Sunday, September 28, 2008

Wine at Miguel's Dinner.

Last night, 27th September, we attended Miguel and Barbara's dinner at La Régalade in belated celebration of Miguel's birthday. The Doc and the Stockbroker were also there, with wives, naturally. The Vigneron, currently in Bordeaux to oversee Siran's harvest, was ably represented by his better half. Together with other well wishing family members (Melissa and Cristina) and friends (Kim and Felicia), we occupied a long table in the fully-packed restaurant.

After an initial Taittinger champagne toast to the celebrant, assorted appetizers of foie gras, Manila clams with chorizo, escargots, parmesan tarts, pork rillettes, etc. were served. I stuck to the escargots and had a bit of the Manila clams with chorizo (the latter the best of the appetizers to my mind) washed down with well-chilled glasses of:

2005 Domaine Henri Bourgeois Pouilly-fumé "La Demoiselle de Bourgeois" - My bottle, several of which I purchased from Bacchus after having it at last year's IWFS 25th Anniversary dinner. I've mentioned before that Pouilly-fumé is an appellation in the Loire that, together with Sancerre (across the river), is famous for crisp, clean, minerally sauvignon blanc-based wines. My old notes state: "clean citrus, mild gooseberry/guava tang and inherent white minerality...faint celery nuance...."

Still fairly accurate, except that now, it appears to have put on a little bit of weight and roundness in the middle, it seemed less linear, and the fruit seems a touch riper (more typical of the vintage), but still brightly dry. Nice purity, lift and balance.

Unfortunately, this was my last bottle and, as far as I know, I picked up the last of the 2005s in Bacchus. I believe, though, they have the 2006 version currently available which should be more sharply focused and defined, judging from the 2006 Sancerres and Pouilly-fumés I've tried over the past year.

La Régalade's main course servings are pretty generous, so several dishes were ordered and placed in the middle for sharing "family style". At our side of the table, there were dishes of rib-eye steak, duck in fruits, boeuf bourguignonne and apricot lamb stew. I wasn't aware of what the other dishes were on the far side; neither did I know what bottles of red they had opened over there.

I do know that, on our side, we had 1996 Château de Fieuzal (Pessac-Léognan) from me, 1996 Argiano Solengo (a Super Tuscan from Montalcino) from the Doc, and, three Napas: 2004 Pahlmeyer and 1998 Château Montelena from the Stockbroker, and 1999 Duckhorn Howell Mountain Merlot from Miguel.

Engrossed in the food and conversation, I was a bit remiss in documenting this evening's wines and didn't get to taste the Argiano Solengo and Duckhorn. It didn't help that said bottles were swiftly "commandeered" by the ladies. Well, too bad for me; I would have liked to. But, really, though, I already had more than enough as it was. I could have all too easily (not to mention eagerly) over-indulged myself yet again if not for the influence of...*uhurm*...influence.

In any event, as to the wines I did have...

1998 Château Montelena - The Stockbroker's bottle. One of the better wines from Napa, in my opinion; certainly one of the very best from California wineries not French-owned, controlled or similarly or historically influenced (until, of course, mid this year when Montelena was purchased by Michel Reybier, the owner of St-Estèphe 2nd Growth, Château Cos d'Estournel).

I've always considered Montelena's reds as made with considerably more finesse (i.e., easy on the sweet over-ripe berry syrup, vanilla shake, coconut cream and chocolate bars) and proper restraint than most of its bretheren (two other exceptions are Dominus and Araujo, among a few others).

This wine was true to form. Though 1998 is not considered an exceptional year for Napa, the few I remember having tried (notably the 1998 Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve) suited my tastes well - not syrupy, "goopy", over-ripe, over-alcoholic or over-done.

Cedar-laced, comfortingly warm, masculine, earthy-toned cassis, dark fruit, undertones of black coffee, slight nuances of mushrooms and well-worn leather. Small red berries surface just past mid-mouth. The faintest whisper of toffee/spiced oak on the finish tell you it's from California. Again, a testament to the quality of an under-appreciated Napa vintage.

1996 Château de Fieuzal - My bottle. I've long enjoyed the wines from this low-profile château from Pessac-Léognan and have gone through several bottles of the 1996. As mentioned before, I find it superior to the more famous and higher Parker-rated 1995 version. Pessac-Léognan, where hails first growth Château Haut Brion, is a relatively recent appellation, previously lumped into Graves before being granted its own separate classification/status in 1987.

My notes from December 2007, I feel, are still accurate and I find no need to alter or add to them:

Already a lot of bottle-age sweetness to this medium-bordering-on-full-bodied,
ripe, red currant-and-kirsch-laced, cassis/tar/earth dominant wine with finely
knit, with a vaguely smoky, sweetish roasted herbs and cedar surfacing mid-mouth
and following through on the finish.

As earlier stated, this is not a particularly well-known, much less famous, maker, and I, for selfish reasons, am thankful for it. Its relative anonymity, especially in light of the international fame of riper/oakier/more modern-styled, Parker-anointed "stars" Smith-Haut-Lafitte and Pape-Clément, helps keep their wines under-valued and comparatively more affordable.

I recall the first time I made the Vigneron taste this, he enjoyed it greatly, and, after I told him how much it cost, he had only three words to say: "Buy them all."

Mrs. Vigneron came back for seconds of this wine and the Doc told me he liked this the most among the other reds that evening. I believe my wife felt the same way. I know I did.

Säntis still sells this for around P3300 per bottle where I bought several until a year and a half ago when I got a badly corked one. Thereafter, I started ordering them from selected US shops where they are materially cheaper and in better condition.

2004 Pahlmeyer - The Stockbroker's bottle. Pahlmeyer is a high-end Napa producer with Helen Turley at the helm. I have tasted their wines barely a handful of times. I recall a couple of their chardonnays had in the early days of Mezzaluna (Serendra), they were typically big, rich, buttery, vanilla-oaky yet somehow acceptably balanced wines which my wife likes (she also likes the chards of Newton, Darioush, Saintsbury's Brown Ranch bottling and Beringer's Sbragia Limited release).

I also recall having one of their reds with a rib-eye steak a couple of years ago, the vintage of which escapes me, but I remember it was a big, hugely curved wine with super-ripe/extracted flavors and hefty doses of chocolate and oak/vanilla.

