Friday, June 27, 2008
With Eric R., Rod Schiffman, myself, and, of course, our generous host (paired with duck for me and steaks for everyone else):
1996 JL Chave Hermitage (Hermitage, Northern Rhône, France) - After a couple of bottles of special whites, from the Stockbroker, I had the best syrah-based wine in my life.
Though I do not have that much experience with syrah-based wine, some of those I've had in the past have certainly been nothing to sneeze at, e.g., 1996 P. Jaboulet Aîné La Chapelle, 1993 Henschke Mt. Edelstone and 1991 Penfolds Grange.
These were all wonderful, but, this definitely stood out amongst them. No need to describe how it looked, you can see it on the right.
Hermitage reds are typically "manly" wines to begin with. This one was especially so, but suave at the same time, not rustic: the earthy, mushroomy, truffled/meaty/leather notes had a subtle, reserved presence, exquisitely interwoven in the fruit (blackberry, cassis, darkly ripe raspberry) and mildest pepper. Though full-bodied, its admirable smoothness and well-knit flavors were not at all cumbersome or heavy. Excellent balance. Excellent wine.
May 17th, Je Suis Gourmand, Dinner.
For Rod & Debby Schiffman's 30th anniversary, with my wife and Robert Burroughes.
Marc Aubry created a menu and special dessert to celebrate the occasion. He is, indeed, a most accomplished chef; all I had to do was tell Marc the date, time, occasion and the wines I intended to bring - he prepared dishes to match everything. That is why Je Suis Gourmand is my favorite restaurant.
We started things off with congratulatory toasts from Robert's bottle of clean, pure, scintillating, vibrant, crisp (which turned creamy to the back of the mouth), toasty NV Pommery Champagne and, with dishes of phyllo-wrapped prawn spring roll atop a roesti-like potato, surrounded by a reduction flavored by prawn heads and shells:
1999 J. Drouhin Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru (Chablis, Northern Burgundy, France) -
Chablis, the real stuff, has been called the purest expression of the chardonnay grape. I agree, though I also think the world of the whites from Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet.
To me, purity is what it's all about about in Chablis, not luxury, lusciousness or opulence. Chablis means medium-bodied, taut, steely, nervous green apple, just a touch of citrus with hallmark nuances of cold stones, oyster shell/flint/white mineral and only the merest whisper (if any) of oak/vanilla or butter.
I do not favor tropicality or (even slightly obtrusive) oak nuances in Chablis, which is probably why my closest drinking buddies know I prefer premier crus to grand crus except, perhaps, in vintage 2004. This is also why I have learned to avoid buying the wines from the Chablis grand cru vineyard named Bougros.
Les Clos is a grand cru, the grandest of the grand cru vineyards of Chablis, many opine.
So why did I choose this wine for the evening instead of my preferred premier crus (e.g., Montmains, Montée de Tonnerre)? Simple and a bit embarrassing: I went for Les Clos' caché, in honor of the occasion.
The wine was a good grand cru, with the weight and relative density typical of its class and origin, but with accompanying hints of ripe tropicality and a vaguely plumpish lemon-drop feel mid-mouth, and, yes, noticeable oak/vanilla towards the back.
Objectively, it was a fine wine, definitely tasted like it should. Its relative heft stood well against the somewhat creamy prawn shell-and-head reduction. Personally, I would have liked a bit more balancing acidity in the wine for more cut in the pairing and palate-resuscitation between bites.
After a rich soup course with caramelized onions came an earthy main course of roast French pigeon atop a large portobello cap, ceps, potatoes, etc., which we had with a bottle each of:
1996 J. Raphet Clos Vougeot Grand Cru (Vougeot, Côte de Nuits, Burgundy, France) -
This wine presented acceptable, if unremarkable, "crunchy", tartish raspberry/strawberry flavors over a relatively shallow dark red fruit base with a touch of old violets. Bit of sappiness, medium-length finish at best.
Not bad, but nothing great. Certainly not up to grand cru standards, but not a bad wine. Best I could say for the wine is that its tartness helped cut the rich earthiness of the dish.
I wouldn't buy the wine again, mainly because there are much better things that may be had at its price range. It was actually quite inexpensive considering it's a grand cru from a good vintage. It didn't seem damaged in any way; that's really all it had to give, unfortunately.
There are definitely better wines out there in the same price range.
1990 L. Jadot Pommard Grands Épenots Premier Cru (Pommard, Côte de Beaune, Burgundy, France) - This was my kind of wine. Bigger-boned and "beefier" than its refined cousin from urbane Vougeot. This Pommard was a comparative good-ole-boy: rustic, honest, a bit rough around the edges, but with an honest, unself-conscious, comfortable warmth that accompanied its quiet country wisdom and strength.
More depth in its earthy dark fruit base with a soft red beet and mushroom nuances; on the surface, the wine was accented by ripe black cherry and mild raspberry notes. I loved this wine, especially with the roast pigeon.
The pairing was not from the school of cut-and-contrast; rather, it was more of an amiable hand-in-hand, liesurely, yet contemplative, sunset stroll. The wine's inherent earthiness lolled with that of the pigeon, ceps and rustic potatoes. The red beet nuance and red berry/cherry notes added uplifting sweetish fruit-ripeness to the earthy mix.
