty hectic these days), so much so that I didn't bother bringing any starting bubbly or white because I felt like just having meat and going straight to the reds (something that very rarely happens). I brought both bottles of red since lunch was my idea.

With some Dry-Aged US Prime Grade Rib-Eye...
...& Grilled Lamb Chops...

1985 Chateau Montelena Estate Napa Cabernet Sauvignon - Deep, nicely concentrated, mellow, soft dark fruit here on a neatly full-bodied frame. Good harmony and balance; this is what aged Napa cab should be all about, to my mind. Mainly moderately tobacco-and-loam-infused cassis, black cherry, and raspberry - the raspberry emerging more towards the back and trailing in a properly long finish, as do the cedar and well-integrated wood notes. Structure is good in this near 29-year old. Excellent with the indulgent meat dishes.

1995 Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste - This was popped-and-poured, and followed the above wine, thereby, I believe, suffering a bit in comparison. Past '95 GPLs have been, to my recollection, generally fuller than this subject bottle, and have made more of a definitive statement on the palate (those were given material aeration time in decanter and glass). After the '85 Montelena, however, the subject bottle seemed a bit too lightweight, young, primary, and simple - but that's most likely my fault rather than the wine's. Pleasant enough, but not too interesting for me that day, in that setting.

Pecan Pie w/ Schlag & a double espresso after, as usual.
As we were sitting outside so I could smoke, we were informed that there would be 5 live Maine lobsters available the next day - so Alex and I immediately agreed to meet up again for dinner and reserved 2 of the lobsters. Alex treated Paolo & I to said lunch - thanks again, bud. Much appreciated.

Saturday, 15 March 2014.

Again, I brought no bubbly, but Alex did bring a white - and an excellent one at that.

2010 Paul Pernot Bâtard-Montrachet
Honestly, recalling a 2005 version of this same wine, from the same producer, that I had tried out a couple of years ago, I wasn't at all expecting this wine, young as it was, to perform a fraction as well/openly as it did. Initially, it showed as the 2005 did - rather tightly-wound, presenting more citrus and minerally crisp green apple more than anything - pleasant, though not that interesting...

...though it did go nicely with the 1st Maine lobster.
However, after around 40 minutes or so of aeration and warming down in glass, the wine, indeed, came into its own - like it became another wine altogether: materially and luxuriously fleshed out and much, much heftier, the initial tightly-wound fruit turned buxom, rich, well-ripened, with butter, moderate vanilla bean, ripe pear, just a hint of peach, some baking spice, whispers of nuttiness, and gaining a pronounced crescendo and a long, flourishing finish. Wow. Very impressive, especially for so young a wine. A beauty indeed...

...and, by then, a perfect match for the 2nd Maine lobster - this time, per Alex's special request, prepared with more butter, olive oil & garlic - reminiscent of Thanh Long's crabs. Loved it.

Each lobster came with an order of Lobster Rice, which was nice enough, but not exciting - until, as Alex recommended, I mixed in some dried pepper flakes. That made everything pop, and turbo-charged my appetite for it. Incredibly good.

Will this this lovely, young grand cru white close down? Maybe. Will it maintain and/or improve over the long haul? I think so, it certainly seems to have the structure for it, but only time will really tell. The only problem would be keeping one's mitts off it to allow it to age. Alex had bought out the entire remaining stock of Premium Wine Exchange's stock of this, and knowing him, the rest of his bottles of this won't last long. Time for some canvassing/searching on the net for more (especially since Catha loved it as much as I).

For the meat course, we, again, went for an order each of the Dry-Aged US Prime Grade Rib-Eye & the Grilled Lamb Chops, with which we had:

1989 Vieux Château Certan - my bottle. This is a deep, dark, serious, complex, typical, quietly and elegantly powerful Pomerol. Remarkable balance and finesse. Fine structure/backbone (the unusual for Pomerol cabernet sauvignon element, most likely). Everything is neatly in its proper place. I immediately ordered more bottles of this. Enough said, save that, a couple of days later, after I posted a photo of this on Facebook, Vancouver-based Vince Tan commented that he just had this at a 1989 horizontal dinner of the Commanderie de Bordeaux of Vancouver, and that it was his favorite Pomerol and wine of the night - even preferring it over the 1989 Latour.

1988 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chapelle - Alex's bottle. It's been quite a long time since I've had an Hermitage from the '80s, the last one I can recall offhand was a 1985 La Chapelle in sometime in mid 2009. This was a few notches over medium-body, very smooth, comparatively light-footed, and quite complex with roasted Provençal herbs, bacon fat, cedar, bit of gaminess, roast meat, bit of leather, hint of walnut skin seamlessy infused in its dark raspberry, strawberry and underlying black currant. Good, long finish. There could have been a bit more presence in the middle, but that's picking nits. A suave wine indeed.

