Friday, August 29, 2008

International Wine & Food Society (Philippine Branch) Alsace Dinner at Je Suis Gourmand.

Sometime late this past April, IWFS director, Oscar Ong, asked if I could help out with the Society's August function, and, of course, I said yes. Being somewhat familiar with Alsace cuisine and wine, I suggested that the same be the theme for that night; and, contacted Chef Marc Aubry of Je Suis Gourmand for the reservation and the menu. I discussed the same with Marc a couple of times and with El Presidente, Bernie Sim, as well.

As I was not available for the requisite menu and wine tasting lunch prior to the dinner, Bernie, Bill Stone and Othmar Ober took care of that with Jérome Philippon joining them. Several bottles from different makers were tasted and compared (what a tough job!) and the final pairings decided upon. Chosen were 3 wines from Domaine Bott-Geyl to be supplied by the official Philippine distributor, Sommelier Selection (of Jérome), while the 2 from Domaine Ostertag were from Bernie's personal cellar (so, alas, they are not locally available).

I wrote about meeting Bott-Geyl's winemaker, Valerie Bott-Cartier, and tasting some of her wines a while back. You can read about this bio-dynamic domaine and its organically made, unmanipulated and natural wines by clicking here and here.

Menu and Pairing Wines

Assorted Pass-Arounds
2005 Bott-Geyl Les Pinots d'Alsace Metiss

Flammenkueche (Flamed Alsacienne Tart)
2006 Bott-Geyl Riesling Les Elements

Cream of Frogs' Legs and Watercress Soup

Roasted Goose Leg with Braised Choucroute & Smoked Sausage
2001 André Ostertag Riesling Cuvée Clos Mathis

Munster Cheese Tart with Salad
2006 Bott-Geyl Gewürztraminer Les Elements

Plum Tart Marinated with Kirsch
1989 André Ostertag Gewürztraminer Fronholz
Sélection de Grains Nobles

The appointed date, 21 August 2008, cocktails started at around 7pm at the bar area with several appetizers involving a variety of cheeses, hams, mini quiches, gherkins, etc. and, of course, Marc's own terrine of foie gras. I'm glad Bernie and Marc found a way to insert foie gras into the menu as Alsace is a big producer of the delicious fatty liver - an Alsatian meal wouldn't be complete without a bit of foie. With all these, we sipped on:

2005 Bott-Geyl Les Pinots d'Alsace Metiss - As I understand from Jérome, this is a blend of pinot blanc, pinot noir, pinot gris and auxerrois (not to be confused with the auxerrois of Cahors which is what they call the malbec grape there).

A fresh, mild, charming, simple and straightforward wine exhibiting mild and ripe, user-friendly yet difficult-to-describe soft, pillowy fruity flavors with light touches of tropical sweetish-ripeness, faint hints of flowers and spice and underlying nuances of almonds. Cool and supple in the mouth, it is very easy to drink.

It went very nicely with the terrine of foie gras en croute. We all, thereafter, trooped to the function room for dinner proper at around 7:45; and none too soon, I might add. There were so many delectable pass-arounds, it would have been all too easy to get full and ruin our appetites.

~ With the Flammenkueche ~

2006 Bott-Geyl Gewürztraminer Les Elements - This wine was supposed to have been served with the munster cheese tart with salad, but, somehow, the it was served with the flammenkueche - Rene Fuentes - he of the basso profundo - made sure everyone caught the vinous faux pas. The dish, also known as "tarte flambée", is, simplistically, like a thin-crust pizza without tomato sauce, topped with various ingredients, but, traditionally, these ingredients are crème fraîche, fromage blanc (a soft, fresh cream cheese that looks like sour cream), onions and lardons (bacon that is diced, blanched and fried).

This is a very typical dish in Alsace - you couldn't swing a cat around anywhere in Strasbourg without its claws catching a slice of this.

This gewürz was my favorite wine of Bott-Geyl that night: clean, sweetly fresh flowers, rose petals, spiced lychee and peach in the nose, mirrored in the mouth in a lively, exuberant, racy, slightly-less-than-medium body with good acidic lift and discreet underlying minerality. Light on its feet, it danced on my palate. It is a pity that so few in this country bother to try to get to know the joys of Alsace gewürztraminers. This one was so very pure and clean. Precisely balanced, excellent wine, and, at its very reasonable price of P1635 per bottle, a definite buy - chill well and enjoy with Marc's terrine of foie gras.

Despite the mix-up in service, I found that the wine matched well with the flammenkueche - its ripely sweetish lychee and peach a nice foil to the salty lardons, its fresh, racy lift reviving the palate of the richness of the fromage blanc and crême fraîche.

After the hearty Cream of Frogs' Legs and Watercress Soup,
with the Roasted Goose Leg and Braised Choucroute
& Smoked Sausage:

2001 André Ostertag Riesling Cuvée Clos Mathis - Decanted and kept chilled for over an hour before serving to allow it to fully open and be at its best when served, said Bernie, relating to me how this wine just kept better and better during the tasting lunch's span (the one that I missed - sure, sure, make me jealous).

This was a wine of both depth and finesse. Quite dry (that's the way rieslings should be, to my mind, unless they are SGN), minerally, clean lines, with nuances of orange rind, white peach, mild citrus. Its petrol notes in perfect harmony - never obtrusive, easing in gently a little past mid-mouth and on to the finish. Extremely well-knit and complex - one could alternate between luxuriating in its flavors/texture and pondering its complexity. Another with precise balance. Excellent by itself, excellent as a match. Bernie had been buying their wines (another biodynamic maker) since the late '80s or early '90s, if I'm not mistaken. I can see why.

