Sunday, November 30, 2008

Paella Night with Spanish Reds (and some French Invaders).

Dinner this past Thursday, 27th November 2008, was back at Je Suis Gourmand (surprise, surprise) for paella. Yes, I know, paella by a French chef. Marc said he'd make some for us, so I figured "Why not?". Robert and I sent out a few text messages and filled a table of 10. Johnny R said he'd join and inquired if Marc would be putting escargots and foie gras in the paella. Funny guy.

At a little past 7 pm, things kicked off with welcome glasses of bubbly Sieur d’ Arques Aimery NV Cremant de Limoux "La Bulle de Limoux". I didn't try any as I was tending to the other bottles, so cannnot post any notes on it. This very affordably priced sparkler from Premium Wine Exchange went very fast though and disappeared in a trice.

Thereafter, with platters of phyllo-wrapped bacalao, phyllo triangles with a tapenade-like stuffing and small tarts of spicy gambas we had:

2007 Le Rosé de Pavie Macquin - From Johnny R. As its name indicates, this is the Bordeaux rosé of Château Pavie Macquin. Because of the château's location (St-Emilion), color (a comparatively deeper and darker red than most rosés), relatively plump roundness mid-palate and soft, vaguely plummy strawberry, cherry, touch of raspberry flavors, the general consensus was that this wine was predominantly merlot. Probably a touch of cabernet sauvignon in there as well.

Very friendly, immediately pleasing and accessible. It would have been all too easy to finish off several bottles of this at the outset, but there were many other bottles waiting their turn in line. At only P700 per bottle in Premium Wine Exchange, this pedigreed rosé is a definite buy. Jen Burroughes said she'd make it a point that Robert buy her many bottles of this.

I've had this before, liked it well, and, actually, brought along an identical bottle for the evening. Johnny got to open his though since his was already properly chilled.
~ oOo ~

We also had a couple of bottles of deliciously crunchy-red fruited 2007 Homenaje Rosado. I've posted on this before and recommended it highly for virtually unbeatable value-for-money, to wit:

2007 Homenaje Rosado (Bodegas Marco Real) - From Olita, Navarra, made of
grenache. I've enjoyed several bottles of this since I first tried it at Terry's
Segundo Piso over a multi-tapas lunch (angulas, gambas al ajillo, charred
chorizo pamplona, Joselito ham, assorted cheeses, etc.) a couple of months ago.
As you can see, it is a clear, translucent celebratory cherry-red. Served
properly chilled, this simple, honest, straightforward rosé will easily charm
you with its fresh, clean, dry, virtually crisp, well-focused dominant flavors
of (in order of prominence) ripe strawberry, raspberry, light hint of cherry.
Definitely dangerously drinkable.
Finally back in stock in Terry's at around P400 per bottle and going fast!

~ oOo ~

Next came the seafood course of a ceviche of salmon and goodly-sized scallops on a brightly-dressed, fresh salad with which we had:

2005 Domaine Moreau-Naudet Chablis - Courtesy of Jérome Philippon who, unfortunately, couldn't join us that evening due to a previous engagement.

This is a very charming, accessible village Chablis with lean and agile, well-focused, fresh, juicy green apple and pear with very subtle citrus notes. The clean fruit flavors, true to terroir, readily display the typical flinty and cold stone nuances of Chablis. Good balance. Proper, with nice typicity. There seems to be a whisper of oak, but I'm not 100% certain, because it is very subtle and well-integrated. Likely, there is a bit of oak treatment, but not new barrels and not over-done.

I just checked Sommelier Selection's website and see that this is affordably priced at P1400 per bottle - very reasonable for a solid, go-to-anytime village Chablis. As such, it's a buy for me. Thanks Jérome!

~ oOo ~

A huge paellera, heavily laden with a riot of colors and flavors, then made its entrance and the proud Spanish reds began to pour.

2003 Alion (Ribera del Duero) - I have just written about this rich, young, ripe, opulent, modern Ribera del Duero 100% tinto fino from the same owners of the legendary Vega Sicilia. For ready reference, however, my notes from last Sunday's dinner are as follows:
The 2003 Alión is a bold, serious, muscular wine with a modern feel to it that
makes it easily accessible and pleasing despite its quiet, smoldering intensity.
Broad-shouldered, heavy-boned, very ripe dark cherry, blackberry, a touch of
cassis underneath, some ripe raspberry highlights, nuances of mocha,
vanilla/oak, licorice, cedar and violets. After added time in the glass,
cinammon traces surfaced but more in the nose.
John H noted that, after proper decanting, one couldn't really notice the 14.5% abv this wine carries - and named it his favorite of the night. It actually came out a close second best red wine of the night by the collective votes.