The 2004 was cut from the same cloth. In contrast to the calm and collected '98 Montelena, this was a thick, dense, over-stuffed, no-holds-barred Napa red that has its way with you using bodacious sex-bomb curves, sweetly super-ripe (virtually candied) viscous dark fruit/cassis, kirsch, black coffee and dark chocolate undertones, with a heavy dose of vanilla/oak. There is also some sweet toffee in the finish. Whew! For some reason, I had an irresistible urge for a cigarette after drinking it.

The ladies then ordered desserts, I saw plates of tart tatin with ice cream and tart citron. I only noticed the Doc, however, partaking of them. The rest of the fellows stuck to espressos. Lots of fun. Thanks, Miguel!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Memorable Wines.

People sometimes ask what my favorite wine is, or what wine I consider the best I've had. I can never really answer these questions because, in my experience, the surrounding circumstances of each bottle (company, place, food, conversation, occasion, etc. - you get the picture) are all factors that I simply am incapable of totally divorcing from each bottle. Properly trained and experienced professional tasters, the real ones, surely can, but I am not one them and do not aspire to be. For me, wine is for sheer pleasure - not investment or inventory, neither status symbol nor shameful secret. Wine is for drinking with good friends and good food.

That said, below are some wines that, for different reasons, are particularly memorable:

1986 Château Montrose - I've gone through very many bottles of this. The first one, though, was the most memorable. It was at home, after dinner one summer night around 1998 or 1999. I pretty much halved the bottle with Tonji, we've known each other since high school, since our wives didn't really feel like drinking. Leathery, cedary, powerful, yet pure, layered and complex - we recalled our carefree highschool days - the crazy things we'd do and the trouble we'd get into back then. Tonji generally favors the wines of St-Estèphe, particularly Montrose and Calon Ségur and we've shared several bottles '86 Montrose together, but I need only mention "1986 Montrose" and he, like I, also immediately recalls that one particular bottle we shared that night of reminiscing.

1983 Château Latour - My siblings all studied and lived abroad at certain points in their lives, one still does. Thus, there was a spell of around 6 years that we weren't all together in one place. That ended when we all met in New Orleans, together with our dad, kids and spouses, in spring of 2001. We made the rounds of the restaurants (Drago's in Metairie was fantastic), but, wine-wise, it was the dinner at the New Orleans branch of Smith & Wollensky (a short walk from the French Quarter) that sticks to mind. With the gargantuan steaks, I ordered a 1983 Latour and a 1992 Opus One, both of which I liked. My wife, however, without knowing what wines I had served, opined that the second red (i.e., the '92 Opus) tasted "crappy" beside the first (the '83 Latour).

Though I've had the more famous 1982, 1990, 1996 (as well as many others not as famous like the 1993), and they were easily superior to the 1983, because of that reunion, when I think "Latour", the '83 comes to mind first.

1999 Château Cheval Blanc - I've had this vintage of Cheval Blanc at least 4 times and several other vintages as well, including the "100 Parker point" 1990. When I think "Cheval Blanc", however, what immediately comes to mind is the '99 - particularly the one I opened at a small dinner at Tonji and Sylvia's. I brought the bottle as it was their nth wedding anniversary - the bouquet was just so perfumed and exquisite, I remember it clearly to this day - no other '99 Cheval I've had was as superb. Even the 1990 I brought to their 20th anniversary dinner wasn't as memorable.

1978 Château Pichon Lalande - We had this, among others, with dinner under the stars at the Miailhe's Château Siran our first night there in July 2006. Sevrine, my wife and I made dinner: seared fresh scallop salad and seared-then-roasted duck breast atop baked apples, I recall vividly. Assorted cheeses, bread and dried sausages too. It was a meal beautiful in its simplicity.

I've had the '78 Pichon Lalande at least thrice more since then, but none of them ever tasted as wonderful as the one that night.

1953 Château Siran - At a dinner in Siran, the same trip as the one immediately mentioned, but on our penultimate night there. I had always thought the Miailhes' usually leathery and masculine wines were over-performing and more age-worthy than many realize, but was absolutely stunned at how elegantly feminine, pure, perfumed and silky this 50+ year-old wine was. Truly an eye-opener and testament to the heights this château is capable of reaching.

1994 Vieux Château Certan - Opened during a quiet dinner with my wife at Melo's (Greenbelt 1 at the time) in early July 2002. It was merely OK over dinner and I took the unfinished half home to drink while reading in bed. My old notes state that after a couple of hours:

(i)ts initial closed aromas turned to a complex, heady perfume of
pure, sweet dark cherry enveloped with nuances of candied red fruit and a touch
of cedar. In the mouth, it was a pure silk of lush ripe red fruit layers with
violet plummy undertones. Its sweetish cherry and plum finish stretched out
luxuriously over hints of spices. There was absolutely no heaviness in the
concentrated flavors, no cloying in the sweetness, just layers of pure, clean,
flavors; very elegant.

I will always remember lying in bed that night, book laid down on my chest, smelling the wine's sweet perfume. No other bottle of that same wine was ever as good.

1997 Opus One - Early December 2000 in the restaurant "La Mer" of the Halekulani Hotel in Honolulu, with my wife, at a table for two over-looking Waikiki beach. The sommelier recommended it to pair with my main course of roast rack of lamb and squab. I initially declined, opining that it was surely much too young to enjoy. He gently urged me, guaranteeing we'd like it. We certainly did. This was the bottle that raised my interest in Napa cabs. I had this wine many, many times since then, but that first bottle, on that night, was the best of them all.

1955 Château Rauzan-Ségla - Served by Emmanuel Cruse with the excellent cheese course at his family's fairytale château d'Issan during a dinner in July 2007.

My enjoying the cheeses and wine had a lot to do with the venue, of course, as well as the company and conversation of my seat-mate, Jean-Pierre Chambas (a French immigrant to the US who owns and runs Aleph Wines, one of the biggest wine distributors in South Carolina), a bull of a man with a walrus moustache, gentle demeanor and great wealth of knowledge of food and wine.

