Friday, October 31, 2008

JC de Terry & Pablo Álvarez's Vega Sicilia Dinner.

Why it took me so long to write about this wine event, I really don't know. I suppose I felt it extremely difficult to do justice to JC's always instinctively artful and brilliantly complex cooking paired with Sr. Pablo Álvarez's legendary wines. In any event, here goes.

JC de Terry and Sr. Pablo Álvarez

During discussions on Spanish wines, be it those from Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Priorato, Toro or lesser-known areas, those of the Álvarez family's Vega Sicilia are always spoken of with great respect and, at times, even a touch of awe. Most all authorities consider it the best of Spain by far, and they are, in all probability, on point.

In the latter part of 2007, JC mentioned that he will, in the future, be hosting a dinner in honor of Pablo Álvarez, Vega Sicilia's Director General. Months later, on the 10th April 2008, the dinner was held and I, together with some friends, were fortunate enough to have been in attendance: Doc and Mrs. Doc, Bernie Sim, Robert Burroughes, Miguel Vecin, Chris Lozano, Eric and Cinthy Recto, Alfred Wieneke and Ricardo Po. Also present were, among others, Endika Aboitiz, Marcus Gfeller, some members of the diplomatic community, and, naturally, the de Terry family.

The evening began with glasses of Mandolina (an apt, summery drink of white wine and fruit - JC said they never called it "Sangria" back in Spain), we had aperitivos muy complejos of Sorbete de Mango Verde a la Hierbabuena y Joselito Gran Reserva (Spearmint Infused Green Mango & Joselito Gran Reserva Sorbet), Nido de Cangrejo y Quisquillas/Crema de Anchoas al Armagnac (Baby Shrimp & Crab Nest/Anchovy & Armagnac Cream), Caramelos de Besugo y Cecina de Léon/Alioli de Arbequina (White Snapper & Cecina de Léon Candies/Arbequina Alioli) and Salmis de Caracol de Campo al Mandolás (Salmis of Escargot & Mandolás).

After a while, we were finally seated, and the feast proper began.

~ oOo ~

With "Romance de Pato y Vino" (Pear-Truffled Foie Gras Drizzled with Oremus Late Harvest & Dark Chocolate Duck Bonbons):

2002 Oremus Tokaji Late Harvest - I've written on this recently, served it at the last Manila Gentlemen's Club dinner, paired with Blackberry Clafoutis with Sauce. As previously stated, a product of Vega Sicilia's large, early 1990s investment in Hungary:

At the risk of over-simplification, a "lighter version" of Tokaji Aszu,
nicely viscous, but nowhere near as dense, thick or heavy. Nicely balanced
candied apricot (dominant), a bit of ripe peach, hints of candied orange rind,
marmalade, botrytis and tangy spice. Bright enough acidity so as not to further
weary the palate.
Excellent sweet-and-savory pairing. The wine's fine balance and lift made the marriage both luxurious and refreshing.

~ oOo ~

With "Por Tierras de Burgos" (Creamy Arborio, Morcilla Crumble and Piquillo Pepper Foam):

2004 Bodegas Alión Reserva Tinto - With 18 hectares of tinto fino (what they call tempranillo in Ribera del Duero), this bodega's maiden vintage was in 1991. The Reserva Tinto is only one wine produced by this bodega, no white or crianza or anything else. Only 100% new French oak is ever used - rare these days in Spain where many use a lot of less expensive American oak - but, then, if anyone there can afford 100% new oak barrels all the time, it, obviously, would be Vega Sicilia. Barrel ageing is 16-20 months.

The few vintages of Alión I have had (2001, 2002 and this 2004) are hedonists' wines in that they have all been luscious, relatively forward, nicely curved, well-rounded, expansive, with lowish-acid, modern, stylish and always pleasing characters. They are also consistently well-crafted.

The new oak makes for lightly toasty/creamy vanilla nuances in the nose and mouth (more apparent in the 2001 vintage). There is good depth to the macerated blackberries, dark fruit, red berries, with touches of mocha, licorice and cedar. Full-bodied, big but molten tannins, long and confident finish. I looked it up just now and see that Parker gave this a score of 96. I am not surprised at all. This would surely do well in blind tastings.

