Sunday, December 16, 2007

2006 Sancerre La Gravelière by Joseph Mellot - at Au Pied de Cochon, Paris with sizzling moules farci (under a mildly spicy, garlicy tomato sauce), os a moelle (roasted beef marrow bone) and a huge platter of assorted fresh oysters.

Though I do not profess to have very extensive experience with Sancerre, I've tried several in Manila and immersed myself in the Loire for a week drinking a lot of it everyday, with virtually every meal except breakfast. The subject Sancerre is the one that stuck most in my mind. Offered as the only Sancerre on the restaurant's current wine list, I ordered a 375ml for my wife and I just to try.

We loved it so much with every dish, we ordered another at the first bottle's halfway point. Superbly clean, crisp, refreshing and palate-resuscitating, its alluringly flinty, minerally mild white grapefruit/mild gooseberry flavors cut the roasted marrow's richness, as well as that of the moules' sauce, and danced with the fresh oysters. There is the merest touch of grassiness to it - much unlike the usual more aggressive grassiness of NZ sauv blancs. The acidity is milder than many Sancerres I tried in my Loire immersion - and I think this is a good thing - made the wine much friendlier with the food. I really, really like this wine, and it is inexpensive to boot. The restaurant's price is a mere 20Euro for a 375ml and around 38Euro for a regular 750ml. So retail should be only around 20Euro or below.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Manila Gentlemen's Club Dinner, 23 November 2007 at the Magsaysay Room of Old Manila, Manila Peninsula Hotel

Last 23rd of November, the Manila Gentlemen's Club had its final dinner of the year at the private room of Old Manila at the Manila Peninsula Hotel. I am currently the wine master of the MGC and have to work within a certain given budget for the wines. This dinner was for 8 persons and my wine budget was equivalent to approximately US$600.

All prices mentioned below are exclusive of state sales tax, insurance, shipping and handling charges, and airfreight and forwarding/delivery charges to Manila. None of these wines are available in Manila. I decided that all wines for the evening would be from France, and the following is what I came up with:

Michel Arnould Verzenay Brut Reserve Champagne NV - Purchased at $27.99 per bottle, served with pass-around cocktails of breaded basil-tuna rolls on exotic fruit salad; salmon tartar with horseradish dill cream; and, foie gras parfait with fig confit.

As I understand, this is made up of 2/3 pinot noir and 1/3 chardonnay from the 2000 and 2001 harvests of the small, family owner-grower domaine's own grand cru vineyards in Verzenay.

This bright, clear, lightly golden dry champagne has a mildly toasty nose and is distinguished by mid-palate fullness, generous heft and density that approaches/is reminiscent of non-vintage Krug. There is also a most intriguing milk-chocolatiness to the back and the finish. Bright acidity (absolutely no tartness though) keeps one from getting bored with it, while its heft and fullness makes a definite statement for cocktails - unlike many other NVs that one quaffs, pays little mind to and easily forgets about once seated for dinner proper.

I was so pleased with this bubbly, even moreso because of its low price, that I ordered more for my personal stash the day after. Even at a higher price, I would still buy this.

2006 Domaine Combier Crozes-Hermitage Blanc - Purchased at $22.99 per bottle, served with butter-poached rock lobster,
celery-leek ragout, chanterelles and sea crab tortellini; continuing with the duck and mushroom consommé with foie gras raviolo.

White Rhônes made up of marsanne intrigue me to no end with their acacia flower/hazelnut/buttery/lanolin oiliness. This faintly green-tinged, light yellow-gold wine was no exception. Not a big wine (fans of Ex-Voto blanc should look elsewhere), it starts of very cleanly and one notices its medium weight slightly past mid-mouth and towards the back. Sucking in a bit of air releases a lot of the discreetly honeyed stone fruit, apricot, white flowers and creamy hazelnut in the mouth.

Its nice acidity cut and balanced off the butter poached lobster's richness, and, by the time the duck consommé with foie gras raviolo course was served, it had fleshed out/broadened enough to not get lost in the latter, its healthy acidity brightening up the heavy duck and foie flavors.

I was, again, very happy with this wine, again especially at its price. I thought it a bit of a gamble serving this as, I suspected, many were not familiar with marsanne-based wine and might find it too strange. My fears, thankfully turned out to be unfounded since it drew many appreciative comments and a couple of inquiries where to buy it. I think the price is quite fair, but would be willing to pay a few more dollars for it if needs be.

1999 Chateau Léoville Poyferré - Purchased at $42.99 per bottle, served with a wonderfully juicy and tender slow-roasted milk-fed Dutch veal tenderloin, roast parsnips and fennel, lavender mascarpone and asparagus.

My old notes from June/July this year state: “The nose was a classic cassis, slightly smoky cedar and truffle oil, with just a touch of gaminess. On the palate, it had a warm, earthy richness to its moderately full body, with well-knit earthy blackcurrant/black fruit compote, cedar, slight red fruit notes mid-mouth, and, to the back, with hints of chocolate, graphite and anise.”

I found my old notes pretty much consistent, save that I would now call it more "medium-bodied aspiring to full" instead of "moderately full"; the truffle nuances were very faint; and, the cedar notes seemed a bit more pronounced to the back than before.

Unfortunately, yet accurately, as noted by the MGC food master, one of the bottles was slightly corked. Oh, well, it happens.

As I said before, I say again: at the given price, it's a steal. If this were available locally, which it isn't, it would most likely cost around the equivalent $100-$120 per bottle.

2001 Castelnau de Suduiraut - Purchased at $30 per bottle, served with the gorgonzola platter, continuing to dessert of crème brûlée.

Castelnau de Suduiraut is the 2nd wine of Chateau de Suduiraut, the grapes of which come from a plot of land of the same name. This luxuriously dense, generously floral, honeyed, botrytis-rich, mildly spicy, candied apricot/orange marmalade youngster unabashedly displays its wares in multiple layers.

My first experience with Castelnau de Suduiraut was its inauspicious 2000 vintage, Bernie Sim shared some with me. Not generally easy to find and very reasonably priced, I begged Bernie to sell me some of his bottles - wangling around 10 bottles from him in the process.

I fearlessly purchased the 2001 without even trying it first. I figured that if the 2000 was so good, the 2001 would be a no-brainer purchase. Indeed, it was.

1998 Domaine la Soumade Rasteau Vin Doux Naturel - Gratis et amore from yours truly, served with Cuban Montecristo cigars (the exact model of which escapes me at the moment).