Lovely wine, indeed. Not cheap, but it more than repays every single peso of its P3500+ per bottle ticket price in terms of pleasure. John H, as well as friends from last week's birthday bash, obviously agree as they immediately bought some bottles for themselves. If it is within budget, by all means buy it.

2004 Callejo Reserva - Donated by the Stockbroker since he also couldn't join us that evening. 2004 was an excellent year for Spain, or so I understand. Since this is still very young, the Stockbroker advised me to decant it before serving. Obedient donee that I am, I made sure it was decanted for aeration for approximately 1-½ hours before serving.

Another modern/international 100% tempranillo from Ribera del Duero: dense, powerful, very ripe (not as sweetish as the Alion), full-bodied with generous toasty oak in its mouth-coating, darkly spiced blackberry, cassis, black cherry, black coffee and licorice. This is also a forward wine but in a more no-holds-barred, pedal-to-the-metal style. Huge drive and push on the palate, with a comparatively fiesty character and firmer structure.

At P2200 per bottle full retail at Premium Wine Exchange, it is one of their best-selling wines. Many thanks, buddy, much appreciated!

2002 Marqués de Cáceres Gaudium - As I've written previously, this is Marqués de Cáceres' Bordeaux-esque, all new French oak aged, top of the line bottling. This is made in a sleek, patrician and stylishly reserved, medium-bodied style as opposed to the previous two rich, open, opulently full-bodied wines. 95% tempranillo & 5% graciano.

The influence of Bordeaux is quite apparent in this red Rioja - which is not surprising at all since the Forner family also owns and runs 1855 Classified 5th Growth, Château Camensac, in the Haut Médoc.

Well focused, vibrant, deeply-veined, earthy dark fruit with notes of dark cherry, raspberry, strawberry, dried thyme, touch of cinammon (with long decanting) and slight anise. Finely knit, nicely complex, with soft, well-integrated tannins; the oak influence readily apparent but subtle and refined. This, I felt, paired better with the main course as the first two wines easily over-powered the paella's flavors.

P2900 per bottle full retail at Terry's, currently on sale less 25%.

~ oOo ~

With the cheese in pastry course, two mature Riojas made their entrance:

1996 Bodegas Beronia Gran Reserva* - Both bottles brought by Robert. A blend of 87% tempranillo, 8% mazuelo and 5% graciano, made only in good years, of which 1996 certainly was for Rioja. Aged 24 months in a blend of French and American oak casks, and further aged for 3 years in bottle before release. A "mere" 13% abv.

Refined, silken, complex and ethereal in character compared to the previous 3 youngsters. Even without material decanting time, it displayed beautifully a bouquet of sweet Spanish cedar, dried cranberry, raspberry over a slim base of silken blackcurrant. There are also subtle nuances of rancio, thyme, licorice, spiced wood and violets.

Nice acid balance, elegant. Lovely wine. Astounding value for a mature, classic Rioja Gran Reserva at approximately P1900 per bottle at Barcino's in the Fort. The collective group results revealed this as the favorite red wine of the night.

*Photo from

1998 Marques de Murrieta Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial - JayLab's bottle, I know this wine won one of his regular wine group's blind competitions a couple of months ago so I was quite was happy to be able to try it, especially since I used to, several years ago, enjoy magnums of the 1989 version until rotten cork issues forced me to give up on it. Composed of 85% tempranillo, 13% mazuelo and 2% grenache; it spent an astounding 41 months in American oak as I understand.

Graceful, ethereal, complex and elegant Rioja with a sweet Spanish cedar-and-camphor-laced bouquet of cherry essence, dried red berries (over) cassis, with a shade more rancio and oak notes, slight crème de cacao and (likely from the American oak) toffee and nutmeg notes. Exquisitely woven silk on the tongue. Loved it.

Between this and Robert's '96 Beronia Gran Reserva, it was extremely difficult to choose, but I eventually named this Ygay my red wine of the night, as did JayLab and Johnny..

~ oOo ~

For dessert, a refreshing bowl of pears poached in red wine, topped with ice cream. I made a mental note to have my wife try this in the future as she loves pears poached in red wine.

~ oOo ~

We then enjoyed glasses of JayLab's Cardenal Mendoza Brandy de Jerez Solera Gran Reserva (by Sánchez Romate Hermanos) - Eminently memorable, sweet bouquet of rancio, cocoa, aged Spanish cedar, pine, dried fruit and sultanas. I recall that these aromas held true in the mouth in a pure, warm, smooth, comforting stream - the cocoa, rancio and aged wood holding sway over the fruit, nutty nuances emerging just past mid-palate.

