Friday, January 25, 2008

IWFS Blind Chardonnay Tasting

Yesterday evening, January 24th 2008, the International Wine & Food Society's Philippine Chapter held a blind chardonnay tasting of 10 wines from various countries.

The Lineup:
  • 2005 Domaine Robert Denogent Pouilly Fuissé "Les Reisses" VV, France
  • 2005 Domaine Laroche Chablis Premier Cru "Les Fourchaumes" VV, France
  • 2004 Comte Lafon Macon-Milly-Lamartine Clos du Four, France
  • 2002 Catena Alta Chardonnay Adrianna Vineyard, Mendoza, Argentina
  • 2004 Petaluma Chardonnay Picadilly Valley, Australia
  • 2004 Leewin Estate Chardonnay "Art Series", Margaret River, Australia
  • 2005 Seresin Chardonnay Reserve, Marlborough, New Zealand
  • 2004 Franciscan Oakville Estate "Cuvée Sauvage", Carneros, Napa Valley
  • 2004 Saintsbury "Brown Ranch" Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa Valley
  • 2003 Rustenberg "Five Soldiers", Stellenbosch, South Africa

Since we were under time pressure, I failed to make material notes as I tasted; so this post is limited to the results. Further, since we were around 20 or so tasters, due to time constraints (the tasting started late - past 7pm - people were getting very hungry) only the top 5 wines were ranked.

The Collective Results:

1st Place - 2002 Catena Alta Chardonnay Adrianna Vineyard, Mendoza, Argentina;

2nd Place - 2004 Franciscan Oakville Estate "Cuvée Sauvage", Carneros, Napa Valley;

3rd Place - 2003 Rustenberg "Five Soldiers", Stellenbosch, South Africa;

4th Place - 2004 Leewin Estate Chardonnay "Art Series", Margaret River, Australia; and,

5th Place - 2005 Domaine Laroche Chablis Premier Cru "Les Fourchaumes" VV

My wife's 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th Place wines were the same as the collective ranking, while her 4th Place wine was the 2004 Saintsbury "Brown Ranch" Chardonnay (which she likes, so I always keep a few bottles of it at home) .

My own results, except for my 1st and 4th Place wines, my choices were different:

1st Place - 2002 Catena Alta Chardonnay Adrianna Vineyard, Mendoza, Argentina;

2nd Place - 2003 Rustenberg "Five Soldiers", Stellenbosch, South Africa;

3rd Place - 2005 Domaine Robert Denogent Pouilly Fuissé "Les Reisses" VV, France;

4th Place - 2004 Leewin Estate Chardonnay "Art Series", Margaret River, Australia; and,

5th Place - 2004 Petaluma Chardonnay Picadilly Valley, Australia.

So, hands down, the oldest and coldest (the wines were not served all at once, so by the time the 10th was served, i.e., the 2002 Catena Alta, the 1st to 7th wines were already varying degrees of warm) won.

Blind Non-Bordeaux Challenge III

20th January 2008 at Pepato, 5 reds from all over tasted blind, 9 tasters.

There can be only one....

Starters: with appetizers of roasted bone marrow, proscuitto, deep-fried squash flowers and a squid-ink bruschetta topped with tomatoes and mozarella:

2005 Joh.Jos.Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Auslese - From the Doc, my first experience with Prüm. The ladies loved this wine and said it was the best wine that evening over-all.

For me, it was disturbingly spritzy, though admirably fresh and lively, moderately sweet, low alcohol, very clean with superior focus. Easy to drink a ton of, I imagine, in the Southeast Asian heat with Asian cuisine. I cannot find any fault in its cool, refreshingly crisp/fruity acidity, flavors of peach, citrus, with a touch of orange blossoms and fleeting spice (cinammon?) notes.

Not knowing what to make of the spritziness (which I felt interfered with the wine's laudable characteristics), I asked the Stockbroker if he thought it was caused by secondary bottle fermentation. We couldn't be certain, so, the next day, I asked 2 West Coast Wine Network members whose knowledge and tastes I respect in hopes for some answers.

Their answers jived hand-in-glove:

Prüm normally leaves material amounts of SO2 in its wine to prevent over-oxidation. I gather this is because their wines are meant to be aged longer than most of their kind so the spritziness may be a bit bothersome while the wine is young.

One added that Von Schubert, Karthauserhof, and other old-style German producers are known to practice this as well; and, that the fault of secondary bottle fermentation usually carries with it yeasty and beer-like notes - none of which I detected in the subject wine, so I suppose the bothersome spritziness was due to its youth.