~ oOo ~

With "Sabores Míticos de la Ribera del Duero" (Braised Lamb Shank Tinted with Valbuena and Fuentesaúco Orchard Medley):

2003 Vega Sicilia Valbuena 5º - I've written many times throughout my blog that 2003 was a very hot/roasted year for France that challenged winemakers in Bordeaux, Burgundy and Alsace who wanted to maintain good balance and make typicity/expression of terroir shine through this vintage's somewhat overly-influential characteristics. Said challenge was also generally presented to the winemakers of Italy and Spain as well.

Despite such vintage and the use of 50% new American oak in its barrels, it is a ringing testament to Vega Sicilia's winemaking skills that this wine presented its terroir quite well - which, in my experience, is rare for 2003s.

This, unlike many 2003s, did not shout out the over-ripe, super-roasted characteristics in its (surface) red berry, cherry, red fruit dominated palate. Its vaguely minerally dark fruit, cassis, black coffee base was tinged with dried herbs, light pepper, and, more towards the back, eucalyptus, and violets. The new oak adding some heft and telltale vanilla and mocha mid-mouth. Surprisingly (despite the use of new American oak), this, to me, felt more expressive of terroir than the previously discussed Alión.

~ oOo ~

With "Un Queso Ancestral para un Vino Único" (5-Year-Old Manchego in Rosemary Soufflé with Prune Mornay):

1996 Vega Sicilia Único - This was an obvious choice for the red wine of the night. I'm sure that nobody there present would disagree. It's depth, complexity and structure were what struck me the most. Both serious yet vibrant, extremely masculine yet very refined; after 12 years, it has decades of life ahead. Earthy cassis, blackcurrant, violets; with slight, pure strawberry/raspberry highlights. There are also nuances of cedar, leather, iron and, towards the rear, whispers of dried thyme and menthol - violets and cedar trail on the long finish.

I also detected truffle and animal notes, but I'm not sure if those those came from the wine or the aged Manchego soufflé's pungency (maybe both, in varying degrees). Either way, the pairing was a study in earthy indulgence and contemplation.

As I savored this wine, trying to commit every detail deep in memory, I kept hearing JC's voice in my head saying: "Typicity, typicity". A contemplative wine, indeed. One to ponder life's mysteries over.

~ oOo ~

With an astounding dessert named "De Tokaji a Manila" (Mango and Aniseed Marquis with a Mangosteen-Infused Honey Coulis and Ginger Dust):

2000 Oremus Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos - Intense, opulent, typical flavors of candied apricot (dominant), orange marmalade, orange rind (more of an undertone), lots of vanilla, crème brûlée. Richly botrytised, mildly tangy/spicy, nicely layered. An absolutely decadent wine.

That said, the dessert itself was every bit a match in indulgence and intricate complexity - as the Vigneron says, JC is really an artist with his food. I recall there were actually three kinds of ginger that went into this dessert - one of which (not seen in the picture because it was enveloped in the marquis) was miniscule bits of ginger confit which were aged for a year.

While I do enjoy good desserts, I can't remember ever before having one so complex as to be considered contemplative - this one was. Exquisite. Truly Inspired.

¡Bravo, JC y Sr. Álvarez! ¡Un millón de gracias por todo!

Note: Credit for the photos of Vega Sicilia go to JC de Terry.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Stockbroker's Rhône Lunch II.

Another of the Stockbroker's "I'm supplying all the wine" lunches; and, again, I was lucky enough to be invited. Lunch this past Thursday was at, yes, Je Suis Gourmand once again. Including our generous host, we were 8 persons in all, the guests being: Bernd, Johnny R., JayLab, myself; and, the roses among the thorns: Madame Vigneron, Felicia and Laraine (the manager of Premium Wine Exchange, of which the Stockbroker is part-owner).

As always, the Stockbroker was hands-on, meticulous and precise in his wines' service - something I am always thankful for. Serving wine at improper temperature is a crying shame - good wines deserve proper respect.

With my appetizer of Crottin de Chauvignol atop a nice simple salad:

2004 Domaine Sainte Anne Côtes du Rhône Blanc - 100% viognier I was told. I've had minimal experience with viognier wine, the most at any one time during a lunch at Le Wy, the restaurant of the huge, then brand new, wine complex, La Winery in Arsac-en-Médoc (a very short drive from Margaux - especially the way the Vigneron drives his 5 series) last year where I had an all-viognier-pairing lunch. The food was good, but the four glasses of pairing viogniers I had were all too cloyingly/strangely peachy-sweet to me to be food friendly - I didn't even bother noting them down.

