Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Manila Blind Bordeaux Challenge IX

Manila Blind Bordeaux Challenge IX finally took place Friday night, 9 May 2008. The reigning king was the Doc who won the last Challenge with a superb ‘96 Cos d'Estournel. Pressure was on me this time as I was the last one with only one win under my belt (Edouard with 3 wins, the Doc and Stockbroker with 2 each).

Back at the traditional Challenge venue of Old Manila, we started off with Moët & Chandon Rosé NV from the Doc and 1997 Jacquesson Rosé from the Stockbroker. I do like Moët’s rosé NV: a clean, compact, linear, charming and disarmingly simple dry bubbly rosé. The Jacquesson is marginally fuller with more depth to its fruit and a more pronounced middle. Both were most welcome aperitifs, especially after a hot and humid summer’s day.

After appetizers (I had an exceptionally good French onion soup to start), the reds came out. Before all else, I must state that, from the outset, everyone declared this to be the most difficult challenge yet, with all the wines of exceptionally high caliber. With my main course of excellent duck breast and confit:

Wine # 1 – For me, unquestionably the best bouquet of all right off the bat: A seductive, exquisitely perfumed mix that to mind called sweet cherry and raspberry liqueur infused with sweet Spanish cedar. There were mild truffle notes at first which faded to the background after several minutes; otherwise, the bouquet held well over the evening’s span. In the mouth, it was on the slightly heavier side of medium, its cassis base delicately laced with kirsch, sweet tobacco notes, dark spice and traces of dried thyme. Incredible balance.

By bouquet alone, without having even tasted any of the wines, this and Wine # 4 were, to me, the two contenders for best wine. Several passes didn’t change things. I eventually ranked this the best wine of the night.

Wine # 1 turned out to be the Stockbroker’s 1994 Château Haut Brion.

Wines # 2 & 3 – The Doc and I noted that these two broodingly dark wines were somewhat similar. Both, to me, performed like rich, ripe, earthy, masculine, truffled, full-bodied Médocs from the mid-90s. The Doc noted Wine # 3's more apparent tobacco and leather notes and its comparatively fuller body. I felt that Wine # 3 was better knit, had interesting ripe fig notes to it, a marginally better nose and slightly more complex; so I ranked Wine # 3 as the third best of the night and Wine # 2 as the fourth best.

Wine # 2 was the Doc’s 1996 Château Montrose.

Wine # 3 turned out to be my 1982 Château Gruaud Larose, a most generous albeit undeserved gift from NSF, a very good friend.

The Stockbroker, Doc, Edouard, Sevrine and I commented later on how very young the ’82 Gruaud seemed. This has at least 20 years more in it.

Wine # 4 – This to me had the second best bouquet of the night as well as being the best in the mouth. It was also the most visually attractive to me: exceptionally pure and clear, a regal medium red with a red-orange blush. It looked to be an old wine, but I couldn’t guess how old. The Doc noted its medium body and definitively declared it the oldest wine. I loved its mouthfeel: an ethereal pure silk on the palate, a softly truffled elixir of red currants, dark cherry, violets with trace essence of cedar. Stunning wine, it was a textbook in elegance.

Deciding between this and Wine # 1 was a Herculean task at best, but I eventually ranked this wine the second best of the night.

It turned out to be Edouard’s 1961 Château Pichon Lalande. Again, many noted how young and fresh this wine was despite its almost 47 years of age. What a rare treat!

In summary, my own ranking was:

1st Place – Wine # 1, the Stockbroker’s 1994 Château Haut Brion;
2nd Place – Wine # 4, Edouard’s 1961 Château Pichon Lalande;
3rd Place – Wine # 3, my 1982 Château Gruaud Larose; and,
4th Place – Wine # 2, the Doc’s 1996 Château Montrose.

Collective Results:

As usual, Sevrine tallied the scores and announced the night’s ranking. It was a close fight:

1st Place – Wine # 3, my 1982 Château Gruaud Larose with a total of 24 points, including 4 votes for first (my wife’s, the Stockbroker’s, Mrs. Stockbroker’s and the Doc’s).

2nd Place – Wine # 1, the Stockbroker’s 1994 Château Haut Brion with 21 points, including mine and Mrs. Doc’s votes for first.

3rd Place – Wine # 4, Edouard’s 1961 Château Pichon Lalande with 18 points, including his own and Sevrine’s vote for first.

4th Place – Wine # 2, the Doc’s 1996 Château Montrose, separated from Edouard’s score by one, with 17 points.

My wife's votes were matched the collective ranking exactly.

Needless to state, I was more than a little relieved to get my second win in our group’s Blind Bordeaux Challenge. Bravado flooding back, I couldn’t help pointing out that I also currently hold the Blind Non-Bordeaux title so I am now the undisputed champion of the world (as far as our little group is concerned, anyway).

Victory was made even sweeter by the Doc’s 2002 Baumard Quarts de Chaume, a vibrant, minerally wine with dominant honeyed apricot, pineapple and peach primaries, hints of straw, a steely backbone underneath the stone fruit and exceptional balance of sweetness and acidity.

Many thanks to the generous donor of my winning wine, and to Edouard who was the one who selected it for the former as my gift.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Dinner at CAV: 1 May '08

Dinner at CAV, 1 May '08 with my wife, children and nephew.

Quite dehydrated after 18 holes under the sun, I was in no condition or mood to finish a bottle each of white and red; so I opted to re-try CAV's wine-dispensing machine despite the less than stellar experience the Doc and I had with the '94 Château Margaux a little over a week ago.

