Friday, March 28, 2008

A Recommended Cab Sauv/Merlot/Syrah Blend from Italy: 2001 Guado al Tasso by Antinori

Having enjoyed Antinori's 2001 Tenute Marchesi CCR, 2001 Badia a Passignano and 2001 Tignanello several times, I picked up a bottle of the 2001 Guado al Tasso a little over a week ago from the Bacchus Int'l, Shangri-La shop just to try and opened it this past Monday. I understand it is a blend of 60% cabernet sauvignon, 20% merlot and 20% syrah (though I didn't know that at the time, thinking it was another sangiovese bottling).

In accordance with an Italian wine-loving friend's advice, I decanted it and let it breathe for around 2 hours before serving it, though I did take a little bit in the glass after 30 minutes just to see how it was. Initially, the aromas were (unsurprisingly) wrapped in youthful alcohol with nuances of pepper, pine, cedar and camphor. The agressive alcohol interfered with my tasting so I set it aside and waited until the 2 hours were up.

Thereafter, the alcohol had greatly subsided, allowing me to enjoy its plump, nicely-rounded, chewy, full-bodied, highly extracted, low-ish acid, sweet, ripe kirsch/cassis/raspberry-dominated primaries and unabashed notes of licorice, toffee, espresso and mild toasty oak/vanilla. I don't recall detecting in the mouth the pepper nuance in the nose.

Not having had much experience with Italian cab/merlot/syrah blends, if this was served blind to me, I surely would have guessed it to be a young Napa cab blend from a better than average year.

Nice, interesting, I wouldn't mind having it with a good, grilled rib-eye, but I honestly prefer the first-mentioned sangiovese-based wines of Antinori.

Still and all, at the price I got it for (around Php4500) I think it is an acceptable deal and would recommend this wine to those fond of Super Tuscans and predominantly cabernet sauvignon-based Napa reds.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Vertical Tasting of Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande

The International Wine & Food Society held a vertical tasting dinner of Pichon Lalande Thursday before last, 13 March 2008 at Old Manila. 18 persons attended including the French Ambassador, Gérard Chesnel, and William-Alain Miailhe de Burgh who used to administer this then family-owned estate until the early 70s. Thereafter, Michel Delon of Léoville las Cases took over from Mr. Miailhe until 1978 when the château was turned over to Madame de Lencquesaing.

The vintages were:

First Flight: 2001, 1998, 1996, 1995 and 1989.

Second flight: 1988, 1986, 1985, 1983 and 1975 (the 1975 was donated by Mr. Miailhe from Siran's cellar). I'd tried all the vintages before except the 1975 and 1983.

I had earlier offered to donate some 1979, but the Society president said 10 vintages were enough for the tasting.

As most who read my blog are most likely already familiar with this suave, somewhat feminine Pauillac (and, since it is a vertical, many descriptors will wind up being repeated anyway), I will do away with most of the cassis, red berry, earthy, graphite, cedar descriptors.

Though we were to rank the wines, the tasting was not done blind. I pointed out that I felt that since we were to rank the wines, the tasting should have been done blind; otherwise, we should just sit back and enjoy the differences of the vintages without ranking. In any event:

My Own Ranking and Notes (from 1st to 10th):

1st - 1995, because, though it had a somewhat comparatively reticent nose, it had a wonderfully rounded, velvety mouthfeel and a long definitive finish. I ranked it 2nd in my first pass, but switched it to 1st on the second pass. This probably should still be aged more for quite a bit.

2nd - 1985, a comparatively masculine, earthy, truffled PL. Not surprised I liked this a lot, Edouard brought this to one of our blind tasting dinners and it won 1st place over 1985 Mouton Rothschild, 1982 Pichon Lalande, 1988 Léoville las Cases and 1989 Trotanoy.

3rd - 1996, typically elegant style of PL (sweet smelling with just the merest alluring hint of truffle), surprisingly (to me, anyway) lighter than the '95 and it was the least brilliant looking in the flight. Though pure and elegant, it didn't seem to make much of a comparative statement in the mouth.

4th - 1989, as I remember it before, cut from the same cloth as the '95 but a few shades lighter in body. In the mouth, earthy, truffled, a bit gamey.

