Monday, July 28, 2008

California Cults.

~ Sunday, July 27, 2008 at Pepato ~

Gentleman Joe amongst the Stockbroker, Jorge, Dong, Fil and Sunny.

Gentleman Joe hosted yet another of his rarified dinners; this time all his wines were from California. The Stockbroker took care that not a corked one was presented to the rest of us, the fortunate ones: Jorge A., Dapper D., the Doc, Sunny G., Fil J., Doc L., myself, Freddie PdR, Dong P. and Jun S.

Due to time and other logistical constraints, the bottles were opened and checked a couple of hours before serving, but not decanted.

With a creative coup of tiny barquillos stuffed with chive mousse, topped with salmon roe, and, comfortingly familiar fried arrancini:

1997 Marcassin Chardonnay, Marcassin Vineyard - a textbook in how luxurious on the palate a Cali chard can be. A riot of lemon cream, baked apple, white flowers, spicy/mildly toasty oak and vanilla in the nose. On the palate, it attacks with minerality to its spiced wild honey/baked apple/pear/touch of lemon custard with underlying orange rind. Towards the back, it expands, gaining more buttery, vanilla enriched heft mid-mouth. Nuances of toastiness and nuttiness. A very long and strong finish. No holds barred.

The pairing with the arrancini was pleasant enough; but, with the stuffed barquillos, however, it was superb - the sweetness of the barquillos and the creaminess of the mousse were white-on-white with the wine's richness and the salmon roe picked up on the wine's white minerality wonderfully - adding seductive sea-side nuances as they burst in the mouth. Subtlety be damned, sometimes even a Burg-head like me needs to let his hair down (whatever is left of it anyway) and revel in the joys of excess.
Following with an entrée of Roasted Marrow Bone with sides of Black Truffle Paste, a Lemon Wedge and Crusty Bread:

3 of the 5 lawyers in attendance: Dong, Jun and Freddie

1999 Marcassin Chardonnay, Marcassin Vineyard - similar, but notably more focused nose with more dominance of pear and and white flowers. Brighter, leaner and purer in fruit; the butter/oak/vanilla notes surface comparatively farther back in the mouth - the spicy/toastiness more discreet. In all, though not as rich and hedonistic as the '97, it was more refined, with better balance and poise.
I left a bit in my glass for about 30 minutes just to see how evolves. After such time, its aromas opened up fully with honeysuckle, vanilla, spice and hints of butterscotch, while it took on more lemon custard on the palate. Dapper D also noted how the wine blossomed after time in the glass.

Both chards were, of course, very expressive of California and were thoroughly enjoyable. Everyone loved them, as far as I could tell - the empty glasses were testament to that. I couldn't help, however, waiting on the succession of reds. Being much more familiar with reds from Bordeaux and Burgundy, I rarely get to try top-end California cab sauvs, much less the cults.

Sunny, Doc L. and Gentleman Joe.

I opted not to have any wine with my soup course of Broccoli Soup with Poached Capiz Scallops (absolutely plump and juicy) and Green Apple Mignonette and pasta course of Spaghettini Angulas with Tagaytay Tomatoes and Wilted Rucola.

With the perfectly tender, rare Roast Prime Rib di Lusso, however, came the much anticipated California cult reds...
1993 Grace Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon - A sniff and a sip told you were in Cali territory. Big, broad-shouldered, viscous, dense and muscular, this gently warming, highly extracted wine had a permeating anise and medicinal/mineral theme going on through its earthy molten black currant, cassis and dark violets. The wood was very well-integrated and the tannins very smooth. Subtle, sweetish camphor and cedar notes emerged after time in the glass.

A bit blocky but not cumbersome on the palate. Decently balanced. I am glad I waited to try this with the steak as it would be a bit over-powering otherwise. This is definitely a food wine - and the food had better be a rich, fat-laden steak - which it properly was in this case.

Dapper D and the Stockbroker also noted the permeating mineral/anise theme in this wine.

1993 Araujo Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Eisele Vineyard - Much less dense and brooding than the previous red, this had mild leather nuances to its dark fruit, cassis and violets. There was some minerality, but very, very subtle compared to the Grace. The wine itself was much more focused, purer in fruit and lighter on its feet as well.

This was one of the wines I was most curious to try, having recently had the second wine (the 2000 Altagracia from Rene Fuentes II) which I found to be much more elegant and understated in style than most Napa cabs I've tried. My assessment holds true to this 15-year-old first wine - it was as elegant as its bretheren go, and was my third favorite wine of the evening.

1998 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon - The definitive Napa cult cab by reputation. Well, the priciest anyway, as far as I know. I've had the 2002 version twice before (both times courtesy of the evening's host) and found this older version more to my liking. The '98 is not nearly as monolithic as the '02 and notably more refined than the same. That certainly doesn't mean it isn't a big wine in its own right though.

Very extracted, ripe, rich, blackberry, blueberry, cassis, oak, violets, slight asphalt with a curiously thought-provoking underlying stoniness to the fruit. I know '98 isn't supposed to be an exceptionally rated vintage for Napa, but I've found the comparatively "leaner" reds from then/there more to my own particular taste. This sparked a short discussion with the Stockbroker vis-a-vis the '98 vintage of California and the '98 Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve I've tried and liked.

Don't get me wrong, though, this was still the biggest wine of the evening, if not a particularly favored one by me considering the more refined ones served. Still and all, how often does one get to try a Screaming Eagle? The mere opportunity to taste it is always greatly appreciated.

1998 Harlan Estate Proprietary Red Wine - I commented to the Doc and Stockbroker that this wine's aroma reminded me of a wine from Pessac-Léognan because of the surface roast herb-laced red scents (raspberry and cherry). Of course, they told me they'd never mistake it for a Bordeaux, but I didn't figure they would.
To me, though, its aroma was reminiscent of that southern Bordeaux appellation. The creaminess of the oak on the nose (though, admittedly, none of the coconut cream nuances) made me think there was possibly a bit of American oak involved, but research shows there wasn't. As far as I can tell, Harlan uses only 100% new French oak but I don't know what particular kind.

On the palate, the ripe raspberry and cherry were there as well, but were more highlights to the sweet anise, camphor, blueberries/blackberries/cassis, violets, very subtle minerality and merest hint of vanilla cream. Definitely a lovely wine, one of the most complex and graceful of the evening. My very close second favorite of the evening, I had initially ranked it my third favorite to the Araujo, but it just kept getting better and better over the evening's span. This was the Stockbroker's wine of the night.

I read in the notes provided (I read them the next morning so they don't influence the notes I took during the dinner) that this is 100% cabernet sauvignon. It's really quite amazing how one type of grape can display such depth and variety of flavors. If I could afford to buy a lot of this wine (which I can't), I would.

2003 Colgin IX Proprietary Red Estate - This youngster had the misfortune of being served on the coat tails of the Harlan.