1997 Domaine Romanée Conti Le Montrachet - The Doc, Stockbroker and I thirded a bottle of this over lunch at Tivoli, late March 2005. The Stockbroker arranged for a special menu for us revolving around this bottle. I recall we had a 1996 Dom Pérignon to start. What a wine. What a lunch. A lot of time was spent analyzing, re-analyzing, savoring it, alone and with each course, and, naturally, discussing all the aspects and nuances thereof.

1977 Gevrey Chambertin by Emile Bourgeot - Shared with me by Robert Burroughes sometime in August or September 2006. Though an admitted Bordeaux amateur, I'd had some experience with red Burgundies at the time, but never really quite understood why they were so revered. This was my first romance with a truly good, aged Burgundy, its perfume touched with decayed violets, as well as the nostalgia it elicits. I've never looked back. The Doc had told me more than once that he'd read that "All roads lead to red Burgundy". With that bottle, I finally got what he meant.

~ Memorable Lunch, Almost Forgotten Wines ~

Since the members of our little wine group fell into each other's company, we've had so many superb bottles, it would be impossible to try to make a list of exceptional ones. However, there is this one particularly memorable lunch we somewhere lost in time and alcohol (the Vigneron hadn't joined us regularly yet, so I'm guessing it was late in 2005) where the Stockbroker and I got majorly plastered (the Doc much less so - or so he insists). So much so, that the Stockbroker and I couldn't be roused from our naps and, consequently failed to attend our respective dinners that night.

Ironically, we all remember that lunch well, but couldn't individually be sure of what bottles we drank. Thus, we had to piece the list together from our collective memories. I recall we started with the Doc's 1996 Dom Pérignon, then moved to the reds with our main courses - though there may have been half a bottle of white from the Stockbroker somewhere in between.

The Doc remembered he brought a 1998 Tertre Roteboeuf (which I liked so much I served the same wine on my following birthday), and the Stockbroker remembered my 2001 Opus One (a gift from good friends from Hillsborough, Ca). With dessert, we had the Stockbroker's half bottle of excellent 1983 Rieussec (that one I remembered). I also recall the Stockbroker opened a Napa cab, but can't remember what it was as this was the one that surely "pushed us over the edge", as it were.

It was a stroke of luck that I brought a driver that day as I was in no condition to drive myself. I slept all the way back home and continued thereafter to the next morning. The dinner I missed was hosted by us at home, so my wife was, understandably, peeved at me for not attending to the guests (better than throwing up all over them, I thought).

We three then decided to limit our lunch wines to just one white or bubbly and one red from then on unless the Vigneron or someone else joins us.

~ Not only old or extra-special wines can turn out memorable of course ~

The first Bugey Cerdon I ever tried, the maker of which I have long forgotten. At Ducasse's 1930s-esque Parisian bistro, Aux Lyonnais, in July 2006. I didn't really know what Bugey Cerdon was at the time, but noticed that everyone around us seemed to be having this scarlet bubbly as their apéritif, so I ordered some for my wife and I - very inexpensive. It was just so light, refreshing, simply enjoyable and dangerously drinkable, it set the pace for a memorable dinner that night. The oeufs cocotte here was the best we've had, even Robuchon's, while very good, couldn't do better. The grilled calf's liver is to die for - honest, hearty, robust and rustic. Have dessert elsewhere though.

I ordered a case of the Cerdon de Bugey Caveau de Mont St-July (under $15 per bottle in California) when I got back to Manila. Everyone who I let try it loved it. Sevrine, after her first two glasses told me to keep it away from her as she would drink the whole bottle herself. Mrs. Doc loved it too when I brought it to their beach house and had the Doc buy her her own stash of it. The Stockbroker ordered 4 cases of the stuff. Enough said.

2002 Domaine Michel Niellon Chassagne-Montrachet - A simple village (i.e., neither a premier cru nor a grand cru) Chassagne-Montrachet from one of the better makers of the area, with our second course of langoustine and truffle ravioli, during my wife's and my first meal at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Paris. The interplay between the wine and the dish and discussing all the numerous courses with my wife made it memorable.

2006 Joseph Mellot Sancerre La Gravelière - A couple of bottles during a late dinner (around 10:45pm) with my wife at Au Pied de Cochon in Paris with moules farçi, assorted fresh oysters and os à moelle. It was cheap, around 39 Euros per bottle restaurant price (I subsequently checked and it could be bought at 12-13 Euros at retail), but it was superb and paired well with everything we had, even the thick, spicy, garlicy tomato-based sauce of the moules. We slugged down almost the entire first bottle before our food arrived, ordered another bottle, got tipsy, struck up a conversation with a nice, young Russian couple at the next table, and, eventually, stumbled back to our hotel way past 1am, laughing like idiots.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Tempier Lunch.

Early this week, Jérome Philippon organized a lunch to present some of the wines of Domaine Tempier, among others. I immediately confirmed my attendance - wouldn't have missed it - since I got to try the 1999 Tempier "La Tourtine" and 2001 "La Migoua" from the Doc in the dead of summer 2006, as well as one of the rosés (the vintage of which escapes me), and liked them all.

Simply put, Domaine Tempier is widely acknowledged to be the best wine producer of Peter Mayle's much-romanticized Provençe. Located in the appellation (status as such since 1941) of Bandol, some kilometers inland from the coastal vacation destination town of the same name, Tempier is especially famous for its rosé - considered by many as the very best rosé in the world. Jérome's Somelier Selection is now the authorized distributor of Tempier wines for Asia (excluding Japan).

Thus, 8 of us met at Je Suis Gourmand yesterday (wasn't I just here?), palates raring to go.

Luigi, Jérome, Alex, Felix, Tonji, Ken, Myself and Louie

I ordered some goat's cheese on toast (chèvre en croute) to start off with chilled bottles of Jérome's 2002 Domaine Michel Redde Pouilly-fumé Cuvée Majorum - the top bottling of one of the best producers of Pouilly-fumé - and my 1999 Domaine Henri Bourgeois Sancerre La Bourgeoise - an aged medium-high bottling of one of the better producers of Sancerre which I brought for purposes of comparison. Sancerre and Pouilly-fumé both are appellations of France's Loire region, across the river from each other, both producing crisp, refreshing, minerally wines made from sauvignon blanc.