Almost impossible to find this these days, even in the US. Only the 2004 version is somewhat readily available. I came across one source in the UK selling the 2001 at around £16 per bottle excluding UK VAT, shipping, handling, etc.

~ With the Munster Cheese Tart and Salad ~

2006 Bott-Geyl Riesling Les Elements - Served in switched position with the gewürz. Young, a bit tight and linear, it is fresh and well focused, its minerality and acid holding sway at this point. This is a good entry-level riesling: lean, dry, straightforward, traditional and food-friendly - but needs more time, in my opinion, to flesh out and put on a bit of weight. Though I enjoyed it well enough and would certainly buy it at its reasonable price (to bring to People's Palace, for example), it should not have been served right after the mature, higher-end bottling line of Ostertag.

I noted that Bott-Geyl appears to have a new, more modern and attractive label on its '06s. Nice touch.

~ With the Plum Tart Marinated in Kirsch ~

1989 André Ostertag Gewürztraminer Fronholz Sélection de Grains Nobles - the phrase "Sélection de Grains Nobles" (SGN) is a term used in Alsace and Monbazillac (and perhaps elsewhere in France, I don't know) indicating that the grapes were heavily subjected to botrytis cinerea (much more than vendanges tardives) to shrivel them and concentrate their natural sugars. The same process yields the better known sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac (which use semillon, sauvignon blanc and, to a much lesser extent, muscadelle grapes).

Viscous yet fine tangy candied apricot, lychee, spice and wild honey with hints of honeysuckle and vanilla. Nicely balanced by acidity to give lift and keep it from being cloying. There was, indeed, the faintest hint of oxidation and signs of fatigue that Bernie and I noted earlier in the evening when we tested it. He opined that he should not have waited so long on these bottles. I agreed, but added that I, personally, do not at all mind the slight hint of decline in wines (within bounds of reason, of course) as it brings to me a touch of wistfulness, nostalgia, a sort of sad romance.

My glass was drained and I asked for more. As we lawyers say (and there always seems to be so many of us at wine functions for some reason): res ipsa loquitur. Unfortunately, though, there was none left for a second pour.

Dinner done, we accorded Marc and his staff the proper thanks and respect, and wound down with espressos, glasses of kirsch and, for some, cigars. It was an incredibly busy evening at Gourmand - the place was absolutely packed, and it wasn't just us, I saw several friends there including steak tartare addict Miguel at one table and my youngest sister on a date at another.

It is a credit to the chef and staff that things went so smoothly, all things considered. Marc, surely now tired but at ease, joined us in celebratory glasses of much-needed digestif. I had a great time.

Thanks to Jérome for supplying the pictures as I forgot to bring my camera that night.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

3 Good Value Red Bordeaux.

Just a few quick notes on what I consider good value Bordeaux. This past Friday (22 August 2008), dinner at Je Suis Gourmand hosted by Santi A., I had a great cacciucco (specially made by Marc, I hope he puts it on the menu) and goose leg confit with ceps ( great match with Bordeaux reds), the latter paired with:

1999 Grand Puy Lacoste (5th Growth, Pauillac) - My bottle. Decanted for around 45 minutes to an hour beforehand. Very typical and expressive of Pauillac in nose and flavors of graphite, cedar, blackcurrant, cassis, slight touch of roasted herbs, etc. Nice medium weight mid-palate, good texture and concentration (given the vintage), notably expansive mid-mouth. Quite earthy. Moderate complexity, slightly above-average depth but superior balance. Good finish.

A comfort wine, familiar and very Pauillac. At the $40+-$50 per bottle price range in, one would be hard-pressed to get a better Pauillac that's already drinking well already.

2003 Paveil de Luze (Cru Bourgeois, Margaux) - The Vigneron's bottle from Frédéric de Luze's stable. Popped and poured - no decanting. Another wine with good typicity despite the roasted-ripe vintage. At any price bracket, it matters a lot to me that a wine expresses its origins. This one does. An unpretentious, somewhat straightforward Margaux with smooth texture to its ripe dark cherries, touch of raspberry over mildly spiced, earthy cassis, hints of leather and pine and readily apparent wood (it is still quite young after all). A shade over medium-bodied. At under $25 per bottle in the US, it's something one could pop open anytime for no occasion and enjoy over dinners at home.

1997 Langoa Barton (3rd Growth, St-Julien) - Santi's bottle, decanted for barely 15 minutes before pouring. Ready, accessible and very easy to drink. Also medium-bodied - comparatively the lightest on the palate of the night's wines. Very decent considering the vintage. Enjoyable, charming, understated earthy cassis, herbs (dried thyme in there somewhere?), mere hint of licorice, cedar...not at all a bad price for a mature 3rd growth St-Julien at around $40. Drink up now and very soon.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Tuesday Dinner at La Regalade.

This past Tuesday (19th August 2008), the Doc proposed an impromptu dinner at La Regalade with our wives. Since we were already at the office, going all the way back home to pick up some bottles and returning to Makati for dinner was not doable, so both the wines that evening were the Doc's.

Regalade is, as many already know, the newest French bistro in Makati - a branch of a similarly named restaurant in Vancouver owned and run by a French chef who has at least a couple of Michelin stars under his belt. For a bistro, it's quite large and the interiors pretty sleek compared to those in France, even Paris. I do like restaurants where I can look into the kitchen while dining though.