Quite youthfully alcoholic with mild anise, medicinal minerality (but not as prominent as in the Grace) , camphor and slight mocha and chocolate traces to the graphite-touched dark fruit/cassis. Some ripe plum underneath. Nice wine, but it didn't quite make a mark or much of a statement to me. Restrained, tight, not open.

To be totally fair, I'd have to reserve judgment on this as I couldn't help but compare it to the Harlan - which isn't right to do at all. The Colgin is exceedingly young and, the Harlan would, after all, be an incredibly difficult act to follow for any of the wines.

1993 Dalle Valle Maya Proprietary Red Wine - This, along with the Araujo, was one of the bottles I was very curious about, having read quite a bit on it in WCWN. This is a very different sort of Napa red, it turns out. It threw me completely off, initially with its obviously slimmer body and finer fruit. It was possessed nowhere near the concentration or the extraction levels of the others and, along with entertaining lavender notes, there were touches of green and pepper.

It was pleasant enough, but nothing what I expected from a glorified Napa red. Two days before this night of Cali cults, I was already putting myself in the Cali state of mind, reminding myself that I wasn't going to be drinking Bordeaux, so I could appreciate the reds to the greatest extent.

This morning, I read the handout on it and discovered that this was a blend of 55% cabernet sauvignon and 45% cabernet franc. That explains it, so I wasn't imagining things. I thought I was already too palate-weary to taste properly. In all, though, it wasn't one of my favorite wines of the evening. Jorge A did draw a lot of laughs, though, when he jokingly commented that it was pretty good for a Mexican wine. ¡Viva Mexico!

1994 Bryant Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon - I had this late last year at a similar dinner and loved it then. I also had the '93 I think from the same source. Both times, they were my favorite Cali reds of the night. Tonight was no different. My old notes on the '94 state:

1994 Bryant Family Cabernet Sauvignon - Sweet camphor, cassis nose with a slight eucalyptus nuance. Full and a bit heavy on the palate but the flavors were light-footed and graceful. I could use the word elegant. I've tasted a
slightly older vintage of this, and I remember it to be quite similar. Although, personally, I generally find California cabernet sauvignons a bit too ripe and heavy-handed to drink alone, Bryant Family Vineyards makes two
of the most graceful ones I have ever tried.
I add now that it was more ethereal, "feminine" noted the Doc, than all the others that night. Similar to the Araujo, but with more violets, hint of lavender, more light-footed. Then, as now, my best Cali red of the night, and the Doc's wine of the night as well.

1996 Shafer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select - This bottle is still probably still deep in slumber. I couldn't coax it awake to reveal its charms though I swirled it ever so gently. I do not believe in violently swirling wines with even a little a bit of age on them and it always pains me to see it done to older Bordeaux and Burgundies - old wines deserve - and reward - more gentle handling and respect than that). It would be fine for sturdy, brash young wines to make them yield their youthfully tight aromas, but anything over 10 years old, moreso 20 and up, should be accorded a modicum of care.

The Shafer I found tight and stubborn; its finish a bit short and its medium-bodied, dominant, slightly herbaceous blackberry/black currant/violets and wood flavors diffuse. I think it needs a lot more time to come together and come around. That said, it is always good to get to try these wines at certain points, even if not at the optimum stage, to see how it will progress; and I am always thankful for the opportunity to do so.

2001 Sine Qua Non Mr K "The Nobleman" - Had this twice before from the Doc. It's Mrs. Doc's favorite dessert wine, so the Doc wisely keeps a bottle or two handy at home. I happen to think it tastes like a Tokaji Aszu (6 putts) because of its spicy, wild honey and candied apricot dominant flavors.

From the handouts, Parker says it looks like a TBA (i.e., Trockenbeerenauslese) - which is a very safe statement to make as the winery's consultant for its line of dessert wine was the late, great, virtually undisputed master of Austrian TBA, Alois Kracher (pronounced: Ah-loys Krah-kuh).

With a Budino of Philippine Cow's Milk and Chestnut Gelato, it cut through, enriched and brightened the dessert indulgently. I note the studied use of chestnut in this pairing as these types of wines really go well with the former. From Bernie S (who, unfortunately couldn't join us that evening), I learned through tasting that Selection Grains Nobles (the "botrytised" dessert wines from Alsace and Monbazillac) pair wonderfully with chestnut soufflé.

What a night, indeed. Friends, great conversation, excellent wine and food, what more can one reasonably ask for or want?

Many thanks, Gentleman Joe. Your dinners are always rare opportunities to both learn from and enjoy.

Friday, July 25, 2008

July 25 Lunch at Je Suis Gourmand: Couscous & Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

A few months ago, over a lunch at Aubergine with Robert Burroughes, Lawrie Martin brought a 1998 Château de Mont-Redon Châteauneuf-du-Pape which we didn't get to open. Thus, a suspended sentence was handed down that bottle, to be implemented with couscous during our next lunch. Ever since I followed the Stockbroker's recommendation to pair Southern Rhônes with couscous, I became fixated on having Châteauneuf-du-Papes with that dish.

After several attempts at scheduling, we finally got to it today at my favorite Je Suis Gourmand through the gracious indulgence of Marc Aubry who agreed to make couscous for us - and an excellent couscous it was, at that - but I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Lawrie expressly forbade me from bringing any wine as he said he and Robert would take care of it. I have materially cut down my drinking, and have limited it to only 2 non-successive wine meals per week due to hypertension issues (my wife made me do it), so I got a bit worried when I saw them arrive armed to the teeth. Fortunately, Mike Whiting was able to join us and help with the drinking load. Still, I was quite relieved when Robert suggested that a couple of their of bottles be left for another day.

Though couscous is quite a heavy meal in itself (at least in the quantity I eat it), we couldn't help but have a few appetizers before tearing into the main course. With Marc's ever-enjoyable escargot bourguignonne, terrine of foie gras and onion tart with Emmental cheese salad:

2003 Hardy's Sir James Pinot Noir Chardonnay - Our friend, James du Vivier, imports this fresh and lively Australian sparkler. I don't know the proportions of the grapes in this, but neither seems to dominate on the palate - there is the crisp, green apple, mere whisper of lime and tropical fruit notes (with a hint of leesiness) of chardonnay and the very subtle "milk-chocolatey" undertone of pinot noir.

I'd guess that the proportions of the two grapes are close to equal. If this was a Champagne, I'd say that the pinot noir was, at most, 1/3 of the cepage. Then, again, I could very easily be wrong as this is probably only the second or third Australian bubbly I have ever had in my life.

Bright and bushy-tailed, this is an exuberant and very approachable, if not complex, vintage bubbly that one could drink a lot of at the beach. Very nice with the onion tart and Emmental salad, it brightened the dish and refreshed the palate.

Then, the couscous came.