I certainly wouldn't mind trying this again in 8-10 years.

2005 Cuvée du Vatican Reserve Sixtine Blanc - From the Stockbroker. Initially tightly-wound, it would reveal only laser-clean steely white minerals with some flint in its compact white fruit. I guessed it was more roussanne. Later on, it expanded and fleshed out generously, displaying broad, almond cream, vanilla/oak laced ultra ripe fruit (something like baked apple and pear) with a slight whisper of peach. Much, much bigger and fuller and heavier than the previous wine. I then guessed, wrongly, that it was more marsanne. Oh, well... I must have over-thought myself to error.

The Competing Reds (I had them with a rare ultra-prime rib-eye steak and potato wedges):

Wine#1 - Oldest wine obvious in its brownish deep red. Bouquet of prune, black fruit compote and dark spice, slight sherry, bit of game, wet tea leaves - mirrored in the mouth on a medium body. Flavors slightly separating with more pronounced sweetish tea notes as it sat in the glass.

I ranked it 2nd best.

It was Miguel Aboitiz's 1994 Bodegas Valduero Primium Reserva Especial.

Wine#2 - comparatively mute nose, profiles of dark red fruit, slight raisin, nicely hefty mid-palate, quite tannic, a bit of a drying finish. On the low side of full-bodied.I ranked it 3rd best.

It turned out to be the Stockbroker's 2001 Domaine Sainte-Anne "Les Mourilons" Saint-Gervais Côtes du Rhône Villages.

Wine#3 - Very curious wine that I simply could not get a handle on. Extremely ripe/baked red fruit, some chocolate notes and lots of alcohol. The Stockbroker and I guessed it was syrah-based, but we were wrong.

It was Edouard's 2003 Tommasi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico and I ranked it 4th.

Wine#4 - The controversial wine. I immediately detected material brett in its thick, dense, inky, gamey, animal, super-ripe, super-extracted black fruit and dark chocolate profiles. I noted a very chalky/relatively rough mouthfeel. A huge wine.

Edouard pronounced it corked and asked that it be removed from competition. Someone opined it was a bad bottle since there was an unpleasant fuzziness to it. We prevailed on Edouard, though, to allow it to stay in competition, to be rated as it would. Honestly, I was not convinced it was "corked" or an off bottle.

Much later, I, as usual, was the last to submit my votes, analyzing and re-analyzing, making many passes through the wines. I noticed that a lot of the "brettiness" had blown off and that was an extreme amount of sediment forming a dark sludge at the bottom of my glass, not unlike Turkish coffee dregs.

I am convinced that the lack of standing it upright, decanting for sediment and material breathing time did the wine in for this event. I ranked it 5th for these reasons, but I do not think it was TCA infected ot otherwise "corked" having had the 1993 version not too long ago to mentally compare it with. I believe that, had proper decanting for sediment been performed and material breathing time been given, this wine would have fared much better.

This controversial wine was the Doc's 1995 Clos Erasmus.

Wine#5 - Scents of butterscotch, toffee and vanilla laced coconut cream (usually indicating to me American oak) over cassis/dark fruit confirmed this to be my wine, the only California wine in the bunch. Comparatively the best, nicely rounded mouthfeel and balance with a long, consistent,confident finish. This wine held together the best over the evening's span.

I easily ranked my 1996 BV Georges de Latour Private Reserve first place. This bottle, among others, was a Christmas gift from old, dear friends, Rocky and Apple Villadolid from Hillsborough CA, who always give me only the best cabs California has to offer.


1st Place - Wine#5, my 1996 BV Georges de Latour Private Reserve with a total of 39 points, including 6 out of 9 votes for 1st place.

2nd Place* - Wine#2, the Stockbroker's 2001 Domaine Sainte-Anne "Les Mourilons" Saint-Gervais Côtes du Rhône Villages with 30 points.

3rd Place* - Wine#1, Miguel's 1994 Bodegas Valduero Primium Reserva Especial also with 30 points.

*NB: Under our rules, in the event of a tie in points, as in this case, the cheaper wine prevails.

4th Place - Wine#3, Edouard's 2003 Tommasi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico with 27 points. This was a last minute entry of Edouard since he just arrived that day from Beijing and brought back a Chinese (French winemaker) Bordeaux blend which, unfortunately, got delayed with his luggage.

5th Place - Wine#4, the Doc's 1995 Clos Erasmus.