Absolutely lovely. Though I rarely have more than one glass of spirits at any given time, having pretty much given up on after-dinner cognacs due to acid reflux issues, I kept re-pouring for myself, stopping only after four or five - and only because it wasn't my bottle and I didn't want to finish it myself. It was also a most pleasant surprise that I experienced no acid reflux that night.

I simply must buy some of this - it would be perfect for the (hopefully) cool Christmas nights.

As the evening wound down, yet another bottle of 2007 Domaine Tempier Bandol Rose´was popped open, as well as Max's "straggler" red from Bordeaux, the maker and vintage of which I can no longer remember.

I must mention that fellow food-and-wine blogger Chinkee was also at Je Suis Gourmand that evening with Matt, her fiance, and their group of friends. It was very nice bumping into them again and Robert, who reads Chinkee's blog, was happy to finally meet her in person. We chatted intermittently throughout the evening on our quick cigarette breaks between courses.

I made sure that Chinkee and Matt joined us in the above photo before they continued on their way to whatever the younger set does to celebrate Thanksgiving - just to show that it's not only us "slightly more mature" people who are crazy about good food and wine.

Many thanks to all who joined that evening, it was great fun.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Rene's Birthday Dinner at Manila's Best Private Table.

This past Sunday, the 23rd November 2008, we were fortunate to have been invited to join Rene in celebrating his birthday - at a dinner masterfully prepared by his mother-in-law, Tita Bella. I'd heard stories about her dinners from Santi, Miguel and Rene, among others, but never before had the pleasure of partaking in them. All the more I eagerly awaited this event.

We were 12 in all: Rene & Aimee, Santi & Maite, Miguel & Ria, Joe & Anna, the spouses Vigneron and my wife & I.

As Tita Bella and her staff prepared for our feast, we enjoyed 3-year-old aged Manchego drizzled with aged Balsamico washed down with a couple of properly chilled bottles of (n.b., unless otherwise indicated, all bottles that evening were provided by Rene):

1998 Dom Pérignon - No introduction really need be made for Moët et Chandon's (n.b., the "t" of "Moët" is pronounced) luxury bottling. I've had this vintage several times since the last quarter of 2006 (this vintage was released, I think, in 2005) and, previously, noted it as steely, minerally, taut and ultra-focused in its bright white grapefruit, citrus, yeast with just a the merest hint of creaminess surfacing just past mid-mouth. I also noted it several times as linear in character - always likening it to their 1988 vintage - especially after having it side by side the 1990, 1995 & 1996 at my sister's house in Indiana during New Year's dinner 2006.

I note now that it has put on a bit of heft mid-palate, picked up more creaminess and brioche notes and the citrus has taken a step or two towards the background. It's linear personality, laser-like focus and drive, however, remain the same. Bracingly refreshing, I could have easily over-indulged early. Excellent and indulgent apéritif.

A bit dehydrated after golf, though, I had to hold back from taking more than a glass lest the bubbly bypass my digestive system en route to my brain. It has happened once too often in the past that I started off a bit too fast with too much champagne, and, consequently, could barely indulge in or take careful note of all the reds during dinner proper.

Nowadays, I begin with only one glass and, if space, sobriety and availability allow, finish off with another glass as the party winds down.

We eventually found our way to to our designated seats - French style, I noted: boy-girl-boy-girl, no spouses beside each other, to enliven dinner conversation. Nice.

The first two courses set the theme of our evening's meal: this was clearly to be a celebration in gastronomic indulgence - and I was good to go.

~ oOo ~

With a sinful Popcorn-Crusted Foie Gras atop Butter Cake on a Burnt Orange Sauce Puddle:

2005 Cuvée du Vatican Châteauneuf-du-Pape Reserve Sixtine Blanc - I've written about this a few times, most recently as follows:

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

"Initially tightly-wound, it
would reveal onlylaser-clean steely white minerals with some flint in its
compact white fruit. I guessed (correctly) it was more roussanne. Later on, it
expanded and fleshed out generously,displaying broad, almond cream, vanilla/oak
laced ultra ripe fruit (somethinglike baked apple and pear) with a slight
whisper of peach. Much, much bigger andfuller and heavier than the previous
wine. I then guessed, wrongly, that it wasmore marsanne. Oh, well... I must have
over-thought myself to error
Unfortunately, this bottle never really opened up and released like those I've had before. It may have been slightly off (I do not believe it had shut down), but still drinkable. I was a little disappointed (and slightly embarrassed) since I was the one who recommended this wine to Rene for the pairing. Anyway, things like this happen every so often. Not all bottles will be the same....

The popcorn-crusted foie, though, more than made up for the bottle's apparent attack of stage fright. The slightly caramelized popcorn crust added a precise amount of sweetness and textural contrast that elevated the foie's inherent savory richness. The butter cake lent a bit of substance and weight, yet still running with the foie's inner creaminess, and the burnt orange sauce playing with the crunchy caramelized popcorn crust. Superb.