I've written about both these wines before, and one can read my respective notes by clicking on the highlighted text of the said wines above. I asked for the chèvre en croute because that is one of the traditional pairings of the Loire, and, of course, because I happen to like the pairing myself. The Majorum, in this instance, was comparatively crisper, with cleaner lines, with brighter fruit, better focus, minerality and acidic balance. It clearly upstaged the older, comparatively more mellow and softer La Bourgeoise. Louie accurately noted that the Majorum would pair well with Chinese cuisine (both fish and shellfish) and promptly ordered a case of it.

With one of my all-time favorites: the escargot bourguignonne, we had the:

2007 Tempier Bandol Rosé - Having enjoyed a previous vintage a few years ago and read several rave reviews in US wine sites about this latest available rosé of Tempier, I was very eager to try it.

An exquisitely pure and clear light pinkish salmon in color, it is a hell of a pretty wine, one could drink it in with one's eyes. In the nose - and I've never really bothered to pay much attention to any rosé's aroma before - was alluring - like a light, cooling summer cologne.

In the mouth, it is light and delicately infused with a fine melange of fresh canteloupe, strawberry, bit of melon, orange rind and the faintest whisper of lavender. Perfectly balanced. Ethereal. Astounding. My poor descriptions fail to do it justice. It is, without any shred of doubt, the best rosé I have ever had. Period.

At an IWFS Ladies' Branch tasting at Jérome's office later that evening, Mrs. Vigneron and Fely tried it as well and the latter obviously liked it as much as I. I can't say it enough, this is an incredibly good wine - and perfect for the Philippine clime.

At just a shade over P2000 per bottle (P2050 to be exact), I'm loading up on this. A bit pricey for a rosé, but, this is the best in the world and I think it's well worth it. I've compared prices in the US, and, considering the cost, not to mention hassle, of bringing some in myself, it is both marginally cheaper and much more convenient to buy it locally.

With the special of the day, an absolutely tender and succulent roasted lamb loin stuffed with goat cheese with Provençal ratatouille:

2006 Tempier Bandol Classique - Made up of mainly mourvèdre grapes with some grenache, cinsault and a touch of carignan from the different estate vineyards, this is Tempier's basic bottling. Poured straight in to the glass, it is full, masculine and unabashed, loaded with sturdily structured ripe-roasted dark plum, blackberries, cassis, very subtle black coffee and meaty undertones, pepper, anise, violets, lavender, thyme and rosemary. Admirable harmony and balance, with a discreet earthiness/meatiness that will probably surface more after a couple of years in bottle.

There is, naturally, a bit of heat at the start which subsides with aeration. Good push and length. Enjoyable now with food and a bit of aeration, with very good future potential as well.

Tonji and I later on discussed how surprisingly enjoyable it was with the food though still very young. Though it will surely gain in complexity with age, this was already very enjoyable to have with our robust, earthy main course. A reasonable P2520 per bottle from Sommelier Selection, an affordable way to get a sample of Provençe.

2004 Rubrum Obscurum by Château de Roquefort (Côtes de Provençe) - I am not at all familiar with the wines or producers of this area. Smells and feels somewhat like a highly extracted/concentrated Southern Rhône wine to me...or even a modern Priorat. Spicy, peppery, deeply-veined dark fruit, probably comes from old vines and underwent a good amount of time in wood. More power than the 2006 Tempier Classique and not as harmonious or structured. I would guess the latter will age more gracefully.

Those who enjoy powerful, spicy, peppery, up-front, Parker "blockbuster"-styled wines will probably like this. I imagine a thick hunk of rare, grilled rib-eye steak (Mamou, anyone?), Marc's Boeuf Onglet or gamey venison would pair well with this. I am not aware how much Sommelier Selection sells this for.

With a thin apple tart topped with ice cream, we had the 2006 Bott-Geyl Gewürztraminer Les Elements which was an excellent pairing. I have written about this wine several times and it should be pretty clear by now how much I enjoy this wine and how great a bargain I think it is. There is no need for me to belabor this point. I can gush over it only so much; any more is embarrassing.

Not satisfied with how much wine we had already imbibed, after all, we were all still vertical and conscious (albeit beginning to laugh a bit too loudly), Jérome invited the remaining 5 of us over to his office to taste his currently available vintage of one of Tempier's higher-end bottlings, La Tourtine. How could we say no to that?

2006 Tempier Bandol La Tourtine - Grapes from a single, elevated vineyard, I would guess similar in blend to the Classique. Popped and poured - no decanting, it was difficult for us to wait for it to air in the glass so we tasted it immediately, but slowly, to see how it evolved.

Again, Tonji and I were surprised at how drinkable it immediately was, albeit, naturally, with more apparent youthful tannic astringency at the finish. This wine displayed superior definition and more precise focus than the Classique with more surface ripe, red berry/black cherry flavors. Its earthy power, muscle and garrigue and sun-roasted herb notes emerged after around 20 minutes with emphasis on rosemary, lavender and more discreet touches of thyme and pine. The woody notes, readily apparent but not obtrusive, will surely integrate even better given a few more years ageing. Long, strong finish, admirable balance, and, again, good harmony.

This is a wine for the long haul - something confirmed aficionados would have in their cellars. At P3800 per bottle, it is probably not an everyday wine for us mere mortals, but not at all unreasonable or unattainable. It's a buy for the cellar - I know the Doc and Stockbroker keep older vintages in theirs.

To cleanse our by now surely deeply purple-stained tongues, Jérome opened a 2006 Domaine de la Sarazinière Clos des Bruyères Bourgogne Aligoté - This is a simple, charming, inexpensive (P950 per bottle) aligoté (one of the white grapes of Burgundy, second to the ruling chardonnay of the region) that one can open pretty much anytime wants a fresh, dry, unpretentious and pleasant sip of white, or, with a simple fish dish or even, perhaps, a light salad. Well-chilled on a hot afternoon, pour over a tiny bit of crème de cassis and you have a kir (which I almost always choose as an aperitif in Burgundy).

Light, clean green apple, demure citrus and a nuance of straw ("chaume", I believe is the French descriptor). Something to drink young, whimsically, and, at its price, anytime one wants.

It was a welcome refresher after a hard-fought day.
As we were getting ready to take our leave, the ladies started trickling in and I figured I'd stay a few more minutes to say hi to Mrs. Vigneron and Fely and witness how they find the Tempier rosé and Bott-Geyl gewürz.