Although this second straight win of mine in our Non-Bordeaux Challenge was most gratifying, I must note, though, that the over-all level of wines that night was not as high as usual for some reason. Edouard and my wife agree with me.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Some Magnums for 2 Ladies.

Mrs. Doc's *cough*th birthday and my wife's and my 16th wedding anniversary celebration was held last Friday, 6th January, at Pepato, a heavily Italian-influenced continental restaurant favored by our group. As Mrs. Doc and my wife are close, aside from being first cousins, the Doc and I organized a joint dinner party in their honor.

It was the Grand Crew and wives, plus the Doc's cousin and his wife, so we were 10 in all.

With assorted appetizers of lightly battered tempura squash flowers, roasted bone marrow and bruschetta topped with baby arugula and small, fresh Italian tomatoes:

2000 Weinbach Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Furstentum Vendages Tardives (Magnum) - From the Doc. Perfumed, honeyed lychee and peach bouquet exquisitely laced with sweet spices and scents of jasmine and roses. Absolutely graceful in the mouth, the flavors, holding true to its bouquet, fell in delicate layers with added whispers of alluring orange rind-bitterness and petrol towards the back. Excellent balance of its botrytis sweetness/tanginess and bracing acid.

Everyone raved over this Alsacien nectar, even Edouard, and that's saying a lot.

I have a bottle of the 2004 version of this wine sleeping in my wine keep, a gift from Catherine Faller. I hope it grows up like the 2000.

With rare-to-medium-rare rib-eye steaks cooked alla Fiorentina, with sides of potato wedges, rock salt and tender zucchini strips:

1995 Château Cheval Blanc (Magnum) - My bottle, kept upright 12 hours before, opened at 5pm just to check as the cork was protruding ever so slightly. It smelled fine so I just re-corked it for later. I had mentioned the slight protrusion to the Stockbroker the day before and he assured me it should be fine since magnums are generally sturdier.

This was an elegant wine. Neither flambuoyant nor overly showy, this was not a "blockbuster" by any means...but that is a good thing for me. It is more of a contemplative wine, one I had to pay attention to to unravel its virtues.

Silken, seamless black cherry, cassis, violets and a bit of raspberry, discreetly underpinned by rounded dark plum and merest whispers of clove, espresso and sweet cedar. Lovely.

1995 Château Calon Ségur (Magnum) - From the Doc. He had to remind me that he had opened a bottle (750ml) of this a few months earlier before I could properly recall that warm, comforting, medium-bodied, mildly earthy/truffled, leathery, cassis/small red berry/iron laced, slightly smoky cedar bottle of his.

This time, the wine was quite reticent, reluctantly giving up hints of cassis wrapped in a mild chemical scent reminiscent of unripe green pepper and plastic. The Doc whispered to me that he thought the mag was corked. Edouard agreed with the Doc. The Stockbroker said it was apparent in the nose but not in the mouth.

Honestly, I think the bottle was slightly off, it certainly didn't taste like the previous one, but I do not think it was TCA-infected. My first thought was that it was definitely closed, yet there was no escaping that bothersome chemical element which I detected even in the mouth as I revisited the wine later that evening.

1986 Château Pichon Lalande - From Edouard. My old notes revealed that I last had this wine sometime in July 2000 and found it to be atypically hard and the most masculinely austere Pichon Lalande I had ever tried. This bottle had the same character, decidedly masculine, austere with more dominant earthy,leathery notes than I have ever encountered in PL.

It wasn't hard like the one over 7 years ago, but it definitely could not be characterized as feminine and graceful like the typical PL. The Stockbroker said it was because 1986s are generally more austere and muscular - a vintage thing.

He's most probably correct. A comparison with '85 and '89 (which I found to be comparatively less feminine PLs) flashed in my mind, but those were still a lot lusher and nowhere near as austere as the '86.

Don't get me wrong, though, I liked the '86 a lot and greatly appreciate the chance to re-try it. I'm just a bit amazed how far removed its character is from all the other vintages I have tried. Wine is truly a wondrously, mysterious thing.

With a delectable cheese plate paired with various fruit compotes:

1997 Château Guiraud - My bottle. Dark, burnished bronze-gold, light-heavyweight Sauternes with forward, generous, yet well-focused and balanced, typical sweetly bortytised apricot-dominant, orange marmalade, candied orange rind, slight dark caramel with beurre noisette nuances towards the end.