This particular wine was not anywhere near as sweet or cloying. At the outset, the Stockbroker told me he and JayLab noted some slight oxidation in it. After a couple of initial sniffs, there was, indeed a tinge of varnish/nailpolish remover to its floral, peach nose (indicative of ethyl acetate due to contamination of acetobacter spp., and, possibly, other bacteria, during the winemaking process) - quite noticeable, but not quite aggressive enough to be unpleasant. On the contrary, I thought it added a bit of interesting character to the wine and drank my glass down.

Initially, the nail polish was slight on the nose, not readily apparent mid-mouth, and came out more towards the back and finish. It faded a bit after some time in the glass though. Otherwise, it the wine was just slightly off-dry, with notes of peach, a hint of apricot and a whisper of pine.

2004 Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc "La Crau" - I recall Johnny R, the Stockbroker and JayLab wondering why this wine looked much older than the preceeding one. I wondered the same thing so did some checking later on and found out it's made up mainly of clairette grapes (which produce wines that mature fast and should be consumed young) - hence, most probably, its advanced appearance.

In the mouth, however, it was fresher and had a distinctly more minerally (slate?) character. There was obvious oak treatment and notably more heft/breadth as well. Pleasantly ripe, slightly sweetish stone fruit base, some white peach, healthy extraction. Nice. With its comparatively drier, more minerally character, it matched marginally better with my Crottin de Chauvignol than did the previously discussed wine.

~ oOo ~

First Flight

With my nice, earthy, wine-friendly dish of Goose Leg Confit atop Mushrooms with Baby Potatoes (sauce on the side please):

2003 Domaine Sainte Anne Côtes du Rhône Villages Saint-Gervais "Les Mourillons" - I told the Stockbroker I'd had this before from him before at Blind Non-Bordeaux Challenge III, but, after checking, found out that it was the 2001 version, not the 2003 that he brought. My mistake. My notes on the 2001 were:

Wine#2 - comparatively mute nose, profiles of dark red fruit, slight raisin,
nicely hefty mid-palate, quite tannic, a bit of a drying finish. On the low side
of full-bodied.I ranked it 3rd best.It turned out to be the Stockbroker's 2001
Domaine Sainte-Anne "Les Mourilons" Saint-Gervais Côtes du Rhône Villages.
The 2003 was of medium weight, very ripely/sweetly fruited (dark raspberry dominant with red cherry, blackberry and cassis), a bit hot (i.e., alcoholic), a slight topnote of tin, mildly peppery and minerally, with mild anise and slight camphor notes. Very vintage expressive.

2005 Domaine des Escaravailles "Heritage 1924" - The word "escaravailles" is the Occitan (a language spoken in the Val d'Aran in Catalonia) plural for "beetle" (similar to the French "scarabée", or, in English, "scarab"). The domaine's name comes from the nickname given to the 17th century landowner-priest who always wore long black robes. That explains the beetle prominently depicted on the label.

From Rasteau (in Southern Rhône, northeast of Châteauneuf-du-Pape) that uses a lot of grenache and is famous for its chocolatey, fortifide vin doux naturel. Peppery, minerally, ripe, fruity - mostly cherries, red currant and raspberry, then blackberry, kirsch, chocolate, a hefty dose of anise (much more pronounced than in the Mourillons). Youthfully alcoholic, tannins unresolved. Fruit seemed deeper-veined than the previous wine, body fuller and noticeably heftier as well. Feels modern to me, but that could be the vintage.

2001 Château de Fonsalette Côtes du Rhône Reservée - From the same family that owns and runs the legendary Château Rayas, apparently (I picked that up from JayLab's notes on the same lunch, obsessed-note taker that he is). 2001 (as well as 1998) was generally an exceptional vintage for the Rhône. Personally, I find that the 2001s drinking earlier and, therefore, currently more approachable/enjoyable than the 1998s (e.g., Domaine du Pegau's Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Laurence).

At the outset, Felicia noted pronounced "tar" on the nose. I heard someone else (I don't recall who) saying that its aroma is reminiscent of Graves. I agree, definitely prominent in the nose are black gravel and asphalt. Garrigue as well.

My handwritten notes are short and definitive: fresh asphalt, pepper, slightly pruney, cherry, blackberry, cassis, dried herbs. Best in the mouth so far, smooth, with added violets, plum, kirsch and black coffee...long cherry/raspberry/violet finish. Very expressive. Without doubt, this was the red of the day for me.