The bar was certainly nice as well. Hardly surprising, though, since I understand Tonyboy Cojuangco is one of the major owners - capital could hardly be an issue.

In any event, the menu was typical for a standard French bistro. With 3 appetizers: the parmesan tart, seared foie gras and pork rillette, a bottle of:

2001 Domaine Weinbach Cuvée St. Catherine Riesling Schlossberg (Alsace Grand Cru) - the last time I had this was also from the Doc during a dinner at Lili on the 24th March 2007. My old notes from that dinner state:

From the Doc,
Chinese dinner 24th March. Uplifting, clean, cool bouquet of peach, sweet/ripe
lemon, small white flowers, touches of honey, vanilla and, trailing, faint, yet
unmistakable, petrol notes. The flavors, crisp, bright and fairly focused,
mirrored the bouquet, the petrol comparatively more pronounced, the middle
dominated by the sweet peach and ripe lemon. Unquestionably the biggest riesling
I have ever tasted (in my admittedly meager experience with rieslings) Certainly
a joy to drink, which I did unashamedly until the bottle was empty. I wonder
what this would be like in 4-5 years....

This was quite a treat - not only because I get to see how it has evolved over near 1-½ years - but also because, after an eating/tasting sojourn in Alsace last September (which included one in Domaine Faller, the makers of Weinbach), I have since gained much more experience with the wines of said area.

That said, however, my old notes above-quoted are still pretty much consistent. All I can add now is that the complex flavors are marked by added harmony and precise balance - not a mean feat considering its richness. Definitely still feminine and luxurious on the palate, but, now, a touch more understated. The wine has gained a bit of weight and the petrol notes are more apparent now, but still well within balance. Unsurprisingly, it paired best with the foie gras.

Excellent wine. Loved it then, love it now.

With 4 main courses, i.e., 2 orders of the rib-eye (medium-rare for Mrs. Doc, the other rare for me), pasta for the Doc and lamb stew for my wife:

1995 Château Montus Cuvée Prestige (Madiran) - From Madiran in Southwest France, this is made up exclusively of tannat. This wine, typical of the reds from this area, is darkly intense (as you can easily in the picture), masculine and robust, with smoothly rolling muscle underneath earthy leather, dense, brambly dark fruit/blackberry, licorice, cedar and touch of violets and a dose of pepper (more in the bouquet - which subsided with aeration) and well-integrated woodiness.

The Doc had decanted it when my wife and I arrived and didn't tell me what it was. A quick sniff in the decanter yielded a blast of pepper and cedar over the fruit so I thought it to be a Rhône. By the time my steak arrived, I took my first sip and pronounced it to be a Madiran.

These wines don't fool around. They'd probably whack you on the head if you look at them the wrong way. I usually describe these wines, as well as the reds of Cahors, as "wines that put hair on one's chest". Massively tannic, but, in this case, the tannins were so smooth - one could say "molten". Great depth, superior balance and a kilometric finish.

Despite its apparent oversupply of testosterone, however, the wine was smooth mid-palate, albeit clearly concentrated and viscous. I believe this could probably hold its plateau for another 10-15 years. With the steak, it was superb. Truly a macho wine.

Addendum: I just checked my old notes and now realize that I've had this wine twice before - the first sometime in January 2006 - at an IWFS function. Said notes are pretty consistent:

Chateau Montus Cuvee Prestige 1995 (Madiran) - 100% Tannat.
Brooding inky, dark black-red-violet, well-muscled, incredible tannins but
relatively smoothed out. Mildly spiced moderately round black fruit with
leather, tobacco and wood. Nicely knit at this point. Had it with a
boldly-flavored twice-roasted duck with lentils. Good match (made by Bernie Sim,
president of the Philippine Chapter of the International Wine & Food
Society) as the dish drowned out my '99 Haut Marbuzet. Quite surprised that my
wife liked this hugely tannic wine so much, specially the pairing.

I must mention that the steak came with lots of roasted/caramelized whole shallots and garlic cloves - rarely done in Manila - which was a most excellent touch. Assuming my wife or friends pick this venue, I'd return just for this dish. While the others (especially my wife) were much more taken by the apricot lamb stew than I, it was more than decent. Granted the restaurant is barely off the starting line at this point, the staff could certainly do with a lot more proper training.

Desserts were tart citron, tart chocolat and pear in red wine. My wife was ecstatic to see the inebriated pear available, she loved it ever since she got to try it in Bordeaux a couple of years ago. I, on the other hand, favored the tart citron as any dessert involving lemon custard or lemon cream reminds me of my late mom who used to make the best lemon merengue pie I've ever had.

In all, it was a nice dining experience, certainly one of the better Tuesday dinners in my book. The highlights were the wines, my steak, and, of course, the great company.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Local Dishes with 3 Locally Available, Value Spanish Wines.

I've never really given much thought to pairing Filipino cuisine with wine. I've tried a few times with Aussie shiraz, Aussie cab/merlot/shiraz blends, Chianti Classico Riserva, minor Napa cabs, etc., but have never really found said pairings particularly interesting - just innocuous to passable.

Last Friday, I gave some Spanish wines a shot. In anticipation of her coming birthday, my wife held a Filipino lunch and invited several of her long-time friends.

Lots of ladies, lots of food.

The menu was simple but hearty: Crispy Tadyang ng Baka, Bangus Bellies Smothered in Onions, Mechado, Lumpiang Sotanghon (one of my favorites, with a sweetish-tart sawsawan of grated carrots and singkamas), Ginataang Kalabasa, and, of course, a choice between Garlic Fried and Steamed Rice.