Again, some Pecan Pie w/ Schlag, followed by double espresso.
Love eating at Mamou Too! The fine wines certainly don't hurt either. I made sure that they give me advanced notice next time live Maine lobsters are available - they're like gold in these parts. To go with them, I have some 1989 Louis Latour Bâtard-Montrachet & Corton-Charlemagne (im)patiently waiting. So, until the next!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Bon Voyage Dinner for Clem Nieto.

Dinner of Thursday, the 27th February 2014, was one to bid OC, California-based wine buddy, Clem Nieto, bon voyage on his trip back home. Upon Alex's suggestion, we held it in the venerable, old Tivoli of the Mandarin Oriental Manila, catching the tail-end of visiting Michelin-starred chef, Richard Toix's, week-long stint there. We were six in all: Clem, Alex, J-Lab, Sanju, Apa, and I.

Mandarin Oriental Manila's ever-charming Director of Communications, Charisse Chuidian, kindly made our reservations for us; and dapper F&B Director, Peter Pysk, took great care of everyone, to the extent of personally managing our bottles' chilling, decanting, service, and recommending the sequence for pairing with Chef Toix's special dégustation menu.

We started off with a couple of champagnes:
Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Brut NV - Sanju's bottle. Notable freshness, focus, vibrancy, and purity of fruit in this - green apple (mainly) and citrus. Healthy acidity makes this quite bright on the palate. Some time warming down in the glass added the needed bit of heft/body in the middle. I made a mental note to have this with some fresh oysters next time.

2002 Moët & Chandon Dom Pérignon - Alex's bottle. I've gone through so many of these the past year or so. Though young, it is already extremely enjoyable. To my mind, DP really hit it out of the proverbial park in 2002 - wonderful balance, body, fruit, creaminess, everything. I was so disappointed when the 2002 vintage eventually disappeared from local shelves. Though, as earlier stated, I did buy a lot of these - they weren't enough; and, sadly, I simply couldn't keep my hands off them, and, so, drank them all. Unless some distributor here brings more in (I'm hoping, but not holding my breath), I'll just have to bring in my own from abroad.

Clem (with his bottles lined up) and Sanju listen intently to the description of the night's special dégustation menu, which all of us, save for Apa, went for.

I continued with the 2002 Dom for the amuse bouche
of Oyster & Beetroot Jelly...
...and the Chaud-Froid of Young Vegetables & Shellfish.

With the Potato & Black Truffle Croustillant, we moved to the 1996 Domaine Coche-Dury Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Enseignères - Clem's bottle. My glass of this had been sitting/warming for quite a while before I got to it with this dish, though I did give it an initial sniff and sip after it was first poured (I, typically, have always proceeded much more slowly with my meals/wines than most everyone else - which most always holds everyone else up during evaluative blind tastings - but that's how it is).

Indulgent on the palate, but with proper progression from attack to finish, good crescendo, fine middle, a refined, polished, complete white. Everything is properly in place here. Slightly honeyed/spiced ripe/baked apple, ripe pear, bit of peach, little yellow apricot past mid-mouth, the butter note emerges in the middle and follows neatly through the finish. Remarkable balance, the acidity kept everything interesting - no flabbiness here. Lovely, lovely wine.

With the same white, I continued with the sweetishly-savory Chestnut Velouté. J-Lab felt this cream-enriched soup course was too sweet for the wine, but I felt that its richness and ripeness, together with its acid balance made for a good, though admittedly particularly indulgent "running-with-the-ball" pairing.

Remise en bouche: Mushroom, Bacon Ice Cream, White Chocolate.
The night's reds (photo by Sanju)...
...all meticulously decanted and served by Peter Pysk.
Served first was 1978 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande - My bottle. This was a particularly expressive, masculine bottle, presenting a confident bouquet and flavors of typical, warm gravel, pencil lead shavings, mushrooms, dark fruit, and cedar. Meaty, almost (but not quite) chewy mouthfeel, soft, mellower on the palate than in the nose. Over-all, it could have had better focus, but that's picking nits - this was a fine aged Pauillac. I've had very many of this vintage, and this was a very good specimen - one of the better ones, really - but was, to me, overshadowed by the two other reds.