~ oOo ~

With Pan-Fried Codfish on Foie Gras Cappuccino we quickly switched from the previously mentioned wine to my bottle of consistently loved and ever versatile:

2007 Tempier Bandol Rosé - I know, I have many times raved about this wine, so much so that Robert Burroughes has ribbed me about being a Tempier sales agent for Jérome Philippon. I assure everyone that I am not, I simply love this wine. It is actually against my consumer's interest to squawk about it repeatedly as doing so possibly endangers the limited locally available stock. Be it far from me, however, to not share news about a superb wine - why shouldn't all Philippines-based wine lovers know about the ready availability of what most all authorities consider the best rosé in the world?

My earliest notes on it say it all as far as I am concerned:

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
neverreally 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.
I admit, the impromptu pairing was not ideal, but it was pleasant enough - the wine's clean lines and subtly ripe fruit stood well against, as well as cut, the foie-rich cappuccino and the cod's buttery flavors. I brought the bottle, intended as a second apéritif, because Rene and Miguel wanted to try it out. In any event, the night's celebrant appeared to appreciate the wine with this second course - and that's all that really matters.

~ oOo ~

With the next two courses of Twice Baked Soufflé and Grilled Tiger Prawns with Salsa Verde:

I alternated the rosé with the Tiger Prawns due to the mild spiciness of the Salsa Verde, but, really, the best pairing for me was Rene's 2006 Domaine Raimbault-Pineau Pouilly-Fumé - This is the first time, to my knowledge, that I have tried wine from this Loire domaine and I kick myself for not having stumbled on it before. It's a good thing Rene did.

An ethereal, fresh, floral, cool, sweet perfume of gooseberries, freshly cut grass, white grapefruit, citrus and trace white mineral nuances in the nose. Gracefully and elegantly mirrored on the palate. This danced on my tongue. Subtly complex.

The Vigneron, not really one who is into whites and, more often than not, goes straight to the reds, was the first one to pipe up, saying that "The bouquet of this wine is wonderful". Coming from him, that means a lot. The pairing, especially with the sinfully delicious cheese soufflé, was sheer gourmand's ecstasy. I need not say more.

I made sure to buy myself a stash of this today and was treated to JC's story of how he got to know and distribute this wines while I was at it. Available at Terry's for barely P1000 per bottle and I would easily pay more for it if needs be. Run, don't walk. It is that good.

~ oOo ~

As the salvo of main courses began, the reds entered the scene. With dishes of Three Cheese Ravioli in Sage Brown Butter and Glazed Beets:

1999 Château Léoville Las Cases -The 2nd Growth Lord of St-Julien, next-door neighbor of Pauillac 1st Growth Château Latour. A couple of professional reviewers have opined that their proximity and terroirs lend more than subtle similarities between the two. I never agreed with them before, but I must state that at a relatively recent 1996 blind tasting of 1855 1st Growths, during which a '96 Las Cases was included, I misidentified the Latour as the Las Cases.

I've written before that 1999s drink relatively early and that in 2006 and 2007, Médoc châteaux were already serving their 1999s during dinners. The last time I remember trying the '99 Las Cases was in late September 2005 at an IWFS blind tasting of 10 top 1999 Médocs where I ranked it 5th place after 1st Margaux, 2nd Latour, 3 Lafite Rothschild, 4th Branaire Ducru, and, before 6th Montrose, 7th Mouton Rothschild, 8th Sociando Mallet and 9th Léoville-Barton (the bottle of Lynch-Bages was corked and, thus, discarded).

My telegraphic notes then stated:

5. Chateau Leoville las Cases
Initial roast meat/slight gaminess in the nose which disappeared after a
few minutes. Earthy cassis, some leather, hints of dark chocolate to the back.
This is one of my favorite chateaux. I was surprised I ranked it 5th.

Now, after having re-tried it, as well as going through several '99 Branaire Ducrus over the past year, I can readily say that the '99 Las Cases would beat the '99 Branaire Ducru hands down, with virtually no effort. Now, it is lush, powerful, intensely masculine with deep profiles of cassis, earthy dark fruit, tobacco, lead pencil shavings, leather and violets. Not a big bruiser at all, it is a suave and correct fellow, but one you definitely wouldn't want to mess with. Superior balance, elegantly smooth, finely layered, with a long, confident finish. The red of the night for me, without a doubt.