On the whole, I thought it was a wonderful evening. How better to celebrate such occasions than with good friends and family?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Backlog Notes

Since my blackberry recently and suddenly crashed, I lost the exact dates of when I had many of these bottles. All I recall is that, unless otherwise indicated, they were all during the period of November to December '07.

1999 Grand Cru Charmes Chambertin by Domaine Taupenot-Merme - Sometime in late December 2007. At my acquisition price of just under $90, it would be difficult, in my opinion, to find a better Charmes Chamberin from '99. Though only 8 years from vintage, it is already exhibiting its bouquet of age - a forshadowing of even better things to come, I'd say: deep, darkish pinot noir fruit primaries very discreetly and intricately laced with well integrated oak/vanilla and seductive earthy/truffle notes.

In the mouth, what I recall best is its luxurious texture, a relatively full Burg but lithe, not heavy at all. Superior balance and purity. Focus and length were adequate, could be better; but, over-all (considering its price) I was very happy with it and would recommend it in a trice.

1995 Gruaud Larose - Early December 2007. Bottle from budding collector Santi Araneta during a dinner at my place. This was at least the 6th time I have had this wine in the past 5 months. Very nice, typical Gruaud Larose: warm, earthy, comforting, dark fruit/cassis with touches of pure ripe red fruit, merest hints of licorice. Marginally, yet noticeably softer' less minerality and less bold than the '96 (the vintage of course), superior balance/harmony. "Classy" performance. At its price, again, very difficult to beat for a fine 2nd growth.

1996 de Fieuzal - During the same dinner immediately above-mentioned, my place. A pristine bottle (the last one I opened a month before was musty and tired, though still drinkable). Already a lot of bottle-age sweetness to this medium-bordering-on-full-bodied, ripe, red currant-and-kirsch-laced, cassis/tar/earth dominant wine with finely knit, with a vaguely smoky, sweetish roasted herbs and cedar surfacing mid-mouth and following through on the finish. Edouard particularly favored this wine during said dinner.

Gruaud Larose Dinner: November 8th, 2007 at RED, the continental restaurant of the Shangri-La Hotel, Makati, with the château's representative, David Launay, as a special guest. I misplaced my old notes and came across them only today.

2000 Larose de Gruaud - Not the second wine Sarget, a different one, exactly how is unclear to me. I've seen it available in the US for around $32 more-or-less. Though it is a decent red, charming enough, quaffable, considering you can get the '95/'96 grand vin at only around $50 more-or-less if you search properly, I see no reason to purchase this.

1995 Gruaud Larose - Notes consistent with those above. Second best of the evening after the '89.

1989 Gruaud Larose - My favorite wine of the evening. Mature, with hallmark earthiness to its lightly truffled, bottle age-sweetened cassis, fig, minerals, hint of tobacco, mild cedar layers. Understated and elegant. Nothing like the monstrously generous and ripe '90, and, all the better for it in my opinion.

I told David Launay that I liked the '89 much more than the '90 (elegant and refined rather than boisterously hedonistic), opining that it is very easy to see, though, that RP and those with so-called "California palates" would prefer the '90 over the '89.

1998 Gruaud Larose - Not an interesting wine, comparatively diluted, green and disjointed. I took only a few small sips and set it aside. I noticed Edouard, Sevrine, the Doc, the Stockbroker and my wife left a lot in the glass as well. Perhaps it was aerated too long and fell apart? I'll try this again soon to re-validate.

2001 Gruaud Larose - This must have been decanted for at least 2 hours prior to serving as I recall the last few bottles of this I opened from 2006 to early 2007 (just for snapshots) were just too tough and unyielding (though with good ripeness to its fruit) with aggressive tar and licorice and healthy minerality.

Be it as it may, this bottle was much more approachable than my previous ones. I believe it will grow up well and come into its own in around 4-5 more years.

Since they were pouring the '95 and '89 liberally, the Grand Crew's glasses of the '01 also, like the '98, remained barely touched.

1985 Palmer - From my good friend, Franck Alby, whose son-in-law's family are still shareholders in Palmer. I recall that, for a time, Edouard's family were also minority shareholders in this chateau.A serene wine, wearing its 22 years very well, supple and refined on the palate, medium-bodied silk of seamlessly woven plum, cassis with a bit of red cherry, laced by discreet, earthy dark spice and a whisper of sweet camphor. Very elegant. The 1997 La Mondotte I brought to dinner seemed pedestrian and ham-handed in comparison.