~ oOo ~

Second Flight

1998 Clos du Mont Olivet Châteauneuf-du-Pape "Cuvée du Papet" - I, unfortunately, forgot to take a picture of the bottle. Fortunately, Johnny R. took a picture of me holding up a glass of the subject wine - so that will have to suffice. No autographs please.

Slight iodine on the otherwise nice, earthy bouquet of dried Provençal herbs (thyme, sage and rosemary detected). Richly extracted, deeply veined red fruit, kirsch, moderate anise, tobacco, nuance of cough drop, a bit medicinal, quite minerally, wood could use more integration.

Good structure and more than decent balance. Well-crafted but found the Fonsalette far too hard an act to follow.

1998 Château de Saint Cosme Gigondas "Valbelle" - I and the Doc had this a couple of years ago from the Stockbroker during a dinner at Lili (the Chinese restaurant of the Hyatt Casino) with our wives. Unfortunately, I can't find any of my notes on it - that is, if I wrote any. I remember that night vividly because, at the early part of our dinner, this waitress spilled a glass of cold water on my right shoulder and, a bit later, spilled piping hot tea on the floor, missing Mrs. Doc's foot by a couple of inches.

Macerated cherries, cranberry, blackberry, a bit of dark raspberry and even blueberry, underlying mild pruniness, topnotes of sweetish wet tea leaf. Quite woody even 10 years after vintage (will that ever integrate sufficiently?). Surprisingly light-footed on the palate compared to the two previous wines.

The finish starts off well enough but the fruit puts on the brakes halfway through resulting in a drying, tannic finish. Comes off a bit simple and rustic compared to the last two wines.

2000 Domaine de la Janasse "Chaupin" Châteauneuf-du-Pape - Someone said it smelled like a New World wine. I seem to recall it was Johnny R.

I sniffed and there was readily apparent creamy oak on the nose (new oak used I believe, but not excessive) over peppery, sweetish, almost dried cherry, craisin, raspberry, cassis, dark spice, mild licorice and a touch of violets. These were mirrored on the palate with the craisins on the surface and the cassis as a base. Good length.

Over-all, yes, probably the most fruit-driven, low acid, modern, international-styled wine of the bunch. This is not necessarily a bad thing. As a matter of fact, it seems to be the style that delivers at blind tastings and garners high scores from some of the most influential preofessional reviewers.

Personally, I find it quite enjoyable enough - not intellectually - but hedonistically - and the occasional hedonistic indulgence never hurt anyone.

~ oOo ~

The Mystery Wine - An extra-special and fun treat from the Stockbroker. I just love it when wine is served blind. Unfortunately, I always take a lot longer to identify a wine and everyone else wanted it revealed long before I felt comfortable enough to specifically identify what it was (i.e., year, appellation and maker).

A couple of us of us (JayLab, Madame Vigneron and I to my recollection) guessed it was Bordeaux because of the shape of the bottle. To me, it looked and tasted at least 30 years old - clear, medium-dark brick red turning lighter and taking on a red-orange blush towards the rim. I think it was Johnny R. that commented that it had the appearance of a red Burgundy.

A soft and well-melded elixir on the palate with more red fruit/berry than black. Quite silky, it glided coolly across the palate. Lots of alluring bottle age sweetness. Cedar was mild, sweetish and finely integrated. Medium-bodied at best, no crescendos, but consistent and lovely.

JayLab identified it as a left-bank, while Madame Vigneron went so far as guessing that it was a Graves from the mid-1980s, specifically 1985 or 1986. I opined that it was a wine older than the 1980s, probably late 1970s. It turned out to be a...

1982 Château Calon-Ségur

NB: This was definitely the most advanced 1982 Bordeaux I have ever had, 1855 classified or not, and I've had quite a few. However, since this is the only 1982 Calon-Ségur I've tried so far, I can't really generalize on it.

Possibly there are fresher, younger tasting bottles than this, but, somehow, I doubt it. I've had a few bottles of 1989 and 1990 Calon-Ségur over the last 6 or 7 years (since it is one of the favorite wines of my old friend Tonji) and I can't imagine them ageing more gracefully than this 1982. Drink up now or very soon if you have any, or, at the very least, crack one open and try it out.