Made up of 100% grenache from very old vines (around 80 years and up, if I'm not mistaken), this full-bodied, opulent VDN displays rich profiles of jammy strawberry and cherry, crème de cassis, dark chocolate and faint licorice and clove undertones with moderate sweetness. The Aussie shiraz fans liked this a lot, and I easily understand why they did.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Late November - Early December 2007

Last Wednesday Dinner, with the Doc and our wives at Sala (28th November):

1997 Puligny Montrachet "Les Combettes" by Etienne Sauzet - with a fresh crab salad that had way too much house-made mayonnaise in it - My bottle. A bit of a disappointment, really, no, no oxidation, but a bit flabby for a 1er cru Puligny from such a fine maker. Although the wine had good purity and clean lines, I just couldn't help but think that the balance was thrown off by a lack of acidity and generally weak structure. Pleasant enough, but its excess, none-too-firm flesh and lack of balancing acidity just seemed to underscore the crab salad's excessive mayonnaise. Oh, well....

1993 Clos Erasmus - with a very good pan-seared magret drizzled with an excellent port reduction - The Doc's bottle. One of the richest, fullest, "crowd-pleaser-est" Priorato wines I have tasted. Generous layers of sweetish, exceedingly ripe black cherry, kirsch, cassis, minor notes of plum/raspberry/craisins mixed in French vanilla/oak and a dose of anise/tarragon/black pepper-infused dark chocolate. This modern-styled Priorato seems designed to do well in a big blind tasting; and well it would do, I expect. Que rico eres!

2001 Sine Qua Non "Mr. K, The Nobleman" - with an assortment of desserts - The Doc's bottle, the second bottle of this wine I've tried from him. The first time, around early January '07, after an initial quick sip, I thought it was an Yquem; after a couple more, its dominant ripe apricot sweetness, considerable heft and vague spiciness/tanginess made me think it was a Tokji Aszu.

Almost a year later, it looks more orange than anything, and I swear I would guess it was a Tokaji Aszu if it were served blind to me. Incredibly rich, dense, almost syrupy, but, nonetheless, well-balanced. Great with the creamy desserts.

Last Thursday lunch with my wife and a long-lost, now Southern California-based grade school buddy at Melo's Steakhouse (during which yet another failed coup d'etat was taking place near my office, 29th November):

1999 Leoville Poyferre - I've had this wine several times since first having it at the chateau's Vinexpo dinner party. A good, dependable, affordable St Julien; not nearly as generous or truffled as their 1996, but with cleaner lines and marginally better focus. Good balance and harmony (both!). For only around US$43 per bottle, it's a good deal.

With dinner at Jes Suis Gourmand last Saturday (1st December) with my wife and children:

2002 Nuits St Georges 1er Cru "Boudots" by Dominique Mugneret - just to try out. Decanted for around 40 minutes before tasting, paired with a venison main course.

Not bad, but not particularly interesting at this point. It struck me as quite forward, ripe, modern and lacking in finesse and complexity. If pressed on an assessment, I would say: "Too young and eager; hopefully it will calm down, gain some wisdom and have something interesting to say in about 5-7 more years."

Dinner at home last Sunday, 2nd December, with my wife, kids, my youngest brother-in-law and his girlfriend:

1999 Branaire-Ducru - with a medium-rare US Angus rib-eye and fries - I bought a few of these just to see what they are like now since I rated this 4th place in a '99 Medoc blind tasting around 2 years ago (after, in descending order: Margaux, Latour and Lafite Rothschild - over: Leoville las Cases, Mouton Rothschild, Montrose, etc).

Let me begin by saying that I am not very familiar with the wines of this chateau, owing to an encounter with a horribly fecal bottle of their 1990 around 3 or 4 years ago (read: horse manure all the way). That incident prevented me from ever buying another bottle from them until a month or so ago.

In any event, this bottle was quite decent. Amid the fullish-bodied, thick textured cassis/blackcurrant/dark red cherry/ripe fig flavors was pronounced and unyielding sweetened dark chocolate. Big but smooth, vaguely dusty, cocoa-flavored tannins were quite apparent mid-mouth and to the back. Not very good focus, somewhat muddled, but nice enough, entertaining; not serious, but, I'm pretty sure it will also be a crowd pleaser. Not bad considering it cost only around US$46 per.

With the Doc, Stockbrocker and IWFS president, Bernie Sim, over lunch today at Tivoli, a Burgundyfest with a special all-game degustacion menu (4th December):

2004 Chassagne Montrachet by Michel Niellon - with a trout starter. Having gone through several bottles of Niellon's village Chassagne in the past 2 years (2001, 2002 and 2003), I picked up a few bottles of the 2004 since I find wines from Chablis and Puligny from this vintage generally more classic/typical than those from the past few.

This barely medium-bodied white had very pleasing/cleansing purity and admirable focus in its clean, focused fruit and minerals and an intriguing catch-up of demure toasty oak/nutty notes to the back. For some reason, I kept thinking it was behaving more like a young Puligny (up to mid-mouth) or 6-8 year old Meursault (to the back) than a Chassagne.

Bernie opined that it lacked somewhat in structure and should better be consumed young. While I agree that it is showing well enough now, I wouldn't mind trying it again after, say, 2-3 more years in bottle just to see if it will gain a bit more weight and depth.

1988 Nuits St Georges "Les Lavieres" by Leroy - From Bernie. Murky with worrisome pungent sherry wrapping its decayed Burgundy bouquet. A quick sip revealed a souring finish. Clearly over oxidized, but we decided to keep it decanted and on the table, hoping against hope, just in case.

I kept coming back to it every so often, but it never revived itself. Too bad.

1988 Clos de Vougeot by Meo Camuzet - From Bernie. At first blush, much better clarity and a clean bouquet assured me of better providence/storage/survival than the Leroy. As I've said before, I find old red Burgs have a terribly difficult to describe romantic/ethereal hint of decay - not unlike the nostalgia I feel when walking around ante-bellum Manila/provincial manses that have seen much better days - still beautiful, but with a touch of sadness, longing that one feels and relishes even after leaving. What can I say?

I've also said before that it is almost impossible for me to accurately break down the individual fruit/spice/wood/etc. components of old wine, especially red Burgundies. Saying that it tasted like a vaguely earthy, seamless, silky, red fruit/red beet/raspberry elixir with wistful touches of decayed flowers and nostalgia just seems inadequate. I daresay those looking for the "punch" of lively fruit or attention-grabbing forward primaries should really look elsewhere. Aged Burgundy is not where to find or search for such things.

Me? I loved this wine. Went well with the pheasant course (though the bird was a bit tough).

1996 Pommard Clos des Epeneaux by Comte Armand - From the Doc. I personally have a soft spot for these earthy, masculine reds from the Cote de Beaune (though I was somewhat disappointed with the vintage 2000 version of this wine). Quite lively yet 11 years from vintage - livelier/more youthful than I expected it to be (or could it be that my judgment was clouded by unavoidable contrast to the 2 previous wines?) - a muscular red Burg with an intriguing vague hint of iron to its hallmark earthiness. This one was comparatively much easier to analyze: a smooth compote of red fruit, red cherry and discreet ripe dark raspberry over red beet undertones - more satin than silk on the palate. Good, sturdy, solid Pommard bones and structure.