With a yellow fin tuna and roast red beet tartar and a side salad:

2002 Jean et Gautier Thévenet "Domaine Emilian Gillet" Viré-Clessé - Firstly, it was not chilled enough. A bit cool, but not enough, and it quickly warmed in the glass. I first tried this wine a little over a year ago with Jérome Philippon when he started importing the wines of this domaine. Needless to state, it was served at proper temperature and I liked it so much more then - bright, pure, almost steely, tense, clean chardonnay flavors with nice minerality and good/refreshing balancing acidity.

In any event, I just had one glass of it this time. The first few sips (while still a bit cool) brightened up the tartar, but, as it warmed, its refreshing/palate-cleansing prowess disappeared. Warm white wine simply doesn't interest me, nor, do I expect, would it interest anyone else.

The dish was good enough if eaten together with a bit of the accompanying salad, the dressing of which brightened up the tartar's somewhat heavy, earthy flavors and the greens giving needed textural contrast.

Fearing the temperature issue, I didn't bother choosing any other white to go with my 2nd course of a good, mildly creamy, cheese tortellini with proscuitto.

With my main course of rib-eye steak:

2000 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia - I tried half a glass at first as I thought it may be too young to enjoy. I went back for more. This wine I enjoyed; especially with my steak.

General earthy feel to its medium-to-full-somewhat-soft-body. Ripe (almost roasted-ripe), gentle yet adequate fruit - earthy cassis dominates with fleeting, entertaining dark cherry/raspberry notes. It stood up to the steak well, the dark fruit/earthy cassis running with the meat and the dark cherry/raspberry gave a bit of necessary contrast saving the palate from fatigue. I was pleasantly surprised how mature this wine tasted at under 8 years from vintage.

In all, it was adequately pleasant and enjoyable. I wouldn't buy a whole bottle of this, but an occasional glass or two with steak does well enough when one isn't up to finishing a whole bottle of something better.

CAV didn't (or doesn't) offer dessert wine by the glass. Besides, even if they did, it likely wouldn't be held at the proper temperature anyway. My chocolate soufflé, though, didn't really need any vinous accompaniment.

I got upset with the service tonight. The waitress was, in a word, inattentive. Finished plates of the main course were allowed to sit and sit and sit without being cleared. Water glasses were not re-filled. Truth to tell, service only improved when I complained to the manager. I told him that nearby tables of two seemed very well-served while our table of six was not. I also pointed out that all of us, including my children and nephew, ordered full courses so the restaurant was surely making more money off us than any table of two.

Pity, service was excellent last time I was there, but we were seated at a different station at the time.

2005 Siran & "S" de Siran

29 April 2008, at the Benjarong Restaurant of the Dusit Hotel Manila, Edouard brought his 2005 for us to re-try:

2005 Château Siran - I tasted this 2005, among others, in July 2006. My notes then were as follows:

Chateau Siran- Big, chunky black fruit, cassis and some leather over mild black coffee and violet notes. Lots of weight and rolling muscle in this wine. A powerful, tannic bully-boy now. I think this may mirror their '82 now in around 15-20 years. Yet another with great ageing potential from Siran.

Last night, the wine poured a brilliant royal ruby-red darkening to a midnight purple and red core. Very visually attractive. I let the wine breathe for an hour in my glass before sipping.

When the youthful alcohol finally subsided, it released a rich, spicy aroma that called to mind crushed, ripe blood-red wild berries over ripe plum, blackberry compote and minerals, with hints of camphor, Spanish cedar and iron.

In the mouth, the red-berries were pure and rich with a touch of sweetish ripeness, underpinned by cassis, dark plum, touches of dark spice, licorice, with espresso, mocha and pine needle nuances, subdued minerals and earthy whispers of iron and leather.

Evidently less burly than in July 2006, with the royal red berries coming through the black fruit elegantly. A lot of the chunkiness has gone, the wine has smoothed out immensely, though, of course, still youthfully tannic. Full-bodied, well-rounded, powerful with an incredibly long finish. I think the balance of power and grace is quite notable and believe this will be very long-lived. I'm talking many decades.

I no longer think this will grow up to be like their 1982. It seems to me that, given several decades in a cellar, it may evolve more along the lines of Siran's gracefully feminine, ethereal and elegant vintage 1953.

What can I say? I was very impressed. Over-performing in spades.

This is definitely a buy for the cellar.

2005 "S" de Siran - The 2nd wine of the château, from younger vines and without any petit verdot. Visually similar to the 1st wine, but marginally less dark. The flavors likewise similar, but not as big or hefty - it is medium-bodied plus a bit. Comparatively linear, lighter on its feet, with a less heavy dark fruit base and noticeably less iron/leather nuances but more apparent minerality. The red berries are very pure. I can't seem to emphasize purity enough.

After letting it sit in the glass virtually undisturbed for an hour and 15 minutes, the aroma was so sweet with tiny ripe, bright red berries and sweet cedar. Lovely 2nd wine. Probably be drinking well in 2-4 years, but already enjoyable with material aeration.

I understand that limited quantities of these two wines will soon be available at Premium Wine Exchange (and, possibly, elsewhere). Better reserve ahead of time, others were at the dinner last night and it may very likely go fast. The first tranche of the 2004 vintage (also rated in the 90-90+ point range by Wine Spectator, for whatever that may be worth to some) disappeared in a snap. Daniel Rogov, a professional reviewer whose tastes in Bordeaux wines I find jive with mine, rated the 2005 Siran 94 points (higher than many better-known and much higher-priced wines of the vintage such as the venerable Lynch-Bages) with tasting notes (from March/April '08) pretty much similar to mine.

In the market for an exceptional and relatively reasonably-priced wine from the most lionized and sought-after recent vintage to date? One that can age gracefully for at least 40 years and up?

Get some of the 2005 Siran for your cellar and thank me later. You'll be able to toast to your grandchild's college graduation with this.