After a generous cheese platter came dessert of absolutely delicious coconut-coffee ice cream "sandwiches" that Marc created for the occasion of our foreign guests' anniversary. We had no sweet wine for pairing, but the dessert didn't need any. It was perfect by itself.
A round of double espressos found its way to our table, followed by complimentary digestifs. Somewhere between the desserts and the digestifs, Marc sat with us and enjoyed a quick glass of bubbly from his hometown of Champagne.
In terms of food, wine and company, it was a most memorable dinner. Merçi beaucoup, Marc.
May 27th, Tivoli, Lunch.
With Rod and Debby Schiffman. With assorted starters of fresh oysters, salmon, eel, etc., we had a simple, straightforward, crisp Marlborough NZ sauvignon blanc that I picked off the restaurant's wine list. With identical main courses of excellently roasted medium-rare medallions of veal, Rod, Debby and I enjoyed a bottle of :
1997 JJ Confuron Clos Vougeot Grand Cru (Vougeot, Côte de Nuits, Burgundy, France) -
This was a proper grand cru from Clos Vougeot, much more befitting of its status and expressive of terroir than the '96 by J. Raphet.
Though the ripe 1997 vintage was much heralded at the outset, particularly for the reds of the Côte de Nuits, relatively low acidity that generally marked the wines subsequently dampened many an expectancy of general age-worthiness.
Well, to the '97 detractors, here is one that wears its age well and elegantly. It was an excellently kept bottle to begin with, kudos to Vinfolio in San Francisco.
Deep, complex, full-bodied, it displayed dark red cherry and ripe raspberry, violets, a mere touch of spicy wood with discreet cassis and dark fruit undertones. Yes, the touch of nostalgic Burgundy decay was there, which always does me in. Long, confident, spicy finish. I loved this wine.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
L-R: the Austrian Financial Attaché, Rod Schiffman of Westcoastwine.net and Othmar Ober.
For welcome bubbly, continuing with the amuse bouche:
(L-R: Johnson U, Edouard M, Mike T & Louie L)
2004 Sekt Bründlmayer Brut by Weingut Bründlmayer - According to Othmar, this attractive, brilliant pale straw-yellow, apple-green tinged bubbly is composed of pinot noir, pinot blanc (a.k.a., weissburgunder), chardonnay and a tiny bit of grüner veltliner.
Very dry and crisp with healthy, bracing acidity, I initially thought there was was more grüner veltliner to this due to fresh touches of green bean, lentils and bell pepper in the aroma. The raciness/freshness in the attack fleshed out somewhat mid-palate where one could feel the weight of the chardonnay and the subtle rounded feel of the pinot blanc. A minerally backbone propped up the mellow primary apple, pear and white stone fruit nicely. Over-all general impressions were of clean lines, sharp focus and purity. Very easy to drink a lot (read: too much) of this in the heat of summer.
With my favorite course of the night, Carpaccio of Napkin-Dumpling in Tomato Vinaigrette and Pumpkin Seed Oil with Assorted Salad Leaves, Home-Smoked Duck Breast and Terrine of Smoked Rainbow Trout with Horseradish-Cranberry Mousse:
2005 Grüner Veltliner Terrassen Federspiel by Domaine Wachau - Those unfamiliar with one of the traditional grapes for Austrian white wines, grüner veltliner, will detect familiar grapefruit/grassy/gooseberry notes reminiscent of ubiquitous sauvignon blancs from Marlborough, New Zealand, albeit of a milder, more reserved, self-possessed character. This is where the similarity ends, however, as this wine also displays a bit of green apple, touch of lime, and finely-interwoven fresh, vegetal and spice notes (green beans, lentils, green pepper, white pepper). Pleasantly dry, this was quite versatile providing cut and lift to the smoked duck breast, body and substance to the salad, while adding brightness to the napkin-dumpling and trout terrine.
With the next two courses of Tafelspitz Consommé with Meat Strudel, Sliced Beef, Semolina Dumpling and Poached Quail Egg (nb: mine lacked the quail egg for some reason, but I didn't bother saying anything at the time):
Sander Fillet, Champagne Sauerkraut Baked in a Strudel Leaf on Riesling Sauce:
2006 Langenloiser Riesling Kamptaler Terrassen by Weingut Bründlmayer - Though very young, it already exhibited the petrol/gas notes (a.k.a., goût de pétrole) typical of mature/older rieslings towards the back of the mouth and in the finish. I think this threw those not very familiar with rieslings a bit off as I received a few questions about it and had to explain that this was really a characteristic of, and not a defect in, the wine.
Clear, limpid, pale straw-yellow with a just-barely-discernable light greenish tinge, its somewhat tight aroma called to mind small white flowers, white fruit, unripe peach and mere hints of citrus. Pleasant enough, sufficiently balanced and, to me, very approachable, though, due likely to its youth, it did not display any material depth. At this point, it is accessible, entertaining and charming enough in a light-hearted way, which, I think, is all one could or should reasonably expect from it now.
As regards the dishes and pairing: I didn't have the consommé with wine but felt it was a fine pairing with the Sander (which is hardly surprising). Louie L. particularly enjoyed the consommé and expressed praise for the finesse of the sliced beef and delicate fullness of the broth's flavors.