Very nice and I believe this will continue to age gracefully for another, perhaps, 5 years. Admirable ageworthiness.

2003 Hermitage Marquise de la Tourette by Delas Freres - the lone Rhone from the Stockbroker. Very young, very ripe, very forward, very big, some new oak on the nose, but not overly much. Full, somewhat smokey dark wild blackberry over cassis and cedar with dashes of pepper. Stood mightily with the venison course and picked up some of the red cabbage's sweetness. I'd like to see how this grows up after 4 years or more.

1989 Gewurztraminer SGN by Ostertag - from Bernie with an excellent dessert of chestnut souffle. I kept thinking of my wife as I drank this floral (flowers - jasmine? touch of roses?), spicy nectar of botrytised lichee and peach alluringly laced with petrol. Sweeter, fuller-bodied and flavored/more forward/generous than the similarly aged gewurz SGN of Hugel. She would have loved this.

Without doubt, this was the best pairing of the meal. Excellent match.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

International Wine & Food Society Philippine Branch 25th Anniversary Dinner

18th October 2007, 7:30 pm, Metro Manila, Philippines.

Still jet lagged from a recent trip to France, catching up with work and leaving the next day for Macau, how could I miss the International Wine & Food Society Philippine Branch's (IWFS) 25th Anniversary celebration?


I trotted into the genteel environs of Old Manila at the Manila Peninsula just a few minutes past the appointed time, tugging at my collar, dressed in the required dinner jacket for the occasion. Greeted by smiling, familiar faces and a refreshingly bright and lively glass of Billecart Salmon NV, I eased myself into the mood of things. Chatting with Bill Stone, Daniel Go, Markus Ruckstuhl and paying my respects to members of the "Old Guard", Dong Puno, Fil Juntereal, Rene Fuentes and, of course, El Presidente, Bernie Sim, all the while greeting people as I entered, I almost missed out on the hors d'oeuvres.

That would have been a shame as the attractive parade of pâté de foie gras with muscatel relish on brioche, sesame-crusted tuna loin with beluga caviar, apple walnut jelly with Bleu d'Auvergne, Fin de Clair oyster shooters with cucumber mousse, and smoked salmon with buttered pumpernickel with lemon was not only very good, it also surely saved me from getting tipsy too early in the evening as the light, clean, scintillating champagne was just dangerously drinkable. I enjoyed the pâté with the champagne the most as the shooter's cucumber mousse interfered with the otherwise perfectly matched oysters.

Finally seated, I gazed at the menu with great anticipation. The first course of Fillet of Sea Bass on Celery Leek Ragout; seared Coffin Bay Scallop and Sea Urchin Beurre Blanc was precisely paired with Pouilly Fumé "La Demoiselle de Bourgeois" 2005 by Henri Bourgeois.

I always enjoy good sauvignon blanc based wines with seafood, and tonight was no exception.

The wine's dry, crispness brightened and cut the richness of the sea bass and urchin (a yin-and-yang as noted by Rene); it's clean citrus, mild gooseberry/guava tang and inherent white minerality giving a nice lift and tie-in to the dish as a whole; and, its faint celery nuance running with the fish's ragout.

I made short work of the wine and first course, enjoying every bite and sip, bite and sip. Left gazing at my empty plate, longing for more, I consoled myself in knowing that the evening's delights had only just begun.

Next came the Slow-roasted Magret de Canard with Seared Foie Gras, Pineapple-Pear Relish with 25 year-old Balsamico, indulgently paired with Chateau Léoville Poyferré 2001. A "gourmand's match", I call it, rich on rich, white on white. Yang-yang, as it were; and why the hell not? After all, if 25 years of wining and dining well isn't cause for indulgence, I don't know what is.

The round, velvety fullness of the wine's dominant sweetish cassis, unabashed dark chocolate, cocoa, licorice, vanilla/oak, mere whispers of leather and truffle, with intruiging dark cherry and raspberry notes flitting about, ran hand-in-hand with the foie and duck's natural fatty richness; leaving the job of cutting, brightening, contrasting and lifting to the pineapple-pear relish and aged balsamico.

I didn't envy them their tasks, Herculean as they were, poor things. They acquitted themselves quite well, however. Had they not put up such a gallant effort, I would have had to scrape my tongue on the carpet to ready it for the next gustatory salvo.

I took only one tiny spoonful of the Spiced Glühwein Sorbet and rinsed my mouth repeatedly with water. I rarely partake of in-between-course sorbets for fear of my palate being affected - one of my many quirks.

The third course was a traditional, yet, nonetheless, masterful pairing: Marjoram-Scented Venison Loin, Sliced Truffle-Parsnip Purée, Braised Red Cabbage, Chestnuts and Cassis Quince Glaze; with Hermitage "La Chapelle" 1996 by Paul Jaboulet Ainé.

Just looking at the ingredients, I imagine the main thrust was "earthy gaminess". Game: obviously the venison. Earthiness: truffle, chestnuts, and, to a small extent, the parsnip and red cabbage. The marjoram for a breath of freshness; the glaze and, in a second role, the red cabbage, for cut and counterpoint.

The wine, was more a study in intricate juxtaposition, and a fine one, I might add; as opposed to the Poyferré's swimming with the tide. "Intricate" I say because different facets of the wine play off and/or play with those of the food and in different ways.

For example: the mild roast meat nuances of the wine played with the venison's inherent gaminess while playing off the marjoram and cassis-quince glaze; the wine's earthy character played with the venison's, truffle's and chestnut's earthiness while its cherry notes simultaneously played off them, as well as off the venison's gaminess. The wine's and glaze's fruits playing with the red cabbage and off the venison's gamey and truffle's earthy richness.

All this going on on the palate proved most intruiging, intellectually challenging and entertaining; and, for that, I must applaud the pairing. I must mention, though, as an aside, that I did have to scrape off some of the glaze as there was a bit too much of it on my dish.

I used the interim before the cheese course to take some quick photos of those at our table. After, all, fine food and wine ring somewhat hollow without good friends to enjoy them with.

Meanwhile, the founding members were recognized, Distinguished Service Awards bestowed, the History and Purpose of the Society recounted and stories of far gone dinners and wines shared. Naturally, an anniversary toast followed. Being a comparative Johnny-come-lately to the Society, I did enjoy listening to the old stories.

Back to wine and food.

Another classic pairing of Roquefort and Chateau d'Yquem 1999. I must say that when I opened a bottle of this wine almost a year ago, I didn't really think too much of it. Don't get me wrong, it was very good, but after having the 1967, 1986 and 1997 not too long before that, the strength of the mentioned years stuck in my mind. Perhaps it was because I opened my '99 at another Blind Bordeaux Challenge that I failed to win. Who knows?

