Monday, December 29, 2008

25-27 December 2008: More Food than Wine.

Once Christmas hits, I tend to focus much more on eating than drinking, to my waistline's great prejudice. This Christmas season was no exception. Allow me to share a few shots of the food over those days...

25th Christmas lunch was with my wife's family as usual at the Banzhafs' house. Mrs. Doc organizes the food - and always in my favorite manner - i.e., good and way too much of it. That's the only way to go in my book. Serving good food in barely enough amounts is almost as bad as serving bad food (in any amount).

Mrs. Doc requested that I make the pasta Doc likes so my wife and kids went ahead while I finished up assembling it. The kitchen was bustling by the time I arrived, the Doc (partially hidden on the right) attending to the wine.

An 11-kilo rib-in US Angus Roast from my mom-in-law, made by her cook. Absolutely, sinfully good.

The obligatory Christmas Ham.

Juicy and tender turkey as only Ken can make it.

An assortment of salads, starches and "healthier" sidings that I ignored - except for the pasta I made, of course. I enjoyed the roast beef and pasta with a bottle of the Doc's...

1998 Château Moulin Saint Georges - This is probably the first time I get to try a wine from this grand cru château from St-Emilion, owned and run by the same Alain Vauthier of the much better-known and highly regarded Château Ausone (the only St-Emilion producer that can even come a little close to Château Cheval Blanc, in my opinion). 1998 was a stellar year for the right bank from whence this wine hails.

This had powerful, vaguely minty-cedary black fruit, juicy blackberry, black coffee and mocha dominating with underlying ripe black cherry and nuances of violets towards the back and in the finish. More push than depth on the palate especially mid-mouth.

The readily apparent (but finely infused) minty cedar reminded me of Pomerol rather than the softer, easier wines of St-Emilion - and I commented on this to the Doc. I wondered aloud if the vineyards are situated near the border of Pomerol.

Subsequent research showed they are not; rather, they are a few or couple of hundred meters away from the Ausone vineyards in the St-Emilion côtes. That, and the style of Ausone, would explain the relative power of this wine, which power and push were absolutely called for to pair well with the hearty roast beef and rich gravy.

As one can see, there was a riot of desserts. I stuck with the Banzhaf family's traditional homemade German Chocolate Cherry Torte and Mrs. Doc's signature plum cake. Excellent.

Mrs. Doc also made me an unbelievably good sundae of mint-chocolate chip ice cream with dark chocolate sauce and thin, dark chocolate cookies on the side. I loved it and ate it so fast I forgot to take a picture of it.

~ oOo ~

25th Christmas Dinner is always with my father at his place. It is was a small gathering this year - just 8 of us - as both my my sisters, my brother-in-law and niece, as well as our usual Christmas Dinner guests, are all out of the country this year.

My brother, his wife and I all cook well (if I do say so myself, false modesty is not a trait that runs strong in my family) so we divided up the labor except for the Chili-Garlic Prawns -which my father's cook does pretty damn well anyway.

Hisako made the salad - arugula, assorted greens, edamame, thinly sliced raw ham, and I pan-seared some scallops to throw in it as well. This was served with a light dressing made by Hisako, but I don't know what she put in it.

I made two herb-encrusted (rosemary, marjoram, thyme and cracked black pepper) roast racks of lamb; my brother, Tad, made his pilaf. He always does this very well, and, I, again, have no idea how he makes it. All I know is he likes to throw in different kinds of nuts and, sometimes, small dried fruits in it.

I also made pan-seared foie gras with a reduction of 2003 Oremus Tokaji Late Harvest and balsamic vinegar, using half the bottle for the reduction and serving the rest to pair with the foie. I prudently abstained from this course and accompanying wine (so no notes) since I'd just had a two-day run at foie gras at Je Suis Gourmand.

I do not know what they had for appetizers since I was in the kitchen most of the time - and couldn't really have had any anyway since I was so stuffed from the roast beef I had at lunch. I'm pretty sure it was some cheeses and sliced, dried sausages and ham, though. I also saw an empty bottle of Pinot Grigio brought in from the lanai just before dinner was served.

After my healthy, guilt-suppressing, yet more than satisfyingly flavorful salad course, I had some Chili-Garlic prawns, some pilaf and the lamb rack. Rummaging through my father's wine cav, I came across some 1997 Château Lascombes - a 2nd Growth château from Margaux.