The next course was Oven Roasted Veal Shank in Natural Gravy and Duck "Groesti", served with Braised Red Cabbage and Morel-Bread Pudding which was paired with 2002 Cuvée Vincent CF/CS/ZW by Weingut Bründlmayer - Othmar sat and spoke with me about this wine and I forgot to take a picture of it as well as the dish (I put the blame on him, in any event). I now understand that the wine is made up of (in descending proportions): "CF" (cabernet franc), "CS" (cabernet sauvignon) and "ZW" (Zweigelt, a grape I've never before heard of).
Before being briefed by Othmar, I simply couldn't grab a handle on the wine. It puzzled me to no end and I couldn't guess what it was (save, obviously, that it was Austrian). It was ripely sweetish red-fruit dominated (cherry, raspberry) over blackcurrant/cassis, slight violets, with a distinct touch of black pepper. Medium-bodied, it was smooth enough on the palate and had a somewhat comforting warmth about it.
I think my unfamiliarity with the wine/varietals, coupled with my strong personal preferences (read: dog-headedness) got the better of me. I couldn't quite get this enigmatic wine; though, admittedly, I liked it more with the veal. Edouard (he with centuries of Bordeaux running through his veins) and Jérome (Manila's resident French, Non-Bordeaux Crusader) told me they thought it was good enough, a nice novelty and that it grew on one the more one sipped it.
Then came my second favorite course of the evening, a virtual parade of curiously sounding delights: Quark-Dumpling, Kaiserschmarren with Plum Roester, Tossed Poppy Seed Noodles with Home-Made Apricot Ice Cream, paired with...
2004 Auslese Cuvée by Weinlauobenhof Alois Kracher - As far as I could find out from Othmar and Bernie S., this wine is made up of chardonnay and welschriesling, harvested late and touched with botrytis cinerea (referred to as Edelfäule in German), which touch totally throws me for a loop in trying to guess varietal composition (I can only get it when it is very obvious like in the cases of gewürtztraminers and, most of the time, with furmint-based Tokaji Aszu). Though I have very limited exposure to the wines of the late Alois Kracher, I was aware that he was virtually without peer in Austria when it came to making dessert wines. I have the good fortune of having tried a few of their trockenbeerenauslese, and they are quite sinful indeed.
Not quite as richly "botrytised" as the more familiar sweet wines of Sauternes/Barsac, I felt this auslese was closer to the vendages tardives wines of Alsace - this, perhaps, with marginally less botrytis. Straightforward and enjoyable honeyed apricot, peach and a whisper of orange rind, its sweetness is adequately balanced by acidity. Straightforward, good and, importantly, locally available. I recall the wives liked this wine.
As far as I was concerned, however, the Austrian desserts demanded and deserved center stage. Particularly, the quark-dumpling and toasted poppy seed noodles were absolutely delightful and memorable. I can still taste them now as I write. Hopefully, I can somehow convince the chef at Aubergine to re-execute this for me sometime.
To cap off the evening, Othmar generously shared his last bottle of Edelbrand Williams. It was a good thing I had a driver that evening as I wound up tipsier than I thought I would.
This was a memorable night as it was the first time I ever had a taste of authentic, fine Austrian cuisine, with each course carefully paired with Austrian wine no less. Short of visiting Austria, one would have to look long and hard for a similar experience in the Philippines. This is one of the many reasons I am glad I joined the IWFS. Of course, learning from and enjoying the company of like-minded friends certainly don't hurt.
Friday, June 20, 2008
I was invited to join the International Wine & Food Society's (IWFS) board members for dinner, hosted this month by Oscar Ong. All the food and wines (well, all but two) were on him.
The IWFS Board, L-R: Oscar, Bill Stone, Rene Fuentes, Sunny Gracia, Markus Ruckstuhl, Freddy Wieneke, Bernie Sim, Freddie Pio de Roda and Fil Juntereal.
The Wines. After some glasses of dangerously drinkable Bisol Crede Prosecco di Valdobbiadene:
2004 Garofoli Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore "Podium" - Dry, slightly crisp attack, fleshing out incrementally with suggestions of tropicality mid-mouth. Some demure grapefruit and mild citrus. Suave on the palate with decent structure and balance. Mild fennel and an appetizing slight almondy bitterness surface towards the back, through to the finish.
2003 Isole e Olena Cepparello - Bernie brought this bottle to share, and we had it with a light onion and tomato soup. This wine looked bigger than it tasted, gentle and serene (almost soft) despite its ominous darkness, lithely medium-bodied, ripe red berries lace blackcurrant, cassis, merest hint of anise and wood. I honestly thought it would be too young and heavy since it looked darkly intense, but I was wrong. Good pairing.
Grilled meats were served (rib-eye, lamb, etc.), and Oscar started pouring the big boys:
1998 Antinori Tenuta Guado al Tasso Bolgheri Superiore - Though obviously heavier-boned than the preceding wine, again, it was not as big as I thought it would be, but that is a good thing (for me, anyway). Mildly earthy, smoky and herbaceous; nicely warming blackcurrant-and-cassis-dominated with light touches of raspberry liqueur and alluring black olive, sweetish tobacco, mild vanilla and dark spice notes. Good weight, nice balance.