In any event, this '99 Yquem was much better than mine: fleshier, the botrytis tanginess more apparent, more floral, with much more of a middle and better heft. That night, I drank it as a dessert in itself to enjoy; taking only a few nibbles off the cheese and dried fruit to keep things interesting. By the time dessert of Iced Nougat with Raspberry Coulis was served, my glass was drained.

I recall Bernie asking me how I found the Yquem with the dessert, and I told him I didn't get the chance. I briefly considered trying to steal Rene Fuentes' glass while he was genuflecting before the bottle of Yquem, but thought better of it after having learned both he and his buddy Fil Juntereal used to work out at the gym. "Mahirap na", I thought to myself.

The prized bottles were then raffled off and Jojo Madrid won an '82 Ducru Beaucaillou. He was so happy, the lucky guy.

I, on the other hand, won nothing. I tried to console myself by telling Jojo that, considering he donated a 100-pointer las Cases, he lost money on the deal; but he just laughed off my spitefulness.

Kidding aside, I was happy for him since I'll likely get a taste of that bottle anyway.

After a double espresso and a quick Cohiba mini with Bernie and Jojo, Edouard and Sevrine joined us at the smoking area.

We congratulated Bernie and Oscar for an incredible evening, said our goodbyes and headed off for home.

From the look of Edouard, I was glad I wasn't riding with him.

Best Bistro in Beaune.

There is no lack of good restaurants in and around Beaune. From the Michelin starred Jardin des Remparts, Lameloise, Le Montrachet, Bernard Morillon, etc., and "down the line" in terms of recognition and fame. I do enjoy those kinds of restaurants, but, at the end of the day, I crave good, hearty, simple, honest French country cooking. This Ma Cuisine delivers in spades and consistently.
I first tried Ma Cuisine last year. I ate there twice again this year; and would have done so a third time if time permitted. Last year (June 2006), Jerome Francois, who runs Francois Freres SA (one of the biggest wine barrel manufacturers in France) and whose family hails from Burgundy, told me to make sure to eat there. "The wine makers of Burgundy eat here", said he. That was all I needed.

Ma Cuisine is an unassuming, relatively medium-sized bistro located in the old town of Beaune, owned and run by the spouses Escoffier, Fabienne (the chef) and Pierre (he runs front of the house). They are also most accommodating. Having tried the roast pigeon last year, I was dismayed not to see it on the blackboard when I returned last month. I told Pierre that I came back all the way from Manila just for that. He took a few seconds in the kitchen and returned saying "For you, we will make it!" Fabienne did not disappoint. It was every bit as succulent and richly flavored as I recalled.

Prices are moderate. My favorite dishes there were the sublime truffles and eggs (26Euro), the traditional escargot (around 12Euro for a dozen), the succulent roast pigeon (28Euro) and an excellent veal entrecote (around 28Euro).
The desserts are likewise excellent. Fabienne puts out a table of a handful of freshly baked pies: tart tatin, fig, tart citron, chocolat, etc. I was not able to try the chocolat, but everything else was excellent. The fig pie was the best.

They have their own cellar and it is, as expected, laden with Burgs. Surprising, though, is how deep their cellar is considering how simple the restaurant looks. The very best are there in all the famous vintages one could wish for (or afford). The restaurant displays empty bottles of some wines from its cellar. They speak for themselves.

I love this restaurant. Everyone who visits Beaune should eat here as often as possible.
Addendum: When my wife and I returned to Beaune in October 2007, we had lunch here twice, and it was excellent as ever. Always great meals at Ma Cuisine.

Pairing Quail, Foie Gras Stew w/ Pinot Gris.

In connection with previous musings on my awakening to pinot gris' pairing versatility, wherein I stated that, until recently, I used to pair those wines only with Chinese and Thai cuisine, I recall my most memorable dish in Alsace. I ate well in Alsace, tried virtually 3 different restaurants per day for 9 days in Metz, Strasbourg, Obernai, Marlenheim, Riquewihr, Ribeauville and Gerardmer. This included, among others, Le Cerf (Marlenheim, **Michelin), Table de Gourmet (Riquewihr, *Michelin), etc. The dish that stuck most in my mind, though, was a simple, hearty peasant dish - a spin on the traditional Baeckeoffe - that used quail and foie gras instead of the usual pork/beef/lamb. Had it in Riquewihr at Le Tire Bouchon. Absolutely excellent, unpretentious, inexpensive and heartwarming on a cold, rainy night.
I would have thought before that this dish would have done better with a pinot noir (not that I found any Alsacien pinot noir I tried to my liking). Luckily, I experimented pairing it with a pinot gris, and it was a wonderful match - exceeding all my expectations. I liked the dish and pairing so much, I returned to the restaurant for an identical meal for my last dinner in Alsace.

Tasting at Domaine Weinbach.

September 28 at Domaine Weinbach, Kaysersberg.

Though I was 45 minutes late for my 5PM appointment due to, among others, GPS malfunctions, Catherine Faller was still more than gracious. Due to time constraints, my wife and I skipped the tour of the winery and, after proper introductions, went straight to tasting.

We briefly met Madame Colette who speaks only French and German. So nonchalantly elegant, most charming and totally unaffected by fame and fortune, she herself helped Catherine clear the table of bottles we were done with.

The wines:

2005 Pinot Gris Cuvée Ste Catherine - Despite almost a week in Alsace, discovering and enjoying more pinot gris than I have ever had in my life within those days, this wine was noticeably riper fruit with notable weight mid-mouth compared to similar wines from other makers. Dry, good focus, this has a lively, fresh spiciness to it. Impressive for an "entry-level" wine, I thought.

2004 Pinot Gris Altenbourg Cuvée Laurence - A touch of botrytis, mild spiciness, very good depth and complexity, ripe peach, some apricot and mango. Beautiful weight, middle and good balancing acid. Visions of Peking duck came to mind. Lovely wine.

2002 Pinot Gris Altenbourg SGN - Candied fruit, buttery, baked apple flavors, rich, not as sweet as I expected (which is a good thing), and a pronounced, vaguely nutty, toastiness to the back. Superior depth. I think this is the first pinot gris SGN I have ever tried. It won't be my last.

2005 Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg Cuvée Ste Catherine - Floral in the nose, fair attack and expands mid-mouth. Pretty, young, sweetish, ripe tropical fruits in a sturdy, taut medium body, fair depth and acidity.

2004 Riesling Schlossberg Vendage Tardive - Ripe, tangy, sweet and spicy, peaches and pears with a touch of wild honey and an intruiging toastiness to the back. Lovely wine.

2004 Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg Cuvée Ste Catherine "l'Inédit" - Much deeper veined, evidently more layered and complex, riper, richer, more heft, spicier; and, with a more pronounced tanginess in its fruit that I didn't detect in the immediately above-mentioned wine. Excellent wine.