~ oOo ~

As if all these were not enough, the Stockbroker administered his coup de grâce, simply killing us with kindness. With the cheese plates, everyone zeroing in on the roquefort:

1990 Château Filhot Crème de Tête - Though I think I've had quite a bit of experience with the wines of Sauternes and Barsac, I've had only one previous taste of Filhot's wine (i.e., their 2003 at an all Sauternes/Barsac dinner), and never their top Crème de Tête. As you can see, it's old, dark amber-reddish gold color makes it look much older than a 1990 Sauternes normally does, but its vibrancy and freshness in the mouth, indeed, vehemently bely its appearance.

Candied apricot, tangy wild honey, sweet orange marmalade, vanilla and white flowers. Rich, extravagant flavors, but not heavy or cloying at all on the palate. Its balancing acidity and lift simply carry the wine so gracefully, its complexity dances on the palate. Absurdly good.

Johnny R., in a moment of inspiration, asked a waiter to bring over a bit of honey for the roquefort. I thought it excessive as the wine was plenty sweet enough - that is, until he urged me to just give it a try, saying that the bit of honey gives the wine's finish a bit of slightly burnt caramel and beurre noisette nuttiness. I tried it, and, by golly, he was dead on right. It simply pushed everything over the epicurean edge.

Many thanks yet again, buddy. What a blast!

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Vigneron's Belated Birthday Dinner.

Having missed celebrating the Vigneron's birthday due to his month-long working trip in Bordeaux, Madame Vigneron held a belated birthday dinner with the regular wine group this past Saturday, the 18th October. The usual cast of characters were in attendance: our hosts, my wife and I, Mr. & Mrs. Doc, the Stockbroker sans the Mrs. as she was at a function of her alma mater, and Mr. & Mrs. Powers.

The only ones coming from the south, we were the last to arrive, greeted by smiling friends, glasses of chilled, crisp champagne to go with some pica-picas. After having played 18 holes without riding a cart, and skipping lunch at that, I was ravenous and killed around a quarter of the serving dish of mildly spicy fish appetizer with some toasted bread.

Were eventually seated for dinner, typically French-style, with nobody seated beside his or her spouse; I between the Stockbroker and Mrs. Powers. I've gotten used to this manner of dinner seating and quite, honestly, emulate it during dinners at home. It certainly promotes more mingling and encourages more varied, lively discussions.

With multiple helpings (for me, anyway) of nicely savory salmon crêpes, a nice white premier cru from Burgundy. I was very happy to see this being served. I went very easy on the champagne for fear of getting hit too fast, so my mouth still yearned for some cool, refreshing white.

2004 Bernard Morey et Fils Chassagne Montrachet Premier Cru Les Embrazées - The first thing I noticed was the name of the premier cru "Les Embrazées". Although I've had Bernard Morey's wines before, I'm not familiar with this particular premier cru (though Edouard said I'd tried it before) - not that I pretend to be any kind of Chassagne-expert. In any event, I find a lot of finesse, focus and definition in this particular wine reminiscent of Puligny Montrachet (as compared to usually heftier, richer-fruited, often biscuity Chassagne Montrachet). I imagine I could have very easily mistaken it for a P-M if tasted blind.

I'd have to try more of Les Embrazées from different makers and vintages to make an educated guess as to whether this is really the particular vineyards, and/or the vintage that reminds me of P-M. I don't think it's the maker's style as I've had their wines before. At this point, it's still young and probably will flesh out more into a more typical C-M, as I know it anyway.

In any event, with virtually no breathing time, it is a dry, light-footed, graceful wine that displays well focused apple and pear (just the merest touch of baked aspect) and a faint nuance of lemon, refined/moderate minerality. Not at all masculine like a Morgeots, yet not quite as feminine as Caillerets. Not sweetly fruited like Les Chaumées. Very intriguing. Definitely worth digging deeper into. Very nice pairing with the salmon as there was judicious use of cream, with the crêpe adding a nice sweetish touch.

With the main course of Chicken Curry and a plethora of condiments (chopped, boiled egg, crumbled bacon, excellent mango chutney, etc.), a "mystery wine" from Madame Vigneron: Very ripe, truffled black cherry/kirsch/black fruit base and somewhat smoky cedar aromas; mirrored on the palate with baked fig and espresso nuances and lots of chocolate and vanilla/oak, all in an indulgently super-ripe and extracted, modern, fullish body. Extremely forward, wantonly sexy.