1998 Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri Sassicaia - Marginally heftier/more masculine than the Guado al Tasso but, seemingly, a bit lighter on its feet, with better structure, more noticeable slightly dry wood notes, earthier (touch of truffle) and more definitive/confident all-around. Black coffee and hints of mushroom underpin the dark fruit. Violet notes surface towards the back. Nice depth, firm structure. Beside this, the Guado al Tasso seemed sweetish with riper fruit. This cut the grilled steak very nicely and ran with the earthy ball. I think this paired best with the grilled meat.
1998 Tenuta dell'Ornellaia Bolgheri Superiore - This was, to me, the most enjoyable/"crowd-pleaser" wine of the night. Bigger, fleshier, more forward/accessible than, though not as firm/definitive or masculine as, the Sassicaia. The Ornellaia had a lusher, more amiable character to it. With a more rounded and pronounced mid-palate, cherry/kirsch highlighted velvety, molten dark fruit with luxurious notes of leather, espresso and dark spice underneath. Very enjoyable (dare I use the word "hedonistic"), if not as contemplative as the Sassicaia.
1998 Antinori Solaia - I had this before during my birthday dinner in 2006 and, while I enjoyed it well enough, I then found the thick, viscous black fruit (infused with sweet tobacco, spice box notes and vanilla/oak) base a bit over-ripe, over-extracted, almost pruney. I didn't get to re-taste it this night though as the bottle emptied out before it reached my glass.
1998 Antinori Tignanello - Masculine wine, not as somber as the Sassicaia, but of a similar serious nature. Its dry, strawberry/raspberry surface over earthy cassis, slight pencil lead and leather notes were displayed on a comparatively dense (not cumbersome though), fullish body. Admirable length and balance.
1990 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco - I had this comparatively (much) lighter wine while Bernie and Rene discussed its composition and origins. There were 2 bottles of this, Bernie brought one too. Ironically, the wine from the scruffy looking bottle tasted fresher and younger than the one from the pristine-looking one. Though obviously lighter in appearance and in weight, this wine acquitted itself well with its smooth, though potent, truffled, black olive, graphite, earthy, tar-touched flavors over thinning fruit.This had a nice, rustic, nostalgic feel to it. I think I enjoyed this more than the others. Lucky me, I poured and enjoyed at will.
With dessert of, probably the best panna cotta in Manila:
Umberto Cesari Colle del Re Albana di Romagna Passito - I didn't (and don't) see any vintage on the bottle, so I wouldn't know what vintage it is from (if, indeed it is a vintage wine). In any event, it is a straightforward, unpretentious, sweet, viscous, honeyed, vanilla-laced, white raisiny wine that I enjoyed greatly with my panna cotta - an overly-indulgent dessert pairing which was right up my alley. With all the over-indulgence that already took place, why stop now?
I understand it is quite inexpensive and locally available at Bacchus. Definitely good news: an inexpensive dessert wine in a small format that one can pop open any time.
Thereafter came a curious digestif:
Mirto di Sardegna - Bernie warned me that it would, to put it nicely, guarantee expeditious digestion. A thick, dense, herby, syrupy liqueur that tastes of anise and dark molasses. The herb-bitterness surfaces far in the back and continues to a bittersweet finish. If anyone has tried the anise-laden German digestif called "Underberg", think of a thick and sweetened version of it and you've pretty much gotten what this tasted like. Amusing, a novelty, and effective. My over-worked-stomach discomfort was noticeably eased. I think only Oscar and I appreciated it though.
What a night! Molto grazie, Oscar! Bravo!
Thursday, June 19, 2008
I am familiar with the domaine's bottlings distributed by Jérome in Manila and have actually purchased and consumed quite a number of them, but never got to try their "higher bottlings" as none are currently available on the local market. Don't get me wrong, while I, and, I am sure, many others, are happy with the line Jérome currently brings in (particularly with a well-chilled bottle of their gewürztraminer with Je Suis Gourmand's terrine of foie gras - I understand their same wine is featured as a pairing to foie gras in the 3 Michelin star Auberge d'Ill in Illhaeusern, Alsace), I do hope he soon starts bringing in the lines subject of this post.
After proper introductions and a good-natured "scolding" from Valerie for my not having passed by her family domaine after finding out I was in nearby Riquewihr for several days late last September, she walked me through a few of her wines.
2005 Riesling Grafenreben de Zellenberg - Very lively, refreshing, crisp and clean (a proverbial "breath of fresh air" after having tasted around 35 young Bordeaux reds in the last 2-½ hours) dry young riesling with tense minerality to its currently dominant citrus/lemon/lime and whispers of white flowers over a slightly rounded underbelly of ripish stone fruit. Lots of finesse to this wine.
I've found young rieslings from taditional Alsace makers (e.g., Léon Beyer) are usually noticeably tight, as this one was, but predict that the underlying rounded stone fruit will surface materially after the proper number of years' ageing. I think this has excellent potential and certainly will try to track this wine's progress over the years.
2005 Pinot Gris "Les Elements" - this is the line that Jérome distributes in Manila and I am quite familiar with the 2004 version. The 2005, while exhibiting the dry style of traditional Alsace makers, was notably riper, rounder and "sexier" than its 2004 version, approaching voluptuous. Nice. Valerie recommends it with a terrine of foie gras.