5th - 1983, very nice PL, one I'd not had before, fine and complex, a bit of resin to the smokey cedar - but in a good way. I remember liking this quite a lot and am surprised now, after reviewing my notes, that I ranked it "only" 5th.

6th - 1975, the Doc, Stockbroker and I commented on how young this 32+ year old wine looked. If served blind, I'm sure that I would not have guessed it to be the oldest by its looks. Very nice for a '75, definitely mature and well preserved, but not much weight or mouthfeel and a bit short.

7th - 1986, this is the third time I've tried this vintage, and it is the third time I was less than impressed. Definitely not the typically elegant PL, or even attractively butch like the 1989 or 1985. The flavors seem superficial, the finish, again, short with a disturbing hint of astringency.

8th - 1988, I had this many years ago and found it a bit hollow, not much of a middle. My current notes state: "Kicking up truffles/gamey, warm feel but with a finish that ends abruptly".

9th - 1998, lightest color of the 1st flight, bit of tin and minerals hovering above the sweet craisin, slightly herbaceous nose. Flavor separation detected, comparatively green, weak middle.

10th - 2001, good structure though still quite youthfully astringent. Not quite enjoyable at this point; not for me, anyway. Though I reserve judgment now, I couldn't help but rank it 10th. Not very fair, I know, but, there it is.

Group Ranking (Weighted Scores):

1st - 1975
2nd - 1989
3rd - 1985
4th - 1986
5th - 1996
6th - 1995
7th - 1988
8th - 1983
9th - 1998
10th - 2001

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Recent Wines.

For the most part of this past month, I've been drinking wines I've already posted on, hence, the dearth of new notes. Some "new" ones though were:

1998 Léon Beyer Tokay Pinot Gris Reserve (Alsace, France) - Typically dry in the Beyer style, but even drier, marginally less floral, fruit-driven, less lush and generous, but, more masculine, well-knit, better focus and balancing acidity than their Comtes d'Eguisheim bottling (i.e., grand cru, but the Beyers eschew the use of this classification) of the same vintage.

This smooth, pleasantly rounded Reserve is more food friendly, in my opinion, as its drier, more self-reserved character lends it more versatility. I've tried it successfully with Marc Aubry's excellent venison and arugula salad (14th February Valentines dinner at Je Suis Gourmand with old friends), and, with Peking duck (first way: skin in pancakes as suggested to me by Catherine Faller) and spicy deep-fried pork spare ribs during a Cantonese dinner with the Manila Gentlemen's Club (22nd February at the Tower Club's Taipan). The wine's cool, plump fruit deftly eased the chili burn and refreshed the palate while allowing the food's underlying flavors to linger somewhat.

Purchased at Bacchus Int'l's Shangri-La shop. I recall I bought out the remaining stock, but, who knows, there may be a bottle or two inadvertently hidden away there somewhere.

1999 Henri Bourgeois Sancerre "La Bourgeoise" (Sancerre, Loire, France) - A fuller, richer kind of Sancerre (sauvignon blanc) from one of the area's top producers. The "La Bourgeoise" is, I understand, one of their better bottlings which, atypically for Sancerre blanc, is better aged for several years before consumption.

Those looking for an ultra-fresh, grassy, gooseberry/grapefruit forward sauvignon blanc had better stick to Marlborough, New Zealand SBs as this is a different animal. Sancerres, though also crisp, refreshing and palate-cleansing, are more understated, refined and have a subtle, though unmistakable, white minerality to them. I look to them to pair with more delicate seafood dishes. In addition, they are one of the few wines that can pair with dishes involving light tomato sauces (tomato is generally difficult to pair wine with).

During a dinner at Jasen and Jen Ko's residence last 23rd February, I opened 3 whites ('98 Tokay Pinot Gris Reserve by Léon Beyer, '99 Sancerre "La Bourgeoise" by Henri Bourgeois and '04 Saintsbury "Brown Ranch" Carneros Chardonnay) to see which would pair best with the pasta course of crab in a light tomato-cream based sauce. The Sancerre was the best match by a mile.

Some of the most memorable Sancerre pairings I've had was with a young, simple, inexpensive '06 La Graveliere by Joseph Mellot (under 40Euros per bottle at Au Pied de Cochon, Paris) which went excellently with the moules farci (small mussels hidden in a spicy, garlic-laden, tomato-based sauce), os a moelle (roasted bone marrow) and a plate of assorted fresh oysters. It also does great with spaghetti vongole.

