Friday, April 25, 2008

Je Suis Gourmand's Night of Rhône Cuisine & Wine.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008, Je Suis Gourmand's Wines & Cuisine of the Rhône.

Robert Burroughes, myself and our wives, one table, 6 courses and a few wines. Though we brought a Guigal each (Robert a '98 Hermitage Blanc, and I, a '01 Côte Rôtie Brune et Blonde) Robert, nontheless, opted to order the matching wine set with dinner and let us taste. At a certain point, Jérome Philippon, who was supplying the set pairing, started sending us glasses of his wines.

With Fried Frogs' Legs with Salad and Garlic Cream (precisely executed, not oily or greasy at all, a bit of crunch outside while perfectly moist and juicy inside, very clean, fresh flavors):

1998 E. Guigal Hermitage Blanc - After warming down a bit, this medium yellow-gold wine had generous breadth mid-palate that funneled down smoothly to the finish with beurre noisette/toasty nuttiness spearing mineral, honeysuckle and vanlilla laced, mildly-spiced fleshy/stoney fruit. We noted an ever so slight whisper of oxidation, but not enough to be bothersome.

2005 Domaine des Entrefaux Crozes Hermitage Blanc - Light, bright lemon yellow, a bit tight, lightly floral in the nose. On the palate, fresh, minerally, pure, clean, lean, precise, almost steely fruit. I suspect this will flesh out and expand mid-mouth with time in the glass. Nice to compare and contrast one with the other.

As regards the pairing, I preferred the Guigal Hermitage Blanc with the frogs' legs, but posit the Entrefaux Crozes Hermitage Blanc a better match with the 2nd Course of Steamed Rainbow Trout Fillet with Vegetables and White Wine. The Hermitage Blanc was a bit too big for the fish.

The 3rd Course was a rustic, earthy and comforting Mushroom & Bone Marrow Pot-au-feu which I had without wine.

After a palate-resuscitating Red Wine & Red Currant Sherbet, the 4th Course of Roasted Venison Rack with Galette Lyonnaise & Roasted Onion was served. This was my wife's favorite dish of the evening. Having finished every bit of my previous courses, I was already getting full and felt a bit guilty when Marc noted that I didn't quite finish off my rack while everyone else's plates lay bereft of food.

With the tender and juicy venison:

2001 E. Guigal Côte Rôtie Brune et Blonde - I must say that I appreciated this properly refined, medium-bodied Rhône (none-too-alcoholic unlike many other modern Rhônes), such as it was: laced lightly with dried/roasted herbs/pepper; red berry-dominated (red currant (or was that the sherbet haunting my palate?)/raspberry/hint of strawberry, mild tobacco and dark spice, woodiness and just a dash of pepper. Very mild earthiness. Finely and delicately layered. If there is any criticism I can make, it would be that the middle is a bit weak. But that's about it.

2004 Domaine La Roubine Gigondas - An evidently riper, bigger-boned, more extracted wine with a well-rounded middle and lusher over-all feel to it - more immediately pleasing, seemingly designed to entertain - the type meant to stand out in blind tastings. This had comparatively more dark fruit/casis underlying the cherry and raspberry, with a permeating slight gaminess and attendant notes of cacao, black coffee and oak/vanilla.

A mental comparison to the 2001 E. Guigal Gigondas made me think that this wine is cut from a more modern cloth - smoother, sleeker, less rustic.

Be it as it may, I honestly think the 2004 Domaine La Roubine Gigondas paired better with the venison. Due to the Brune et Blonde's somewhat weak middle and medium-body, it somehow got lost in the venison and sauce, though its dominant red berry notes did indeed brighten up the earthy dish.

Note: this was supposed to pair with the pot-au-feu, but I had it with the venison. I imagine it would have over-powered the pot-au-feu.

With the Bleu de Bresse Salad Course:

2005 Domaine Chèze Ro Ree Rhône Nord St. Joseph - Rustic, earthy, peppery, spicy, brambly-raspberry-and-red-cherry-dominant somewhat smokey wine. Medium bodied, lighter-boned than the above-mentioned Gigondas. Pleasant, if not particularly distinctive.