2004 Pinot Gris Sonnenglanz (Grand Cru) - Mildly spicy ripe melon, lemon drop with entertaining hints of almond paste beneath and to the back. Smooth on the palate with nice weight and balance, and a slight richness that made me think even more of having some foie gras.
2004 Gewürztraminer Sonnenglanz (Grand Cru) - Unmistakably gewürz, redolent with a heady perfume of lychee and peach, with touches of roses and small white flowers delivered to the palate in a clean, pure and admirably balanced format. Excellent, memorable.
2001 Pinot Gris Sonnenglanz (Grand Cru) Vendanges Tardives - Good, solid, very ripe, rounded, mildly-honeyed fruit base with a well-integrated nuttiness underneath, a touch of minerality and an alluring ever-so-slight tanginess (which, to me, helped balance off the sweet ripeness of this VT. Nice complexity if one pays proper respect and attention to it.
If there is a single word I can come up with to describe the general character of these wines, it would have to be "honest". I feel "honest" captures their natural, unsullied, unmanipulated, unpretentious allure.
Jérome mentioned to Valerie that my wife loves Alsace VTs, and, thus, after proper thanks given and good-byes said, I was off on my way with a gift of a bottle of the 2001 Pinot Gris Sonnenglanz VT for her.
Walking back to my hotel, I thought about the thing I loved most about Alsace. Though, while there, the food was, indeed, good and the white wines wonderful, it was the honest warmth, openness and friendliness of the people that struck me the most. This short meeting reminded me of that.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
Not wasting any time, to pair with a pâté en terrine of foie gras, Santi broke out a half bottle of 2002 Château de Fargues - from a Sauternes estate of which few people are aware has been owned and run since the late 1700s by the Lur Saluces family of d'Yquem fame. The oldest de Fargues I've had to my immediate recollection was a sublime 1986, enjoyed 3 years ago (See: my old notes).
Though it has a lot of maturing to do, this lass is a precocious one; supple with a teen-ager's taut, lithe body and youthfully seductive curves (think Natalie Portman's character in the movie "Closer").
Notes of orange marmalade, orange rind, ripe peach/apricot compote over a slight undertone of crème brûlée are displayed with just enough acid, spiciness and botrytis tang to save the palate from early fatigue.Lovely, but now I'm going to have to find that DVD of Closer somewhere in the baskets of other videos in my room....
With hot-off-the-grill slices of chuleton (with the luscious, irresistible fringes of toasted, life-enriching fat) and various side dishes (scalloped potatoes, marinated peppers, sautéed mushrooms, etc.) , we then moved on to the reds:
1995 Château de Fieuzal (Pessac-Léognan) - My bottle, reputedly the best produced by de Fieuzal before the advent of vintage 2000. I last had this wine over 5 years ago and was very curious how it was coming along. I mentally compared it to the 1996, which is drinking superbly:
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
The 1995, while holding true to its terroir with typical roasted herbs, mild earthiness and smokiness to the cedar and discreet tar/tobacco notes, lacked the forward sweetish red currant/kirsch push of the 1996 (it was more dominated by dark fruit) and had noticeably less balancing acidity, which, to me, made the former marginally less alluring. I think the 1995 is definitely a good wine, but expected more from it, given its reputation and my fascination with its 1996 counterpart. This just bolsters my (and many others') opinion that the 1996s are definitely better (virtually across the board) than 1995s . At this stage, anyway.
1995 Château Montrose (2nd Growth, 1855, St-Estèphe) - Santi's bottle, chosen by me to compare with the de Fieuzal of the same vintage. I am certain I've had this wine within the last year, but simply cannot find any notes of mine on it. The last I recall clearly was at our beach house during summer around 5 years ago and thinking it was way too young and closed.
In any event, Santi noted that, while the wine was initially reticent, it opened up well around two hours later (he's learned a lot and fast, that one has). Montrose has long been a favored château, it has consistently high quality and can, in good years and after proper age, be powerful yet contemplative as well.
This Montrose was typically masculine, a touch stern and austere, with notes of leather and smoky cedar to its earthy dominant dark fruit and cassis. This is classic St-Estèphe, this Montrose held true and proud to its origins. I thought this and, next, the de Fieuzal paired best with the steaks. This 1995 is more ready to drink than their 1996, I can't think of many wines I could say the same thing for.
1998 Château La Couspaude (Grand Cru Classé, St-Emilion) - I brought this merlot-dominant wine thinking it would be a nice counterpoint to the left-banks and to pair with the steak. This wine gave me my first win in our regular Mini Blind Bordeaux Challenges so I wanted my friends to try this "giant-killer". All my past bottles of this wine displayed wide-open, generous, almost wanton vanilla/oak-infused, unctuous sweet ripe plum, kirsch, violets, espresso and chocolate profiles on a crowd-pleasing, low acid medium-to-full body.
Unfortunately, this bottle was mildly corked - with a slight hint of of mustiness and plastic and none of the flamboyancy of a healthy bottle. It was still drinkable, but, after a few polite "consolation sips", everyone set their glasses aside - as well they should. There is no reason to plod through a bottle of even mildly corked wine.
Quite disappointing, but, these things happen. Too bad, I really wanted them to be able to try this wine.