A large bowl of the mildly spicy light "soup" chock-full of chicken, meat and vegetables was set in our midst and we were served a plate each of couscous topped with a Megrez sausage and a rib of grilled lamb. I foolishly blurted out that I hoped we could ask for more of what was on our individual plates. I say "foolishly" because I really should have known better than to think Marc would ever let me go under-sated - for no sooner had I uttered those words, when a heaping serving platter of couscous, sausages and roast lamb chops, and a large gravy boat of the extra-spicy sauce landed in front of me. Manners to the wind, I tore into it with:

1998 Château de Mont-Redon Châteauneuf-du-Pape - Lawrie's bottle, as mentioned earlier, from one of the oldest (since the early 14th century) domaines with the largest estate of the appellation, with just under 100 hectares of vineyards. I understand that the average age of the vines is 40 years. The wine itself is from an excellent vintage for Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and is made up of grenache, syrah, mourvèdre and cinsault grapes.

Decanted for only around 20-25 minutes, this medium-bodied wine was wide-open and displayed a perfumed bouquet that called to mind dark cherries, raspberry, cranberry, sweetly toasty-spiced wood, dark violet flowers, lavender traces, black pepper, a slight whisper of reductiveness, all of which were seamlessly mirrored on the palate over earthy cassis and blackberry undertones. Good complexity.

Lots of bottle-age-sweetness and femininity to this. I think this wine (this particular bottle, anyway) is fully mature and at its prime; waiting much longer on this would not be wise. Light-footed, it glides on the palate. Definitely good typicity and, to my mind, in the more elegant, traditional, "old-school" style of the appellation. Not too many of those left these days.

For whatever it's worth, research shows that Tanzer bestowed this with a score of "92" and the Wine Spectator a "90".

- and -

2001 Caves Saint Pierre Châteauneuf-du-Pape "Preference" - Robert's bottle, from another excellent vintage for Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This wine played its cards closer to its chest, not nearly as open or generous with its aromas or flavors, but not at all stingy. Rather, it was a masculine, somber sort - one I had to actively engage in conversation with to appreciate fully.

Actively engage I did, and was rewarded with getting to know this heftier (stepping into the full side), earthier, warmer (I guess a higher alcohol content than the Mont-Redon), comparatively riper-fruited, more modern wine. Deep-veined, vaguely pruney darkly-spiced fruit, cassis and violets played a marginally bigger role in its flavors, but the dark cherry, kirsch, ripe raspberry and craisin were still at the forefront; its smoothness, harmony and good balance make this very easy to drink.

Happily, this wine is locally available at Terry's Selection for around P2200, which is good value for such a wine (Unit 2, Building B Karrivin Plaza, 2316 Pasong Tamo Extension, Makati, (632) 729 79-06/07 Lower Ground, The Podium, 18 ADB Avenue, Ortigas Center, (632) 638 57-25/26).

I gorged on the couscous in a major way...but that didn't stop me, intrepid glutton that I am, from having dessert. Since I knew we had a botrytis-touched dessert wine (these wines almost always have ripe, candied or dried apricot notes to them), I had an apricot crème brûlée with the:

2006 Nederburg Noble Late Harvest - Robert's bottle, the very first dessert wine from South Africa I have ever tried. Research shows that this is made up of chenin blanc (60%), riesling (27%) and muscat (13%). If there is one word I can use to sum up this dessert wine, it would have to be "racy".

Clean, fresh, floral and tangy/spicy lightly "botrytised" (as compared to the level of botrytis of dessert wines from Sauternes) and flavors of ripe (but not over-ripe) sweetened peach, white grape juice, apricot, melon. Crisp, palate- resuscitating acidic balance. The fruit is very pure and keen-edged.

With the conspicuous absence of the rich vanilla bean/oak notes of Sauternes and Barsac dessert wines I am familiar with, I was not surprised at all to read that this saw no oak-ageing.

Reminded me somewhat of the chenin blanc-based sweet whites of the Loire, but not as deeply-veined or complex. Quite charming, indeed.

A round of double espressos and complimentary glasses of Eau de Vie de Prune brought an end to a most enjoyable lunch. What a wonderful way to end a work week.

Many thanks, Robert and Lawrie.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Dinner, Saturday, 19 July 2008: 3 Premier Cru Burgundies.

Got home an hour and a half ago from Saturday dinner out at Je Suis Gourmand with my sons and nephew/godson. My wife had a migrane and, so, opted to stay home. Since only my eldest son, 15, drinks wine, and only a glass or two at the most, I brought only one bottle to go with the French moules de bouchot (I didn't know until this evening that these mussels actually have their own AOC) flown in by the chef, Marc Aubry, for tonight. Didn't bring my camera, so no photos this time.

2004 Domaine Laroche Chablis 1er Cru Fourchaume Vieilles Vignes - Nice enough, but not quite what I expected from a 1er cru chablis from 2004. I like my Chablis edgy, very stone-and-steel and minerally with virtually no detectable oak. My regular drinking buddies know this, and that I favor 1er crus (particularly Montmains and Montée de Tonnerre) over grand crus. I also particularly like 2004 Chablis since they are leaner and, to me, more traditional than several previous vintages. The fact that this one had Vieilles Vignes written on it, actually, made me think twice of the pairing (I find that old vine Chablis generally taste too fat for simply prepared moules), but, having no other more suitable Chablis on hand at the moment, I had no choice.

Long story short, this had good fruit, decent precision and purity, but was, surprisingly ripe and had too much vanilla underneath for the moules. It is a good enough wine, no doubt, for, maybe a butter-poached slipper lobster, but, for the moules, not a good match - even for the escargot and roast bone marrow. It went nicely, though, with the foie gras appetizer and my main course of the pasta trio of Chilean sea bass, seared scallops and prawns.

It's an eating Chablis, not really one I'd sip alone; but, with a relatively rich seafood dish to accompany it, it's good to go.

I got this from Bacchus Makati at a good price (I don't remember what it was though), but, hold your horses, I bought the last they had of the 2004. They have the 2005 version, though (which is also quite nice), for only P2500 per bottle - a good price for a heralded year, Premier Cru Chablis from a known maker.

IWFS president and good friend, Bernie Sim (and family), was also there for the moules (among others) and he graciously shared with me some glasses of:

1988 Marquis d'Angerville Volnay Clos des Ducs - This took around 25-30 minutes to release its bouquet of age, restrained as it was. Bernie noted that its fruit is already quite faded and was well into the disturbingly tartish zone. Only a grudging touch of compost and a whisper of the decayed violets I so love in aged red Burgs. I couldn't but agree with his assessment, so he poured a back-up of...

1990 Marquis d'Angerville Volnay Champans - Bernie reminded me that we had this from magnum around a year ago at a (virtually) all-Champagne dinner. Then, as now, I loved it.

Roasted-ripe, elixir of earthy, mildly spiced raspberries and other darkly red berries, rounded underbelly of soft-cooked red beet, mushrooms and a vague suggestion of dark, ripe plum, all elegantly infused with the hallmark aged Burgundy decay of old, pressed violets and hint of vegetative compost that comes from nowhere else. Medium-bodied with aspirations to fullness, gentle heft mid-mouth and oh-so suave. Memorable, probably could last a year or three more nicely, but I don't see why one should wait any more.