2004 Gewurztraminer Altenbourg Cuvée Laurence - Spicy lichees, some peach and mango with white flowers and minerals. Very eager and forward, yet not wanton. Extremely long. Excellent wine.

As it was getting dark, we thanked Catherine and said our goodbyes. She let us choose a bottle to take away as a gift. My wife told her any gewurztraminer would be greatly appreciated, so Catherine gave us a 2004 Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Furstentum Cuvée Laurence which is now sleeping in my wine fridge here in Manila. (NB: We tasted 10 wines at Domaine Weinbach but I, unfortunately, cannot find the paper I scribbled my first 3 notes on before Catherine gave me some proper paper).

Knowing we were based in Riquewihr, she highly recommended her friend's restaurant in town called La Table du Gourmet. "One Michelin star", she informed us, "the best restaurant in town and mention that I sent you."

So, we drove back to Hotel Le Schoenenbourg, parked the car, stowed our gift in the room and marched dutifully to the old town, straight to La Table du Gourmet. With our meal, I just had to order a half bottle of the Fallers' 1996 Pinot Gris Altenbourg - smooth, mellow, coyly rounded on the middle of my tongue, it displayed its flavors languidly, unhurriedly. Very mild spice, very slight tanginess to the fruit and a merest whisper of alluring bitterness in the finish.

Tasting at Domaine Hugel & Fils.

27 September, 2:30pm at Riquewihr.

After a short meeting and discussion with Etienne Hugel (18th generation of Hugel & Fils), Lionel Rousseau took me through the winery, cellar and then to the tasting room.Their retail prices are included.

2005 “Gentil” – a curious-tasting blend of riesling, pinot gris, gewurz, Muscat and 40% sylvaner. Simple, moderately charming, quaffable wine, lightly rounded on the palate, an amalgam of tropical and citrus fruit. Probably something for the beach. Slightly confusing for me. Could use a bit more acid to balance and brighten it though. (8.30Euro)

2005 Riesling “Classic” – Some white flowers, orange rind and citrus fruit - clean, crisp and dry with good acidity. Slightly nervous/high-strung at this point. A good, albeit basic riesling. (10.30Euro)

2000 Riesling “Tradition” – Nice and calm, well-settled. Fair focus and good weight mid-mouth. Attractive minerality in this as well as somewhat loose but playful ripe lemon notes. (12.90Euro)

2002 Riesling “Jubilee” – Immediately superior showing than the immediately preceding wine: much better focus, leaner body and healthier acidity but still quite ripe. Has a nice touch of elegance. (20.34Euro)

2004 Riesling “Jubilee” – Dry, hard to break through at this point for me. Seems not as ripe, drier, more linear, more crisp than the immediately preceding 2002. Seems to me like it will grow up well though. Lionel recommends around 5 years more ageing; else decant it for 2 hours before trying it out now. (26.06Euro)

2003 Pinot Gris “Tradition” – In a word, ripe. While not quite dry, I expected it to be sweeter being from ’03. Nicely plump mid-palate, acidity low. I’d say drink this up, if you bought any. (13.32Euro)

2001 Pinot Gris “Jubilee” – Readily more complex and balanced than the 2003 and quite showy at this point. A beautiful showcase wine. Given my rather limited experience with older pinot gris, I’d definitely drink this now as it is so enjoyable. (23.44Euro)

2005 Gewürztraminer “Classic” – Bright, palate-refreshing, pure, very expressive lychee fruit and white flowers. (10.30Euro)

2004 Gewürztraminer “Jubilee” – very complex and multi-layered. Extremely entertaining. (22.48Euro)

1998 Riesling Selection Grains Nobles – rich, yet not exactly flamboyant, good finesse with tangy apricot, ripe peach, flowers and petrol notes. Not as sweet as other SGNs I’ve tried. Leans towards VT in that regard. (76.33Euro)

1998 Pinot Gris SGN – Fleshy, hefty in the middle, well-curved, entertaining almond-like suggestions to the back. (83.30Euro)

1988 Gewürztraminer SGN – Ethereal, light, airy, soaring, joyful lychee and flowers. Beautiful, very open and generous. I will definitely get this for my wife and enjoy it with her. This was probably the best in the tasting for me. It was certainly the most memorable. This would be dessert by itself. With the way it behaves, I’d drink this up now or soon. (49.52Euro)

1997 Gewürztraminer SGN – Thicker, fuller, heftier, more concentrated than the 1988, “pillowy” as opposed to “airy” or “ethereal”. Much less open and immediately generous, it requires one to unravel its layered pleasures. More of a contemplative wine. (76.74Euro)

1989 Gewürztraminer SGN & 1989 Gewürztraminer SGN “S” – Sweeter than the 1989, just as full and hefty but lighter on its feet, though not airy or ethereal as the 1988. Nice, balance/combination of the strong points of the two preceding wines. Objectively, I’d say the 1989 is better than the 1988 over-all, but the joyfulness of the latter wins me over, sentimental fool that I am. (82.84Euro)

1997 Gewürztraminer SGN “S” – A more concentrated and longer version of the 1997 above-mentioned. More richly spiced too. Serious stuff. Hope to find some of this to buy.(99.40Euro)

I actually tried more after the foregoing but my written notes on those are now indecipherable scribbles to my eyes. They invited me back a couple of days later to taste more, but time would not allow.

By the time we were done, Lionel handed me a pack of 4 bottles including 2001 Pinot Gris "Jubilee", 2004 Gewurztraminer "Jubilee" and 2001 Gewurztraminer VT. I simply cannot recall the fourth as we finished them all within a week. I politely declined, of course, but he said it was Etienne who selected the bottles for me as a gift. How could I have refused?

We had the 2001 Pinot Gris "Jubilee" with some 7 week aged Epoisses and foie gras de canard during a covert picnic in the gardens of Chateau de Epoisses on our way to Abbey de Fontenay with Franck and Francois Alby (formerly based in Manila, Franck was the Deputy Head of the French Economic Mission to the Philippines before he was recently transferred to Dijon in Burgundy).

Great match with the cheese and a fair match with the foie gras (the foie needed higher levels of acidity and freshness that the wine didn't quite possess). Very enjoyable, though, in any event. Having recently been exploring pinot gris a bit more seriously, I am quite amazed how versatile it is with different kinds of food. I used pair pinot gris only with Thai and Chinese cuisine, but my eyes are now open.

Monday, August 27, 2007

1991 Chapoutier de l'Oree Ermitage, 1991 Grange, 1996 Gruaud Larose & 1991 Chapoutier Hermitage Vine de Paille

Had dinner July 17th with the Doc, Stockbroker and our wives at RED, the continental dining outlet of the Shangri-La hotel in Makati. My wife and I proceeded there straight from work.