~ oOo ~

This was followed by a heart-stoppingly good Melt-in-your-Mouth Slow Roasted Kurobota Pork Belly with Truffle Balsamic, Marmalade & Mushroom Sauce, paired with:

2003 Alión (by Vega Sicilia) - I brought this bottle rather than a mature Bordeaux as I felt the latter would get over-powered by the balsamic sauce. Undecided between this and a 2002 or 2004 Valbuena 5º, likewise by Vega Sicilia, I consulted Spanish wine guru, JC de Terry, on the best pairing with the dish. JC recommended the 2003 Alión and advised me to decant it for at least 3 hours prior to serving - advice I followed, naturally.

To quote from my post on a Vega Sicilia dinner that JC hosted for Vega Sicilia's owner/director general, Pablo Álvarez, in April of this year:

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.
This was the first time I tried the 2003, and I had it again last night at another Spanish dinner (but that's another story). The 2003 Alión is a bold, serious, muscular wine with a modern feel to it that makes it easily accessible and pleasing despite its quiet, smoldering intensity. Broad-shouldered, heavy-boned, very ripe dark cherry, blackberry, a touch of cassis underneath, some ripe raspberry highlights, nuances of mocha, vanilla/oak, licorice, cedar and violets. After added time in the glass, cinammon traces surfaced but more in the nose.

Opulent in the mouth, it stood well with the pork belly and its sweetly-ripe red berry/cherry notes played nicely with the balsamic sauce. Available at Terry's for around P3500 more-or-less. The wine was definitely good and a fine match, indeed. The pork belly? To die for.

Tita Bella gave us the option of having some rice to go with it, and it simply pushed me over the edge. There were extra helpings for those who could, but only Rene, Miguel and I were intrepid enough to risk serious blockage and shamelessly plowed through the rest of the delicious pork. Incredibly, sinfully, overly-indulgent. I loved it. I haven't stopped thinking of it since then.

~ oOo ~

I simply don't recall how I, and everyone else managed to reach this point of the dinner without succumbing. I was already seriously considering leaving my car there and crawling home. Bahala na my wife to make sure I don't slither into a ditch.

Somehow, though, I finished my dessert of refreshingly cold Soufflé Glace, conclusive proof of the sumptously creamy, yet, ironically refreshing flavors. Luckily, I was able to prevail upon Rene to refrain from opening the bottle of Sauternes he had planned to pair with dessert. I mean, I cannot deny my gluttonous nature, but there are certain limits.

Dinner done, and what a feast it was, we returned to the sprawling living area and settled down for digestifs of Verte Suisse 65 Absinthe, a gift from the Schiffmans to me when they visited last summer. This is the real deal absinthe - none of the de-wormwooded, non-thujone stuff manipulated to pass US FDA regulations. Ted Breaux's Verte Suisse 65 is still illegal in the US, thanks to the liquor & spirits police.

Traditionally, one can take it with just cool water (I use a 1:1 ratio), or, for a more approachable drink, one can pour 3:1 water over a sugar cube into the absinthe. One never stirs or mixes it.

For those curious about this particular absinthe, it tastes somewhat like pernod - sweetish, herby, star anise-laden - but much more refined, elegant and complex. You'll either love it or hate it. It gives one a long, drawn-out, mellow hit.

I particularly like the stuff, but, then, I've been indulging in pernod and pastis for years, especially at the beach when things get pretty hot. I cautioned the others, though, that I drank too much of it once and had very bizarre, though not unpleasant, dreams.

The ladies would have none of it, though, but gamely humored us husbands as we indulged in yet another form of alcoholic drink. They were all probably thinking to themselves "He'll learn his lesson, the silly boy".

Our last drinks done, we took our respective leaves. Unfortunately, Tita Bella had already retired to her room by that time and I was unable to thank her myself. I'm sure she was then exhausted from cooking so much excellent food for us. In any event, many thanks, Tita, for an absolutely sinful dinner. To quote the Vigneron, yours is undoubtedly "the best private table in Manila".We'll have to go to confession for a whole month after such a meal.

And, to Rene, once again, a million thanks, buddy, and happy birthday.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

An Evening of Marqués de Cáceres.

November 21st, 2008 at Terry's Pasong Tamo Extension, JC de Terry hosted a dinner in honor of visiting Bodegas Marqués de Cáceres' Export Manager, Joel Martinez. As everyone who reads my drivel knows, I never say no to JC's cooking and wine-pairing. Rushing to Pasong Tamo Extension after watching my youngest son's school play, up the stairs to the all-too-familiar Segundo Piso, and, imagine my surprise when I beheld an inside tent resplendent with flowers, chandeliers and candelabra.

I spaced out for a split-second, thinking that I, somehow, walked into a different restaurant. JC's familiar face and warm welcome, however, assured me I was in the right place. It was also a treat to see and renew ties with an old classmate and friend from back in high school, Mike Gayoso, who recently joined the Terry's group. Other friends I saw immediately were Mari, Gema (naturally), Cecile and Nandy, among others.