With the Dessert Course of Blackberry Clafoutis Tart with Sauce:

2005 Jurançon Clos Lapeyre - Straightforward, tartly sweet lemon/citrus, bright and light on its feet. Healthy, bracing acidity. It was like drinking a glass of a liquid version of the tart citron served at Alliance Française de Manille. Sans the crust, of course.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Some Wines: 11-21 April 2008, Mostly Burgs and a '66 Palmer

Lunch of April 11 at Aubergine:

1997 Jadot Morey St Denis - with Robert Burroughes and Lawrie Martin, after yet another well-chilled bottle of '99 H.Bourgeois Sancerre "La Bourgeoise" (can't seem to get enough of the stuff lately) with a bowl of excellent prawn bisque. I've posted on the '97 Jadot Morey St Denis late last February and those old notes state:

The cork was absolutely pristine and the wine immediately offered up a seductive bouquet perfumed with violets and the slightest hint of vanilla cream. Wide open and generous, ripe dark cherry and raspberriy layers dominated the palate with, again, slight undertones of violets, and, some plumminess underneath, all on a lushly curved medium body.

This wine had a feminine touch and delicacy to it, unlike the earthier, masculine Dujacs previously mentioned. Focus could have been much better and the flavors did display some separation towards the back. Length was adequate at best. Still and all, it was a very enjoyable bottle, and, at around the equivalent of $55 for an immediately available Morey St-Denis fix, I cannot reasonably complain. On the contrary, I am going back for more.
What I can clarify is that, though feminine compared to the Dujac's Morey St of the same year, this wine still maintains the fuller, earthy, somewhat rustic charcter of Morey St Denis. Smooth but not, say, truly refined, neither ethereal nor "aristocratic" (for lack of a better word) - which I do not look for in Morey St Denis anyway. Still, very enjoyable with my seared magret. Purchased at Bacchus Int'l at around P2600 before discount.

Dinner, 18th April, again at Aubergine: a 1999 Jadot Chambolle-Musigny and a 1966 Château Palmer.

1999 Jadot Chambolle-Musigny - After a generous, well-rounded, oaky, typical '04 Saintsbury "Brown Ranch" Carneros Chardonnay with the first two courses (from Premium Wine exchange at around Php2800 before discount - my wife really likes this stuff so I most always have some on hand). This unassuming village Chambolle-Musigny had definite charm in its supple, lithe mid-medium-body. Cherry, strawberry, some wild red berries dominate with very subtle dark plum and dark berry undertones and mild brown spice notes. Decent length to its finish, moderate complexity.

What struck me most about this wine was how flavorsome it could be on such a proportionately light frame. Much smaller-boned than the above-mentioned Morey St Denis, less emphasis on the middle, more of a consistent performance from attack to finish and very noticeably more refined in over-all character.

Purchased at the Bacchus Int'l at around Php3200 before discount, I think it is a good deal for an immediately available Chambolle-Musigny and would definitely buy again.

I had it with an, unfortunately, less-than-stellar stuffed quail main course. Be it as it may, the Chambolle-Musigny was a fair match for the quail but would be too delicate for a roast pigeon or even duck I'd expect. I, personally, favor Morey St Denis with pigeon.

1966 Château Palmer - This bottle was brought by Mike T. I don't get to see much of him or Anne or the rest of this group these days, maybe a 2-3 times a year at most, but it is always most enjoyable when I do. After successive daughters, they finally have a son, hence, I expect, this special occasion bottle - one from his birthyear, a gift from his younger brother.

Not decanted, I had it opened and let it stand until our main courses were all served. The cork was intact, not crumbly or brittle, though a bit wet. Occasional sniffs from the bottle confirmed it to be fine. It smelled as it should, no off odors at all, even immediately after opening, so I did not decant lest its bouquet tragically dissipate.

Once poured, it was easy to tell it was an old wine - clear, medium-dark brick-red, gradually turning more red-orange towards the rim, with tinge of mahogany. As I've said before, with old wines (say 30 years and up), individual flavors have melded and fused so much that I find it terribly difficult to breakdown the flavors on the palate. But, as always, I will give it a shot.

Its bouquet was a properly reserved (i.e., as opposed to overly showy or mindlessly obvious) perfume of sweet, old violets, cream, some rose, over discreet dark fruit and a hint of cherry. Medium bodied aspiring to full; texturally, a fine, light silken elixir of pure dark cherry essence over discreetly earthy cassis, violets, mere whispers of dark spice. Pure elegance, complex, contemplative and seductive. This is the kind of wine that doesn't attempt to bowl one over with buxom curves; rather, it beckons, with a hint of its charms, the taster to delve deeper - to explore and further discover its exquisite favors.

Excellent wine.

