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.