Off the bat, without taking proper time to think things through, mainly because of the gobs of chocolate, I hastily mis-identified it was a wine from Branaire-Ducru. I usually am more circumspect than that, but, there you go - an illustrative case of the mouth not being properly connected to the brain, talking without thinking things through. The red fruit and cherry dominance, coupled with the chocolate and espresso should have tipped me off to a merlot-dominant wine from the right bank. Instead, I second-guessed myself and assumed our Bordelaise hosts would serve only Médocs...that, plus lots of chocolate made me say "Branaire Ducru".

Be it as it may, it is a crowd-pleaser-styled wine which is very accessible and easy to appreciate. Madame Vigneron revealed it to be one of her excellent value finds at The Wine Club at a very reasonable under-P2000 per bottle.

It turned out to be the 1998 Château d'Aguilhe from Côtes de Castillon.

~ oOo ~

1989 Château Palmer - What could we say? A generous treat for us all. The last one I had was a few years ago at Pepato with the Doc and Stockbroker, I bought it when it was "only" barely $14o per bottle. I'd be extremely lucky to find it at only double the price now. The Vigneron has tons of this stuff, as well as even more famous vintages thereof, both younger and older. I mentioned before that his family, years ago, were minority owners of Château Palmer; hence, their Château Siran's cellar has a lot of Palmer wines. In a shrewd transaction, he traded off with Palmer some of his famous old vintages for a lot of younger and equally famous vintages.

This bottle was much better than my last one. The Stockbroker remembered and agreed. Surely with impeccable provenance, it was fuller, more confident, vibrant, not tiring in the least.

Perfumed bouquet of violets, cassis, plum, sweetish-mildly smoky cedar, hint of licorice, merest whispers of earth and truffle. Properly poised and balanced, approaching full-bodiedness, lithely curved, very complex. Long, lingering finish with violets and faint licorice trailing.

Wonderful. I certainly hope the Vigneron didn't bring more of this to Manila for the next Bordeaux Challenge. Anyway, just in case, I've filed it away in my memory; so, if he enters it - Bang! Last Place. Heh heh heh.

Kidding aside, this was incredible - a contemplative wine and equally one to enjoy for sheer pleasure - a rare balance - a treat for the eyes, nose, mouth and mind. Just look at these fellows taking it in. The pictures say it all.

Desserts, aside from the birthday cake, were Mrs. Doc's trademark plum cake (which I happen to love) and a rum cake (which happens to be one of my favorite cakes to have with espresso) brought by Mrs. Powers.

Unfortunately, the Doc was, yet again, called to the hospital so he had to leave early. The rest of us proceeded to the living area and continued chatting. The evening didn't last much longer, our hosts were tired and jet-lagged. So ended a nice, quiet dinner among friends.

Welcome back, my friend. And, again, happy birthday.

Bernie's Burgundy Bacchanalia.

I get spoiled by my friends, and totally undeservedly at that. Last Thursday, the 16th October 2008, El Presidente, Bernie Sim, invited me (and the Stockbroker) to attend the IWFS board dinner he was hosting at Je Suis Gourmand. It was a night of mature wines of some of Burgundy's top makers, all from heralded vintages. I arrived early and waited outside with a Campari soda and some appetizers (courtesy of Marc) to accompany me while I waited for the board members to finish their business.

The Stockbroker arrived as the meeting ended and we both joined the members of the board in the bar area reserved for their dinner. Aside from Bernie, in attendance were Oscar Ong, Freddie Wieneke, Rene Fuentes, Sunny Garcia, Fil Juntereal, Dong Puno, Freddy Pio de Roda, as well as Uncle David who arrived a little later. Markus Ruckstuhl and Bill

Stone, unfortunately, were absent.

After the usual pleasantries, more plates of appetizers and some welcome glasses of bubbly (Ruinart Blanc de Blanc and 1995 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne), things got serious. Marc's servings are generous, so I took the precaution of eating a very light lunch that day - and it's a good thing I did.

~ oOo ~

With a whole serving each of Homemade Duck Foie Gras Terrine with Salad & Toasted Baguette:

1992 & 1989 Bonneau du Martray Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru - Corton Charlemagne is a grand cru appellation (the top rank in Burgundy terms) that spans the communes of Aloxe-Corton, Ladoix-Serrigny and Pernand-Vergelesses in the Côte de Beaune, the wines of which (100% chardonnay) are noted for structured elegance, length, balance and refined steely/minerally fruit that develops a pronounced spicy-nuttiness with proper age. Bonneau du Martray is recognized as one of the very best makers of the area together with Coche-Dury and Faiveley among others.