Of course, when Jérome started pouring fresh bottles for the ladies, he also offered us (by now, just Tonji, Louie, Alex and I) some of the wines we had already passed through ("a second round" said he). One look at that luscious rosé and golden gewürz and I just couldn't refuse - how weak I am when it comes to good wine.

All told, by around 7:30pm, we said our goodbyes, gave our thanks and rushed back south. After all, I had a friend's farewell dinner to attend and was already running late.

Thanks for the enjoyable day and marathon wine session, Jérome. I'd steer clear of Catha though, if I were you, especially after she reads this and figures out how much I drank for yesterday's 7½-hour lunch. My excuse was that I was forced to drink all that wine. Heh heh.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Stockbroker's Vintage 1990 Wine Lunch.

The Stockbroker called a few days ago for a wine lunch with Bernd and J-Lab. It was to be another one of his "don't-bring-any-wine,-I'll-take-care-of-it" lunches, as he has to cull his considerable collection every so often. Hey, I'm easy, but there seems to be so many of them lately. I, naturally, agreed, though - lunch out with friends is always fun albeit with my vinous wings clipped.

We all met at old reliable Je Suis Gourmand for Marc's hearty, honest real French cuisine and the restaurant's relaxed, comfortable (and comforting) atmosphere. All wines except one were the Stockbroker's. J-Lab got to open his bottle since only he brought dessert wine.

To it, then!

As a welcome drink and to prepare our palates:

1990 Perrier-Jouët Champagne Brut Cuvée Belle Epoque (Epernay, Champagne) - A blast from the past for me. I used to buy tons of this same vintage (as well as the 1989) from Säntis when it was only P700 per bottle back in the mid-to-late '90s. J-Lab said he used to get it for slightly under P700 in Greenhills (thus, we date ourselves). Not having had the '90 for many years, this chance to revisit it was a superb treat.

The first bottle (same bottling but from 1985) was dead, no pressure in the bottle, no bubbles when poured, pure over-oxidation. Discarded. The second bottle exhibited pressure and immediately displayed a sparse yet exquisitely delicate mousse. Bernd, a confirmed Champagne aficionado (together with J-Lab) assured us that it would come around with more mousse by the second pour, and, indeed it did.

Yes, I know, the picture isn't of a proper flute, we just tested it with this glass and switched to flutes afterwards.

By the second pour, the bubbly gained a bit of rounded weight mid-palate and presented surface ripe, faintly honeyed white stone-fruit with nuances of nutty beurre noisette. There is a biscuity, toasty-creaminess to it, increasing towards the back, magnified further by letting a bit of air in and "gargling". A mild oxidative over-all theme lends a touch of complexity, nostalgia, emphasizes the weight and toasty-creaminess (especially towards the back). A whisper of lemon custard joins in at the finish. Very nice. Admirable balance, breadth and structure at this late stage.

Loved it then when it was a lean and bright-eyed youth, love it now as a mature and worldly-wise adult.

With a delectable Cream of Chantrelles Soup with a dollop of chèvre (I finished off half of it before remembering to take a picture)...

...and Moules de Bouchot avec frites:

1990 Champagne Deutz Brut (Aÿ, Champagne) - This looks and smells like a blanc de blancs (i.e., 100% chardonnay) but doesn't taste like one to me - this is not a bad thing at all - on the contrary, though I do appreciate blanc de blancs, I prefer champagnes with the added heft and roundness of pinot noir.

This comparatively fresher, purer in fruit, more linear, better-focused wine's flavors were dominated by crisp green apples, with citrus highlights and subtle grapefruit and white mineral notes. Lesser in weight than and not as luxurious or layered in the mouth as the previous bubbly, this possessed a tauter, lither, more athletic body and more straightforward personality.

Underneath all this, there was an ever-so-faint nuance of milk-chocolatiness that suggests to me a healthy blend of pinot noir. I could very well be wrong, but there it is. It is always specially entertaining and stimulating to be able to compare two wines from the same appellation and vintage.

The Deutz's better focus, tighter and leaner body, as well as apparent minerally notes made it a better pairing with the moules in my opinion. Marc, who hails from Champagne (did I hear right that he's actually from the same hometown as Deutz?), stopped by to see how we were doing and was convinced to have a quick glass with us.

With our main courses (grilled rack of lamb for me):

1990 Château Clerc Milon (Pauillac) - Ripe, rounded mildly earthy dark fruit, cassis, fig, graphite and (readily apparent though well-integrated) oak/vanilla base with a touch of licorice toward the back. Sweetish cedar and red berries more apparent on the surface subtly blending downwards. Slightly over medium-bodied, and lush on the palate with decent length.

Not a "blockbuster" in style like its bombastic 1st growth cousin, Mouton Rothschild, but, then, it needn't be. Call me whimsical, but it seems more like Lafite Rothschild on the surface and more like Mouton Rothschild underneath. I, personally, prefer the less bombastic style this wine partakes of. In blind horizontal (i.e., same year, different producers) tastings, I almost always rate Mouton Rothschild in the middle tier or below ("almost" because I ranked it 1st place in a recent 1996 first growth blind tasting).

In any event, I greatly enjoyed this wine with my grilled rack of lamb - the smokiness of the chops running with the graphite notes while the sweetish-savory ripe fig and ripe red berry notes lent a nice foil to the earthy meatiness.

The Stockbroker also opened a bottle from Cahors - a wine region in southwest France where the malbec grape (there called "auxerrois") rules. It was a 1990 Château du Cayrou - from a producer authorities consider to be one of the best in the region. I was mouthing off (as usual) that these typically robust, tannic and manly wines are the sort that grow hair on one's chest.

As if to spite me, though, the wine didn't deliver as I described. Flat in the mouth, virtually no fruit, yet, there was no souring/vinegary taste or odor at all, and no mustiness/moldiness of old cardboard or over-oxidation notes. It did have slight odors suggestive of fish and tin though. All these considered, I'm calling it as slightly TCA-tainted (i.e., "corked") .

The bottle was set aside and we moved on to J-Lab's dessert wine....