Drink up with roast pigeon and ceps. Maybe venison loin too.

Many thanks, Bernie. Much appreciated.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Flirting with the Green Fairy.

Absinthe, called "The Green Fairy", because of its vaguely luminous emerald hue and its reputed hallucinatory effect, is a potent distilled liquor of Swiss origin, the influence of which is said to have been instrumental in Hemingway's creating "For Whom the Bell Tolls". Among other notable writers and artists reputed to have gained inspiration from the Green Fairy (if not sought the same therefrom) are Baudelaire, Van Gogh and Manet.

Absinthe is typically around 120-150 proof (60%-75% alcohol) and primarily flavored with the herb named grande wormwood (artemisia absinthium) which contains the chemical, thujone. Anise, star anise and fennel, among others, are also used in this emerald liquor.

For various reasons, by the early 1900s, absinthe was banned in the US and most of Europe, though no study can clearly show it is more harmful than any other strong alcoholic drink. By the 1990s, the EU slowly began allowing production thereof. Thujone is considered toxic and the US FDA to this day does not allow it in any foodstuff.

There are, however, several "absinthes" sold (and even produced, I hear) in the US. These so-called "absinthes" are, for lack of a better term, "un-thujoned"; e.g., Ted Breaux, the producer of an "absinthe" called "Lucid" (which sells like hotcakes in the East Coast), admittedly manipulates the wormwood component to bring Lucid within FDA standards of acceptability. Breaux also admits to adjusting the traditionally pronounced anise flavor to cater to American palates.

Purists opine that this is not real, or, at the very least, not traditional or authentic absinthe, therefore. Case in point, aside from Lucid, Breaux also manufactures Verte Suisse 65, which is "unmanipulated", and, consequently, still illegal in the US. Lucid retails at around $60 per bottle, which is approximately a third of the price of Verte Suisse 65.

In mid-May this year, friends Rod and Debby Schiffman came over for a visit and bestowed upon me some special bottles of red wine and, as an added bonus, a bottle of Verte Suisse 65. Being much more familiar and experienced with absinthe than I, Rod lectured me about its origins, history and serving method.

As I understood, absinthe is traditionally diluted by adding cold water (from 3:1 to 5:1, depending on how strong you like it) poured over a sugar cube, through a slotted spoon. The non-soluble components of absinthe (i.e., anise, fennel and star anise) turn the mixture cloudy/milky white but with a telltale limpid green tinge.

Rod and I had a couple of glasses each of it after dinner in mid-May, no sugar cube for us, just 3:1 H2O dilution. The hit was long, liesurely and mellow, but, boy, did I have strange dreams that night - nothing unpleasant, but quite bizarre.

After another wine dinner at home later that month, with our wives, the Doc and Stockbroker, Rod demonstrated the traditional preparation under the Stockbroker's careful eye (there is a sugar cube on a fine mesh atop the recipient glass).

I had mine sans the sugar cube again. It tasted like an ultra-refined, smoother, deeper and much more complex pernod - but with the familiar anise theme notably more elegant, nowhere near as aggressive as in pernod, with fennel whispers flitting about.

Fine stuff, indeed. I must admit that I just love its mellow hit. Conversation took a silly turn thereafter. I recall the Stockbroker's comment to the effect that his teeth felt like they needn't be flossed for a week elicited a hysterical roar of laughter. My wife, obviously, liked its effects as much as I....

Monday, July 14, 2008

Some Locally Available Value Wines, Part II: Reds

Since I'm writing about value wines, my recommendations are limited to those that cost P3000 and below. There are many good wines locally available above that range and I will get to them in a subsequent post.

Please note that these are wines I have personally (and repeatedly) tasted. There are surely other value wines out there that I haven't tasted yet; just as there are many within the subject price range that I have tasted and not found to my personal liking. But that's just me. Again, your mileage may vary.

As stated in Part I, the asterisk indicates that prices may have changed since my last purchase.

nb: I've included the proper pronunciation of certain French names. No, I don't speak French, the most I can do is order food and wine at restaurants there and buy tobacco products for my nasty habit. I learned the pronunciations from books, travels and French friends. I decided to seriously learn the proper pronunciation when I was in Eguisheim, Alsace last year and told Marc Beyer of Domaine Léon Beyer that I was proceeding to Vosne Romanée (a town in the Côte de Nuits, Burgundy), pronouncing it how it was spelled. Marc looked confused and it took him a second or two to figure out I was going to "vohn roh-ma-nay". Whatever.

2001 Tenute Marchesi Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva &
2001 Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva (Tuscany) - These two are most probably the best deals one can get for good, solid, approachable Chianti Classico Riserva in the entire Philippines. 2001 was an excellent year for Tuscany and the maker is one of the most successful and famous in the area. Both are earthy, robust, complex; the former 90% sangiovese/10% cabernet sauvignon, the latter 100% sangiovese. Good to go, but gain in complexity with 45 minutes to an hour's decanting. The 2001 Badia a Passignano won convincingly in my regular drinking group's 2nd Blind Non-Bordeaux Competition. Available at Bacchus, Makati at P1700 and P2400 respectively*.

2003 Château St-Jacques (Bordeaux Supérieur) - Produced by Château Siran, from their Bordeaux Supérieur vineyards located adjacent to the grounds of the 17th century family manor, just across the road from their Margaux appellation vineyards. 2003 was a ripe vintage for Bordeaux and (together with 2000 and 2005) was one of the most celebrated vintages of the 21st century. It has been opined that 2003s drink earlier than 2000s and, definitely, 2005s. At its very reasonable price, and after 45 minutes to an hour's decanting, one can easily enjoy this big, ripe red Bordeaux with roast meat dishes at anytime. For whatever it's worth, the 2000 vintage of this wine completely sold out not long after it was tasted by the members of the International Wine & Food Society.

At its retail price, you can seriously back up the truck on this. Available at Premium Wine Exchange for P800.

2004 Domaine La Roubine Gigondas (Gigondas, Southern Rhône) - Nicely rounded mid-palate, somewhat lush, warm, earthy molten fruit and a touch of roasted herbs and meaty notes. A bit modern, but very accessible and immediately pleasing as a result. A good and affordable introduction to Gigondas (pronounced: zhee gon-dass). Available at Sommelier Selection for P1520*.

2001 E. Guigal Gigondas (Gigondas, Southern Rhône) - More rustic and, to me, typical of Gigondas. Very earthy, ruggedly masculine and challenging, this is probably more for those already a bit familiar with Gigondas. I, however, think it would be a great idea to try this side-by-side the above-mentioned Domaine La Roubine to see the contrasts in style and similarities from the terroir. Decant for an hour and enjoy with the thick, juicy steaks of Mamou (that's what I enjoy, anyway). Available at Bacchus Makati for P1800.

