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.