The 1992 initially displayed broad, rich fruit touched with toasty-oak, nuttiness and good weight mid-mouth (the fruit driven-ness seemed to put on the brakes a little past mid-mouth). It lightened up significantly after a few minutes in glass, turning much more minerally, picking up discreet citrus notes and displaying a flinty-steeliness vaguely reminiscent of Chablis but for the alluring mildly spiced, toasty-wood-nuttiness.

The 1989 was marginally, but noticeably less broad mid-palate than the 1992, and had tenser/nervy character (this is not a bad thing) and, towards the back and finish, more apparent citrus notes. Comparatively not as forward than the 1992, this was a more intellectual wine, demanding more attention and thought. I found the structure of the 1989 better, but the 1992 more immediately pleasing.

~ oOo ~

With an absolutely delicious dish of Sautéed Fresh Lobster with Fresh Chantrelles & Shallot Fondue:

1995 Bonneau du Martray Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru - This was served several minutes after the two previously mentioned wines. Initially, the 1995 was comparatively mute and diffuse compared with the 1992 and 1989; to the point that the Stockbroker and I ranked these Corton Charlemagnes, in descending order: 1992, 1989, 1995. Just to be sure, I set the glass aside for a while so that it had as much "glass time" as the first two.

After around 20 minutes, I revisited it and my patience was rewarded with a plumper, sweetly perfumed nectar of white flowers, riper fruit, a bit of lemon cream and mild vanilla/oak-spicy-toastiness - more forward fruit and apparent wood, less minerality and nutiness than the previous two. This eventually turned into a more crowd-pleaser-styled wine which would probably draw higher scores from professional reviewers.

1996 Leflaive Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru - One of the top appellations of the Côte de Beaune, the vineyards of which are located within the communes of Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet, just below that of the pinnacle of white wine, Le Montrachet. The wines from this area are known for their generosity, lushness, richness and a biscuity-nuttiness that comes with some age. They are generally known and often chosen to pair with rich, buttered, often times cream-touched, lobster and other relatively robustly flavored/textured shellfish dishes (like the ubiquitous thermidore, for example). Leflaive, together with Ramonet, Sauzet and Niellon, are considered by most to be the very best makers of Bâtard-Montrachet.

Rene thunderously proclaimed the Bâtard a better match with the lobster dish than the '95 Corton Charlemagne. Everyone seemed to have agreed - the former's comparatively greater breadth, weight, richness, creamier, riper, biscuity fruit, buttery/vanilla notes and over-all generosity simply ran with the dish.

Actually, come to think of it, even if somebody disagreed, nobody, in all likelihood, would have bothered to rebut the redoubtable Sr. Fuentes. I mean, the resultant otic damage just wouldn't be worth it.

~ oOo ~

With Roasted Duck Magret with Jus Roti & Crispy Celeriac & Potato Hay:

2003 Michel Gros Vosne Romanée Premier Cru Clos des Reas - I actually visited this walled vineyard in October of 2007; it's situated down the road, facing the Place de Marie, across the street from Leroy's Les Genevrières, in the sleepy town of Vosne-Romanée. My wife and I stayed at his cousin's, Anne's, maison a few houses down the street. Vosne-Romanée (pronounced: "vohn roh-ma-nay") is located in the Côte de Nuits ("koht du nwee"), the predominantly red wine producing northern part of Burgundy's Côte d'Or. Beaune is an easy 15 minutes' drive south. Clos des Reas is a monopole of Michel Gros, which means only he owns it.

2003 was a very hot year in Bugundy, yielding wines riper and sweeter than usual. I recall Anne (the most well-known of the three winemaker-siblings) saying one had to take extra care in producing a balanced wine. I had a quick discussion with Bernie about 2003s, generally and collectively, being categorized more of vin du millésime than vin de terroir. This, like most, was clearly one of the former.

Just a touch of animal and truffle to its richly ripe, sweet-spicy dark fruit, black cherry, raspberry, kirsch, violets with a discreet undertone of black coffee. After some time in the glass, it seemed to get sweeter and developed dark chocolate and sweet cola notes more pronounced than most red Burgundies I've tried. I normally find pronounced cola and chocolate notes more in California and Oregon pinot noirs than red Burgundy.