Crispy Tadyang ng Baka
(Crispy Beef Ribs)

Lumpiang Sotanghon
(Cellophane noodles, a.k.a., Chinese vermicelli, wrapped in Egg Roll Wrapper)

Ginataang Kalabasa
(Yellow Squash in Coconut Milk)

Considering it was lunch, I figured a cool, crunchy rosé would be in order (rosés are very versatile anyway) so the ladies wouldn't get unduly inebriated so early in the day. I also figured I'd throw in a relatively light red and a robust one as well, for anyone who'd want. I know the ladies can certainly drink if they put their minds to it (I've seen it before), but, somehow, I didn't think anyone was out to get hammered that day.

More than anything, even the food, these ladies lunches (which are held every so often) are excuses for long-time friends to get-together and catch up with each other...which is always a good thing. Some of them related, by blood or affinity, distantly or closely - after all, even 4th cousins are still cousins in Manila, right? Everyone, however, good friends who have pretty much grown up and/or gone to school together and whose children are also now friends. I think it's great when that happens - children of friends also turning out being friends themselves.

Ok, ok, onto the wine....

2007 Homenaje Rosado (Bodegas Marco Real) - From Olita, Navarra, made of grenache. I've enjoyed several bottles of this since I first tried it at Terry's Segundo Piso over a multi-tapas lunch (angulas, gambas al ajillo, charred chorizo pamplona, Joselito ham, assorted cheeses, etc.) a couple of months ago.

As you can see, it is a clear, translucent celebratory cherry-red. Served properly chilled, this simple, honest, straightforward rosé will easily charm you with its fresh, clean, dry, virtually crisp, well-focused dominant flavors of (in order of prominence) ripe strawberry, raspberry, light hint of cherry. Definitely dangerously drinkable.

Slightly fuller and heftier than the Provençal rosé of Domaine Tempier I've tried, but otherwise similar in character. Less in body and ripeness than Bordeaux rosés such as those of Pavie Macquin and Pavie, but fresher and, clearly, with with better focus. Love it.

I recently tried it with spicy lamb couscous (I read that rosé is traditionally served with couscous in Morocco) at Gourmand and it was a fine match, the wine cleansing and soothing the burn. At a paltry P390 per bottle at Terry's Selection, it is something to buy by the truckload.

In general, this rosé paired pretty well with all the dishes. No matches made in heaven, no epiphanies, no surprises, just good. It never ceases to amaze me, though, how very versatile rosés are with food.

2006 Descendientes de José Palacios Pétalos del Bierzo - From the steep hillside vineyards of el Bierzo, in the province of León, Spain, made up of the indigenous mencia grape from 60-100 year old vines.

JC de Terry told me about this wine a long time ago, but I've only recently tried it. On the strength of JC's recommendation (after all, he is a Spanish PhD in oenology) I, in turn, passed on the recommendation to a fellow wine aficionado in Chicago who actually got to try it before I did.

Decanted at proper temperature for two hours, this youthful ruby-red/purple-tinged wine, true to its name, gives off notes of violets, rose petals over fresh scents of wild berries, lavender, very mild spice and underbrush. Mirrored in the mouth, its fruit and berries (there is blueberry in there, among others) are notably pure and focused, its texture very smooth. Barely medium-weight, it dances lithely on the tongue. Admirable lift and freshness. It may look a bit ponderous, but it is certainly not on the palate.

A definite steal at a shade under P1000 per bottle at Terry Selections. Judging from how nice this basic red is, I will make it a point to explore this bodega's wines from el Bierzo more deeply. This is another one to buy for me.

I've read that these types of wines drink rather early, but Team Alvaro Palacios' Oscar Alegre e-mailed me that, in his opinion, the subject wine should get even better than it already is with around 2 more years of bottle age. For whatever it is worth, for those obsessed with scores, both Robert Parker's Wine Advocate and Wine Enthusiast gave this wine identical scores of "91".

At it's most reasonable price? ¡Olé!

2001 Cerro Añón Reserva Rioja by Bodegas Olarra - An "old style Rioja" said JC, and of course, he was on point. A dark, orange-red rimmed, rustic Rioja (80% Tempranillo, 8% Mazuelo, 7% Graciano and 5% Grenache as I understand). It has obviously been long reared in oak (old barrels from the taste of it), tastes quite mature - the most mature Spanish 2001 (an exceptional Rioja vintage) I have had, though, admittedly, the last time I tasted through many 2001 Rioja reservas was a year ago at the Manila Gentleman's Club's Spanish night (I was out of the country when the Spanish Chamber of Commerce held its blind tasting for which I was asked to sit on the panel of judges).

Very well rounded and smooth in the mouth, big curves, the dark fruit and cherries infused with mild spice (faint anise nuance), toasty oak, cedar and a dose of tobacco. Good heft (slightly over medium bodied) and length. Tannins well enough integrated. Not the most refined, as I said earlier, a touch rustic. Obviously heavier on the palate than the Pétalos and not as fresh - it doesn't have the usual feisty character and push of surface red fruit of most Riojas I am accustomed to.

Still and all, it was a good enough wine. At its price of slightly over P1000 at Terry Selection, one cannot at all reasonably complain. On the contrary, at its price, it is a buy for me.

Desserts were brazo de mercedes, butter cake, fruits and make-your-own halo-halo.