1997 Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé Grand Cru Musigny - Alex's bottle. Oh my, but this was a beauty from the get-go. Ripe and ready, precocious at a mere 16+ years from harvest, it presented a fresh, perfumed nose of sweetly-ripe dark berries, whispers of sous bois and truffles, dark flowers - no Burgundy decay (yet) detected - but, then, this is but a teenager - and I imagine that will develop eventually. Lovely texture, youthful, nonchalantly sexy curves. Though acidity is a bit lowish for me, it is extremely difficult not to gush over this wine. Unanimously and almost immediately proclaimed the wine of the night. Will it age gracefully over the next, say, 20-25 years? Maybe, I think so, but, if I had any of these of my own right now, it would be virtually impossible to keep my hands off them.

The main course was Nori Crusted Lamb Loin. This is the first time I had a nori-encrusted lamb dish, and its flavor was quite evident - a bit strange to me at first, but it grew on me. More interesting than anything, but, then, at this stage, I am quite set in my ways. I liked it, but, for meals such as this, I'd stick to the "usual" herb crust - but that's just me.

1995 Château Lafite Rothschild - Clem's bottle, one he generously decided to bring to share when I much earlier mentioned that, of vintage 1995's 1855 classified first growths, Lafite Rothschild's was the only one I hadn't had yet. Muchisimas gracias, Don Clem. Definitely still young, but this shows its pedigree - a patrician red, it is a few notches over medium-bodied, but presenting an elegant, self-possessed character. Minty topnote to its properly reserved, fresh nose of dark berries, violets, and cedar; it is still primary, but remarkable depth, harmony, and balance are pretty obviously there. It is a "total package" to me, albeit a youthful one. Already lovely, but will definitely improve through many years in the future. A keeper, for sure.

J-Lab as cameraman & lightsman all at once.
With the pre-dessert Cauliflower-Basil Sorbet...

 ...and the dessert course proper, Chef Toix's spin on Black Forest, we had glasses of 2007 Tamellini Recioto di Soave Vigna Marogne de Costiola - J-Lab's bottle. Moderately intense/sweet, light-footed, this was a neat, sweet white showing honeyed sultanas, preserved golden apricots, and a mild, underlying suggestion of orange rind. Good acid balance. The acidity keeps things fresh and light. Very charming wine.

Meanwhile, Peter had joined us for some glasses of the reds, and discussed each dish with Sanju. In the foreground, on the right, are two more bottles of red that were handed suspended sentences: Clem's 2001 Guigal Côte Rôtie La Landonne & my 1985 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.

Cheers! Us with visiting Chef Richard Toix & Mandarin Oriental
Manila's F&B Director, Peter Pysk (photo from Apa).
However, after my usual post-dinner espresso...

...Clem offered up a closing bubbly: 2002 Champagne Philipponnat Clos des Goisses Brut - Laser-focused, steely lines of bracingly vibrant, white grapefruit and citrus. Edgy, racy acidity, this may have fleshed out and gained heft had we allowed it some time, but the toasts were quick as we hurried downstairs to Martinis to catch the sets of...

...The Blue Rats...
...while enjoying some stiffer drinks and Cuban cigars.

I was also able to catch up with longtime buddy, Johnny Besa, in between sets (Johnny plays the bass, and, occasionally does back-up and lead vocals for certain songs), over some doubles of Macallan 12-year old single malt.

Thereafter, during the final set, upon Alex's "persistent suggestions", we moved to Kipling's (the hotel's whisky and cigar bar) for more single malt (from Alex's stash there), cigars, and stories shared. I don't recall what time we finally called it a night, but I got home past 2am. It was a great night, certainly a lot of fun, and, if I may say so, a fine and fitting send-off for Clem. Until the next!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Babette's Feast Recreation by Brasserie CiÇou.

It was sometime in law school that I watched Babette's Feast (circa late '80s-'91). Over 20 years later, I watched it again in early December 2013, and, thereafter, on my Facebook page, wondered if I should try having this recreated in Manila (I'm not aware of this having ever been done here). Within a few minutes, Cyrille Soenen responded with a 3-word comment: "Let's do it!". Richard promptly seconded the motion, and so it was decided.

Planning, sourcing of the ingredients (some of which had to be brought in from France), making arrangements for the pairing wines (emulating those in the movie, but not the same vintages for obvious reasons), etc., followed, and, approximately 2½ months later, it came to fruition - the first (as far as anyone knows) Philippine recreation of the Babette's Feast dinner took place last night, Thursday, the 20th February 2014, at Brasserie CiÇou.