This bottle was all the more memorable since it was the last dinner Franck tendered for us in his Philippine residence (early-to-mid September 2007) before he moved to Dijon beginning October.Wine dinners in Manila will not be the same without him and his most charming wife, Françoise. They are dearly missed.

1989 Lynch Bages - This was the second bottle of this wine Edouard and I enjoyed that week, and probably the most pristine and youthful '89 Lynch Bages I have ever enjoyed. This bottle was from Pierre Barberis, during the above-mentioned dinner at the Alby's.

A study on how great a well-kept Pauillac can be, this still youthful looking/tasting, sleekly muscular 18-year-old has near perfect balance in its hallmark fine mineral-infused cassis/dark fruit/violets, graphite nuances with alluringly hints of earth and fleeting leather. Power and elegance reminiscent, to me, of Latour.


1996 Rauzan Ségla - Mid-December 2007, at Elbert's Steak House for dinner with my wife and the Villadolids from San Francisco. What struck me most about this fine Margaux was its mouthfeel: so smooth, seamless, flexible and vibrant mid-palate, I kept holding it there much longer than politely possible, enjoying the layers of well-extracted (yet not over-the-top), well-rounded, sweetish, small red berry/ripe cherry over cassis, dark plum and cedar undertones. I kept thinking of dark violet flowers at its finish. Exceptional balance and harmony, with good depth. A fine wine indeed, one I will definitely buy more of.

Extremely better than when I tested it out it last in mid-to-late 2000, when it was hard, angular and wholly unenjoyable. A little over 7 more years 0f bottle-age did it wonders.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Vinous & Gastronomic Decadence: Love It.

Dinner a couple of months ago, the 25th November 2007, was hosted by a gentleman whose kindness, generosity and appetite for fine wine and food are boundless.

Eleven members of the International Wine & Food Society's Philippine Branch were in attendance (in alphabetical order): Jorge Araneta, Gerry de Jesus (the Doc), myself, Fil Juntereal, Joe Ledesma, Dr. Leelin, Jojo Madrid (the Stockbroker), Freddie Pio de Roda, Dong Puno, El Presidente Bernie Sim and Jun Sison.

With pass-arounds of salmon tartare, among others, the evening started off with bottles of 1996 Dom Perignon. My little wine group has been enjoying this wine for almost 3 years and I have posted notes on this several times. Aside from my notes of nearly a year ago, I would say that the wine's middle, back and finish seem fuller, no longer linear or precocious, is developing biscuit/toasted brioche creaminess to the back, and is all the more enjoyable than before.

With Steamed Norwegian King Crab Claws in black beans/honey/lemon dressing served on assorted lettuce:

1998 Marcassin Chardonnay Lorenzo Vineyard - More discreet, less heavy than the 2002 Marcassin "Three Sisters" Chardonnay (See: Comparatively purer, leaner, linear, less oaky/buttery, more of the chardonnay shines through the toasty oak and vanilla. The fruit and mild minerality seems to brake halfway through the finish, leaving mild vanilla and toasty oak to follow through. With the King Crab Claw salad, this wine paired well. The subject Three Sisters would have over-powered it. If paired with a richer dish like, say, butter poached lobster, the Three Sisters would be the way to go.

1997 Domaine Coche-Dury Corton Charlemagne - Compared to the '98 Marcassin Lorenzo Chard, this wine, while exhibiting similar dominant chardonnay/vanilla/toasty oak profiles, was clearly more understated and elegant. The vanilla/toastiness of the oak was much less eager and was more apparent only to the rear and finish, rather than sitting mid-mouth. The fruit had a livelier bracing minerality to it and toasted brioche whispers came into play towards the rear. Superb wine.

With Confit de Canard in a shallot sauce with mesclun greens and a raspberry vinaigrette dressing:

1934 Château Lafite Rothschild - Having had some experience with Bordeaux this old, and even older (down to the mid-1920s ex-chateau), at first glance, it was apparent that the wine was damaged: murky, dark brownish red, no clarity - which, to me, shows improper storage/over-oxidation. A few sniffs, both above the glass and within, and an experimental sip confirmed my apprehension: wrapped in dominant, tell-tale old sherry notes, there were dried/decaying violets, mild compost, some whispers of brown spices (clove/cinammon/nutmeg), old dried violets fused with slight vinegar, and faintly musty old cardboard - most likely stored in less than ideal conditions.

I had a similar experience around 6 years ago with two of my father's bottles of 1978 Lafite Rothschild which, due to inadvertence, were not placed in the wine fridge with the rest of the bottles from the same case when he moved houses.