2006 Dr. Loosen Riesling Beerenauslese (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) - Medium-sweet with healthy balancing acidity that rejuventated my palate. Fresh, bright, friendly notes of cling peach, orange rind, honeysuckle, white mineral and a honeyed, vaguely melony/grapey theme that reminded me a lot of a sweet muscat-based dessert wine from Mondavi that I tried there in May 2006 - go figure. This was much better though.

Playfully entertaining wine with a lot of charm. Very easy to drink. Honest, no pretenses to contemplative depth or complexity - it does its job as a dessert wine, and plenty well enough. The botrytis tang/spice is there, but very delicate. Nicely crafted wine.

Fun lunch. Thanks guys!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Napa Cab and Rioja with Steak.

It had been several months since my former regular golf group (with spouses) all got together for dinner again after a "reunion" round of golf. "Former" because several moved on to biking, sailing, too much work and whatnot. Last night (12 September 2008), however, attendance was complete at B and M's new house for one of their not-to-be-missed steak dinners. B, born and raised in the US, is a confirmed Napa cab man, while M is of Spanish extraction. Since the former always serves Napa cabs at their dinners, I thought to bring along a reliable Rioja for the latter.

The evening began with glasses of crisp, well-chilled 2007 Bodegas Protos Rueda Verdejo (for extensive notes, see my post on JC de Terry's recent Bodegas Protos dinner) for the appetizers of homemade salmon and cream cheese dip, brie and Parma ham - continuing with the initial course of crab cakes salad (with homemade sour cream).

With thick slabs of US prime grade rib-eye steaks and paella:

1993 Beaulieu Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Georges de Latour Private Reserve (Napa Valley, USA) - B's bottle. Though I've tried the '91, '94, '96 and '97 versions, '93 was a vintage I'd not previously had.

Georges de Latour was a French immigrant who made his money in the US selling cream of tartar. A bit of research shows that in 1900 he purchased a 4 acre property in Rutherford (the historic vineyard area of Napa) for his wife, Fernande, which they named "Beaulieu", which means "beautiful place". He planted rootstock from his native France in this land, and, beacause Napa's phylloxera (a tiny louse that destroy vineyards) infestation reached devastating proportions around 1910, eventually became the biggest supplier of rootstock for the area's wine estates.

In 1938, Georges de Latour brought in Russian-born French immigrant André Tchelistcheff as winemaker who brought Beaulieu Vineyards (where he was fondly called "Maestro") from strength to strength and went on to become a huge influence in Napa's wine-producing history.

Ok, enough with the factoids. On to the wine itself.

This '93 was accurately summarized by my wife as "luscious". It's bouquet of creamy cassis, ripe blackcurrant, kirsch, raspberry highlights, dried herbs, mushrooms and vanilla/oak had the slightest touch of gamy magnétisme animal, all of which were broadly displayed on a bordering-on-full body. Bold, dusty, but 15-years' softened, molten tannins and adequate acidity propped up the wine, gave good structure and kept the palate from being numbed by the steak's richness. I thought I detected whispers of toffee and anise in the long, cedar-laced finish which would ordinarily tip me of that the wine is from Napa, or, at least, California.

Since the wine wasn't served blind, however, I can't definitely say I could have nailed it as such since it was quite suave, the toffee nuance very discreet, and, as a whole, it was reminiscent of a well-extracted, somewhat modern-styled Médoc from a ripe (but not roasted-ripe) vintage. Mature and drinking beautifully. Excellent with the steak.

The bottle was from B's dad's cellar (purchased on release and impeccably stored); this BV-GdL vintage is not locally available to the best of my knowledge.

2001 Marqués de Cáceres Rioja Reserva (Rioja, Spain) - My bottle, 85% tempranillo with the rest made up by grenache and graciano, 22 months in oak. 2001 was a very good year for Spain's wine regions in general.

When I was growing up, until well into the early-to-mid '90s, most all Spanish red wines available in Manila were from Rioja (as far as I could tell, anyway). It was only in the late '90s onward that I could easily find reds from Ribera del Duero, Toro or Priorat (now, one can even find wine from the new "hot" area of El Bierzo - see my post on Pétalos). By default setting, though, I cannot help but find Riojas comfortingly familiar.

Cedar and, to a much lesser extent, camphor, lace the leather-touched, earthy dark fruit, ripe raspberry, strawberry, dried thyme, mild anise and toasty oak. Rustic feel to it. Hint of old violets and drying wood towards the back and in the finish. A shade over medium-bodied, healthy extraction, a bit low on acid (because of the tempranillo, hence, I suppose, the blending in of graciano). The finish, though a bit drying, is acceptable in length. Nice typicity, it speaks of Rioja, albeit in a modern manner as compared to, say, the more traditional 2001 Cerro Añón Reserva. Available at Terry's for a little over P1600 per bottle. I'd buy it again as comfort wine, and its quality-to-price ratio is pretty good to boot.

We didn't have any dessert wine that night, which was absolutely fine with me. What with the belly-busting amounts of food the evening's hosts always prepare (we barely finished half of the steaks), I was already staggering to the dessert table for the decadent flourless chocolate cake, peach cream torte and Yulo's coffee crunch cake.

I couldn't resist, I had a slice of the all of them - two of the coffee crunch cake, actually. I did think twice about the second slice, but figured "That's why God created Alka Seltzer", and proceeded to continue over-indulging myself.

A cup of coffee and several cigarettes later, I felt vaguely human again, just enough to engage in half hour more of conversation before thanking our gracious hosts and bidding them goodbye.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

2 Locally Available Value Wines for Lunch.

Had lunch with the Vigneron and Mr. O yesterday, a meeting of friends with a bit of work thrown in. Contrary to what some may (erroneously) think, I am active in the legal practise. I do it for a living - have been for the past 17 years - or else I couldn't afford to buy wine.

At favorite and reliable Je Suis Gourmand, I was the first to arrive, and drenched by the rain I might add, since I had to park down the road and it was raining cats and dogs. The restaurant was full despite the awful weather so we took a table in the bar area (which eventually filled up as well). I had a bottle of white opened, decanted and kept in moderately-iced water. My two other bottles, reds, stayed in my wine bag until we decided which of them to open, if any.

The two arrived in close succession, the Vigneron opening a bottle of his family's Bordeaux Supérieur for re-tasting. Considering there were meetings for us later in the day, we stuck to just 2 bottles.