The ladies then trickled off to go about their respective to-dos, and, by 4:30, only the loyal few remained, ending our long meal with the Pétalos. I particularly relish the last hour of our parties at home. The near and dear, with their precious company, always wind up lingering with us - much like the long finish of fine wine.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Manila Blind Bordeaux Challenge X.

~ At Premium Wine Exchange, 16 August 2008 ~

Though all the Grand Crew's challenges are inherently occasions to look forward to, this one was special in that it was the 10th; moreso for the Vigneron as this year is his and Mrs. Vigneron's 10th year wedding anniversary. That, and considering the couple recently returned from Bordeaux, we knew the Vigneron had something particularly dangerous up his sleeve. I warned him, though, that the moment I detected a mature Margaux, I'd automatically relegate it to last place.

Unfortunately, my relatively new phone crashed a few weeks ago, taking my entire schedule with it. I forgot about the date and ordered my competition bottles late - they arrived by airfreight only a few days before the Challenge and didn't have enough time to "rest" and stabilize.

Thus, I was limited to what I had in my old stock - good wines, to be sure, but either too young (research shows that Médocs from the '80s to 1990 in general, with a few late-90s right banks thrown in, usually prevail with this group) or too old (no Bordeaux below 1982 has ever won in our "competition". The best sub-'80s ever did was 2nd Place (i.e., my 1979 Pichon Lalande and even the Vigneron's 1961 Pichon Lalande).

I was discussing these matters with the Stockbroker via text the day before the competition. He seemed undaunted in the face of the Vigneron's determination and advised me not to worry about bringing a younger wine. I heeded his advice and chose a right bank from a recent, but very ripe and heralded vintage from my stash.

The appointed date came, and we gathered at the romantic evening environs of Premium Wine Exchange (the venue of the very first Challenge, the first week of June 2005, dinner by the Miguel Brothers, which the Vigneron won with a 1982 Pichon Lalande). This time, young and very accomplished chef, Tippi Tambunting, prepared a sumptuous feast. I've attended many dinners executed by Tippi, and enjoyed them all. This time, though, she really outdid herself.

Those who want to try her cuisine can contact her at 0918 811 8088. She'll come to your home (or other chosen venue) and prepare you an excellent meal with well-trained staff and all the correct flatware and stemware to boot! She absolutely frees the host of a fine dining event from all the usual hassles and pressure, leaving him/her all the time to entertain guests and enjoy - take it from me, I know.

As the Doc was runing late at the hospital, we kicked things off with some pass-arounds which included a particularly delicious Shrimp and Young Asparagus Frittata which we all enjoyed with the Stockbroker's:

Cerdon de Bugey Caveau de Mont St-July (NV, Méthode Ancéstrale) - I first discovered this unpretentiously pink, brilliantly effusive, poulsard-and-gamay based, off-dry, strawberry-dominant, non-vintage bubbly from the mountains of France's Jura region (near the Swiss border) in Alain Ducasse's Paris bistro, Aux Lyonnais, in early June 2006.

I brought in some bottles shortly thereafter and it was an instant hit with the ladies - especially with my wife, Mrs. Doc and Mrs. Vigneron. I recall after the latter first tried a couple of glasses, she told me to keep it away from her as she would drink the whole bottle. What better compliment could there be for a wine?

After a while, we seated ourselves to an absolutely delightful and comforting amuse bouche of Fried Baby Potatoes, Crunchy Chorizo Bits Topped with a Fried Quail Egg. Being a lover of Filipino breakfasts, I jokingly asked if there happened to be a couple of tablespoons of sinangag lying around in the kitchen. I enjoyed it so much, I ate it all in two bites (only because I was trying to mind my table manners, otherwise I'd have stuffed the whole thing in my mouth) and, consequently, forgot to take a picture of it.

By that time, the Doc had finally arrived, so dinner proper began.

The first course was an excellent Cream of Tomato Soup with Puff Pastry. With this, and for the fish course, I opened a bottle of my:

1999 Domaine JM Brocard Chablis Grand Cru "Les Clos" - My bottle. The domaine of Jean-Marc Brocard is a traditional maker in the minimal oak school of Chablis - which inherently puts it on my buy list. I visited the domaine in mid-2006 - my wife and I just walked in without an appointment - they didn't know me from Adam and were already entertaining a busload of British tourists.

Direct to the point, I told the lady there that I was only interested in their grand crus. After a quick word with a colleague, she proceeded to open several fresh bottles of their grand crus (les Clos, Bougros, Valmur and les Preuses) as well as a couple of premier crus (Montmains and Vaillons). I bought quite a few of them to lug home.

Plump but barely firm enough on the palate, with soft, ripe green apple and pear, slight touches of lemon curd, oyster shell, minerals and vanilla. Nice medium curves. Pretty good depth of fruit and complexity. The balance, however, was just slightly above average, I felt it needed a bit more structure and lifting acidity - but then I personally prefer the leaner, edgier premier crus than richer, fuller grand crus. In all, pretty good, but was eclipsed by the tomato soup.

The second course was Mixed Greens topped with Crispy Pancetta and Brie de Mieux, followed by the third course of Crispy Skin Sea Bass with Leek Fondue and Balsamic Glaze which we all enjoyed with:

2005 Cuvée du Vatican Chateauneuf-du-Pape Reserve Sixtine Blanc - the Stockbroker's bottle, a wine I've enjoyed twice before in January and May 2008. My notes of 20 January 2008 state:

Initially tightly-wound, it would reveal only
laser-clean steely white minerals with some flint in its compact white fruit. I
(correctly) it was more roussanne. Later on, it expanded and fleshed out generously,
displaying broad, almond cream, vanilla/oak laced ultra ripe fruit (something
like baked apple and pear) with a slight whisper of peach. Much, much bigger and
fuller and heavier than the previous wine. I then guessed, wrongly, that it was
more marsanne. Oh, well... I must have over-thought myself to error.