2005 Domaine Lapalu Brouilly La Croix des Rameaux (Beaujolais, Burgundy) - From Brouilly (broo-yee), the largest of the Beaujolais crus (boh-zhuh-lay). Typical of Beaujolais, this is made from gamay grapes. While I have never been a fan of Beaujolais in general, this was most likely because of my very limited exposure to the wines, certainly to the very good ones. Until Jérome Philippon made me try this over a wine lunch, I had never bought any myself. That changed after said lunch. Very friendly, approachable, fruity and easy to like, fresh, rounded, smooth, virtually no bitterness or astringency, I think this is a wine even non-wine drinkers would appreciate. Available at Sommelier Selection for P1830*.

1997 L. Jadot Morey St-Denis (MSD, Côte de Nuits, Burgundy) - Very decent negociant village Morey St-Denis (pronounced: maw-rey san duh-nee). I favor wines from Morey St-Denis (as typical of reds in Burgundy's famed Côte d'Or, 100% pinot noir) and am not aware of any other local shop that carries wine from there. 1997 was a ripe year for Burgundy, but a perceived lack of sufficient balancing acidity put into question its ability to age for very long. The quick solution? Elementary - drink it now. Natives of Burgundy are not fond of decanting, and I see no good reason to decant this barely medium-bodied, somewhat linear, tartish red cherry/raspberry/strawberry, old violet touched wine. Any aeration it may need may be done in one's glass. If you want an introductory taste of the Côte de Nuits reds from a local source, this is a good enough wine to start with. Available at Bacchus Makati for P2600*.


More to come....

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Some Notable, Good Value, Locally Available Wine, PART I: Whites and Rosés.

It struck me only today that most of my posts are on wines not locally available. A handful are, but they are scattered about my blog. I figured I'd write one piece just on them. Who knows? Something I write on this blog may actually be of some practical worth.

And since the idea of practicality comes up, I will limit the wines to those under P3000 per bottle. Those willing to regularly spend more than this on a bottle, in all likelihood, already know where to buy the wines they like anyway.

These are whites and rosés I have tried, liked and would buy again. Of course, everyone has their own preferences, so your mileage, as they say, may vary.

Disclosure: Yes, the owners of the shops I mention (well, most of them, anyway) are friends of mine. I assure you, however, that this doesn't affect my judgment. Like most of my regular drinking buddies, I purchase most of my wines abroad. Prices stated are as I remember them, an asterisk indicates that the stated price may have gone up recently.

In ascending order of prices:

Rosés: Not many in this country drink or are even aware of rosé. That is a pity as rosés, good rosés, are particularly well-suited for our tropical clime. They are versatile in food-pairing and fine for daytime drinking to boot. Rosés may have gotten a bad rap from all the crap marketed in the 70s-80s, but, believe me, there are good ones here and they are very affordable.

2007 Homenajes Rosado - This brilliant, lively, dry rosé presents fresh and well-focused, ripe wild strawberry, raspberry and cherry flavors on a plumpish body. Excellent with a lunch of assorted Tapas at Terry's Segundo Piso, or for casual enjoyment at home or at the beach. Made from grenache by Bodegas Marco Real, available at Terry's Makati for P390 per bottle.

2006 Celler Capçanes Mas Donis Rosat - Marginally drier and less ripe, this was a hit at the Manila Gentlemen's Club's Spanish Night last year paired with Tippi Tambunting's Seafood Fideos Paella. Available at Premium Wine Exchange for P525 per bottle.

2005 Rosé de Pavie Macquin - From the heralded, ripe 2005 vintage of Bordeaux - St-Emilion, to be exact. Ripe-red-fruited, lush, well-rounded feel, typical of the vintage. Available at Premium Wine Exchange for P650 per bottle.

Whites: For me, no dinner is complete without a white or bubbly, at the very least to start off with.

1999 Domaine Henri Bourgeois Sancerre "La Bourgeoise" - Excellent sauvignon blanc-based wine and reasonably-priced in terms of its quality. Those looking for an ultra-fresh, grassy, gooseberry/grapefruit forward sauvignon blanc had better stick to Marlborough, New Zealand sauvignon blancs as this is a totally 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 seafood dishes. Available at Bacchus Makati for under P1500*.

2002 Domaine Emilian Gillet Viré-Clessé - Light-footed, crisp, pure, mineral-infused, steely chardonnay with pronounced citrus notes. This is for chardonnay purists who eschew aggressive oak flavors. Great with simple, steamed and/or lightly-sauced seafood dishes. Available at Sommelier Selection for P1485 per bottle*.

2005 Domaine Robert Denogent Pouilly-fuissé "Les Reisses" - A medium-bodied, pure and clean chardonnay. More in body than the Viré-Clessé with more discreet minerality and citrus notes. Again, one for the chardonnay purists. Available at Sommelier Selection for P2095*.

2006 Domaine Laurent Tribut Chablis Premier Cru "Côtes de Lechet" - Another pure chardonnay by a well respected and traditional Chablis maker lately gaining recognition in the US market. Decant this premier cru for an hour on ice and see how it transforms expands and gains weight. Available at Sommelier Selection for P2100*.

2005 Cuvée du Vatican Châteauneuf-du-Pape Reserve Sixtine Blanc - One from Southern Rhône made up of grenache blanc, roussanne, clairette and bourboulenc grapes. White wine from this particular area, as well as from these grapes are, likely, unfamiliar to most.

Take it from me, though, they are more than worth a try. Decant it for 45 minutes keeping the decanter almost halfway submerged in iced water* and the wine will reveal its intriguingly complex, vaguely floral and waxy inner-self. There is definitely much more to white wine than chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, and this is a prime example. Available at Premium Wine Exchange for P2120 per bottle.

* Something I learned from Bernie Sim over a Burgundy lunch at Je Suis Gourmand a while back, it allows a white to breathe and open up while being kept at the proper serving temperature .

2002 Domaine Redde Pouilly-fumé "Cuvée Majorum" - Rich and luxurious, but precise and well-focused sauvignon blanc, a "higher-end" bottling by one of the most famous makers of Pouilly-fumé. Not cheap, but worth every peso. In the Loire region from where it hails, it is traditionally paired with goat cheese - an excellent match. Available at Sommelier Selection for P2920*.


It's getting late now and it's a working day tomorrow. To be continued....

Friday, July 11, 2008

11 July 08 Lunch at Old Manila.

The Stockbroker organized today's wine lunch at Old Manila with Bernie. The Doc, Johnny R and I joined in.

Old Manila's lunch buffet set-up was new to me, I had only been there for dinners the past several months. The buffet was pretty damn good for the price despite the barely competent soup and the usual, unexciting salad bar. What made it a good deal were the fresh, plump oysters (from Korea), superior cheese plate (which had, among others, reblochon - one of my favorites - as well as a good quince jelly/compote) and roast beef that can actually be served as rare as I like, as much as I'd like.

While one gets a lot more variety during lunch at the Tivoli (the appetizer buffet of which is much more varied and visually appealing), the business lunch doesn't include a cheese plate and you get only one serving of the main course, decently-sized as it is. Both lunches are great deals and the service at both establishments is proper and polished. Deciding between the two on any given day will have to depend on one's particular mood.