1999 Château Cos d'Estournel (2nd Growth, 1855, St-Estèphe) - Miguel's bottle, and, for me, the wine of the night. I had earlier mentioned to them that most all the dinners I've attended in Bordeaux (in 2006 and 2007) featured the host château's 1999 vintage (e.g., Siran, Léoville Poyferré and d'Issan; plus the 1999 Poujeaux at the recent Commanderie dinner in HK) before moving to far older vintages.
Cos d'Estournel is widely regarded as the top of the St-Estèphe heirarchy. There are no 1st growths in St-Estèphe - the commune being "ruled" by two 2nd growths: namely, Cos and Montrose.
Some professional reviewers (like Hugh Johnson) opine, however, (and I agree) that Montrose is more expressive of the appellation's terroir. Be it as it may, Cos is an eccentric, exotic château (with a curious Chinoise pagoda on the estate) that makes a wine virtually sui generis with Asian/Indian spice and Chinese tea notes that make it seductively alluring and marginally easier to identify in blind tastings.
This Cos is well extracted and ripe for its vintage, with telltale traces of its signature Asian spice and tea leaf, touch of soy in its nose and on the back-end of the palate, exquisitely woven into the smoky cassis, cherry, licorice, touch of fig and mildly spiced oak. It needed virtually no aeration to display its favors, it just sang out of the bottle. Good confidence and command without being over-bearing, it put on a solid, definitive and memorable performance. Bravo.
2000 Château Pontet-Canet (5th Growth, 1855, Pauillac) - Chris' bottle, one I had never tried before. This was the young bruiser of the bunch, eagerly unleashing rolling muscle under a lush, ripe, almost velvety glove. Black fruit, cassis over licorice dominated with hints of red cherry, gravel and minerals in a long and strong finish. Good, sturdy bones in this. Impressive for a barely 8 year-old Pauillac, I 'd surely like to try this again in 3 years' time and follow its evolution over the next 20 years.
I suspect this will age nicely (it certainly appears to have the structure for it), the red cherries surfacing more in time and the wine turning subtle and sweeter in 10 years from now.
Though I expected this to be too young to really be enjoyable at this point, I suppose my experience with the 2001 vintage around 2-3 years ago caused me to think this of the 2000 before I tried it. I am happy to admit that I was wrong. Were it that all my mistakes were this pleasurable.
2000 Altagracia (Napa) - Rene's bottle, opened to compare styles and characteristics of origin. I remember it to be a vintage 2000, please correct me if I am wrong. As I understand it, this is the second wine of the cult Napa, Araujo. I've never tried an Araujo, so really didn't know what to expect. Having repeatedly tried a few cult Napa cabs due to the generosity of one-who-cannot-be-named (e.g., Screaming Eagle, Harlan, Bryant Family, etc.), I know well that not all "killer" Napa cabs are over-wrought, contrived, blocky and cumbersome. After all, I, the Doc and Edouard have repeatedly mis-identified well-aged bottles of Dominus from the Stockbroker.
This wine, though, young, was already quite enjoyable. It does not appear to be from the "the bigger, the better" school of wine-making. Though I would certainly not mistake it for Bordeaux or Old World, it does not display the over-bearing, syrupy consistency, tons of oak or telltale coconut-creamy/sweet butterscotch smell of a typical, big napa cab. Rather, it shows comparative restraint (a good thing for me) without sacrificing the straightforward honesty and rich flavors of its its kind.
Big (but not blocky), rich (but not ostentatious), this wine shows off its comparatively viscous, sweetishly ripe molten black fruit, mere hint of pruniness, crème de cassis, licorice, touch of toffee and sweet tobacco with some refinement. I thought it was a nice touch to throw a Napa into the mix. While my heart hopelessly belongs to Bordeaux, the palate can only take so much at one sitting. This wine kept things interesting. As Dr. Lecter quoted his mother in the closing scene of "Hannibal": "It is always good to try new things".
Many thanks, guys. It was a lot of fun. I look forward to the next.
Ch. du Tertre (5th Growth, 1855) - Strange performance: thin, hints of pine and plastic to the tightly closed sweetish red berries. Probably an off bottle or severely shut down, I'm not sure, but I tried it twice. Judgment reserved.
Ch. Siran (Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel) - Manila & Bordeaux's own Edouard Miailhe was doing the pouring of the wine from his family's over-performing château. I had tasted this twice before: mid-2006 in Bordeaux and a month-and-a-half ago in Makati. The third time at the UGC in HK, my latest notes still apply, thus:
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.
NB: The day after, I was supposed to meet Edouard for lunch back at the Exhibition Center from where we were to proceed to Pacific Place mall in Central for lunch and to check out the Watson's Wine Cellar there.
I proceeded to the display center of L.D. Vins. Run by an old family friend of Edouard, (Baron) Frédéric de Luze of Château Paveil de Luze, L.D. Vins is a major negociant firm that supplies much Bordeaux wine to US retailers including one of my favorite wine shops, KL Wines in San Francisco. It was very good to see Frédéric again. Ever dapper and gracious, he never fails to invite me to his parties when I am in Bordeaux.