~ The Menu ~
Anna Soenen had prepared a fine, long table on the dais, complete with crisp, white tablecloth, and personalized menus for each of the 14 lucky diners: Anna, Jean-Claude Robert Soenen (Cyrille's father, who kindly brought in the necessary ingredients from France), Pierre Paul Soenen (Cyrille's uncle), Christine Szamweber (Cyrille's cousin), JC & Mari de Terry, Clem Nieto (in town from California on his annual Philippine vacation), J-Lab, Alex, Richard, Sanju & Cutie, Catha & I.

Cocktails started at 6:30pm with chilled bottles of Champagne Delamotte Blanc de Blancs & Champagne Krug Grande Cuvée (from me), and canapés of Cheese Gougères, Arlettes of Assorted Mushrooms, Cold Cuts, and Warm Crab Salad on Cauliflower Royale which paired particularly well with the Delamotte Blanc de Blancs. I've written both recently and repeatedly about these two fine non-vintage bubblies, so no need to discuss them at this point.

More bottles of champagne patiently await their respective turns.
Just a few of the reds on deck for the night.
At table.

We began with Smoked Prawn Ravioli with Double Prawn Consommé with Green Pea Foam. This was not from Babette's menu, but something Cyrille added for a more substantial meal - surely because he is well-familiar with our group's prodigious appetites. Lovely dish, the flavors well-defined, and well-balanced. "Precision" came to mind. Lovely.

With this was paired 2005 Champagne Mailly L'Air Grand Cru - 2 bottles, from JC. Pure, well-defined flavors of white mineral laced apple, bit of pear, with added, intriguing nuances of brioche, honey, and nuts. Notable freshness, liveliness, with a nicely rounded, pronounced middle. Very nice indeed, and I liked this clean, fresh pairing.

Babette's menu proper began with...

...Soupe à la Tortue (Mock Turtle Soup) - Veal Consommé, Tête de Veau, Quenelle of Chicken, Baby Carrot, Turnips, Leeks. Superb. So clean, mildly earthy, subtly complex, and I loved the textures of the tête de veau. We had this instead of the original menu's real turtle soup for 2 main reasons: (1) the 2 times I've had real turtle soup, I didn't like it at all; and, (2) the turtle needed for the recipe is protected by law. Well, and, I happen to think of turtles as pets, and even had a large pawikan as a pet when I was very young (it wasn't endangered yet; it was a gift from a late godfather who used to hunt).

This dish was paired, as in the movie, with an amontillado sherry - in this case, a delicious Amontillado Emilio Lustau Almacenista Jose Luis González Obregón - 2 bottles from J-Lab. Dry, discreetly nutty, fair depth, nice weight, with precise oxidation; this glides smoothly on the palate with definitive presence. JC, who, more than anyone in this country, knows sherry, opined that it was "like a palo cortado approaching oloroso". Ok, I won't pretend that I know exactly what he meant, but my wife, who loves sherry, really liked it a lot (as did I). J-Lab, knowing Catha's fondness for sherry gave her the rest of the second bottle at evening's end. Thanks, bud! Much appreciated for sure!

Silence falls as everyone gets busy...
...only the clicking of JC's camera and appreciative murmurs audible.
Christine, Catha, & Mari.

All ready and eager for the next course, I jokingly warned Richard (he works on Europe time) that anyone caught working on the phone that night would have to pay for everyone's dinner.

Caviar Demidoff: Sturia (i.e., Siberian Sturgeon farm-raised in Bordeaux) Vintage Caviar & Avruga on Blini; Salmon & Oyster Tartares; & Crispy, Soft-Boiled Quail Egg with Trout Roe. A heaven of clean, fresh seafood goodness. This wonderful dish was paired with 1985 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Gold Label Vintage Reserve Brut (Magnum)* - from Clem. Remarkable freshness and vibrancy for a bubbly this age. Richly fruited and with fine, healthy effervescence; this is a nicely creamy, slightly biscuity champagne with notable ripeness of pear, apple, hint of yellow apricot, bit of lemon curd, further complexed with touches of honey, vanilla, and brioche. Hefty, ripe, confident, stylish.

* The reason behind the choice of vintage 1985 was that it is 100 years after that of the cinematic dinner (nb., Babette started living with Martine & Philippa in 1871, and said dinner took place 14 years after), which dinner was to celebrate what would have been the sisters' late father's 100th birthday.

...and sipping between courses.
Green Apple Sorbet in Calvados... preparation for the main course.
Some sauce applied..., voila! Roasted Quail Stuffed with Foie Gras & Truffle Farce en Sarcophage, Creamy Chestnut Purée, Mushrooms à la Bordelaise, Glazed Baby Carrots and Edamame, Cabbage Chips, with Truffled Quail Jus. This was a true masterpiece, the enveloping pastry flaky and with just the right amount of structure, no sogginess at all, the quail perfectly seasoned, juicy & tender, the jus complex, deep, and harmonious.