Chatting while enjoying excellent pica-picas of Tarrina de Cabrales y Dátiles de Alicante al Pedro Ximénez (Valdeon Cheese & Alicante Dates Terrine with Pedro Ximénez Sherry), Nido de Cangrejo y Quisquilla con Crema de Anchoas al Brandy de Jerez (Baby Shrimp Crab Nest with Anchovy & Brandy de Jerez Cream) we had cool, crisp glasses of 2007 Marqués de Cáceres Blanco Viura.

A clean, lean, light, dry, fresh, lively, very quaffable white made up of 100% viura grapes (a.k.a., Macabeo). Aside from dominant green apple, citrus and Korean Iya pear notes, there are slight bitter-almondy nuances towards the back (reminiscent of Italian aperitifs such as some proseccos and Campari, but much, much subtler than the latter). Its clean, light lines suggested to me that it received no oak treatment - and Joel confirmed this. I told him I actually liked the modern, fresher, cleaner, unoaked style of Rioja whites for apéritifs.

Of all the appetizers, and there were many, I thought this fresh and crisply clean white paired superbly with the newly cooked, still-hot Pavía de Mero al Ajilimójili (Lapulapu Fillets - marinated in cherry no less - with Ajilimójili Sauce - an ancient Moorish-influenced sauce) and excellent Crujiente de Ventresca de Atun al Adobo de Cádiz (Crispy Tuna Belly with Adobo Sauce).

Very drinkable and, at a mere P450 per bottle at Terry's, it is easily affordable for pairing with similar fish dishes. The Doc had arrived by then and joined me in polishing off the dish of tuna belly in adobo sauce that JC was preparing in the picture above.

After taking my seat with, among others, the Doc, Gema and Jaime & Ofelia Romero-Salas (such a fun couple they were, Jaime had us all in stitches until the wee hours of the morning), JC and Joel respectively said a few words on the theme of the night's cuisine, the history of Marqués de Cáceres and the different wines it produces.

Joel, it turns out, was born and raised in the Rhône region of France and, eventually, wound up working in Spain - hence, his unmistakable French accent.

~ oOo ~

The feast then began in earnest with Salmorejo de Almendras a las Hojuelas de Bacalao y Jamón de Teruel (Almond Salmorejo with Bacalao Flakes & Jamon de Teruel Chips), which was married with:

2004 Marqués de Cáceres Blanco Fermentado en Barrica - Mainly viura grapes with a bit of malvasia thrown in for added roundness, body and structure (I assume). As its name indicates, it was fermented in oak.

Gema easily noted apricots and a honeyed nuance to this wine. I agree, and add a general stone-fruit dominance over baked apple and citrus as well as almond-marzipan and a judicious touch of vanilla (surely from the wood treatment). This was obviously heftier (I'd say medium-bodied) and broader than the unoaked pure viura we had as apéritif, which is why it went well with this gazpacho-esque dish bolstered by thin-pressed slices of bacalao. The Jámon de Teruel also gave it nice salty highlights as well as interesting contrast in texture.

This wine is a more familiar style of Rioja white (to me anyway), though I reiterate that I am growing quite fond of the more modern unoaked versions as well to kick off an evening. At only P550 per bottle, it's a no-brainer buy for Rioja blanco.

Incredible job of decorating by Antonio Garcia of Mabolo for creating an exotic, languid, intimate "Moorish tent in an oasis" ambiance to Segundo Piso.

~ oOo ~

Next was a Dueto de Piquillos a la Sobresada y Morcilla de Jabugo Crema de Quesos al Chirimiri de Aciete de Orégano (Duo of Piquillo Peppers filled with Jabugo Sobrasada & Morcilla Creamy Cheese Sauce with a Drizzle of Oregano Oil) paired with:

2004 Marqués de Cáceres Vendimia Seleccionada - a relatively straightforward, unpretentious, typical, mildly earthy tempranillo nose of ripe red fruit, dark spice, cedar and light touches of licorice, red pepper and a whisper of dried herb - mirrored on the palate with well-focused, streamlined flavors on a firm, medium structure with good acid balance (likely from the dose of grenache) This displays a somewhat fiesty, youthfully fruity attitude. I think Joel mentioned this wine was subjected to a mix of French and american oak, but I did not detect traces of the latter (which is a good thing for me). Very affordable at only P610 per bottle.

I must say I have a weakness for stuffed peppers, sobrasada and morcilla. So, in a dish involving all three of these, I was in gourmand's (read: "matakaw's") cloud 9. I loved it, probably my favorite dish of the dinner. The Doc must have liked it too because he doesn't usually eat morcilla (or anything else with blood for that matter) but he totally wiped his plate clean. They didn't even have to wash mine.