While 1997 is generally considered an "off-year" for Bordeaux, I've enjoyed, over the past year, several "off-year" wines that are currently drinking very well. Not super-ripe and/or roasted and sweetishly lush as favored by several professional reviewers - and all the more food-friendly for it (e.g., 1997 Château Grand Puy Lacoste, 1993 Palmer, 1994 La Mission Haut Brion, 1993 Batailley, etc.).

This wine was very good indeed, expressing well the typical perfume of Margaux in its bouquet and displaying elegantly reserved yet yielding cedar-laced cassis, earthy molten dark fruit, with a slight undertone of gravel, hints of leather and violets towards the back. Very nice with the lamb. I had none of it with the Chili-Garlic Prawns, of course.

There were a couple of desserts, some Mango Float from my wife's niece and some kind of cream-and-fruit torte from the Peninsula, but I didn't have any so can't really remember them that much. I just had fresh fruits for dessert.

~ oOo ~

We left for our father's beach compound the next morning, a liesurely 2-hour drive away, where we had a lot of food less elaborate and some good Médocs and nice Brunello di Montalcino, but they were very casually consumed - on the lanai, on the deck above where the boat and jetski are kept - aside from the dining table - so I just enjoyed them without taking any particular notes.

These few days were really just for enjoying each other's company, my sons bonding with their grandfather...

...getting away from school, homework, tutors, the computer and television...

...getting some non-academic education...

Not totally unmindful, however, I do recall that the 2006 Raimbault-Pineau Pouilly-Fumé went great with some left-over Chili-Garlic Prawns, some fresh, lightly cooked Asian Prawns over baby Bok-Choi and the fresh catch-of-the-day roasted Dorado (a.k.a., mahi-mahi) that we had during our dinner of the 26th.

We haven't often been coming here as a family the past few years. We really should.

Fine dining and exceptional wines are, of course, a passion of mine. God knows I spend an inordinate amount of time and money on these pursuits.

At the end of the day, however, it is these simple pleasures that matter and warm the heart most of all.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Dinner '08 with Rocky & Apple.

Rocky and Apple Villadolid are good friends based in Hillsborough, California who are also very much into food and wine; Apple and my wife have been close friends since their grade school days. They make it a point to be in Manila for Christmas, and, though all our schedules are already quite full what with family and social obligations, all of us make the time to have at least one lunch or dinner together while they're in town.

We usually make them dinner at our place, but, this year, I figured we'd go to Je Suis Gourmand (yes, I just had lunch there the day before) for one of Marc's special menus so I could spend more time with our guests instead of in the kitchen. Apple, who is in Manila more often, had mentioned that Rocky is currently in a German riesling phase. Not having ready access to special German rieslings here and on short notice, I stuck to what I know.

With dishes of escargots and scallops with julienned vegetables flecked with flat parsley in a red wine sauce (made me think of a lighter version of marchands de vin sauce), we had a bottle of 2007 Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé (Bandol, Provençe).

A few hours before the dinner, I panicked because I discovered I was out of my favorite rosé, didn't have the time to go to buy more at Sommelier Selection, and couldn't figure out what I could use as a suitable replacement. Fortunately, Jérome Philippon was kind enough to have a few "emergency bottles" delivered to Je Suis Gourmand for me in time for dinner, and, thus, saved the day (many thanks, Jérome).

I know I drink (and, therefore write about) this rosé very often, but I can't help it. It is truly an exceptional and extremely versatile wine:

An exquisitely pure and clear light pinkish salmon in color, it is a hell of a
pretty wine, one could drink it in with one's eyes. In the nose - and I've never
really bothered to pay much attention to any rosé's aroma before - was alluring
- like a light, cooling summer cologne. In the mouth, it is light and delicately
infused with a fine melange of fresh canteloupe, strawberry, bit of melon,
orange rind and the faintest whisper of lavender. Perfectly balanced. Ethereal.
Astounding. My poor descriptions fail to do it justice. It is, without any shred
of doubt, the best rosé I have ever had.
~ oOo ~

We certainly couldn't have a Christmas dinner without some foie gras - and Marc certainly delivered in cardiac amounts - which we paired with:

2004 Domaine Weinbach Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Furstentum Vendanges Tardives (Kaysersberg, Alsace) - The late Theo Faller's world-renown domaine, widely considered one of the best in Alsace, consistently garnering raves from professional reviewers - and deservedly so. I visited Domaine Weinbach (a.k.a., Domaine Faller) on the 28th September 2007 and tasted through several excellent wines with my wife and Catherine Faller. This particular bottle was given to me by Catherine as a remembrance of my visit. I figured a full 750ml bottle of sweet white would be enough for the four of us - half with the foie gras, and half with the dessert course. We all loved it so much though that a magnum would have done even better.