One of the several pairing reds was 1985 Mongeard-Mugneret Clos de Vougeot - from me; decanted for around 20 minutes before serving, which allowed it to gain heft and open up, release its earthy, bottle-age sweetened bouquet. Medium-bodied cherry, raspberry, mild dark plum underneath, slightly minerally, with just the faintest whisper of leather and cocoa. Not much Burgundy decay surprisingly, and, rightly or wrongly, I expected more earthiness and middle heft due to its alluring bouquet. Medium finish. Not as complex as I'd like it. Nice enough as a whole, but nicer in the nose than on the palate.

Others, not in photo, were 2 bottles of 1995 Robert Arnoux Clos de Vougeot (from Alex & Sanju); a magnum of 1996 Alberic Simounin Savigny les Beaune (from Cyrille), and 1996 Château Giscours (from Cyrille). He also generously opened and offered a bottle of 1991 Château Margaux, but I thought that it would be best he enjoy that with his family.
 The 1995 Arnoux Clos de Vougeot was more masculine and concentrated, with more pronounced, deeper/darker fruit and a heftier middle than the older '85 Mongeard Mugneret Clos de Vougeot at this point. The former's structure also seemed a lot sturdier, and the finish was definitely longer. All that, with touches of dark spice called Vosne-Romanée to mind for some reason.
Cyrille discussed the main course...
...explaining his own twists to Babette's Caille en Sarcophage... everyone listened intently.

Salad of Endives, Arugula, & Frisée (para healthy!) with Toasted Walnuts, & Assorted French Cheeses. For this was paired a 1989 Couly-Dutheil Chinon La Baronnie Madeleine (Magnum) - from me. I loved the crisp, fresh endives (I rarely get them here) and greatly enjoyed my salad; and, though cheese courses are not the highlights of my meals, I did particularly enjoy this one for some reason. Unfortunately, because I was so engrossed with the salad, cheese, as well as with taking photos and chatting with my friends, I don't recall much of the pairing wine. I guess that just means I have to open another one soon.

Dessert was an excellent Baba au Rhum in Orange-Scented Rhum Syrup with Assorted Fresh Fruits & Crème Légère. Obviously, a very high quality rhum was used in this. Very graceful, flavor-packed, but lightly dancing on the palate. Loved it! Undoubtedly the best baba au rhum I've ever had. Enough said.

Naturally, as in the movie, the baba au rhum was paired with Marc de Champagne, in this case, Billecart-Salmon Marc de Champagne Réserve des Caves (from J-Lab)... a bonus 1997 Château d'Yquem (from Clem).
The marc de Champagne was robust and powerful, but its finish played nicely with the baba au rhum's flavors. The 1997 Yquem I've had many times in the past, but not in the last 4 years (not that I can recall, anyway). This was in fine form, though not as intense or sweet as I recall (Cutie remarked that she liked that it was not too sweet). Forgive me, but, by that point, I was just too "happy" (as my wife put it), and enjoying myself too much to make specific mental notes of the wines.

Surely, the excellent dishes, wines, and company brought about such warm conviviality, so much laughter and joy of life, that all geeky wine thoughts were left behind - which is absolutely fine. That is what it is all about, after all.

Excellent job, Team CiÇou!

Cyrille then shared with us a very special bottle of vintage 1968 Bas Armagnac (his, and as it turned out, also Sanju's birthyear)...

...the bottle. as I understood, given as a going-away present from Cyrille's friends when Cyrille moved to the Philippines...signed by his friends...

..., and, much later on, by Anna and their daughter Cassandra. Many thanks again, Cyrille, for sharing such a special bottle with us.

Anna with father-in-law, Jean-Claude Robert Soenen. Many, many thanks again to Monsieur Soenen for sourcing and flying in the dinner's ingredients all the way from France!

JC took the floor, and, in fluent French, made some closing remarks.

The evening's delights, however, were far from over, as we lingered long over some fantastic Mignardises of Macarons Glacés au Chocolat, Cannelés, Mini-Madeleines, and, of course, Mini-Kouign Amanns.

It was a magnificent night - one I shall always cherish and remember. Many thanks again to Cyrille, Anna, Team CiÇou, and everyone else who generously shared their efforts, wines, and precious company. Surely this will not be the first and last recreation of Babette's Feast in Manila.

Until the next!