With appetizers of escargot bourguignonne and flammenkueche (a.k.a., tart flambée):

2005 Robert-Denogent Saint-Véran "Les Pommards" Vieilles Vignes - Saint-Véran is a wine producing area in southern Burgundy (between Mâcon and Beaujolais) that achieved appellation status in 1971, the vineyards of which are planted to chardonnay. Better known and generally pricier Pouilly-fuissé is located within the area of Saint-Véran. As I understand, the grapes that went into the subject wine were from vines at least 40 years old.

A bit taut and tense initially with clean, lean, somewhat linear apple, mild citrus, lemon infused with a slight white minerality. After material breathing, it gained weight (a shade under medium-bodied most noticeably mid-palate) and precise breadth - the fruit turning softer and taking on a baked attribute, the lemon notes turning slightly sweeter, softer and creamy. At this point, notes of Korean Iya pear emerged, as well as a slight leesiness, whisper of vanilla and, towards the back, a mere suggestion of nuttiness. Good harmony.

Acidity was adequate, the wine was in balance.

I have read some write-ups likening the wines from St-Véran to Meursault and Pouilly-fuissé. I really can't comment on these comparisons at this point since this was the first Saint-Véran I've tried - and one from a very ripe year. I'd like to be able to try some from 2004 and 2006 to get a better handle on it before I venture into generalizing their characteristics - but I can definitely get that they may be compared more to Meursaults and Pouilly-fuissé rather than other white Burgundies such as Chassagne-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet and Chablis.

From my readings, though, I do agree that this is a very affordable way to drink good white Burgundy. At P1900 per bottle at retail from Sommelier Selection, I am not presently aware of a comparable (in terms of quality) locally available (non-Chablis) white Burgundy. The only one that comes close in quality-to-price-ratio ("QPR"), to my mind would have to be Laurent Tribut's traditional, unoaked, pure, steely, minerally, laser-focused village Chablis (also sold by Sommelier Selection).

It was a good match with Je Suis Gourmand's escargot, and, I would expect, their ever-popular terrine of foie gras and trio of scallop-prawn-sea bass pasta as well.

With main courses of goose leg confit over ceps and potatoes, and, boneless, stuffed pig's knuckle (á la Au Pied de Cochon) and frites:

2003 Château Saint-Jacques - the Bordeaux Supérieur bottling of Château Siran (Margaux). The grapes that go into this wine come from the vineyards located on the right side of the estate's gardens (if one is facing the 17th century family manse), across the road from Siran's Margaux appellation vineyards, bordering said appellation's geographic limits.

My past notes on this state:

...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.

I can add now that this is straightforwardly generous on the palate, well-extracted, with good masculine heft and streamlined curves to its cassis, cherry/raspberry, dark plum, cedar and vanilla/oak flavors. Mid-palate, slight nuances of leather and sweet tobacco emerge. Quite similar in character to the estate's Margaux bottling, but a touch sweeter and not as heavily muscled or deeply veined. Drinking even better than when I last tried it around a year ago.

The initial stocks of this sold out quickly months ago, but it is now back in stock at Premium Wine Exchange and Säntis for P800 per bottle more-or-less. Great QPR at that price, and, objectively, a definite buy.

Excellent with the goose leg confit. I didn't get to try it with the pig's knuckle because Mr. O started growling and baring his teeth whenever my fork ventured within striking distance of his plate.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Bodegas Protos Dinner.

~ 5th September 2008 at Terry's Segundo Piso, Makati ~

Juan Carlos de Terry (a.k.a., "JC") graciously invited my wife and I for a dinner in honor of Bodegas Protos' Head of Exports, Carlos Villar Bada, who was in town for a short visit. I eagerly confirmed our attendance. We always greatly enjoy JC's events as he is an excellent chef, and, aside from being a Phd in oenology, an expert in Spanish cuisine and excellent pianist, more importantly, he is a good friend.

Bodegas Protos (meaning "First" in Greek) is located in the town of Peñafiel, in the province of Villadolid, Spain, at the foot of XIVth century Peñafiel Castle and is one of the oldest and largest, if not the oldest and largest, producer(s) of Ribera del Duero. Those interested in learning more about Bodegas Protos may click here.

We arrived at the appointed time and chatted with the other guests. As usual, JC was busy in the kitchen preparing our feast while, at the same time, greeting guests, checking the wines and making sure all the other customers of his jam-packed restaurant were well taken care of. We were seated with Carlos, Uncle David, Belinda, the spouses Vigneron and Cecile Mauricio as the parade of delights began. And, what a parade it was.

"Comer sin vino es miseria y desatino"

~ Menu and Wine List ~

With 2007 Protos Rueda Verdejo

Ensalada Fria de Salmón y Arroz de la Huerta
A cold creamy salmon salad with eggs , carrots and apples, all wrapped in rice paper

Pavía de Ostra Estilo Cadiz - Crispy-coated New Zealand oyster topped with salsa Aji

Trilogía de Cecina de Léon, Paté de Jabali y Chicharron de Cordero - Slices of Cecina air-dried beef and paté atop a mini galette sprinkled with crushed lamb crackling

With 2007 Protos Rosado

Sopa Mediterránea de Crustáceos al Protos Rosado
A hearty bisque of crab, shrimp and grouper scented with Protos Rosé, covered in crisp pastry

With 2004 Protos Crianza

Arroz a la Crema de Alcachofas Confitadas
A creamy risotto of blended artichoke confit

With 2003 Protos Reserva

Ragout de Cordero al Estilo de Burgos
Lamb confit atop a bed of slow-cooked mélange of vegetables

With 2005 Protos Selección

Soufflé de Queso de Sardón del Duero al Aroma de Romero
A soufflé of cheese from Sardón del Duero gratinated with Cereta del Cadí and drizzled with a blend of puréed prunes from Agen and Protos Reserva

With Pedro Ximénez Sherry

Helado de Aceitunas Negras al Aceite Orgánico Extra Virgen
Freshly made black olive ice cream with extra virgin olive oil from Jaénwith a thyme-scented Muscat syrup

2007 Protos Rueda Verdejo - 100% verdejo, the main white grape of Rueda. Fruit profile: pure and clean green apple with mild grapefruit undertones; some tropicality in the middle and pineapple more apparent slightly past mid-palate. There are hints of fresh grass in the nose and, to a much lesser extent, on the palate (nowhere near as aggressively grassy as many Marlborough NZ sauvignon blancs though) . The attack is crisp and firm enough, turning somewhat softer mid-mouth as the tropicality (and a slight leesy nuance) sets in. The underlying grapefruit lends a hint of bitterness towards the back, which, to my mind, makes it a nice apéritif as such bitterness whets my appetite - much like a very dry prosecco or Campari soda. Over-all, it is nicely dry and has good purity and brightness.