In any event, on to the wine.

To start things off with our appetizers (I loaded up on the fresh oysters for this):

Billecart-Salmon Cuvée Columbus 92 - A rare offering from Bernie, a blend of three vintages. Sparse, but ultra fine beading, this lemon-yellow/light golden bubbly had a bracing freshness, lively acidity, very clean feel, with surface notes of lemon/citrus/white minerals over a lean, subtly bready, vaguely yeasty stone fruit base.

This was linear in the way the '88 Dom Pérignon was many years ago. Taut mid-mouth, firm attack, doesn't expand much or become lush towards the back - it is a straightforward fellow, but allows the lemon/citrus notes dance a little while mid-mouth. Very proper and precise, if not notably complex.

The lemon/citrus/white minerality and lively acidity made an exceptionally good accompaniment with the oysters, the I went back for seconds just as an excuse to get another pour of this bubbly. The pairing was so good, I can't even remember what other appetizer I had.

The soup, as I mentioned, was less than impressive. With a nicely rare slice of roast beef (and excellent French fries), however:

1994 Château Montrose (2nd Growth, St-Estèphe) - From the Doc, the oldest and most pedigreed red of the lunch, which he decanted for an unspecified time before serving. Strangely enough, at the outset, it seemed more darkly spiced-fruit-forward, lusher and friendlier than a St-Estèphe, moreso a usually stern and challenging Montrose, had a right to be, especially considering the none-too-ripe 1994 vintage. It was actually very approachable.

By halfway through the meal, however, its true grit came out. "Lumabas ang katotohanan" 'ika nga. The mildly smoky, sweetish cedar surfaced, hovering above slightly camphor-laced, mildly earthy cassis, dark plum underbelly, subtle touches of leather and tobacco, and the merest hint of licorice. Slightly more than medium-bodied, it had taken on a sternly intellectual and austere character. This is classic Montrose I know and enjoy. It was comfortingly familiar so I savored this one and made it last until way past the end of my first helping of beef, choosing to eat more with the other wines.

2002 Château Pontet Canet (5th Growth, Pauillac) - from the Stockbroker. Johnny R accurately noted that this heralded upstart had an international/modern slant to it. It smelled riper and more open than an I expected an almost-6-year-old classified Pauillac would ( though I do know, however, that '02s are supposed to be comparatively young drinkers - a vintage characteristic).

On the palate, it was noticeably heftier, rounder and more extracted than the Montrose, with a pronounced middle of dense, sweetish blackcurrant, cassis, licorice. Towards the back, a whisper of toffee surfaces. Impressive for an '02, definitely, but I find it a bit contrived. I'm sure it will surely please many, though, and, at its price, a superb deal for lunch wine or no-occasion dinners.

2001 Les Forts de Latour (the 2nd Wine of Château Latour, 1st Growth, Pauillac) - My bottle, decanted for around 35-45 minutes before serving. Forgive me, but I can't help but keep crowing about how I bought a case-and-a-half of this around 3½ years ago at a mere $37 per bottle. Now, unless you buy it by the case at almost double the price from Corporate Wines, the price for this begins at $130 per bottle and upwards.

This was the only legitimately full-bodied wine, expansive, broad, generous on the palate and confident in its hefty molten black fruit, cassis, leather, tobacco, cedar, touch of asphalt, hint of cigar box. Mouth-filling, smooth, very masculine, if not exceedingly complex or intellectual. At my acquisition cost, a steal.

2000 Carruades de Lafite (the 2nd Wine of Château Lafite Rothschild, 1st Growth, Pauillac) - From Bernie. This one took the longest to open up, as I recall. Notably lighter-footed and less in heft than the Les Forts and, marginally, the Pontet Canet. It wasn't as ripe or concentrated as I expected from a 2000 vintage Pauillac (but those are high expectations, indeed, given the pedigree and vintage). Somehow, I felt it wasn't in a stage yet where it had already pulled itself together as I noted gaps between the layers and dark fruit. Though pleasant enough, I reserve judgment until I try another bottle of this.

Since we were only 5, and 5 bottles had already been opened and poured (considering this was only lunch), we prevailed on Bernie to save his 1986 Mouton Rothschild, and, Johnny, his 2000 Clos du Marquis for another day.

A picture of some of the bottles at lunch. Unfortunately, I forgot to line up the Doc's '94 Montrose for it.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Wine + Food + Friend = Memorable Dinner

It's as simple as that.

Conversation flows freely, hours pass unnoticed, yet every detail of the evening lasts and lasts.

July 4th, 2008 at the Tivoli, my wife and I were the guests of our good friend, Bernd Schulze Khöeling. Everybody currently seems to be busier. Well, it feels like I am, anyway.

I don't get to see Bernd much these days, aside from greeting each other as our flights pass during regular Saturday golf and the occasional IWFS dinner. So when Bernd insisted on taking my wife and I to dinner, how could I refuse?

At Bernd's request, a special menu was created and executed for us by visiting Chef Paul Anthony Quarchioni, who has worked in several Michelin-star restaurants including, among others, Le Côte St-Jacques in Joigny (***) and La Tante Clair in London (**) . He was formerly Chef de Cuisine of Le Normandie in the Oriental Hotel Bangkok, a restaurant I have had the pleasure of dining in several years ago. The wines were tested, decanted and served personally by the impeccable Stephan Wieprich.

With the amuse bouche and Oyster Shots:

1993 Dom Ruinart Champagne - a vintage grand cru blanc de blanc (i.e., 100% chardonnay), I wouldn't expect anything less from Bernd - avid champagne lover that he is. I recall my first taste of '88 Krug came from bottles of his at a Latour vertical.

Because I've been drinking '96 bubblies as of late, my mind had to snap back to a '93 Pol Roger Blanc de Chardonnay I brought and enjoyed with the Doc, Stockbroker and our wives at Lili around 2½ years ago.

Pol Roger Blanc de Chardonnay Champagne 1993 - Superior, clean, well-focused
white fruit, demure yeast notes. Even better after the bottle sat in shaved ice
for an hour - its bouquet opened up with generous toast/brioche which followed,
though more discreetly, on the palate. Nice, bracingly dry champagne. Picked
this up for slightly over $60. Great considering its moderate price for a
vintage champagne.

The '93 Dom Ruinart, in comparison, was more streamlined, not as flagrantly toasty, and purer in apple/white fruit than the '93 Pol Roger Blanc. In addition, the former had a more of a crisp, lively, somewhat "flinty/steely" feel to it, much finer more persistent mousse, as well as alluringly playful almond (in the bouquet) and citrus notes not apparent in the former. The Ruinart also retained its focus over time, keeping its biscuity notes demure, whereas the latter seemed to "let go" after a while and give into its (overly) flamboyant, toasty inner-self.

The Ruinart's purity, apple/white fruit base, citrus highlights and flinty/steely nuances (a bubbly Chablis?) made it a sublime (though unsurprising) match with the fresh oysters. I did not venture trying the bubbly with the shooters though, as I feared the accompanying spirits would ruin the fine bubbly.