Still and all, buying any wine this old is always a risk; much moreso if not purchased ex-chateau. Every opportunity to try Bordeaux this old (and a first growth, no less), in any event, is a rare treat and always greatly appreciated.

1971 Château Pétrus - This was easily my choice for the wine of the night. Mild violet-infused plum liqueur, faint allspice, slight mocha and milk chocolate, a bit of cigar box, demure sweet cedar, camphor, slight anise - in the perfumed bouquet, and delicately mirrored on the palate in exquisitely fine, complex layers spanning a dark cassis river.

It's texture was incredibly silky, virtually seamless; it's balance and complexity incredible. Discreet chocolate/cocao notes surface towards the rear but hold back for a split second on the finish, just letting the violets and spices go first. After swallowing, I exhaled violets, brown spices and sweet camphor.

No big, in-your-face performance this; it was a study in elegance.

Absolutely wonderful.

1999 Château Le Pin - A bold attack of black cherry liqueur, violets, slight olive nuances and an underbelly of dark/ripe (but not overripe) plum. The initial strike, though definitive, isn't followed through mid-mouth; the wine seeming to gradually run out of steam in the middle all the way to the finish. Despite its elegant and supple mouthfeel, the initially confident flavors falter mid-way and fade, leaving me with a hollow feeling of being suddenly abandoned. Will this improve with age? I have my doubts, but, then, only time will surely tell.

After the Passion Fruit Sorbet, "Ohmi" Wagyu Steak au Jus with double-baked potato and steamed asparagus spears (I didn't eat the aspargus for fear of it interfering with the following reds):

1997 Tenuta dell'Ornellaia Masseto - Aromas of sweet plum liqueur, kirsch, raspberry, touches of olives and dusty cocoa powder. Confidently full-bodied, broad and expansive starting mid-mouth with plum and raspberry liqueur, dark ripe plum undertones, luscious dark chocolate and a touch of kirsch to the back. Quite a forward, generous, up-front wine. Held nothing back. Definitely my favorite pairing with the steak.

1994 Bryant Family Cabernet Sauvignon - Sweet camphor, cassis nose with a slight eucalyptus nuance. Full and a bit heavy on the palate but the flavors were light-footed and graceful. I could use the word elegant. I've tasted a slightly older vintage of this, and I remember it to be quite similar. Although, personally, I generally find California cabernet sauvignons a bit too ripe and heavy-handed to drink alone, Bryant Family Vineyards makes two of the most graceful ones I have ever tried.

2002 Screaming Eagle - this was the second time I tried this wine this year, the previous time also courtesy of the night's generous host. The wine was as I remembered, exceedingly dense and heavy, just short of syrupy, lots of caramel, vanilla cream (lots of new oak likely) and toffee on the nose; and, frankly, a bit blocky, lacking in finesse and complexity. The last time we had this, it was also with wagyu steak and I found the Eagle, at the time, the best match. This time, with the Masseto's presence, the Eagle took a back seat.

1986 Château Mouton Rothschild - This was the second time I've tried this wine. The first time was at our 2nd Blind Bordeaux Challenge (Edouard's bottle, a gift from Bernie Sim) around 2-3 years ago and it wasn't decanted - its sweet, perfumed bouquet alone pretty much cinched it for me and I voted it the best wine then. I believe last night's bottle was decanted for well over 2 hours prior to serving and I had to coax its bouquet from the glass. Faint anise, cassis, a mere hint of dark chocolate, touch of sweetness to it, ethereal, but difficult to analyze/fully appreciate after the Eagle. It would have been easier for me if this was served before the California reds.

2002 Sine Qua Non "Just for the Love of It" - Slight band-aid/iodine/camphor/eucalyptus/anise notes wrapped warm blackberry/cassis/raspberry, bit of black pepper and violets. This was mirrored on the palate (thankfully, sans the band-aid/iodine) with cedar notes and suggestions of mild anise and clove surfacing more to the back and onto the very long finish. Big, ripe, confident and certainly not shy. Until last night, I'd never heard of this wine, the only SQN I had ever tried being their dessert wine from the Doc (which, by the way, I found excellent).

2001 Pingus - Black cherry, licorice, earthy leather/iron come in mid-mouth, with small red berries/raspberries that trail at the end. Big but gentle tannins, medium-structure, acidity medium bordering on low. I found the earthy leather/iron nuances most intriguing. Long and confident though, proud of its heritage. A compelling wine. Olé!