With a plate of assorted appetizers - seared scallop, seared foie gras, etc.:

1991 M. Chapoutier de l'Oree Ermitage - From the Doc. Bright, barely medium yellow gold, demure honeysuckle, mineral, vaguely honeyed pear, almond cream, faint lemon and orange rind bouquet. In the mouth, clean and pure, light on its feet, medium-bodied, acidity brightening discreetly honeyed white/yellow fruit/lanolin and minerals. Mouthfeel was slightly oily, but not anything like an Ex Voto Blanc.

Nice, clean finish - it acidity and minerality brightened the richness of the foie gras and, at the same time, its fruit added a nice sweetish touch to the foie. I particularly liked how the wine's and foie's finish danced around together. The wine also wasn't too heavy for the scallops.

With grilled rack of lamb, French beans, roasted pumpkin and fries:

1991 Penfolds Grange - From the Stockbroker. Viscuous deep, dark, virtually opaque dark red with a dark violet blush flowing languidly in the glass. Very ripe, smoky-cedar infused dominant black fruits with a dose of raspberry liqueur and a faint touch of pepper in the bouquet and bouche (fruit with a touch of sweetness mid-mouth and in the finish). Big, full curves with a lowish acid mellowness; rich flavors well knit, nice chewy texture. Long, definitive finish.

Without doubt, this was the best Australian wine I have ever had. I expected a monstrous, alcoholic shiraz that would kick my lamb in the face, but that was definitely not the case - it was firm yet gentle with the lamb. My wife never really liked any Aussie shiraz she has tried and was very much surprised how very good this one was. This wine, I will always remember.

1996 Gruaud Larose - From me. I just haphazardly picked this wine up from my wine fridge on the way to work. I was expecting it to be an "ordinary wine" dinner and just wanted to try this one out to see how it was doing. Thus, after the others unveiled their wines, I was a bit embarrassed with mine. In any event...Unmistakeably Bordeaux bouquet of slight cedar over graphite/black fruit/cassis/licorice and a mere whiff of dried herbs somewhere near the top of the fruit. The aromas were harmoniously mirrored in the mouth with a bit of over-all earthiness. Good backbone, medium bodied aspiring to fullness but not quite getting there (specially beside the Grange). Good at its price, if I may say so myself, if not particularly distinctive or memorable.

From the start, the Doc, thankfully, said he liked it, which somewhat assuaged my guilt. He repeated it in the middle of the meal and the Stockbroker chimed in as well (I know the latter also has a stash of this stuff), which was quite a relief.

With an excellent, freshly baked plum cake from Mrs. Doc:

1997 M. Chapoutier Hermitage Vin de Paille - From the Doc. An attractive orange-gold color, very viscuous, with a definitive candied character to its ripe apricot, touches of peach and ripe lemon, with an orange marmalade base. My wife detected an underlying crème brûlée-like creaminess. The Doc asked me how I found the acidity and if I found it cloying. I did not, though a touch more would have given it even more liveliness (again, debating degrees of excellence). Lovely wine and quite a treat.

2 Good "Off Vintage" 1997s

"Off vintages" (i.e., years generally considered by professional wine reviewers as weak) from good producers most always make me smile. They are very affordable and, most times, are actually quite good - nothing great, but well worth buying. Even the most disappointing ones are marginally so, given their price. One off vintage I have recently been experimenting with is 1997.

A couple of recent, good ones were:

1997 Grand Puy Lacoste - I picked up the last bottle of this in K&L for under US$30 (around $27-$28, as I recall) late last month and had it with dinner tonight - incongruously paired with a Provençal dinner - and I was very happy with it. Textbook, unmistakably Pauillac cedar-led, cassis-dominated bouquet with discreet violets. Confidently medium-bodied, definitely mature at this point (I think drinking now and within the next year but the Doc opined it could probably drink well for 4), adequately layered and well-balanced (specially for a '97) and definitely pleasing. The finish was a bit short, bordering on abrupt, yet very forgivable.

I wish I had a lot of this - something good and inexpensive to pull out at the drop of a hat.

1997 La Mondotte - I got a couple of these just to try out from Beltramo's in Menlo Park. Popped one open around a month ago during a casual lunch with the Doc and Stockbroker. As one would expect from a La Mondotte, it was full, dense, hefty on the palate, open, generous and eager to please with its black fruit/berries/vanilla/oak/violets with a touch of black coffee to the back. As one wouldn't expect from a '97 Bordeaux, it was quite ripe (but not jammy), with good concentration, healthy extraction and a nicely rounded mouth-feel.

Ok, so it was US$146, but that is relatively a bargain basement price for La Mondotte.

I have a couple of 1997s from Pessac-Leognan coming in soon, Haut-Bailly and Domaine de Chevalier. Let's see how they are.

Decent Red Burgundy at $34.99 and 1996 Chateau Montrose

With my friend, the Doc, and our wives last Saturday with thick, juicy, medium-rare US Prime rib-eyes dinner at "Mamou":

2000 Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru "Goulots" by Domaine Heresztyn - I first came across Domaine Heresztyn in the Burgundy listing of Flickinger Wines but didn't buy any due to unfamiliarity with the maker. Lately, I came across a few write-ups on it, one by Clive Coates. Nothing too specific, but I gathered that he is an immigrant from Poland to France and used to work for Trapet. That same day, I found some of his '00 Geverey Chambertin Goulots on sale at KL for only $34.99. Pretty much anything at that price range being worth a risk (and liking Gevrey Chambertins anyway), I bit.

Medium Burgundy red, flowed easily in the glass. Demure, slightly sweetish strawberry/raspberry/beetroot/violets/merest whisper of truffle in the nose; mirrored in a lithe, barely medium body with a slight touch of unsweetened dark chocolate to the rear and medium finish (violets trail on the finish). Elegant, deftly made, ethereal wine. I liked it a lot especially at its price. I would pay more for this - probably up to $55. Those who favor California or even Oregon pinots may find this too light for their tastes.

1996 Montrose - The Doc brought this as well as a '00 Domaine de la Mordoree CdP Reine de Boise, but I chose the Montrose saying that we should open the Mordoree when the Stockbroker (who favors CdP more than I) is around.I do appreciate red Burgs and, to a lesser extent, red Rhones; but when it comes to red wine, my heart belongs to Bordeaux.This '96, still a bit young, but is excellent. Unabashed profiles of smokey cedar, cassis, merest whisper of anise, minerals, slight leather, hints of tobacco underneath. Nice warmth. Coming together very well. Good complexity now. This is what I recall, but I can't seem to do it justice in words. I've long favored Montrose; drinking a good bottle of it is always comforting.