Made from late-harvest, botrytis-touched gewürztraminer, this graceful young wine displayed pure, focused, finely layered and complex flavors and aromas of delicately spiced, wild-honeyed lychee, peach, a touch of vanilla/oak, with subtle, alluring jasmine and mineral nuances. These were all admirably balanced off with just enough acidity to keep the wine bright, fresh and interesting throughout the evening. Exquisite performance and I expect it will turn even more luscious with around 3 to 5 years of ageing.

The 2002 Weinbach Gewürztraminer Altenbourg Cuvée Laurence I had not too long ago was also excellent - but of a riper, more open generous and crowd-pleasing, if not quite as refined, character. It also packed a good dose of honey to its ripe fruit, though it was not a vendanges tardives. I recalled then that the 1996 Weinbach Pinot Gris Altenbourg which my wife and I had over dinner at La Table du Gourmet (1 Michelin star, Catherine recommended this restaurant to us) in Riquewihr later that evening also had a a honeyed theme to its fruit - probably a characteristic of the fruit from that particular lieu-dit.

~ oOo ~

With my main course of wild pheasant (the others had venison), we had...

2001 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande (Pauillac) - Regular readers of my blog know that this 1855 2nd Growth Pauillac is one of my wine group's favorite châteaux, consistently performing well (and twice winning: for vintages 1982 and 1989; and, the 1985 in a "non-title" Valentines Day blind-tasting over, among others, a 1985 Mouton Rothschild) in our Blind Bordeaux Challenges. This particular bottle was a gift from Rocky and Apple several years ago and I had kept it this whole time to age more.

Because I wasn't overly enamored by the '01's performance in an IWFS Pichon Lalande vertical tasting around 9 months ago, I asked the Stockbroker (who had tried it again more recently) if I could serve it at this stage. He said it was already drinking well the last he had it and encouraged me to go ahead - that's all the encouragement I needed.

This youngster was atypically masculine and dark for a Pichon Lalande (which is usually markedly femininely refined, elegant wine) - it reminded me of the 1985 version. More staunchly Pauillac, it showed firm structure and manly bones in its liquid dark fruit, cassis, mineral, slight topnotes of cherry and red raspberry, lead pencil shavings, murmurs of underlying black coffee, tobacco and charcoal, and fleeting hints of violets.

Quite nice, albeit not mature by a long shot. This was already quite enjoyable and has many years to go before full maturity. I figured it would be youthfully vigorous enough to handle the others' venison.

~ oOo ~

With the cheese plate, I opened a....

1996 Bodegas Beronia Rioja Gran Reserva (Rioja) - I've enjoyed several bottles of this maturely suave, traditionally-schooled Rioja ever since Robert Burroughes introduced me to it during Paella Night around a month ago. It was collectively voted as the favorite wine of that night and was served with Marc's Manchego Friand. My last notes stated:

"A blend of 87% tempranillo, 8% mazuelo and 5% graciano, made only in good
years, of which 1996 certainly was for Rioja. Aged 24 months in a blend of
French and American oak casks, and further aged for 3 years in bottle before
release. A "mere" 13% abv.Refined, silken, complex and ethereal in character
compared to the previous 3 youngsters. Even without material decanting time, it
displayed beautifully a bouquet of sweet Spanish cedar, dried cranberry,
raspberry over a slim base of silken blackcurrant. There are also subtle nuances
of rancio, thyme, licorice, spiced wood and violets."

With the decanting for aeration, it released more of its darkly spiced,
perfumed bouquet and gained a bit more lushness in texture and slightly more
weight. I also noticed the pronounced chocolate flavor in the wine that J-Lab
noted the week before at the Gourmand dinner. Again, a very lovely wine.

Rocky likes his bleu cheese with reds and, though, mostly preoccupied with the Roquefort, noted that the wine also went very well with the nutty Tomme de Savoie and walnuts. My wife and I tried it and, yes, it was a very good match with the latter. I also had it with a bit of the Reblochon and Manchego which were also nice matches. Hands down, though, the best pairing was with the Tomme de Savoie and walnuts.