It didn't taste or smell to me like it spent any time in oak and Carlos confirmed this. He said they intend to eventually marry their verdejos in oak to make them age longer. I replied that I, personally, prefer verdejos pure like this one and not (or at least minimally) oak-touched or laden - but, that's just me.

The wine's crisp attack and dryness was a good foil to the creamy salmon salad, it's purity of fruit and focus an entertaining counterpoint to the crispy, tempura-esque oyster, and its middle's soft tropicality and pineapple notes providing the same with the savory air-dried Cecina beef and lamb cracklings.

At P570 per bottle, it is easily affordable for those who want to explore and/or continue to enjoy Rueda Verdejos (Note: "Rueda Verdejos" are at least 85% verdejo, while "Verdejos" are only at least 50% verdejo).

2007 Protos Rosado - Fresh, well-balanced, straightforward, honest, fruity rosé - a bit high in alcohol content for a rosé, but only apparent on the label and the nice rounded heft mid-palate. Good extraction (I never thought of a rosé as well-extracted, but there you go). Fun to drink - strawberry/cherry/raspberry (in descending order) with a faint red beet nuance underneath. Its magic, though, was in the pairing with the richly and complexly flavored crab/shrimp/grouper bisque. Absolutely wonderful match - difficult to describe - the freshness of the fruit cut the richness where needed and cleansed at the finish, while the rounded middle fruitiness added nice weight and "meatiness" to it mid-palate. Bravo! My and my wife's favorite pairing of the evening.

At a mere P475 per bottle, it's a definite no-brainer. Back up the truck, guys, and head for the beach or a picnic...or a beach picnic. In addition to the foregoing, I have time and again opined that rosés are extremely versatile and generally good matches with slightly spicy Filipino dishes like adobong snipes or pork and/or chicken.

2004 Protos Crianza - Super-ripe, mildly earthy dark fruit base and cherry/red berry surface notes, there was a permeating slight torrefaction to this as a whole. Licorice, bit of toastiness as well. It must have been quite a hot year in Ribera del Duero well into harvest time. Lots of extraction. Well-integrated slightly toasty oak, sweet tobacco and slight dark chocolate notes became more apparent after material breathing time in the glass. I noted a bit of American oak used as there was that tell-tale coconut cream scent hovering about (the use of which was confirmed by Carlos - around 30% I think he said) - not obtrusive though - it blended in well, adding complexity, depth and body. Hint of toffee in the finish (something I usually notice/associate more with Napa cab sauvs). A bit of a tailored, modern touch that I note in many Spanish reds these days - which, likely, makes it easily accessible and readily pleasing.

Still and all, good heft, body an length, quite easy to like and drink. At P1300 per bottle, I'd buy this to serve at parties where caution is thrown to the wind. As to the pairing, while I tend to serve ripe Chassagne-Montrachets or oaky California chardonnays with risottos, the pairing worked well due to the earthiness of the dark fruit base and that of the risotto - a hand-in-hand match primarily, with the surface ripe red berries adding a bit of contrasting highlights.

2003 Protos Reserva - I expected the dominant fruit component of this to be even riper and more roasted than the 2004 Crianza. Surprisingly, it was not. While the fruit was plenty ripe enough, the Crianza was moreso. The cherry notes casi licoroso. The flavors were similar except this had slight plumminess underneath, but, somehow, I felt this wine had marginally more freshness to its fruit, and marginally better depth, structure and finesse. It was a bit lighter on its feet as well, but I really had to strain to detect that - these were both somewhat full and definitely ripe, rounded, international-styled reds, make no mistake. Suave on the palate, almost velvety.

I recall, at this point, the Vigneron asked me which grape in France, in my opinion, would be somewhat close to the tempranillo (known as "tinto del pais" or "tinto fino" in Ribera del Duero). Cecile suggested the cabernet franc of the Loire. I thought about it for a while but couldn't come up with any based on my personal experience.

Had this and the Crianza with the earthy lamb confit and they both matched very well - more running with than contrasting. I recall Charles Philipponnat prefers the "running with" kind of pairing. At P1905 per bottle, I consider it still reasonably priced and would do well with roasted meats, rich confits (as what we had it with) and stews.

2005 Protos Selección - Evidently deeper flavors (without being overly extracted or super-ripe) and clearly better focus in this wine, likely from much older vines. Much finer and more apparent typicity than the two previously mentioned wines - no modern coconut cream or toffee nuances, purity and complexity seem to be more the game here. There is a dark spiciness to it and apparent but very well-integrated oak/vanilla. More refined, contemplative and properly reserved rather than eagerly pleasing.

The match with the dual cheese soufflé was very fine and seemed very Bordeliase to me. The cheese soufflé was ethereal. Lovely. At P2660 per bottle, it's probably not one for everyday consumption, but will do very well for nights of celebration or contemplation.

I simply must make special mention of the dessert course of JC's own black olive/olive oil ice cream on a thyme-scented muscat reduction. I also must add (because it is not mentioned in the menu) that it was lightly topped with crunchy, candied, finely chopped green olives. It was absolutely ingenuous, heavenly, a truly inspired work of art.

I remember wishing the Doc (who first introduced me to the wonders of olive oil gelato) could have been there to enjoy this - he would have loved it. My wife and the Vigneron were most impressed as well. We can't imagine how JC thought up this incredibly complex dessert and the effort he took in orchestrating the flavors - but we are happy he did.

Phenomenal indeed, and, with the Pedro Ximénez, a symphony completed. The Vigneron proclaimed that JC "is truly an artist", and we all agreed.

A million thanks must be accorded to our generous and inspired host for a dinner amazing and memorable in every way.