2000 Château Feytit-Clinet (Pomerol, Bordeaux, France) - From Don Santos during the same dinner at the Ko residence, paired with nicely grilled US prime rib-eye steaks (I must add that Jen has definitely mastered grilling steaks!).

A dark, opulent, lushly rich Pomerol from a nicely ripe vintage (unlike the 2003 vintage, the wines of which I find a bit over-the-top, overly fruit-driven, low on acid, virtually New World in character, and, predictably, will have comparatively limited ageing potential), this precocious wine is already quite open for business at just a shade over 7 years old.

Like most all wines from Bordeaux's right bank, it is made up predominantly of merlot and displays Pomerol's typical power (as opposed to the wines of neighboring St-Emilion which are, generally, softer and gentler) and comparative heftiness. The subject wine is big, fleshy, masculine muscular, yet smooth on the palate and generous in its dominant ripe dark plum, black cherry, licorice and underlying black coffee flavors - the phrase "an iron hand in a velvet glove" comes to mind.

Its powerful character seems typical of the terroir as the winery and its vineyards are located a stone's throw from Châteaux Latour a Pomerol and Clinet - the wines of which are similarly masculine and powerful and can be quite burly and sullen when young.

1994 Château Angelus (St-Emilion, Bordeaux, France) - From Paco Sandejas during dinner on the 19th February at Sala Bistro in Greenbelt 3. Alongside a '99 Léoville Poyferré from me, this was one of the wines Paco, the Doc, I and our wives (though Christine bailed out on us at the last minute - she likely didn't feel like wading through rush hour traffic from Alabang) had with thick prime porterhouse steaks. Actually, Paco gave me a choice between the subject wine and a 1985 Montelena cabernet sauvignon (Napa, California, USA), but, since I hadn't tried the '94 Angelus since mid-2001, I was very curious how it had evolved since then, and, consequently chose that.

My old notes on the wine state that there was a brooding heaviness and reluctance to the wine's dark plum/red fruit/black olive earthiness back in 2001. Well, almost 7 years later, at the mentioned dinner, that was certainly not the case. Despite the lack of decanting and material brething time in the glass, the '94 Angelus was singing with an open, complex bouquet of sweet red cherry (kirsch as well?) over some modestly ripe (definitely one of the riper '94s I've tried, a vintage of Bordeaux that is reputed to have greenness to its fruit), dark plum, faint black olive, spice, cedar and a touch of camphor. There was a nice, mild underlying earthiness to it. These profiles were mirrored on the palate in a lush, medium-to-full body.

The finish was a bit short, but very forgivable considering its vintage, alluring bouquet and generous middle. Over-all, one of the best '94 Bordeaux I've had.

2000 Dominus (Napa, California, USA) - From Miguel Aboitiz during a most enjoyable dinner prepared by his better half, Barbara, on the 29th February. I had this with the rib-eye course, of course.

If served blind, I would almost certainly not have been able to identify it as a California wine by smell alone. I've also mis-identified the Stockbroker's Dominus '91 and '95 vintages as well in the past - not very surprising, I console myself, considering Dominus belongs to the Moueix stable of Pétrus fame. Significantly, though Moueix's Pétrus is arguably the most famous Pomerol - and, therefore, he is recognized by many as the king of merlot - Moueix chooses to work predominantly with cabernet sauvignon in Napa.

In any event, there was a lot of smoky cedar to the primary ripe blackcurrant/cassis/violets/espresso forward profiles of this wine - though well integrated. In the mouth, there was definitely power, and a stern, definitiveness to its character - unabashed and unapologetic. And a good thing at that as it had nothing to apologize for. It was rich, ripe, big, generous, but well-focused with sturdy bones for ageing. Though in the nose I may easily have been fooled, in the mouth, there was a telltale sign of Cali-terroir to it - a sort of toffee liqueur/dried coconut-vanilla-creaminess that usually tips me off to a wine being from California. Excellent with the steak.

1999 La Clusière (St-Emilion, Bordeaux, France) - From the Doc, during the above-mentioned dinner of Miguel and Barbara. I had it with the lamb course. Though I've tried this wine thrice since (all from the Doc), I only have my old notes of 2005:

In the nose, an intense, herbaceous, somewhat earthy dark plum.