I've repeatedly written that '96s are good drinking these days: Gruaud Larose (could stand a bit more ageing, but drinking well), Leoville Poyferré (already drinking excellently), Cos d'Estournel (also a bit young, but already captivating), Pichon Baron (drinking nicely, not quite sure if it will still much improve over more time though), etc. The '96 Montrose is no different. I like it more than the Gruaud Larose and the Pichon Baron of the same year. Among those mentioned, the Cos is the best for me, but, price-wise, it's around double of the Montrose - not quite in the price category that I would open at the drop of a hat. Bang for the buck, it's a toss up between Leoville Poyferré and Montrose - if "good-to-go now" is factored in, Poyferré would take the gold.

In any event, the '96 Montrose is a wine for me. I'd drink it anytime.

1948 Siran & 1955 Rauzan-Seglá at Chateau d'Issan

1948 Chateau Siran

Where else but in Bordeaux can one be rummaging in an old kitchen storeroom and chance upon a couple of cases of their own vintage 1948 half-bottles? This Edouard Miailhe did in June and he, his wife and I popped one open over a casual lunch.

Very dark red with tinges of mahogany lightening to a fine red-orange edge. This was medium-bodied at most with a fine light, silky texture; nowhere near as much bottle-age sweetness to it as their 1953; profiles of earthy, mushroomy, cassis, mere hints of dark raspberry (to the back), cedar (not smokey) and leather. Medium finish.

Not bad at all considering it was a half bottle and almost 60 years old; another testament to the age-worthiness of Siran's wine. Obviously, Edouard made new labels for these.

Dinner at Chateau d'Issan

On the 20th June, I had an excellent dinner at Chateau d'Issan through the kindness of Emmanuel Cruse, an old friend of Edouard. I first met Emmanuel around a year and a half ago in Manila. Aside from the Miailhes, myself and Adrian Bridge (of Taylor Fladgate), the rest of the guests were from the US wine/wine-related industry such as the very amiable Tyler Coleman (a.k.a., "Dr. Vino") and Jean-Pierre Chambas - a big, bull of a fellow with a large walrus moustache, elegant demeanor and a hint of a French accent to his Southern drawl. I learned from him that he had migrated to the US around 35 years ago and now heads and runs, Aleph Wines, one of the largest wine and spirits wholesale businesses in South Carolina.

2003 Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru "La Garenne" by Marc Colin - With Queues de Langoustines en Bouquet d'Herbes.

Though not as ripe and forward as I would have expected from a '03, this was a still a comparatively eager Puligny at a mere 4 years of age. The balance was quite admirable and the harmony of fruit and minerality particularly noteworthy. Its floral, ripe-stone fruit, oak/vanilla, minerals and orange rind (in the middle and to the back) profiles were exquisitely interwoven into a rounded, plumpish medium body. Just enough acidity to keep it interesting and cut the langoustine's flavors. Very good wine.

1999 Ch. d'Issan - With Filet d'Agneau Rôti au Foie Gras alongside a Pyramide de Legumes Croquants.

This was probably one of the better d'Issans I have had (not that I've had many of the recent ones). Like the '99 Siran (which I was able to guess as one made under Michel Rolland's watch), it seemed a bit "internationally styled" compared to its older vintages (some of which were a bit hard): slightly sweeter, rounder, richer in texture, more toasty oak and, over-all, more easily accessible and "user-friendly".

One can still identify it as a Margaux though because of its perfume, or, at least, I'd like to think that I could have identified it as this was not served blind.
Very pleasing, and it went very well with the lamb. I drained my two glasses and would have asked for more but they started serving the cheese course before I could do so.

1955 Ch. Rauzan-Ségla - With an excellent selection of cheeses by Jean d'Alos (reputedly one of the best cheese makers in France, I understand).

I remember having the '86 and '95 Rauzan-Ségla several years ago and not being impressed. The '96, though, was very good; but this '55 was of a different class altogether. In a word, it was magnificent.

Again, when it comes to older wines, I find myself virtually at a loss in trying to describe it and break it down with separate descriptors of fruit, wood, etc., since it has melded so much. There was quite a lot of ethereal bottle-age sweetness to this and I think of a pristine, perfumed stream of clear, reflective red (I wasn't able to detect brownish signs of age or any hints of decay at all). I think of silken and pure liquid red fruit/ripe raspberry over mere hints of cassis, any wood notes long-integrated and virtually impossible to separately identify. Absolutely wonderful, eminently memorable.

After dessert, we moved to the main area for espresso and cognac. After my double espresso, I didn't really feel like having any cognac and kept on chatting with Jean-Pierre. Noticing my empty hands, he urged me to have some of the Tesseron Lot No. 29 (no vintage indicated, but I understand it is a 1929 and below blend) he was happily sipping and proceeded to pour me a glass. And thank heavens for that.

It was unquestionably one of the best, if not the best, cognac I had ever had - so deeply flavorful, mellow yet potent. We must have polished off most all of the bottle between us.

Many thanks, Emmanuel, for the most memorable evening.

Some 2004 Pessac Leognans.

As mentioned in my previous post, pre-dinner drinks at the Fête de La Fleur were most all the '04s from Pessac-Leognan. I was not able to taste even half the wines there as I was already palate-weary from several days of tasting.

Carbonnieux Rouge - Reticent but typical, if not particularly exciting, nose of/flavors of smokey cedar, cassis and sweetish red cherry with hints of earthiness and tar to the back. At this point, its flavors are better knit and "coming together" than many others at the tasting.

Assesment: I'd gladly accept a glass if offered, but would not buy it.

Les Carmes Haut Brion - Nose also reticent but decidedly more elegant than the Carbonnieux; flavors purer and better focused, with hints of gravel, wood and sweetish tobacco mid-mouth and to the back. Nice enough.

Assessment: I'd pay $30-35 for this, but not more, and only if readily available. I wouldn't take pains to seek it out.

Domaine de Chevalier Rouge - Reluctant nose; with coaxing yields faintly herbaceous, cedar, camphor, cherry notes. Nice warm flavors, but disjointed at this point - just trying to come together now. I'd think this has better ageing potential than the previous 2 wines mentioned. Probably will start drinking well in 7-8 years from now.

Assessment: I will likely buy some of this now just to see how it ages and would be willing to pay up to $45 per bottle.

de Fieuzal - I made sure to try this since I went through a couple of bottles of their '96 on the 9th June and thought them very good for their price. This '04 was likely the most open, approachable, ripest, jammiest wine with the sweetest black/red cherry I tried the entire evening. Well extracted. Too ripe and jammy for my taste. A bit low on acid. I doubt this will age gracefully for more than 7 years.

Assessment: I'd accept a glass if offered, but would not buy it.

La Mission Haut Brion - I'd say this one had the best over-all balance and finesse of the wines tasted. Sleek. A bit more linear and feminine than other La Missions I've tried, but, then, I've never tried one even nearly this young before.