~ oOo ~

Dessert was a wonderful Chestnut Bûche de Noël (a traditional French Christmas "log", a.k.a., "Bouche de Noël" in the US) which Apple absolutely loved, and jokingly lamented that it was not on the regular menu. Knowing that chestnut desserts pair wonderfully with sweet gewürztraminer-based wines, we revisited the 2004 Weinbach Gewürztraminer Furstentum Ventanges Tardives.

From, the history of this well-known French dessert is explained thusly:

The origins of this most well-known French pastry can be found in the
ancient Celtic tradition of celebrating the winter solstice. On this shortest
day of the year, the Celts would search for a large trunk of either oak, beech,
elm or cherry and burn it as a symbol of the rebirth of the sun, they also
offered their thanks to the sun for recurring to the earth.

During the middle Ages the logs and the ceremony of the burning log became
more detailed. The logs themselves would be decorated with ribbons and greenery.
Then the youngest and the oldest member of each family would carry the log to
the hearth and set it in flames for the whole night. The vestiges would be
collected the next day to be used for the whole year. They were thought to help
cure various sicknesses and protect the house from the wickedness of the evil
spirit. As days past it changed to small logs and then served as a dessert to
the guest.

Buche de Noel is well garnished and so well presented like a log just to be
ready for the fire. This traditional desert is generally made from other sponge
cake, filled with butter cream. Sometimes, even chocolate cakes are also
cherished. Bûches are often served with cake cut off from one side, set on top
of the cake to resemble a chopped off branch and bark-like texture is often
produced in the butter cream for further realism. Tree branches, chorus,
mushrooms made of meringue, fresh berries, and powdered sugar to have an effect
of snow are most commonly used decorative style with traditional value.

We lingered until 1 am, not noticing the time fly over cups of coffee and each others' company. The last ones out of the restaurant, we bade each other goodbye, hoping to find the time in this busy season to see each other again before they fly home. Hopefully, we don't have to wait until next Christmas to get together again.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Wine Lunch at Je Suis Gourmand: 22 Dec 2008.

It's been almost 2 weeks since I've been to Je Suis Gourmand. That was remedied, though, by today's lunch with Santi, Miguel and Rene. We were fortunate that Marc dropped by (Monday is his usual day off) long enough to prepare our special menu.

We started off with Fin de Claire Oysters Cooked 3 Ways paired with:

2006 Domaine Raimbault-Pineau Pouilly-Fumé - Miguel's bottle. Oysters with a good, crisp Loire white - it doesn't get much better than that in my book. I've written about this most enjoyable sauvignon blanc at least twice before, and relatively recently. 2006 was a very good year for Loire whites.

Though I also enjoy some sauv blancs from Marlborough, New Zealand; when it comes to this grape, my heart lies in Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre for reasons of comparative finesse and purity. Paired with shellfish, they are sublime - and some of the few wines that actually pair well with mildly spicy, tomato-based sauces (not that we had any today). My old notes on this delightlful wine still ring true:

An ethereal, fresh, floral, cool, sweet perfume of gooseberries, freshly
cut grass, white grapefruit, citrus and trace white mineral nuances in the nose.
Gracefully and elegantly mirrored on the palate.This danced on my tongue. Subtly

The Vigneron, not really one who is into whites and, more often than
not, goes straight to the reds, was the first one to pipe up, saying that
"The bouquet of this wine is wonderful". Coming from him, that means
a lot....Available at Terry's for barely P1000 per bottle and I would easily pay
more for it if needs be.
I add now that there is a subtle, yet distinct white floral character to this wine. Loved it with the oysters.

~ oOo ~

With indulgent dishes of Pan-Fried Foie Gras atop a Foie Gras Gâteau Ringed with Scallops:

2002 Château Rieussec - Rene's bottle, a half-bottle (375ml) which is more than enough for 4 people. Rieussec is widely considered the crown prince of Sauternes, second only to Yquem. Though I heavily favor the Lur-Saluces family's (owners of Yquem until relatively recently) elegant and more ethereal Château de Fargues, I must admit that, in terms of richness, heft and body, Rieussec must take precedence.

While there is generally lukewarm regard to Bordeaux 2002s, let me assure you that it was a good year for Sauternes. Santi's 2002 de Fargues was a lovely wine that, for some reason, made me think of Natalie Portman's character in "Closer". The 2002 Yquem Santi and I were able to taste at Château d'Yquem back in July 2006 was also wonderful. They were kind enough to open 2 regular 750ml bottles for our group of 14 at d'Yquem and the elegant spitoons were left unused.