Ch. Kirwan (3rd Growth, 1855) - Toasty oak, vanilla are at the forefront of cherries, cassis and plummy undertones. Not very deep or distinctive, but there's nothing wrong here. It is a pleasing wine which still has some weight to gain in bottle. This will likely become a dinner crowd drinker early (i.e., in 4-5 more years).
Ch. Marquis de Terme (4th Growth, 1855) - Notably well-knit even at this early stage and definite typicity - it speaks of its terroir. Nice, silky, smooth texture, good extraction with a healthy middle and good weight. Not screaming its favors, but subtle and understated. This is a style I appreciate.
Ch. Dufort Vivens (2nd Growth, 1855) - Young smoky cedar over sweetish/minerally plummy red fruit, raspberry and a touch of herbaceousness. Deftly executed, refined flavors. Notable balance and elegant finish. Good show indeed.
Ch. Dauzac (5th Growth, 1855) - A very charming and pleasantly typical Margaux, if not particularly distinguished. It has a carefree touch to its nicely rounded, medium body. No problems here. If found at US$40-45 per bottle, I'd strike.
Ch. Branaire (Duluc-Ducru) (4th Growth, 1855) - Still quite mute now and difficult to dissect. It does, however, have good breadth, if a bit muddled, but one can detect the hallmark chocolate notes of Branaire-Ducru. It has a lot of coming-together to do, but I predict it will grow up to be a pretty good wine.
Ch. Coutet (1st Growth, 1855, Barsac) - Typical Barsac, i.e., lighter-framed, brighter flavors and lighter on its feet than its "cousins" from Sauternes. More viscous than usual (likely the vintage speaking), sugary syrup laced with peach, slightly candied apricot and lemon drop candy. I'd have appreciated a bit more acidity, but this is definitely a charming wine - one I wouldn't mind having a few half-bottles of at home as good, casual dessert wine. Happily, it may be found at under $30 for a regular bottle in certain US wine shops.
Ch. de Rayne-Vigneau (1st Growth, 1855, Bommes/Sauternes) - Generous, yet refined spiced, tangy botrytis with a much more perfumed nose than the Coutet. Though fuller/heftier, it also has the necessary acidity that strikes a fine balance. I've seen half-bottles (375ml) for sale in California for under $25. It's a definite no-brainer at that price. A definite buy.
Ch. Guiraud (1st Growth, 1855, Sauternes) - More definitive attack and better over-all definitiveness than the previous two wines. There is also healthier balancing acidity that suggests, to me better comparative age-worthiness as well. I've always been a fan of this château, though. For a reasonably-priced and consistently well-performing Sauternes, its difficult to beat.
Ch. Doisy Daëne (2nd Growth, 1855, Barsac) - At best, a pretty lively and pleasant wine with obvious toastiness to its wood and decent acidity (the phrase "damned by faint praise" comes to mind). As I've generally found with the wines I've tried from this château, though it is almost always pleasing and easy to like, it lacks material depth and complexity. I'd happily accept a glass if offered, but I'm not buying any.
Reds From Less Famous Appellations of Bordeaux:
Ch. Coufran (Haut-Médoc Cru Bourgeois, St-Seurin-de-Cadourne) - Owned and run by Edouard's cousin, Eric, this château, typical of other Miailhe family owned/run chateaux (e.g., Siran and, until recently, Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande), uses a higher percentage of merlot than many châteaux in their respective areas. This unassuming wine, though still needing at least 2-3 more years of bottle-age to come together, displays well its flavors of mildly earthy ripe dark fruit/cassis over plum on a medium body with hints of leather. Very accessible and user-friendly (yet maintaining its sense of terroir), at under $30 per bottle, it would be good for restaurants, larger parties and/or casual evening drinking.
Ch. Cantemerle (5th Growth, 1855, Macau, Southern Médoc) - Too closed and difficult to judge at this point. Judgment reserved.
Ch. Chasse-Spleen (Moulis en Médoc, Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel) - A distinct, sweetish herbaceousness to the fruit (in both the nose and on the palate) makes this lithe, light-side-of-medium-framed wine definitely entertaining. The fans of this well-respected cru bourgeois will be happy that its 2005 vintage is available at under $30 per bottle.
Ch. Poujeaux (Moulis en Médoc, Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel) - At this point, all I can say is that it is very charming medium-bodied wine with notable balance (not over-done or over-ripe). Still quite reticent, it is very difficult to judge now, knowing that this château usually has good depth and suppleness to its wines, as well as dependable ageing capability. Judgment reserved.
Ch. Fourcas-Dupré (Listrac-Médoc, Cru Bourgeois Supérieur) - Entertaining nose with truffle whispers over herbaceaous light cassis and a touch of jasmine tea to it, all of which is mirrored on the palate in a light-side-of-medium body. There is a lot of flavor in its lithe body. Quite charming.
Friday, June 13, 2008
UGC Tasting, Vinexpo Asia Pacific 2008, Part I: Some 2005s from Pessac-Léognan, St-Emilion and Pomerol
Thursday, June 5, 2008
Due to rush hour traffic, I was a bit late, and, thus, missed most of the cocktail portion and got to try only one of the whites served that evening:
2005 Château Villa Bel-Air Blanc (Graves) - A winery in southern Graves owned by JM Cazes, I understand. I'd never had any of this wine before. I think it was a pleasant enough wine - very approachable - with slightly honeyed and waxy, ripe stone fruit and vanilla in the forefront. A bit tropical, really, I suspect it is the vintage speaking - either that or there was more semillon in this than other whites from that area. I, personally like my Bordeaux blanc with more crispness and acidity; but it wasn't bad.