Next was a dish of Nougat with Savory Apricot Chutney and Toasted Fig Bread with:

1991 Coopers Creek, Hawkes Bay Late Harvest Riesling - Please note that the color of the wine was nowhere near that dark or dense, it was amber-gold with the slightest, light red-orange blush - I screwed up the colors of the wine when I fiddled with the picture in an attempt to make the food clearer.

So much for my feeble attempts at being artistic.

This wine was already tiring, with faint but telltale sherryish oxidation just starting to creep in quietly within its mildly honeyed apricot and peach liqueur flavors. I didn't mind the sherry nuances at all. I actually thought it added a bit of sad romance to the pairing.

I recalled instantly the venerable JC de Terry pairing a foie gras dish with a mildly sweetish Spanish sherry a few years ago, and I thought the pairing well-thought and natural - typical of JC to present something new (to me anyway) and, yet make it feel like something whistfully familiar.

This was followed by a Scallop and Cep Cappuccino with Forest Mushrooms which was intended for:

1992 Château La Fleur-Pétrus - I think this bottle from Pomerol was mildly tainted with TCA (i.e., 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole) - mildly "corked" - I say "mildly" because it did not exhibit any musty or "old cardboard" notes; rather, it seemed like the fruit and push were being masked/bound/held back by some invisible force that smelled vaguely of tin and plastic.

One could just catch a fleeting glimpse of what the wine could be or have been beneath that invisible ceiling, so I asked that the wine be set aside for later and proceeded to enjoy the dish.

The wine eventually opened up , but much more in the mouth than in the nose. By the time I had forayed into the next course, the wine's medium-bodied, earthy, broodingly dark plum/black fruit/dark cherry/black coffee/anise/vanilla-oak flavors had gained marginal breadth and power, but it could simply not fully break free of its spell of binding.

In the meantime, however, Bernd, always prepared, had opened a back-up bottle of 1993 Château Batailley which we quickly switched to, to accompany the earthy, mushroom-and-cream-enriched shellfish dish.

Though many may wonder at pairing a 5th Growth Pauillac (or a Pomerol, for that matter) with scallop, the key to the pairing here was the sauce. Scallop, to begin with has a distinct and persistent flavor, made more robust by pan-searing. In addition, the richly flavored and earthy Cep "Cappuccino" was not over-powering.

Together, they played nicely enough with this rustically charming, medium-bodied wine's simple, straightforward slightly unripe/vegetal, linear blackcurrant, pencil shavings, asphalt and vaguely smoky cedar - the caramelization of the seared scallops adding just a hint of savory/sweetness to the mix.

Yes, you can serve red with shellfish, for so long as the red is not a powerful one, which '93s, such as this, are generally not.

We continued with the Batailley to pair with the succulently tender Roasted Lamb Fillet, Braised Lamb Shoulder Samosa, Tomato Compote and Celery Purée, side by side with:

1993 Château Palmer - this 3rd Growth is generally recognized as over-performing and second only to 1st Growth Château Margaux in the Margaux appellation. At times, it is even said that the masculine Palmer closely rivals or even surpasses its more feminine and higher-born cousin.

This '93 was in fine shape and, to Bernd and I, the obvious wine of the night. I must admit, though from an "off-year", the Batailley and Palmer showed nicely - not over-ripe, over-extracted, over-oaked, over-manipulated or spoofulated so-called "modern" or "international" style that do perform well at blind tastings, but could do better in the realm of food-pairing (my own not-so-humble opinion, of course).

Speaking of food-pairing, from the picture on the right, I obviously enjoyed this wine with the lamb, judging from the serious damage I had already dealt them by the time I remembered to take a picture for my blog.

Though, due to the vintage, this wine did not possess the typical masculine Palmer muscle, push, heft or density, it was definitely no push-over. Hey, I outweigh Manny Pacquiao by about 17-20 pounds and I definitely wouldn't want to tangle with him. Mid-weight, smooth and supple, its mildly earthy cassis and cedar with finely-woven undertones of dark plum and violets didn't jump out at one like, say, the '99 would; rather, it lay back and allowed you to slowly explore its charms. At the same time, it allowed the food center stage, which, I feel, is important with food of this caliber.

At this point, a sorbet du jour was served, and, sensing a slow down in consumption pace, Bernd timely advised the staff to take its time with the next dish. This is a mark of a good host - sensitive to the peristaltic well-being of his guests.

I took this opportunity to grab a much needed cigarette break, and, thereafter, take a quick snapshot or two of my wife with Bernd.

It's such a pity Bernd's charming wife, Tina, is in their home in Germany. Though the evening was great fun as it was, it would have been even better if she were with us.

After trading a few stories about our children, Bernd gave his go-ahead for yet another course to be served: Roast Bresse Pigeon with Truffle Foie Gras Sauce. Though I loved the lamb, this was superlative, indeed. Those precious few who frequent my blog know that my favorite dish is roast pigeon - I pair it with reds from Bordeaux, Rhône, Burgundy, yes, Califoirnia, and, even once, a pinot noir from Alsace while in Riquewihr (ok, so that one wasn't a good idea, but I just had to try it - when in Rome and all...). Thus, having a roast pigeon dish (the pigeon flown in from Bresse, no less, that appellation of the legendary blue-footed chickens) was, indeed, a delightful surprise.

We segued into this dish with the '93 Château Palmer. I noted that the slightly gamey, robust, rustically honest pigeon, together with its rich (though not over-bearing) truffle-laced foie gras sauce seemed to lend the wine added weight, depth, and, well, "meatiness" - the truffle notes giving the Palmer added depth. This was most entertaining to me as I usually experience the wine influencing the food more than the other way around. Nicely done! If this was intentional on the chef's part, someone should give him a medal.

I enjoyed it so much, I totally forgot to take a picture of it. When I remembered, only unsightly bones were left, and, believe me, you wouldn't want to see that.

Thereafter, we were a bit hestitant to open yet another bottle, but were convinced by Stephan's gentle reassurance that it would be worth it. With an attractive plate of various cheeses, grapes and fruit compote:

2003 Weisser Schilfmandl Muskat Ottonel Schilfwein - Fresh, spiced, intense, pungent, floral, vanilla-honey-and-ultra-ripe-melon-infused white grape juice; balanced off with a healthy acidity. This sweet Austrian wine is absolutely new to me. Not thick, viscous or botrytis-rich as a Sauternes or even a lighter Barsac. Its substantially lighter style and body reminds me more of the Kracher Auslese Cuvée I had at an IWFS Austrian function late last May - but with very different fruit profiles, of course. This, aside from its dominant white grapiness, was definitely on the tropical side. Lively, it kicks up its heels.

The idea of sweet fruit interplay with the saltiness of bleu cheese is nothing novel, though; but the added freshness certainly was. Nice match, I liked it and the wine's liveliness certainly cleansed and rejuvenated the weary palate after such a feast.