At this stage, this young (see the color) Sauternes is leanly muscled and pliant, like a young gymnast. The structure, body and push are definitive, but not (yet) big-boned or Rubenesque - more like a Barsac now, actually. I'm pretty sure this will gain weight and more luxury over time. Good focus and complexity to its honeyed lemon, citrus, peach, apricot and vanilla/oak flavors with a good dose of botrytis - it cut and brightened the richness of the foie gras as any Sauternes or Barsac worth its salt should.

I must say I enjoyed this a lot as a match. A rich, opulent, mature Sauternes (or the still young, vintage-dominant 2001s) would have been a bit of overload (and difficult to follow with reds) - better being enjoyed as desserts in themselves, in my opinion anyway.

~ oOo ~

With the moist, tender, earthily robust Roasted Venison Rack with Bacon-Laced French Beans, Braised Endive in Truffle Oil Sauce, two reds were poured.

1989 Château Lagrange - A highly-regarded and over-performing 3rd Growth from St-Julien in the Médoc. Much credit for Lagrange's success is given to the steadfast and generous financial backing of the Japanese owner (Suntory) and the talented Marcel Ducasse. To the best of my recollection, I've had only their 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1995, 1996 and 2000 vintages - all when Marcel Ducasse was still in charge of the château, before Bruno Eynard took over in 2007. From that virtual handful, however, I have been impressed by the high standard, reliability and consistency of their wines. They may be quite generous with the oak, but the wines have always been in balance in my experience.

At Vinexpo Asia Pacific 2008 this past May, I was fortunate to have been invited to the Commanderie du Bontemps Dinner where I was seated at the table of Château Lagrange. Bruno Eynard was at the same table, and, if I remember correctly, winemaker Kenji Suzuta, as well (I was introduced to them, but we didn't get to talk). I spent most of the dinner chatting with Charles Philipponnat of Champagne Philipponnat, a most charming, polished and interesting fellow who is very experienced in food and wine pairing.

Bruno Eynard is on the right and I think that's Kenji Suzuta on the left. I can't remember who the fellow in the middle was - I just took the picture - not a very good one as it was quite dim in there.

This wine, the 1989 grand vin, was warm, comforting, earthy with subtle hints of game and truffle (which is why, after much thought, I chose this in the end for the pairing). Its molten darkly ripe fruit and cassis have an earthy, roasted character (not torrefaction though, more like warm gravel). Mild nuances of cedar, old worn leather, tobacco and well-integrated oak. Slightly over medium-bodied, but not legitimately full. Low acid, just barely enough to keep it in balance. Not as lush, stylish or expansive as the 1990 version, this is comparatively somber, more serious and quietly reserved. Good depth to it.

The wine didn't have the acidity to present any cut to the venison, but it did walk hand-in-hand with the earthiness of the latter. A good pairing, I think, but I could have done much better. I really just felt like drinking something mature. I think the guys liked it.

2000 Domaine Jean-Jacques Confuron Clos Vougeot Grand Cru - I wrote about this early last month, from a wine lunch I organized as a token of thanks to the Stockbroker. My notes then were:

I found it suave, earthy, broad, medium-bodied, leather and lightly truffle
nuanced, dark berries/fruit, red beet and cranberry undertones, with some
raspberry and kirsch on top. Nice complexity, delicate layering and comparative
finesse in this. What struck me most is that it was loaded with flavors but not
at all heavy on the palate. Nice one, if I may say so myself; skilfully crafted
to successful results for the vintage.

This bottle exhibited a pronounced sour cherry towards the back and through to the finish. I thought it was fine as a counterpoint with the venison, but not very nice alone. Though I did mean it to pair with the venison, I was quite disappointed with this bottle. It should also drink well alone.

~ oOo ~

With the dessert of excellent Chestnut Soufflé:

1988 Domaine Hugel et Fils Gewürztraminer Sélection de Grains Nobles - I tried this wine, along with many others, at Domaine Hugel in the medieval town of Riquewihr, Alsace late in September 2007. Among all the wines I tasted there (and they are quite generous, they even gave me some bottles as gifts to take away), this wine was my favorite, so I sought it out in the US.

During a lunch hosted by Bernie Sim on the 4th December 2007, I learned from him that aged gewürztraminer SGNs (his 1989 Domaine Ostertag Gewürztraminer SGN then) marry beautifully with chestnut soufflé, so I tried to re-create the pairing for this lunch.

It was as I remembered it...