Here at the cocktails are (L-R): Gérard Chesnel (the French Ambassador to the Philippines), Sevrine, Edouard and Judy Leissner of Grace Vineyards. IWFS Philippine Chapter President, Bernie Sim, was busy chatting with others, so is not in this picture.
Not long after I arrived, I was seated at the table of Château Lagrange, and, after the induction of (far too) many new members of the Commanderie, the first course and accompanying wine was served.
With Warm Lobster Salad and Mixed Scallops:
2003 Château Malarctic-Lagravière Blanc (Pessac-Léognan) -Now this was a blanc more up my alley. Brighter and on the palate, notably crisper, fresher and better acidic balance. The fruit had definite round ripe belly to it - moreso than other years (it is a 2003 after all), but, then, this was perfect with the dish since lobster does need a white with a bit of heft, and the scallops, some bracing crispness. A precise pairing.
Three reds were served with main course of Landes Duck Pot-au-feu in a Lychee and Bordeaux Wine Sauce.
1999 Château Poujeaux - The most nostalgically warming and rustic wine of the three, with alluring slightly gamey, meaty, truffle, smokey cedar notes in the nose which blended seamlessly in the mouth with an earthy cassis/blackberry/blackfruit base laced with raspberry liqueur - licorice/mild tobacco/spicy wood notes towards the back - all in a body on the full side of medium. Very nice.
1995 Château Haut-Bailly - One of my favorite producers given quality and price, this, curiously looked to be the oldest wine - even beside its 22-year-old neighbor - with a limpid red-orange hue to the rim. Marginally less earthy than the '99 Pojeaux, sans the gamey/meaty notes, this was a comparatively refined and well-heeled wine with typical Graves dried herb/tar/tobacco/leather notes to its sweetish dark cherry/kirsch intertwined with smooth cassis, black fruit and smokey cedar. Lovely.
1986 Château Mouton Rothschild - We had two bottles for our table of 10. The first bottle was the best 1986 Mouton I have ever had. The second bottle, though still very nice, was not as lush or generous as the first. The first tasted amazingly young, was wide open and welcoming with absolutely buxom, luscious, creamy (though not over-the-top) cassis, sweet molten black fruit, dark spice, touch of espresso, hints of leather and dark, unsweetened chocolate. Through all this, it somehow maintained proper balance without tripping all over its generous endowments.
I've had this wine twice before in the past 2 years and, though I much enjoyed them, I could simply not get why Parker rated it 100 points. I used to think it was because even in blind tastings, I never really seem to particularly favor its style. Well, with this first bottle, I now understand Parker's enthusiasm over it. It was, quite possibly, the most luscious, generous, yes, hedonistic, red wine I have ever had without being vulgar or over-the-top. Amazing wine.
Note: The difference between the two bottles sparked two separate, intresting discussions I had; one with Bernie Sim during a hiatus between courses, and, another with Eric Hosteins (of Château Cissac) over a cigarette(s) break outside. Apparently, I'm not the only one who notices seemingly prevalent bottle variation for the '86 Mouton. Eric says this bottle variation is well-known in Bordeaux and that a good bottle of it can last at least 30 more years. Given the first bottle of the evening, I believe him.
As regards pairing, I drank my share of '86 Mouton after I finished my main course and before dessert, choosing to have only the '99 Poujeaux and '95 Haut-Bailly with the food.
I was seated beside Charles Philipponnat (of Champagne Philipponnat, a most friendly and amiable fellow who knows and enjoys his food and wine extremely well) and we had a very interesting discussion on the pairing of the first 2 reds. He asked me which I thought went better and I replied I preferred the pairing of the '95 Haut Bailly because its sweetish red cherry/berry notes gave the duck pot-au-feu added lift and contrast. Charles, in turn said he preferred the pairing with the '99 Poujeaux because it was a hearty /gamey country dish and the rustically gamey wine flowed and ran with it well.
We then discussed the "running with" and "cutting through" pairing principles briefly and I told him that the '99 Poujeaux made me feel like I was the one who caught and cooked the duck we had, while the '95 Haut-Bailly made me feel like it was served to me "on a silver platter", as it were. My thoughts seemed to amuse him, or so I think (either that or he thought this strange brown Asian must be off his rocker).
Dessert was a Pudding of Brie de Meaux and Brioche en Croûte of Black Truffles and a delightfully creative raspberry and pistachio dim sum, paired with 2001 Château Suduiraut (of which I already described at length in my recent post on Chinese Cuisine with Sauternes and Barsac).
The "dim sum", on the left, looks like the ubiquitous char siu bao (i.e., roast pork bun), but is smaller and stuffed with rapberry sauce enveloping cooked-soft pistachios. First of its kind I'd ever seen or eaten.
At around 11:30pm, I said my goodbyes and hopped in a cab back to my hotel. It was a wonderful evening thanks to Edouard, Emmanuel and all the charming people I met. I won't be forgetting this anytime soon.