Long, broad, rounded, succulent, almost jammy and chewy with a provocative, lusty personality; it is much more of a modern-styled, hedonistic wine than a classic, contemplative one.

That said, not all wines have to be contemplative or intellectual. Indeed, they shouldn't all be one or the other; else vinous ennui set in. I, personally liked it a lot, and I recall Fil did too. Sometimes, one just has to kick back and enjoy.

1992 Domaine Romanée-Conti Échézeaux Grand Cru - What a treat. A grand cru from the legendary Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. My wife and I strolled past these vineyards, including La Tâche, DRC, Aux Reignots, etc. just a couple of hundred yards from Anne's place. I understand that part of Échézeaux lies closer to the border of Clos de Vougeot (strange, I drove to the latter and walked around as well and, though it was a very short drive, it seemed a bit far for walking).

This was (obviously) more classic, not terribly concentrated or ripe, clearly an earth-driven vin de terroir, displaying that distinctive and fatally seductive sweetish Burgundy decay of old violets, truffle and compost, as well as clean, pure, earthiness to the delicate and elegant red fruit, dark cherry and raspberry. Rene opined that it was more food-friendly than the younger, riper, sweeter Clos des Reas, and, of course, I agree. Be it red or white, I generally find drier wines more food friendly, except with dessert or foie gras, naturally.

I didn't take my time with this as it seemed at the cusp of decline; and it's a good thing I did. The last sips I waited on for academic purposes seemed to fade quickly. The finish, though decently long with trailing violets, eventually turned drying, leaving a "furry" feel on the tongue.

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With Grilled Marinated US Black Angus Côte de Boeuf with Bone Marrow & Red Wine Jus & Lyonnaise Potatoes:

1993 Domaine Jean Grivot Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Les Beaux Monts - Another great treat as I do favor the wines from this particular premier cru vineyard (note: those looking for good QPR should look into the 2006 Beaux Monts of Domaine Daniel Rion which I tasted from barrel last year - really good stuff). Wines from this vineyard are normally, demurely rounded, smoothly user friendly and dark spice/red fruit dominated. They also can be enjoyed relatively younger, but can keep for many years - as ably demonstrated by this particular representative.

Looking at the menu and pairing wines, I suspected that the steak would over-power this 15 year-old premier cru. I hadn't before tried a Beaux Monts this old, and, based on previous experience, didn't expect it to be able to age well enough over 15 years to stand up to rib steak. Thankfully, my suspicion proved to be baseless, due to the wine's surprising youthfulness (also noted by Bernie and the Stockbroker) and Marc's expert hand in making the steak taste and feel lighter and more delicate than any side of beef I've ever had.

Clean, pure darkly spiced, mildly earthy red fruit, cherry, underlying red beet; nice concentration but not over-the-top, judicious extraction, good push, great balance, with a vaguely seductive touch of violets. Great typicity. Loved it. This could go for more years, but I wouldn't be able to keep my hands off it if I had any.

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To go with the Refined Roquefort with Walnut Bread and the dessert course of Nage de Fruits á la Mode:

1983 Château d'Yquem - Textbook pairing for the "refined" roquefort. I am unsure why the cheese was described as refined, probably because it was quite mild for a roquefort, and not as creamy or bleu as usual. Good that it was, though, as the '83 Yquem was quite elegantly reserved and unusually short (for an Yquem), without the usual luxurious richness, expansiveness and push one would expect from Yquem from a good Sauternes vintage. Make no mistake, it was very nice and I enjoyed it, but I couldn't help but compare it to the Stockbroker's viscous sex-bomb of a 1983 Rieussec we enjoyed a few years ago which seemed a lot fuller, with a notably healthier dose of botrytis. We spoke about the wine briefly and had similar thoughts about it.

Still and all, it is always a great treat to have an aged Yquem from a heralded vintage, and I am more than thankful for the opportunity to try it at this stage of is development. Not the kind of Yquem I expected, but still a very good Sauternes, elegantly reserved, impeccably poised, good acidic balance, firm structure.

As the evening wound down, my wife arrived from her dinner at Le Régalade with her childhood friend, Apple. She was invited to join us and, lucky her, Bernie made sure she was able to enjoy some of the Beaux Monts.

A million thanks for the rarefied dinner and wines, Bernie. I will always remember this evening.