The meal was ended on a further light note with a delicious Strawberry Soup with Whole Milk Ice Cream. Sounds a bit strange, but, believe me, you want to try this after such over-indulgence. My poor camera and pseudo-artistic skills simply do no justice to the dessert.

Many thanks, Bernd, and to Stephan and the chef as well. It was a magnificent meal, one we will always remember.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Stockbroker's Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Vertical.

3rd July 2008 at Sala, dinner and wine for 9.

Hot on the tail of the '96 top Médoc event the Stockbroker organized, he hosted all the wine for a dinner featuring a vertical tasting of Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Réservé.

I am only a tiny bit familiar with this château, having tried only a very few vintages before, mainly from the Doc and other friends. I am, by no stretch of imagination, as knowledgable as the other participants as regards Rhône wines. What little I know is that:

Château Rayas is legend in southern Rhône, specifically, in Châteauneuf-du-Pape ("CdP" for brevity), where it is reputedly without peer. The Réservé line is, I understand, the château's top bottling.

Unlike most wines from CdP that use mainly, in descending proportions, grenache noir, syrah and mourvèdre (there are actually 13 allowable grape varieties in the CdP AOC, others being cinsaut, clairette, grenache blanc, roussanne and bourboulenc), Rayas uses virtually 100% grenache in its wines. In addition, it is distinguished by the absence in its vineyards of the layer of stones/pebbles called "galets".

I understand that in Bordeaux (north-west of the Rhône), the stones in the vineyards help ripening in that they retain the sun's warmth. I suppose, then, someone correct me if I am mistaken, that Rayas' owner/management does not see the need for this retained heat. Perhaps it is because they think it is already warm enough in Rayas' particular area of the southern Rhône Valley.

In any event, we taste what's in the glass, don't we?

The Cast:

The Stockbroker
The Doc, Monty, Jay, Dapper D, Vancouver Vince
El Joven, Eric R. and Myself

The Menu:

Blue Swimmer Crab Salad with tomatoes, leaves and saffron aïoli

Porcini-Seared Grouper Fillet with leek and pancetta risotto

Roast Duck Breast with cauliflower flan, braised lentils and fine beans

Blue Cheese, Medjool Dates and Sala's own "Very Fruity Bread"

Lemon Brûlée Tart with vanilla seed ice cream and fresh strawberries

The Wines:

Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Réservé

1st Flight: 1992, 1994, 1996, 2002

2nd Flight: 2001, 1998, 1999, 1985

First Flight

1992 - Delicate body, sweetish hints of tea leaves developed later, old dark flowers, dried herbs (thyme is there), fine Spanish cedar. There is a discreetly pervasive suggestion of vegetative decay to whatever red berry-fruit is left that lends an air of nostalgia and whistfulness to the wine. Those looking for a big, boned, massively fruited wine had best look elsewhere. This is a barely medium-bodied at this point with cranberry notes atop a nicely rounded, darkly ripe red fruit underbelly. There is a bit of sharpness/tartness in the finish but soothed somewhat by nuances of lavender and violets.

Myself? I love old wines and, ironically, enjoy it when, due to the melding of flavors over time, I cannot find the words to break down the fruit flavors. This was my 1st Wine of the Flight, and 4th Wine of the Night.

1994 - Marginally fuller than the '92 with cranberry/raspberry over a mild ripe blackcurrant/cassis base. There are also nuances of old violets and decay in this but less pronounced than in the '92. The base fruit is not as nicely rounded. Finish a bit short.

Though this had comparatively more in body an ripeness than the '92, with fruit not nearly as tired, the '94, though competent, does not show as much character to me. It was my 4th Wine of the Flight, and 7th Wine of the Night.

1996 - Sweetish Spanish cedar over strawberry/cranberry/raspberry (in that order) with hints of dark chocolate slightly past mid-mouth and onward. Obviously more heat, heft and power than the first two wines with a better presence in the middle to boot. Masculine, confident, more accessible/user-friendly. The finish, though starts off with the confidence of the middle, puts on the brakes abruptly - abandoning the palate halfway down.

My 2nd Wine of the Flight, and 5th Wine of the Night.

2002 - The Doc and Eric R. told me that 2002 was generally supposed to be a vintage to actively avoid for Rhônes, though they liked this particular one, especially at its very affordable price (such price attributable to critics' disappointment with the vintage in general, most likely). With that in mind, I tried my best to be objective (I always do anyway, that's why I always prefer tasting blind).

Eucalyptus, thyme, cedar and lots of minerality in the nose. On the palate, mouth coating (but not heavy) and a bit of a medicinal theme to a comparatively (with the above) dark fruit-dominated character. There is a bit of tea leaf as well, but more discreet than in the '92. Suave mid-mouth and in the finish. I marked this my 3rd Wine of the Flight, and as my 6th Wine of the Night.

Second Flight

2001 - Whisper of iodine in the nose. Hot, racy but clean/pure fruit. great backbone. Penetrating flavors, lots of violets, dark fruit forward with cassis, slight kirsch. Full and confident. Exceptional push on the palate. My 3rd Wine of the Flight, and 3rd Wine of the Night.

1999 - Hints of crushed bugs in the nose, more of a lighter violet-infused style like the '92 but doesn't pull it off well. Diffuse, not expressive. My 4th Wine of the Flight, and tied with 1994 as 7th Wine of the Night.

1998 - Rich, ripe, minerally nose, dried thyme, hints of rosemary and anise, a touch medicinal, marginally less weight than the 2001 but livelier and firmer structure. My 2nd Wine of the Flight and 2nd Wine of the Night.

1985 - Youthfulness of bouquet belies its age. Still full and lively on the palate. Lighter in body than the 2001 and 1998, but richer in flavor. Very clean and precise, expressive with a long, definitive finish of plum, craisins and violets. Easily the 1st Wine of the Flight, and 1st Wine of the Night.

Summary of My Own Ranking:
  1. 1985 (I believe we were pretty much unanimous in this choice)
  2. 1998
  3. 2001
  4. 1992
  5. 1996
  6. 2002
  7. 1999 and 1994

As if these were not enough, the Stockbroker rounded off the dinner with generous pours of 1986 Château Climens - Though Barsac wines are not generally as rich and full as those from neighboring Sauternes, they seem, however, to be, more exuberant, racier and have more uplifting acidity. Climens, in my experience, is marked with more heft, breadth, extraction, complexity and expansiveness than other Barsacs - certainly much more than its neighboring châteaux, Caillou (to the north) and Doisy-Daëne (to the east); it is more like Doisy-Védrines (east-southeast) in terms of ripeness and extraction, but Climens' wines are more focused, complex and refined.

The 1986 affirms these general impressions: accented with lots of spicy, tangy botrytis, it is virtually full-bodied, expansively displaying perfumed layers of candied apricot, orange rind, crème brûlée, orange marmalade and vanilla. Pronounced middle, long finish, good balance. This is definitely the most opulent Barsac I've ever tried.

Many thanks, buddy. A rare and generous treat indeed.