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.
I add now that its lively botrytised fruit and minerals just danced on my tongue and was an excellent counterpoint to the mildly sweetish earthiness of the chestnut soufflé. Excellent acidic balance. Wonderful match. I loved the soufflé alone, the wine alone and the both together. Undoubtedly my gastronomic apex of the lunch.

Marc, already on his way home, sat with us and shared a glass of the '89 Lagrange and a sip of the '88 Hugel Gewürz SGN. We thanked him profusely for such an excellent Monday lunch. Santi had to leave shortly thereafter while Miguel, Rene and I lingered over digestifs of Eaux de Vie de Prune, and coffee thereafter.

I wish all Mondays were like this. Thanks again, Marc!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Grand Crew's 2008 Christmas Wine Lunch: A Tale of Two Burgs.

The Doc, Stockbroker and I have made it a point to have a Christmas wine lunch together ever since we fell into each other's company. We normally hold it at Tivoli, but, this year, 15th December 2008, the Stockbroker decided to move it to Old Manila (our traditional Blind Bordeaux Challenge haunt) and texted us about the change of venue yesterday morning.

Unfortunately, I failed to take note of the new venue and proceeded to Tivoli. Surprised we didn't have a reservation (though there were tables available), I, luckily, called him before I ordered, and, thereafter, walked over to the Peninsula, lugging my wine bag containing a bottle each of 1979 Château Pichon Lalande and 1988 Hugel Gewürztraminer Sélection de Grains Nobles (linked to previous notes).

Since it turned out that Bernie couldn't join us, the Doc and I both had 3pm appointments and the Stockbroker ran late at the office, we limited ourselves to only two bottles for lunch. Thus, my mentioned bottles, as well as the Doc's 1990 Marquis d'Angerville Volnay Premier Cru, were left unopened for another day.

For our identical starters of seared scallops atop mini-cannellonis filled with a sweetish carrot purée, the Doc already had for us a nicely chilled bottle of:

2000 Domaine Raveneau Chablis Premier Cru Montée de Tonnerre - Raveneau is, simply put, one of the very best (as well as one of the priciest) makers of Chablis, with an unquestionable and well-deserved reputation. No need to belabor this matter, that's how it is. Montée de Tonnerre, together with Montmains, happen to be two particularly favored premier cru Chablis vineyards of mine.

The wine was a study in typicity and terroir, with hallmark cold, wet stone and steely flintiness seamlessly, subtly, but definitively, permeating its fine green apple and white stone-fruit with whispers of straw, delicately-knit citrus and a very light touch of leesy vanilla. In the bouquet, there is also a slight suggestion of cool (but not sweet) mint (in the cold-stoniness) which was absent on the palate.

Clean, well-focused, poised and precisely balanced, barely medium-bodied. A wine of finesse that matched well with the seared scallops (unsurprisingly), but I felt that the carrot purée filling of the mini cannellonis was too sweet for it.

With my duck breast and duck confit atop a bed of lentils (the Doc had his usual Canadian bison while the Stockbroker opted for my usual rack of lamb)...

1990 Domaine Comte Georges de Vögué Musigny Grand Cru Cuvée Vieilles Vignes - From the Stockbroker, a bottle he's long been wanting to open with us, but, somehow, we only got to it now. Musigny (pronounced: "moo-zee-nyee") is a 25-acre grand cru designated plot in Chambolle-Musigny (in the Côte de Nuits, a few kilometers north of Vosne-Romanée, bordering Vougeot) the wines from which are highly-prized, and, accordingly priced.

We noted how dark and dense the wine was - the most intensely dark red I've ever seen in a Burgundy to my recollection. The bouquet was intense as well, with the tell-tale sweet perfume of Burgundy decay: old violets and hint of compost to its deeply-veined, darkly spiced, roasted-ripe, briary, blackberry, wild black raspberry, tart black cherry profiles. Probably the densest, most extracted red Burg in my experience, yet it was well-balanced and carried its muscled frame with a confident spring in its step.

Whether this seeming extra dose of testosterone may be accounted for by the vintage or the maker's style, I can't really tell as this is the first Musigny I've had, by Vögué or otherwise. All I can say is that it is bigger, more powerful and denser than any Chambolle-Musigny I've tried. Chambolle-Musigny reds, like those of Volnay, are generally known for being lithe, graceful and elegant rather than dense, powerful and hefty (see: 1990 Marquis d'Angerville Volnay Premier Cru Champans).

