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.