With a bit of Roquefort, 1986 Château Yquem - This was, to my recollection, the 4th time I tried this particular vintage of Yquem in the past year or so (See: one of my old notes); twice from 375mls (which I hand-carried with some 1997s from Bordeaux) and twice from 750mls (both times from the evening's generous host). Both times I tried from 750ml bottles, the wine had noticeably more heft and a better body and middle than from the 375mls.

Naturally, it was a perfect match with the wine's sweet/tangy botrytised apricot/peach/orange marmalade richness (cut and balanced by its acidity) playing with the cheese's saltiness. Always love it.

A double Illy espresso after a Grand Cru Arriba Dark Chocolate Mousse brought an end to a gourmand's dream.

Many thanks to the host, whose wines were humbling and generosity nothing short of overwhelming.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

1985 Château Margaux

More old notes:

1985 Château Margaux (among others), late June 2005, dinner at the now-defunct Lumiere Gallery, an art gallery cum French country restaurant located on one of the main thoroughfares of the Makati central business district.

After excellent preliminaries of onion soup, blini with salmon mousse and a salad sprinkled with crispy bits of fried duck skin, we were ready for dinner proper. Upon one of the owners' suggestion, we were served a dark, sturdy red from Cahors to go with our main courses of duck breast. She had told me that their food, hearty country cuisine, would be too heavy for so delicate and fine a wine such as the one under review. I could not but agree. Both wines were served side by side and the Cahors, indeed, blended well with the rich, gamy flavors of the duck.

We had most of the 1985 Margaux after the meal, before dessert and coffee.

The wine, in the glass, was a deep, dark reflective violet with a dark ruby blush. Against the light, clear ruby highlights reluctantly shone through. An initial sniff above the rim yielded a perfume of violets and vanilla with blackcurrant and smoky undertones. A deeper sniff, nose in glass, revealed more blackcurrant as well as some oak. In the mouth, the initial strike was quite easy, the wine making a casual yet confident blackberry entrance. Thence, the flavors opened up luxuriously from front to mid-mouth with violet flowers holding sway over vanilla/oak and the blackberries, the blackberries/currant flavors reasserting themselves to the back (with a handful of the violets in tow) through to the long, long elegant finish. The texture was an exquisite, sheer, delicate silk making one savor each and every mouthful, holding the wine mid-mouth for as long as politely possible. The body was medium, approaching, but not quite achieving true fullness. No fat, no plumpness. No angles. No wantonness. Just smooth, supple curves coyly, yet seductively, displayed.

Without a doubt, this is a wonderful wine, one for special occasions or those odd, self-indulgent and contemplative moments. I would drink this wine without accompaniment to be able to fully appreciate its complexity, finesse and delicacy.

1997 Domaine Romanée-Conti Montrachet

I just came across my old notes from a lunch on March 28, 2005 for my group of three (myself, Gerry de Jesus and Jojo Madrid) that revolved around a bottle of Domaine Romanée-Conti's Montrachet 1997. I was told that only around 200 cases of this wine are produced each year. Jojo Madrid, shrewd and well-connected as he is, got wind of three bottles available in Manila and negotiated the price of one of them down to just over US$1000. We agreed to split the bottle, as well as the cost, three ways.

At Jojo's behest, a special menu was created by the chef of the Tivoli (i.e., the Continental restaurant of the Manila Mandarin Hotel): 5 creative spins on fresh Norwegian Salmon, Orange flavored duck consomme with poached foie gras, pan-seared gindara (i.e., a kind of black cod) and oven-roasted lobster over a scallop and sun-dried tomato risotto, finishing with passion fruit panna cotta with marinated orange segments served with natural yoghurt ice cream.

For starters, a bottle of 1996 Dom Perignon which I thoroughly enjoyed with fresh scallops, oysters and some goose liver pate.

In the glass, the Montrachet was an impossibly bright, clear viscous yellow-gold with the slightest Fuji-apple-green blush. "It looks like a young Sauternes", Jojo opined. In the nose and mouth, honey/vanilla over sweet, well-ripened honeydew melon, Anjou pear and citrus fruits. "Some pineapple" as well, noted the Gerry. After around half an hour, some hints of green apple surfaced, and, later still, discreet butterscotch. Then, mid-mouth and to the back, cold limestone notes reminiscent of fine Chablis emerged. The wine was absolutely rich, superbly rounded, mouth-filling, its many layers of flavors virtually seamless, all the way to the back into the long, long butter-rich finish.