These old notes were re-confirmed by the subject bottle. I may add that after a bit of breathing in glass, the wine released a most captivating bouquet of mildly spiced (I detected hints of cinnamon and nutmeg) wild honey, white flowers , toasty oak/vanilla and baked apple. The middle was very broad and luxurious.

An excellent white CdP and I am very happy that it is readily available at Premium Wine Exchange. Those who wish to explore CdP blancs will be extremely hard pressed to find a better wine than this in the Philippines.

As to the pairing, it was a good match - sea bass is a robust fish that needs a fuller, luxurious white - a prescription the subject bottle easily fills. I suggest this be decanted and the decanter put in a bucket of moderately iced water for around 20-25 minutes to allow for breathing at proper temperature so it may fully release its charms.

Before the main course, we had a mild Poached Peach Sorbet. I do not usually indulge in sorbets before tasting reds to preserve my palate, but, in this case, after a rich fish and white, I needed to palate-cleanse. Fortunately, Tippi thought to serve a peach-based sorbet, rather than a berry-based one (the latter are usually too tart and strong and leaves an overly long aftertaste on the palate - not good for wine-tasting). This sorbet was mild and more neutrally flavored and, together with rinsing with water, cleansed the palate very nicely.

In the meantime, all the competing reds had been presented.

With Braised Snake River Farm Wagyu Beef Cheeks with Open Mushroom Ravioli, Bone Marrow and Wilted Spinach:

Wine # 1 - Immediately and easily the most openly captivating bouquet of all the entrants with a perfumed theme of wet sweet tea leaves (also noted by the Stockbroker), mild Spanish cedar, whisper of camphor, licorice, dark plum. On the palate, it was comfortingly warming, broad, plush, expansive, yet decently focused, with dark spice-infused cassis, molten dark/red berries, touch of plum, mild licorice, toasty oak, sweet tea leaves and chocolate undertones. After more breathing, I detected a delicate toffee nuance at the end.

Definitely a crowd-pleaser. This, to me, from my first pass to my last, was easily the best wine of the night, and I ranked it 1st Place.

It turned out to be the Stockbroker's 1990 Léoville Poyferré - made several years before Michel Rolland's services were engaged, considered by many to be the best wine Poyferré has ever produced. Having had several other vintages from this château, I must agree with such assessment.

Wine # 2 - Slight band-aid on the otherwise delicate, minerally nose. The band-aid subsided after several minutes revealing faint, sweetish scents of dark violets, gravel, earth, minerals, cassis and cedar (my wife noted it as the best nose of the night, while the Doc and the Stockbroker thought its nose was muted). All these were mirrored on the palate with a dark plummy underbelly and the sweet cedar more pronounced late-mid-palate and, the violets surfacing more towards the back.

Admirable finesse and complexity, but comparatively too light on the palate after the previous wine. It had the misfortune of being tasted immediately after Wine # 1. Wine # 2 was an elegant wine, to be sure, delicate and feminine, but was a bit too fine and delicate to be served right after the previous lush and generous wine. I eventually ranked it 3rd Place. Mrs. Doc and Mrs. Stockbroker, however, ranked it 1st Place, while the Vigneron and my wife ranked it 2nd Place.

It turned out to be the Vigneron's 1983 Palmer - again, reputedly one of the best the château has made. I must mention, though, that my bottle of their 1989, one of their other heralded vintages, failed to impress me to any great extent.

Wine # 3 - Full, rich, extracted and a lot of plumminess to its dark molten cherry/kirsch/dark fruit and creamy cassis, with pronounced espresso notes. The Doc noted hints of leather, we both wrote down the descriptor "velvety' in our respective notes. Very broad mid-palate with precise heft just short of legitimate full-bodiedness.

Not much of a bouquet, a bit reticent to me, but absolutely pleasing in the mouth. The Vigneron, Stockbroker and I mis-identified it as a wine from the right bank. I ranked it 2nd Place, as did Mrs. Vigneron and the Doc.

We were all surprised when it was revealed to be the Doc's 1988 Lynch Bages. I must state that we were very impressed with how young this 20-year old wine tasted.

Wine # 4 - Densely red with simple aromas of sweet red berries, sweet camphor and cedar and oak/vanilla. In the mouth, it was firmer and more focused than Wine # 3, but the latter is broader and has a better body. There is decent minerality, cedar and espresso, dominated by raspberry and dark cherry through the finish.

Mrs. Vigneron noted a pronounced vanilla/oak flavor while her hubby noted it as a right bank, too young and lacking in finesse. The Doc and Stockbroker also correctly pegged it as a right bank.

Mr. and Mrs. Stockbroker ranked it 2nd place. I and Mrs. Vigneron ranked it 4th Place.

It was later on revealed as my 2000 Figeac.

Summary of My Own Results:

1st Place - the Stockbroker's 1990 Léoville Poyferré

2nd Place - the Doc's 1988 Lynch Bages

3rd Place - the Vigneron's 1983 Palmer

4th Place - my 2000 Figeac

Group's Official Results:

And so, it came to pass that a new King was crowned....

1st Place - the Stockbroker's 1990 Léoville Poyferré by a landslide with 28 points (6 votes for 1st, 1 vote for 2nd, 0 votes for 3rd and 1 vote for 4th).