Last night (April 21) at CAV with the Doc, Edouard, Miguel and our wives: 2001 Jadot Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru and 1996 Jadot Chambertin Clos de Bèze Grand Cru.

CAV is a restaurant and wine bar that has undoubtedly the most customer-friendly wine prices in Metro Manila with mark-ups at a fraction of retail cost (approximately 30%-40%) - as compared to the usual 200% to 300% of most all other restaurants. Aside from an impressive enough cellar with many marquee names from Tuscany, Bordeaux and california, it also has one of those new-fangled machines that dispenses wines by the glass and, by the use of some gas injected automatically in each bottle after each pour, is claimed to keep wines from oxidizing for several days. Its kitchen is overseen by Marcus, who has run many of my most favored restaurants in the past, and the food is good and very reasonably priced.

2001 Jadot Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru - My bottle, purchased at Bacchus Int'l at Php6100 before discount. Initially austere/tight aromas/flavors of white minerals, toasty oak, clean/fresh not-quite-ripe apple/honeydew and a whisper of vanilla-like lees opened up and broadened (comparatively much more on the palate than in the nose) as the wine warmed down (I had it placed in a bucket of ice-water and mingled with some people a bit too long).

It was a right proper Corton Charlemagne to me, unlike those from hotter or more famous recent vintages. Firm yet gentle, the fruit took more of a somewhat baked/creamy nuance as the wine broadened in glass, the toasty oak and leesy notes stepping to the background. Decent length, its leesy notes trailing behind the mellow fruit. Over-all, it is a nice, competent Corton Charlemagne, one that will, in my opinion, probably improve over the next 2-3 years.

A quick look at shows this to go for US$104 in Ithaca, NY. Considering 1-2 day delivery costs and air-freight to the Philippines, the resulting price difference between importing and buying locally becomes pretty negligible. If one likes Corton Charlemagne, this will do very nicely.

1996 Jadot Chambertin Clos de Bèze Grand Cru – The Doc’s bottle. Lots of finesse in this medium-bordering-on-full-bodied wine. There seemed to be comparatively more dark/black fruit/berry/plum than red (cherry, red currant, raspberry), as well as notes of kirsch, the faintest hint of cola, and dark spice to this dark, warming wine. Unquestionably (but not unexpectedly) more heft, breadth and complexity than the aforementioned village Chambolle-Musigny and Morey St Denis – good as they were.

It may be a bit of a stretch, but it was something like a more muscular combination of the two, more masculine and earthy than the Chambolle-Musigny yet lighter on its feet than the Morey St Denis and (like the Chambolle-Musigny) seemingly more generous in flavor than one would expect from its aspiring-to-full body. Very nice, indeed.

I had it with a seared magret de canard over risotto topped with a whorl of crispy, ultra thin strands of fried potatoes. I must mention that the crisp of the potato whorl gave this somewhat ubiquitous dish a great contrast in texture and, perforce, made it memorable. Nice touch.

We couldn't leave without trying out the wine-dispensing machine, so the Doc and I shelled out around Php2800 (approximately US$70) each for half a glass each of the 1994 Château Margaux after dinner. Edouard kept trying to dissuade us saying it would not be worth the price, but we didn't listen. I, personally, wanted to compare it to the '94 Angelus and '94 La Mission Haut Brion the Doc and I recently had.

While I do not think it fair to evaluate a wine from a dispensing machine (no matter how good the machine is claimed to be), for what it may be worth, I will factually describe it as: a wine with interesting dark spicy notes to its cedar and camphor laced nose; barely full-bodied, the fruit seems a bit unripe, tannins a bit green, fruit a tad too unripe, good minerality, hints of violets, clean feel. Aside from the somewhat drying tannins, I detected a disturbing, kind of metallic nuance to the wine as a whole.

We were far from impressed. The Doc thought the wine was a bit oxidized. Edouard couldn't help but say "I told you so". Not having had this wine from a full, fresh bottle, I will reserve final judgment until I do - if that ever happens. Admittedly, this experience makes me reluctant to buy this wine. Finding out if it was really the wine or the machine hardly seems worth the US$300+ and up for a bottle.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

'94 La Mission Haut Brion

Dinner last night at Je Suis Gourmand was with my wife, my children, sis-in-law, the Doc and Mrs. Doc.