Simply amazing.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Manila Blind (Mini) Bordeaux Challenge VIII.

20th December 2007, Old Manila, Blind Bordeaux Challenge VIII.

Eight on the panel:

Four competitors:

There could be only one winner.

After the obligatory Champagne (my Michel Arnould Grand Cru Verzenay Brut NV), we had some 1997 Meursault "Les Charmes" by Verget from the Stockbroker to go with the appetizers - initially tight and restrained, this fleshed out after about 15-20 minutes in the glass. Gracefully feminine, expansive mid-mouth and towards the back with soft yet generous ripe apple (a vaguely tropical feel to it), some white minerals, discreetly creamy almond/oak/vanilla (well-integrated) with just the barest touch of toastiness to the rear. Softest and fleshiest Meursault I can remember having; it could have used a bit more bracing/lifting acidity, but quite wonderful nontheless.

Then, out came the reds and we buckled down to tasting.

Wine # 1 - Best nose of the night, an exotically spiced, delicately sweet jasmine tea/plum/raspberry liqueur perfume. I immediately guessed it to be a Cos d'Estournel. In the mouth, it was definitive all the way from the confident attack to the long finish. Rich and generous in the mouth, leaving virtually nothing for analysis or the imagination.

In the Doc's and Sevrine's notes, they indicated that the mouth did not fulfill the bouquet's promise, commenting that it was even a bit short. Edouard liked it best and easily pegged it as a left bank. The Stockbroker commented that it tasted quite fresh. I identified it as a Cos and, for reasons below, ranked it 2nd best.

It turned out to be the Doc's 1996 Cos d'Estournel.

Wine # 2 - Clear old red with a red-orange blush tinged with hints of browning, it was clearly the oldest wine. It's bouquet was an intricate and delicate perfume of truffled, sweet red fruit and the merest touch of game. Pure, silky, medium-bodied and a textbook in elegance. Yes, I knew this was my wine, but that is not the reason I voted it 1st place.

The Doc's notes stated that it was the 2nd best nose and had a better mouthfeel than Wine # 1. The Stockbroker called it as "mature, soft, oldest, 80s left-bank". Edouard guessed it was a left-bank from either '85 or '86. Sevrine and my wife commented that this wine and Wine # 3 were very similar. Sevrine accurately noted that this wine was an older vintage of Wine # 3.

This Wine # 2 was my 1979 Pichon Lalande.

Wine # 3 - Initially reluctant nose (my notes add that it was comparatively mute to the first 2 wines), it eventually gave up a faint sweetish, smoky cedar, cassis nose. Fuller bodied than Wine # 2, with a long cassis/black coffee/cedar finish. The Doc's notes were consistent with mine.

Sevrine, as stated earlier, correctly identified this as a younger version of Wine # 2; while the Stockbroker noted it as "closed initially" and also correctly identified it as a mid-90s Pauillac.

It turned out to be the Stockbroker's 1994 Pichon Lalande which I ranked 3rd best.

Wine # 4 - My notes state that it had a plummy, cassis, bell pepper, black coffee nose with ripe (but not sweet) blackcurrant, espresso and cedar dominating the mouth. I ranked it 4th.

Edouard identified this as his wine, the Doc gave it his nod stating it had "sweet fruit" and a "lovely nose", while the Stockbroker opined that it was closed and identified it as a right-bank or New World and the youngest wine from the mid to late 90s.

It was Edouard's 1998 Chauvin, a dark horse from St-Emilion. Aside from Ed, I'm pretty sure none of us had ever had this wine before.

The Results:

1st Place - Wine#1, the Doc's 1996 Cos d'Estournel with a landslide score of 28 pts (6 votes for 1st, 1 vote for 2nd and 1 vote for 4th which was his own).

2nd Place - Wine#2, my 1979 Pichon Lalande with 21 pts (my own 1 vote for 1st, 5 votes for 2nd and 2 votes for 4th).

3rd Place - Wine#4, Edouard's 1998 Chauvin with 16 pts (1 vote for 1st, 1 vote for 2nd, 3 votes for 3rd and 3 votes for 4th).

4th Place - Wine#3, the Stockbroker's 1994 Pichon Lalande with 15 pts (1 vote for 2nd, 5 votes for 3rd and 2 votes for 4th).

And so it went, congratulations to the Doc for a battle hard fought and convincingly won.

Until next time.