Assessment: I'd probably buy just a few bottles for academic purposes and start opening 7-9 years from now and onwards. I'd be willing to pay over $100 per, but not much over that.

Haut-Bailly - Comparatively more open, heavier, riper and more extracted than the La Mission HB. Nice earthy feel to it though. I think the wines of Haut-Bailly are generally of good QPR.

Assessment: I'd pay up to $55 per for this.

Pape Clement - Alluring earthy, cassis, black cherry, sweet cedar nose. Nice focus, balance and finesse. Some pure red cherry and minerals to the back and through the finish. Very good, albeit noticably more "internationally styled" than those from the '80s. Will not age as long as the La Mission, and maybe even the Haut-Bailly - but, then, again, I don't really think anyone buys '04s for extended cellaring. Will most likely be drinking sooner than both.

Assessment: I'd pay up to $75 per for this.

Smith Haut Lafitte - Not as rich or heavy handed with wood as the other Smith Haut Lafittes I've tried ('96, '97, '98, '03 and '04); and better for it, in my opinion. Purer and more finesse than usual.

Assessment: Still not a favored wine, I'd pay $35-37 at most for it.

Those were all I was able to taste before dinner. Since we arrived a bit late for cocktails, they had already run out of the Haut Brion. Classic case of: If you snooze....

Vinexpo 2007: Fête de la Fleur

I was in Bordeaux for 10 days this June 2007 for Vinexpo and stayed at Chateau Siran in Labarde/Margaux through the kindness of Edouard and Sevrine Miailhe. After over a week of tasting through the 2006 vintage (mainly at the Union de Grand Cru event) and the nightly dinners, I attended the Fête de la Fleur, a celebration traditionally held to close Vinexpo.

This year, it was held at Chateau Smith-Haut-Lafitte in Pessac-Leognan. The Fête coincided with the 20th anniversary celebration of Pessac-Leognan’s classification as a separate appellation.

The strictly black tie affair started with cocktails consisting of a seemingly endless supply of vintage 2004 from most every chateau in the area. Because my French is pretty much limited to reading and ordering off menus and wine lists, Edouard & Sevrine and Alexandre & EG Millevoie thoughtfully made the extra effort to introduce me around and entertained me during the evening.

The Food and Wines:

Fish Course: Tartare de Bar en Surprise au Caviar d’Aquitaine (a French spin on ceviche topped with local caviar)

2000 Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc - I have enjoyed, in varying degrees, this chateau's blancs and pretty much have consistently favored them over their reds - but not at this particular instance. The wine, while pleasant enough (and I'd always rather have a middling white with my fish course than none at all), seemed to lack any distinguishing character. It lacked the lively acidic vibrance of the '04, the forward generosity of the '03 and the admirable focus, purity and acidic balance of the '01. Too soft, somewhat flabby, too tropical. I didn't finish my glass and declined the offer of more.

Meat Course: Jarret d’Agneau Ouble au Four (a straightforward dish of slow-roasted lamb)

2001 Chateau de Pez - Simply put, I have never thought much of this chateau's wine. It just seems neither here nor there. In a blind tasting, I doubt very much I would be able to guess it as a St. Estephe. I always accept a glass if offered and drink at least half of it to be polite, but that's as far as I'd go (unless, perhaps, there was nothing else to drink).This time was no different. There was nothing really objectionable with the '01, but nothing particularly noteworthy either. I took only two sips to give it a chance, but, after having already tasted several Pessac-Leognans before dinner, I stopped after that to save space for the rest of the wines.

2000 Smith Haut Lafitte Rouge - This, like their 2003 and 2004, was quite nice. Not "ripe n' ready" and eager to please like the '03 and not as finely reserved as the '04, though it is noticeably more self-restrained than the ones from the 90s that I've tried (and to me this is a good thing). I enjoyed this wine's somewhat creamy texture (yes, acidity was acceptable at best) and over-all slight earthiness. The flavors (and SHL certainly never skimps on this) of black fruit, cassis, tobacco, some dark raspberry notes in the middle, and, of course, oak (but notably better integrated than other SHLs I recall) also had a nice touch of minerality to the back and finish. Quite nice.

1996 Rauzan-Ségla - Save for the 1955 (the "z" in "Rauzan" still an "s" then) I had at Chateau d'Issan two nights before (excellent, notes on that to follow), I hadn't tried a Rauzan-Ségla in many years. Last two bottles were around 6-7 years ago, a 1995 which was way too young and hard, and a 1986 which seemed DOA - almost no fruit and too much acidity - perhaps a bad bottle (from D. Sokolin in NY). The 1996 was very enjoyable. Well-focused, pure, well-balanced, elegantly layered and velvety. Sweetish red fruit over a dark base with a nice, vaguely smokiness to its cedar and camphor whispers. Not flamboyant, it allowed you to unravel its bouquet and flavors rather than push them at you.I'm a sucker for seduction. I'll look around for some of this.Then things began to get vinously more serious.

Cheese Course: I don't recall now the ones I had as I just chose whatever Sevrine recommended. 1998 Haut Brion - This was the first '98 HB I tried. My first thought when I saw it on the menu was to think it would be too young to really enjoy. I was wrong.The wine was exceptional. It called to mind an image of myself at dusk, sitting alone in a field of old vines in soft, gravelly earth, the air laden with the scent of cool, approaching showers. Old-earthy black fruit, dried herbs, mere touches of tobacco and graphite, lightly infused with discreet sweetish red berries, fine minerals surfacing to the back and following to the finish. Full-bodied, but not dense or ponderous. Very nice.

Back to reality: I myself, have white wine with cheese when I am in control of the pairing, but this wine went well with the soft, creamy, pungent, gamey cheese Sevrine picked out (I wish I remembered what it was). Bartholomew Broadbent, son of the esteemed Michael Broadbent, is a very friendly and unassuming fellow who runs Broadbent Wines out of San Francisco (seated at our table that evening) also mentioned that he generally prefers whites with cheese - and, although I whole-heartedly agreed with him, I'm glad he said it first.

Trio of Desserts:

I only really enjoyed the little tart-tatin, and it (unsurprisingly) paired well with the 1998 Yquem. Before anything else, let me just state for the record that I liked this wine. I've never had what I could call a bad wine from Yquem and I always appreciate having a glass of Yquem, any Yquem, if I don't have to pay for it. But when I'm doing the buying, experience has taught me to stick to the better vintages.

I liked the '98 much better than the comparatively lackluster '99 (I didn't buy the '99, it was given as a gift) as the former has obviously better body, weight, middle, depth, more botrytis notes, complexity and better balance than the latter. However, having said that, considering the price, I would not buy the '98. If I'm going to spend anyway on a young Yquem, I would rather spend just a little more on a better vintage - like, say, the 1997.

Still and all, this, my first Fête de la Fleur, was magical,
an evening I shall always remember.