2nd Place - the Vigneron's 1983 Palmer with 21 points (2 votes for 1st, 2 votes for 2nd, 3 votes for 3rd and 1 vote for 4th).

3rd Place - my 2000 Figeac with 16 points (0 votes for 1st, 2 votes for 2nd, 4 votes for 3rd and 2 votes for 4th).

4th Place - the Doc's 1988 Lynch Bages with 15 points (0 votes for 1st, 3 votes for 2nd, 1 vote for 3rd and 4 votes for 4th).

The evening was brought to a close by a rich yet refreshing Pavlova with Mascarpone Cream and Mixed Berries.

Hail to the King, may his victory be as sweet, but, hopefully, not too the pressure mounts.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

08/08/08 Wines.

~ 8 August, 2008, Shang Palace ~

The Stockbroker organized a lucky o8/08/08 dinner for the group. The usual Bordeaux Challenge suspects were there (the Vigneron - the Frenchman formerly known as Edouard - and family finally back from Bordeaux) plus Felicia as her hubby is currently in Beijing covering the Olympic games.

As a welcome drink and with assorted appetizers of sliced jellyfish, clams, etc...

NV Pommery Brut Royal - My bottle. I've had this very nice, medium weight non-vintage bubbly a few times courtesy of Robert Burroughes and John Whitehouse and have always enjoyed it. I recently learned from Robert that Forth & Tay distributes it (at a case price of P2740 per bottle) and I quickly ordered a couple of bottles for Thursday's Chaine de Rotisseurs Kaiseki dinner at Tsumura and Friday's lauriat.

This straightforward non-vintage Pommery is lively, crisp, pure in fruit (clean green apple, merest hint of citrus), has solid mid-palate heft and roundness, discreet breadiness and playful toastiness - its finish is lightly creamy-toasty and generous with froth.

The sponsored NV Besserat de Bellefon Cuvée des Moines Brut (from Brumms, at P2500 retail per its website) which I compared it to, though decent enough, paled in comparison to the Pommery in that the former's citrus notes seemed overly-aggressive (to the point of being bothersomely souring) particularly towards the back of the mouth and in the finish. The Besserat also seemed comparatively overly lean and linear.

In any event, I always like to kick things off with nice champagne, vintage or non-vintage, as it sets a lively stage for the rest of the meal.

Given that both are locally available, reasonably priced non-vintage Champagnes, I would personally buy the Pommery everytime. Those, however, who prefer the lighter, more citrusy and linear style of bubbly should go for the Besserat.

To go with the skin-and-pancake course of Peking Duck:

2002 Domaine Ostertag Pinot Gris "Zellberg" - My bottle. I love Alsace pinot gris with Peking Duck, Bernie S. taught me this pairing (I also got my stock of this wine from him) and it was re-recommended to me by no less than Marc Beyer (of Domaine Léon Beyer) and Catherine Faller (of Domaine Weinbach).

This brilliant wine was simply singing out of the glass. The ladies praised it, Feli enthusiastically. The bottle was drained in a trice.

With a distinctive flowery, spicy/tangy, mineral-laced bouquet and flavors of ripe apricot, peach, underlying almond paste, a bit of oak/vanilla (well integrated and not over-done) and an almost imperceptible hint of anise, this luxuriously flavored, precisely balanced, relatively full-bodied wine was an absolute hit; and, if I might add, a wonderful pairing with the duck skin course.

The rest of the courses started coming in rapid succession and things started to get a bit more serious... did the wines:

In the order I had them:

1990 Château Lagrange (3rd Growth, St-Julien) - The Doc's bottle, served pre-decanted (shown in the picture with a bowl of warming, earthy shark's fin soup). I recall the first bottle of Lagrange that made me take notice was a 1996 from the Vigneron, and, a subsequent 2000 from him, to me hammered home the heights this château is capable of.

The 1990 is a full, ripe (typical of the vintage) , masculine (typical of the château's style) wine. Big, muscular, yet harmoniously flavored and deftly balanced with dominant profiles of earthy ceps, slight truffle, cassis, molten black fruit, cigar box, slight nuances of black pepper, smoky cedar coming in towards the back.

In addition to the many merits of the Lagrange already mentioned, I might add that it is a very consistent and reliable maker. Despite all these, it remains "reasonably priced" - by no means a cheap wine, mind you - rather, in terms of its quality, I imagine it could sell for much more.

1999 Château La Mission Haut-Brion (Pessac-Léognan) - Feli's bottle. Seeing it reminded me of the wine-and-lauriat dinner hosted by Bernie almost 2 years ago at Lili - all the pairing reds were from Pessac-Léognan.

Though many Bordeaux reds I've tried are already drinking quite nicely, I suspected this big-name wine would be less ready than it turned out to be, and I'm glad I was wrong.

I enjoy '99 Bordeaux, they generally mature faster (hence, I can enjoy them sooner), are not over-the-top-ripe/extracted (only so much manipulation can be performed without churning out a Frankenwine monster), and not as "thin" as many have written. True, they may not age as long as "stronger" vintages, but, then, I don't care - I'll just drink them earlier.

This is an understated, dignified wine with good typicity (which is important to me) in its slight roast herbs (think dried thyme and marjoram), mild/earthy tobacco, small red berry highlights over a dark sea of cassis and, to a lesser extent, plum. This wine discreetly beckons, rather than openly allures (like the above-mentioned Ostertag does) one to explore its secrets. Demure, discreet, seductive. I liked it like that.