Of course, there are exceptions, i.e., the comparatively masculine/muscular Volnay premier cru Taillepieds and Chambolle-Musigny's other grand cru, Bonnes Mares, that partially falls within Morey St-Denis. Notably, the reds of Morey St-Denis are known for their meatier, heftier, masculine character.

In any event, I much enjoyed the subject wine with my robust and earthy duck with lentils - indeed a rarefied treat just to get to try it at all. Many thanks for the wines, guys!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

IWFS Informal Swiss Buffet Lunch at Chesa Bianca: 13th December 2008

This past Saturday, 13th December 2008, was an informal Swiss Lunch Buffet of the International Wine & Food Society Philippine Branch ("IWFS") at the newly-renovated Chesa Bianca on Yakal Street, Makati (the building right before Säntis).

Pretty much everyone brought a bottle or two, so that made up quite a number. I didn't bother to count. Many bubblies, whites and a few rosés were chilled and laid out for whoever wanted:

I do not normally attend IWFS informal lunches as they are always held on Saturdays, which is my regular golf day. But since I hadn't attended the last couple of events, missed my IWFS friends, and, in addition, I'd also long been wanting to go back to Bianca's, I made an exception.

The Cold Buffet was made up of:

Air Dried Beef, Raw Ham, Air Dried Bacon,
Smoked Cooked Ham with Pickles and Olives
Sausage & Cheese Salad
Ox Muzzle Salad

Swiss Style Mixed
Potato, Cabbage , Cucumber , Carrots
Bread & Butter

Having had only a bowl of cereal for breakfast, I quickly fixed up a starter plate of the potato salad, Raw Ham, Air Dried Bacon (excellent!) and Sausage & Cheese Salad, with some hot, crusty bread, butter and gherkins on the side.

With these, I had a glass each from my bottles of:

2007 Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé - I've already written several times about the 2007 Tempier rosé, so I'm sure everyone is tired of reading about how much I love this wine. I brought it mainly because I like rosés for afternoon drinking and because the wine is just so versatile in pairing with different types of food - today was no exception. It's fresh and focused, subtly ripe, yet dry fruitiness paired well enough, acting as a nice foil with the air-dried bacon's saltiness and brightened up the raw ham.

1999 Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis Grand Cru "Les Clos" - I brought this along even though I knew no shellfish was being served because I figured it's good heft (for a Chablis, that is) and rounded middle would go with the Hot Buffet's Fillet of Dace with Almonds and Spinach. I tried some of this wine with some of the cold dishes, but the Tempier rosé's more colorful personality clearly over-shadowed the former in pairing. Thus, I set it aside for the fish and continued with the rosé.

Othmar brought a bottle of riper, fuller, more noticably oaked (but well-integrated and not over-the-top at all) 2003 Rustenberg "Five Soldiers" (Stellenbosch, South Africa) which made a much stronger case for chardonnay as a pairing for the cold buffet's dishes. I just had a nip of this wine as it went fast. I recall this wine won 3rd Place in collective results of the IWFS Blind Chardonnay Tasting last 24th January 2008 (I, personally, ranked it 2nd Place). Very nice wine.

The Doc, in turn, favored the 2005 Domaine Robert Denogent Pouilly-Fuissé "Les Reisses" Vieilles Vignes. I ranked this 3rd Place in the above-mentioned IWFS Blind Chardonnay Tasting. Fellow IWFS member, Jérome, distributes this wine, but I don't think he was the one who brought it that day.

I guess I wasn't the only one who thought of having a light breakfast in anticipation of the day's heavy lunch, since everyone else seemed quite hungry. Conversation flowed, but not immediately as lively (or lacquered) as usual - not yet, anyway.

The Hot Buffet:

Sliced Veal Zurich Style,
Fillet of Dace with Almonds on Spinach
Rösti Potatoes, and,
Chaes Chnoepfli (Cheese Dumplings)

I attacked this buffet and loaded my plate first with the Fillet of Dace, Rösti and Chaes Chnoepfli, deciding to go for the veal in the next round.

At that point, I threw all caution to the wind and decided to eat and drink whatever I wanted, as much as I wanted. Anyway, with the Doc and Doc Leelin at our table, my wife, Bill, I, Munetomo-san, Jay and Misato would have nothing to worry about if anyone suddenly needed any sort of medical attention. The IWFS really should have more doctors. Lord knows we have enough lawyers.

I must say that I found the Chaes Chnoepfli particularly pleasing, firmly textured with just the right amount of cheesiness without being over-powering or tiresome. Doc Leelin, on the other hand favored the Rösti. The Doc and I agreed, though, that the Zurich-style veal (similar to a stroganoff)was the star of the hot buffet dishes - well-flavored, but not too creamy.