~ oOo ~

The main course of Cordero Confitado en Reducción de Tempranillo al Tomillo Fresco Salsa Chilindrón - Ratatouille Riojana y Pilaf de Garbanzos Fritos y Salvia (Lamb Shank Confit in a Tempranillo & Thyme Reduction Chilindron Sauce - Rioja Ratatouille and Fried Garbanzo and Sage Pilaf) was then presented with:

2001 Marqués de Cáceres Reserva - I tried this not long ago and paired it with grilled US Prime-Grade rib-eye steaks at B's and M's new house on the 12th September 2008. My notes then, still consistent, were as follows:

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.

2002 Marqués de Cáceres Gaudium - This deep, dark ruby red wine is Marqués de Cáceres' top of the line bottling as I understand. The aromas and flavor profiles are similar to the immediately above-mentioned Reserva, but comparatively deeper-veined yet more vibrant in fruit, more complex, finely layered, better-knit, with softer/better-integrated tannins and a silkier feel on the palate. I also detected a vague, somewhat toasty-spicy-toffeeish scent. Gema said she didn't smell that, but readily identified cinammon notes - which I recognized only after she pointed it out.

I was puzzling over whether or not it was all new French oak or was there a touch of American oak in there....Because of the notably clean, delicate focus and subtlety of the oak influence, I figured it was all new French oak - this was later on confirmed by Joel. I mentioned to Joel later on that the Gaudium, more than any of the other reds of the evening, reflected the Bordeaux influence of the owners, the Forner family (who, incidentally, also own and run 1855 Classified 5th Growth Château Camensac in the Haut Médoc; and, once owned and ran Château Larose Trintaudon as well until the mid-late 1980s). Very nice. Very suave. Not cheap at P2900 per bottle, but I think it is worth its price.

I must make mention that the Doc absolutely loved the Fried Garbanzo and Sage Pilaf, finishing his helping in a trice. He asked Gema if he could have some and received another serving of it - which he inhaled as well. Doc quipped that what he really wanted was a whole, heaping bowlful of the pilaf instead of another quaintly-sized-and-plated portion.

~ oOo ~

Now, for the dessert. I do not possess a sweet tooth, mind you, most often preferring to spend my calories on wine and savory dishes, but I always look forward to JC's complex, artistic and intellectual creations (I swear he has the soul of a pâtissier deep within the heart of a chef). This time, it was a delicious-as-usual Sinfonía de Chocolate y Frutos Confitados al Sabayón de Satinela (a Medley of Chocolate & Fruit Confit with Satinela Sabayon), paired with:

2006 Marqués de Cáceres Satinela Semi-Dulce - from a blend of late harvested viura and malvasia. Lively, lithe, just slightly sweet, mildly tangy, with a floral character in its fresh, slightly wild-honeyed, peach, mango, ripe apricot, slight passionfruit profiles. Its acidity gave it superior balance, brightness and lift.

Excellent pairing - picking up the mango's sweet-tartness, the candied ginger bits' spice and cutting the chocolate's richness. The confited orange peel bits gave the flavors some roundness and weight on the palate, as did the gingerbread crumbs dusted on the periphery of the Santinela Sabayon (and, the latter, adding an interesting, added dimension of texture as well).

More and more, I am allured by dessert wines, such as this, that are lighter and more agile on the tongue than the richer, heavier Sauternes I am used to - especially after such a large meal. At a mere P600 per bottle - just go buy it. Enough said.

The Doc, thereafter, was called back to the hospital and Gema brought me to another table of Ateneans where I sat with Nandy (the Stockbroker's bilas), Mike, Antonio and Rocky (who happens to be the older brother of Jamike). Small world, indeed. The Gaudium continued to flow.

Joel, Gemma and Henny also joined us, the latter sharing some small, deliciously rich carabao's milk cakes. Conversation took a silly turn, lacquered with wine - no doubt, when Antonio and Mike tried to explain to Joel what a carabao was. "¿Búfalo de agua?" suggested Mike, and that just set me off laughing. Even JC couldn't (or wouldn't) tell us what a carabao was in Spanish.

As more guests took their leave, we compressed to one last table where Jaime had us all in tears with his antics. The Gaudium continued to flow - to the point where I started to dread the next bottle being opened - after all, I had to drive myself back home. The world seemed even smaller when I learned that one of Segundo Piso's young chefs was, in fact, the daughter of one of my former bosses way back when I was still in ACCRA.

Christ, I felt old. Old, drunk and far from home. Good thing I had a lot of wine and friends with me to make me laugh. And laugh we all did, my sides started to hurt.

Many thanks, everyone, for making that evening so much fun. I couldn't have asked for anything more.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Beaujolais NOT Nouveau.