Not rich or luxurious like the '89 (Doc's) or '90 (the Stockbroker's) or as well-structured as the '94 (the Doc's) I've tried in the past, but a definite pleasure in its own right.

At this point, I dropped off tasting and concentrated on the food, particularly on the fish maw dish which deserves special mention. All the dishes were good, ind you, but this was exceptional.

I've always favored fish maw, its supple, gently yielding texture and delicate difficult-to-describe flavor, yet do not get to eat it too often as my wife and most of my friends are not particularly taken by it. The one last Friday, however, was an exception. My wife openly praised it and the Stockbroker...well, you can see how he attacked it with gusto.

After a brief concession to gluttony, I resumed drinking.

1999 Château Pavie (St-Emilion) - The Stockbroker's. A no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners hedonistic style. Loads of eager, lush, well-extracted ripe cherry, raspberry, plum with dark fruit and mocha undertones laced with sweetish nuances of clove and vanilla bean - pretty much consistent with my old notes from 9 March 2005 - but this time with a slight separation of flavors. It displayed a much higher level of ripeness and extraction than any other '99 from Bordeaux I can remember.

When subsequently asked about my ranking of the night, I opined that although this wine was openly pleasing, it lacked elegance (an opinion the Vigneron shared). The Stockbroker suggested that, judging from the results of past Challenges (i.e., the triumphs of the Doc's '98 Pavie and my '98 La Couspaude), taste in wine may have changed. I recalled that I didn't vote for either of those wines at the respective Challenges, and that I'd had (and liked) the '99 Pavie before, and so, looked up my old notes the next evening.

My old notes reveal that we drank this bottle alongside the Doc's 1999 Château La Clusiere (the vineyards of which have since been folded into those of Pavie). Said notes also show that, at the time, I noted the Pavie in question as putting out "[an] elegant performance". I didn't, however, then note any separation in flavors or that it was so exuberant or eager to please.

After much thought, while I cannot, honestly, completely rule out the possibility that my taste in wine has changed, I doubt it in this case. Most likely, it was a combination of the wine's evolution (after all, the gap is almost 3-½ years) and the wines it was being compared to.

Still and all, on the subject Friday evening, that bottle of '99 Pavie was a wantonly luscious and wide-open sexpot - a "pok-pok" of a wine - a bombastically sexy "pok-pok" to be sure - but a "pok-pok" nonetheless. Not particularly elegant, intellectual, contemplative or intriguingly mysterious, but, then, again, not all wines have to be. As a matter of fact, I think that if all wines were so, drinking wine would all too easily become boring. Everything has its place.

1996 Domaine de Chevalier (Pessac-Léognan) - My bottle. I bought a few of these a while back because I really like the traditional, understated, terroir-driven style of this château and its wines are reasonably-priced to boot (I got this particular batch at under US$60 each; the next batch at a ridiculously under-valued US$45 per bottle). After all, with good quality at a good price - what's not to like?

It just so happens that Jancis Robinson (a holder of a Masters of Wine degree, the British taste-nemesis of Robert Parker, Jr.) in September 2006 rated this the one of the highest non-1st growths of the vintage (with a score of 18/20, equal to those of Châteaux Latour and Haut Brion), while Parker gives it a "mere" 88/100 (which, most likely, keeps the wine at its reasonable price).

I entered this wine in a recent IWFS blind 1996 red Bordeaux horizontal tasting (i.e., wines from different châteaux but all from the same vintage) - mainly out of curiosity, really, to see how it would fair. With its discreet nature and understated style, I didn't think it would do well in a blind tasting, especially tasted amongst the "showier" big names such as Cos d'Estournel, Léoville Poyferré (both of which I personally favor), Angelus and Palmer which were included in the line-up. To my surprise, and, I'm sure, to many others', my bottle came out first place, closely followed by Cos d'Estournel which the Doc and I predicted would take the gold.

In any event, true to form, this wine gave off a whistful bouquet of mild truffle and asphalt, cassis, dark fruit, delicately laced with dried herbs and subtle tobacco with sweetish cedar and a whisper of vanilla-cream towards the end. On the palate, it gracefully mirrored its bouquet with added topnotes of red berries; comparatively silky in texture with a lithe, supple medium body. No "blockbuster" this, but a textbook in propriety and quiet manners. Meticulous and precise.

With dessert of mildly sweetened, earthy, vaguely smokey roasted chestnut/walnut pudding that tasted like it had cocoa and chocolate in it:

1988 Château de Fargues (Sauternes) - The Vigneron's bottle, surely chosen with last May's all-Sauternes lauriat in mind. The château is owned and run by the Lur Saluces family with whom the Vigneron's has old ties. Until recently, the Lur Saluce family used to own the pinnacle of Sauternes, and, therefore, the pinnacle of sweet whites, Château d'Yquem. No more than that need be said to vouch for de Fargues' history, quality and pedigree.

A beautiful wine of both richness and finesse, it is not a huge, opulent, unctuous wine like, say, the '67 , '89 or '97 Yquems; rather, it displays its tangily-botrytised, floral (yes, honeysuckle) , wild honey, sweet peach, kumquat, candied apricot, orange rind and vanilla custard undertones with great purity focus and restraint (though notably bigger/fuller than the '86 de Fargues was a little over 3 years ago).

I loved it with the dessert (mingling with the earthy chocolate/carob nuttiness mid-mouth while the firm, balancing acidity cuts a swathe through it towards the back and cleanses at the finish) and I loved it by itself.

Good wines that night.