With the veal, we had, among others, the Doc's:

1994 Château Pontet-Canet (Pauillac) - No decanting, but I let it breathe in my glass for around 40 minutes, more-or-less, before even sniffing it seriously. After said aeration, the bouquet was firmly, decidedly and typically Pauillac. Earthy, cedary, leathery, faintly mushroom-nuanced cassis and dark fruit. Finely intertwined, warm asphalt and licorice notes. Excellent expression of terroir.

Good concentration and fine balance mark this full-bodied wine. Understated masculinity embodied: sturdy, strong, but suave. Not at all boisterous, over-bearing, or over-wrought. It is possessed of a naturally confident character.

This is a serious wine, and, definitely, a most persuasive argument for the merits of the generally cooly received and regarded 1994 vintage of the Médoc. The 1994 Haut-Brion, La Mission Haut-Brion and Angelus, to name a few, are also very strong 1994s that are currently drinking well.

As the reds flowed with the well-stocked hot buffet, the air
turned a lot more festive and celebratory. The volume of conversations got louder, jokes flew faster, laughter more boisterous.

Oscar made a somewhat late, but always welcome, entrance. So nice he decided to show up, as I hadn't seen him in quite a while. It's always fun with him around.

Unfortunately, Bernie couldn't make it as he had, as Othmar put it, "very long day yesterday", what with a marathon IWFS board meeting, visiting Alex's new Épicerie (which involved more bottles of wine, I suspect) and Premium Wine Exchanges dinner with the Staglins (which I wasn't able to attend for - *uhurm* - unavoidable circumstances). A tiring day, indeed, for anyone.

It's a pity he didn't make it, though. In any event, we all did our best to enjoy ourelves for him. Wasn't hard to do, really, what with all the good friends, food and bottles of wine around. I don't think anyone could've had a bad time even if he or she tried - not that anyone would want to. Christmas is, after all, just around the corner, and Santa is watching. And, speaking of Santa, I also noted the conspicuous absence of Fil. I wonder where he was at.

While some others started moving on to dessert and coffee, I hung back, opting to finish off a few more glasses of wine wit a bit of cheese. My wife had hers ahead and opined that, although many of the cheeses were very nice, the cave-aged gruyère was the best of the lot. I used to buy this often in Säntis, so that's what I went for...

...that is, until I noticed the Napoleon slices.

Napoleons are one of my weaknesses - they always remind me of the afternoon meriendas at the veranda of Baguio Country Club when I was in early grade school. With a couple of creamy, nostalgia-filled slices, I had a bracing double espresso, waited a while after that, and had even more wine.

I must apologize for the scarcity of specific tasting notes. Caught up in the festive atmosphere, I long gave up trying to analyze the wines and committing them all to memory. After all, Bernie texted me a couple of days before that I shouldn't worry about what wine to bring as these informal lunches are primarily enjoying each other's company - and it's well it should be.

~ oOo ~

I do recall, however, having a glass of Oscar's 2002 Château Pichon Longueville Baron (Pauillac) which he just ordered from next door. I welcomed the chance to try this as I have tasted only a handful of 2002 Médocs. I never bought any from this vintage as they are still quite young. The Stockbroker, however, bought a varied stash of 2002s and told me before that this is the vintage that many of the French choose for currently drinking, comparatively reasonably-priced (and I use that rather term loosely) Bordeaux.

The aromas, though expectedly youthfully reserved and warmly alcohol-tinged, are correct for this 2nd Growth Pauillac: Spanish cedar, dark berries, cassis, bit of dark spice, nuance of wet asphalt. On the palate, it is consistent with added nuance of tobacco. There is some green stemminess to the dark fruit and a bit of roughness to the tannins, but, again, it is young. It did open up more with additional aeration and was quite pleasant even at this early stage.

The crowd, thereafter, thinned out, as did the wine, and none too soon. I was already past my otherwise self-imposed limit. Thankfully, my wife insisted that we bring a driver that day. I'm sure she knew that I would wind up drinking too much and would just as soon not have to ride home with me at the wheel.

One would think that, at a few years past 40, I'd have learned to just play it safe and think to bring a driver myself. Oh, well....

By around 5pm, we took our leave and headed back home. It was a great lunch with great company. I don't regret for a second missing golf for it. I'd do it again next Saturday if I could.