I've never liked Beaujolais Nouveau. I'm sorry, but that's the honest truth. I find the stuff, to put it nicely, utterly bereft of merit. Yes, I've tried many of them in the past, served at parties where it would have been too impolite not to accept a glass - so mine is no a priori aversion. Thus, when Manila's resident wine crusader, Jérome Philippon, invited me to his Beaujolais Not Nouveau Dinner last night at Ciçou, I was so intrigued I made sure to attend.

When Jérome first conceived of this event and mentioned it to me many months ago, I cautioned him that the Manila-based French business community may not take well to it. That some may take this event against Jérome, however, seemed, in my opinion, narrow-minded. Would not it be in the best interests of the wine-consuming public and Beaujolais in general that an event showcasing good Beaujolais wines take place? That question is rhetorical, of course - as a far as I am concerned anyway.
In any event, the evening started off with:

2007 Terres Dorées Chardonnay Beaujolais by Jean-Paul Brun - served with, among others, Cyrille Soenen's excellent home-made pork head rillettes and pâté (I found that the wine married sublimely with the pâté). Initially, this was dominated by clean lines of tense, compact, somewhat steely-flinty apple, a light touch of grapefruit, with very slight oyster-shell/sea-side nuances that reminded me of Chablis.

After a few minutes in the glass, the wine fleshed out, gained nice heft and a bit more breadth in the middle. The grapefruit gave way to svelt white peach and slightly baked apple, bit of citrus (more towards the rear), white flowers, hints of white minerality. As it continued to open, its fruit components took on a slightly riper, more tropical character and whispers of mildly leesy vanilla. I believe this added ripeness, vaguely tropical ripe-sweetness made it such a nice match with the pâté.

At approximately P990 per bottle at Sommelier Selection, one can back up the truck on this.

With the comforting next course of Oeuf Meurette:

2006 Domaine Lapalu Brouilly Cuvée Vieilles Vignes - Nice depth to the ripe, vaguely plummy, blackberry, dark fruit compote infused with violets; medium-bodied, masculine, somewhat rustic and earthy feel to it, with nice heft mid-mouth, smooth texture and confident finish. The fruit well expresses the age of the vines.

Those relatively new to good Beaujolais (such as I) will note its admirable weight, depth and power compared to those of ubiquitous makers' bottles that line supermarket shelves. Available at under P2000 per bottle.

I also very much enjoyed the oeuf meurette - so honest, earthy and comforting - which is why, at the end of the day, I always go back to French country cuisine - seeking it out in good bistros and brasseries.

With another sentimental favorite dish of excellent Cassoulet:

2006 Domaine Lapalu Brouilly La Croix des Rameaux - Similar to the previously mentioned wine in many ways, also decidedly masculine, but this was notably firmer, with cherry and leather lining its violets and noticeably riper, mildly spiced dark fruit compote. Compared with the Vieilles Vignes, this seems burlier in character with a touch of sauvage. With the depth of the fruit, surely the grapes for this particular bottling came from old vines as well.

Marginally heftier, fuller and more powerful than the previous wine, it also seems to have comparatively better focus. This wine could do quite well with heavier dishes like roast beef or steak frites. I know I've tried this wine before, but cannot seem to find my previous notes on it - all I've found was that I mentioned it when discussing Lapalu's 2006 Beaujolais Villages Le Rang du Merle.

Very good buy at around P2000 per bottle. Everyone looked like they enjoyed it.

The Mapa brothers with Jérome.

2006 Domaine du Tracot Moulin à Vent Jean-Paul Dubost - Another Cru of Beaujolais - reputedly the very best that Beaujolais has to offer, this was clearly my personal favorite red of the night - as well as the best match with the cassoulet. I remember telling Jérome that I found its character very different from the two previous reds - i.e., comparatively feminine to the Vieilles Vignes and Croix des Rameaux, and that it was very graceful and light-footed, its flavors dancing and gliding on the palate. There is a more notable presence of red fruit - dark cherry, bit of raspberry - to the spiced blackberry/blackcurrant base and there is a fresher over-all feel to the fruit.

The wine is no pansy though. It has superior focus, definitive/sturdy structure and a confident drive/push on the palate without at all being over-bearing or aggressive. On the contrary, it is very suave, poised and polished. Nice silky texture on the palate from attack to finish and a subtle but definite dark minerality exquisitely and finely infused in its fruit.

For the sheer pleasure it gives, it's a definite buy for me at P2225 per bottle.

Yet again, Jérome makes a strong case for Beaujolais wines - the good ones - as serious wines that definitely deserve a place in one's cellar or on one's mental list - be he/she a passionate aficionado, collector or casual wino. Much praise must be heaped on Cyrille's French country cuisine as well - deliciously comforting and honest. That's the way I like it.