In the mouth, confident, unself-conscious, demurely curved, supple mouthfeel,
likewise medium-bodied. Not surprisingly, primary fruit was earthy dark plum but
complexed by finely-knit notes of cassis, violets, mocha and black coffee.

What struck me most about this wine was how the seamless mix gently fell into
layers at the long, long finish. It was a virtual parade, as if each layer of flavor made it a point to bid a short farewell as they all gathered to leave. I shall always remember the wine for this.

Approximately three years later, I note that I did not detect anything particularly herbaceous in the bouquet and must add that the nose is more elegant (as opposed to its earlier intense eagerness), displaying sweetish ripe cherry/kirsch over a dark plum base and lavender notes.

As regards the palate, I believe my old notes are still applicable, though the wine has obviously "come together" more, resulting in a better-knit, smoother over-all impression.

1998 Léon Beyer Gewürztraminer Signature Grains Nobles (Alsace, France) - which I brought to the same dinner for dessert purposes, aside from my '98 Beyer Rielsing Comtes d'Eguisheim for the scallop salad course.

The words "Signature Grains Nobles" or "SGN" signify that the grapes were heavily subjected to botrytis cinerea, a mold that is encouraged to attack and shrivel the grapes causing, among others, their sugars to concentrate and intensify. This is the same method used in the more well-known Bordeaux areas of Sauternes and Barsac on semillon and sauvignon blanc grapes to produce the likes of Yquem and Rieussec. In Alsace, the grapes used can be gewürztraminer, tokay pinot gris or riesling.

Wines made from gewürztraminer have a very distinctive spicy, floral, lychee-dominant smell and taste. Once you've tried one, it is quite easy to recognize and identify later on. I recall the small medieval town of Riquewihr in Alsace was permeated with the smell of gewürz in late September - after harvest and, likely, during crushing time.

The subject wine had a heady, floral, spicy, ultra-ripe lychee-dominant, sweet ripe peach and, to a much lesser extent, apricot with an underlying minerality. Luxuriously mirrored in the mouth, it had good heft, a tanginess/spiciness and healthy acidity which kept it from being cloyingly sweet. Loved it.

Still available at Bacchus at around P4750 (approximately US$115 at the current rate of exchange), I think it's a great buy.

2001 Les Forts de Latour (Pauillac, Bordeaux, France) - I purchased a case and a half of this back in early January 2005, tried some and forgot about them for a few years. My old notes from 30 January 2005 were:

Latour's grand vin has always been a favorite of mine for special occasions.
Needless to state, it is too expensive for me to have everyday. Tonight,
however, was the first time I've tried their second wine. I purchased 1-1/2
cases of it on sale from the Wine Exchange (Anaheim) at around US$37 per bottle.
It retails in Manila at Php6,200 per bottle, which is equivalent to
approximately US$112.32, so I ordered sight unseen because it seemed too good a
deal to pass up.

The wine does recall the grand vin's distinctive somber black currant, cedar
and earth, underpinned by mild cigar tobacco and faint leather. The body is
noticeably lighter (medium bodied at most) although the texture is still quite
round and pure. The length is noticeably shorter than that of its "bigger
brother", but most adequate nonetheless. Nowhere near as complex, but far from
being unsophisticated. Not contemplative, but merits thought.

Overall, I couldn't be happier with this purchase. Classic, fine Pauillac
performance at a readily affordable price. One could pop one open anytime one

While rummaging through my wine fridge the morning before Miguel and Barbara's dinner, I came across some of the "forgotten" bottles and decided to try one out for lunch that day as I was to scheduled to break bread with a couple of fellow EO members from the Vancouver Chapter.

Decanted for about 45 minutes before trying it out, the dominant profiles remain to be typical Pauillac cassis, graphite, cigar tobacco and faint leather. I noted, though, that the wine now showed nuances of violets, had gained substantial heft and breadth, displaying an expansive middle and a confident, definitive finish. It had a nice, mild chewiness about it, very smooth and well-rounded on the tongue.

Still not what I could call contemplative, but it was certainly enjoyable and a none-too-shabby lunch red. At my $37 mentioned acquisition cost per bottle, it was an absolute steal. Unfortunately, a quick check on the web shows the cheapest price per bottle of this wine is now $119, exclusive of state sales tax and delivery charges.