After a well-chilled bottle of the Doc's Cerdon de Bugey Caveau de Mont St. July (perfect for a summer aperitif), we proceeded to appetizers of cheese/onion tart, terrine of foie gras, roasted bone marrow and escargot bourgignonne with a bottle of my '97 Béyer Tokay Pinot Gris Comtes d'Eguisheim.

The night's highlight, though, was clearly the red, the Doc had a bottle of '94 La Mission Haut Brion breathing in a decanter when we arrived. Good thing he did too as I had mistakenly taken along a bottle of '01 Jadot Corton Charlemagne instead of the '99 Jadot Chambolle-Musigny I had really intended (I was rushing out and grabbed the wrong bottle, they look so much alike and were beside each other). We would have been without a red last night had the Doc not taken a vinous pre-emptive strike.

With our main courses:

1994 Château La Mission Haut Brion - darkly reflective deep ruby-red, the Doc asked me to guess what it was. I sniffed deeply in the decanter and in glass: mildly truffled, touches of dried herbs and sweet cedar to its dark cherry/raspberry-laced cassis and dark fruit. Before I could hazard a guess, he showed me the bottle. That was when I decided on a crispy goose leg confit for my main course. In the mouth, the wine had an elegantly lithe, silken medium-body that mirrored its nose with subtle "tarry" undertones and perfect acidity which lent it precise balance. The finish had adequate length.

I thought it was elegant, the fruit was clean, pure and honest, not over-ripe/sweet/pruney or obvious like many these days. I know it sounds trite, but this was truly classic Bordeaux - properly reserved, yet not at all stingy with its charms. Along with Angelus, this is one of the best '94s from Bordeaux I have ever had.

The Doc mentioned to me that Parker gave it a "91". I'm not surprised I liked it so much then. I've mentioned before that, when it comes to Médoc wines, my personal RP "sweet spot" seems to be in the rough range of "87-92". Wines he rates above that, I usually find a tad low on acid and obvious - lacking mystery.

I must mention that the wine was an absolutely wonderful pairing with my goose leg confit. I initially was caught between that and beef cheeks or maybe rack of lamb. The reason why I eventually chose the confit was because I figured the red wine sauce of the beef cheeks and the lamb would draw the spotlight away from the wine, while a simple, hearty, no-sauce confit would graciously allow the wine center-stage for the evening.

I figured correctly, the crisp skin and soft flesh's mild flavors allowed the wine to shine, playing with the savory , earthy cassis/herbs/tar, and the sweetish cherry/red berry notes adding enjoyable contrast and interplay. Memorable meal.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Wednesday Lunch: 9 April 2008

Lunch today (Wednesday, 9 April 2008) was back at the Tivoli. Just the Stockbroker and I this time, as the Doc was busy and Edouard is in Bordeaux attending to the April en primeur tasting of Siran.

With appetizers of, among others, salmon sashimi, smoked salmon, fresh oysters on the half-shell, bite-sized crab cakes and paper-thin slices of assorted Italian ham, a bottle of my 1999 Henri Bourgeois Sancerre "La Borgeoise". I also brought along a 2001 Corton Charlemagne by Jadot and a 1997 Tokay Pinot Gris Comtes d'Eguisheim by Léon Beyer, but I decided to go with the Sancerre since I knew the Stockbroker favors the oysters and, in my opinion, the Sancerre would be the best match of what I brought.

Consistent with my previous, recent notes:

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...

I can add that this bottle poured a deeper, more luxurious looking golden wine with nuances of ripe guava, admirable balance, refreshing crispness and bracing minerality. These deftly and definitively cut the salmon's natural fattiness, brightened the mini crab cakes and ran with the oysters' sea-freshness.

To go with my main course of rare tenderloin and the Stockbroker's Chilean sea bass, his bottle of 1996 Grand Cru Romanée St. Vivant by Hudelot-Noellat.

We didn't decant it, choosing to leave it open and let breathe in our glasses as we had our appetizers. Right off the bat, it displayed a wonderful bouquet of Burgundy-decay-laced violets/earthy dark red cherry/beetroot with slight craisin (mid-palate) and strawberry (more to the back and finish) nuances; all of which were mirrored in the mouth in a silky, medium-full body.

Intricately layered and complex, a wonderful middle where so much interplay was going on, I held each sip in my mouth longer than politely possible before slowly swallowing. Sucking in some air at mid-mouth released more nostalgic violets and decay. Long earthy beetroot/red berry/strawberry finish.

From first sniff to the last, whistful note of strawberry, one word kept coming to mind: terroir. Nowhere else on earth produces a wine like this.