Friday, February 27, 2009

Lunch Wines at Je Suis Gourmand.

A few weeks ago, the Stockbroker mentioned that he picked up a few double magnums of 2003 Château Gruaud Larose at a good price and would like to open one sometime for lunch. So, a date was set and, Thursday, the 26th February 2009, 6 of us met for lunch at old favorite Je Suis Gourmand, all toting our bottles.

Since Johnny R and Vancouver Vince unfortunately couldn't make it and half of us still had work to do that afternoon, it was decided that we'd just stick to the double magnum for our red.

A double magnum is a large bottle format that holds 3000ml of wine, which is the equivalent of 4 regular bottles. 2003 Bordeaux, especially those from top-tier châteaux like Gruaud Larose (a well performing 2nd Growth, 1855 Classification, St-Julien), are far from mature, but, with aeration, can be quite enjoyable to drink now.

We chatted a bit and, eventually, got down to the serious business of choosing our dishes. I was happy to discover that Keiichi thoughtfully brought a bottle of sauvignon blanc based Loire white to start of with. I, thus, decided to start of with a the Crottin de Chavignol with Salad to pair with the white. For the red, I decided to follow the Stockbroker's and Bernd's lead in having Marc's Cassoulet.

2007 Domaine Vincent Pinard Sancerre "Florès" - From Keiichi. 2007 was an uneven vintage in the Loire. Simplistically put, this means certain appellations within the region generally produced significantly better wines than others within the same region. For the Loire in 2007, reliable reviewers, such as Jancis Robinson (the first lady to hold a Masters of Wine degree), that the eastern appellations of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé produced the best wines. As to the maker, suffice it to state that Domaine Vincent Pinard is widely recognized as one of the top producers in said appellations.

The wine presented typical cool aromas of fresh, dew-flecked grass, white grapefruit with light touches of gooseberry and citrus - all of which had a subtly charming white mineral lilt to them. These were crisply/dryly mirrored in the mouth with vaguely steely character in a body halfway between light and medium. Good acidity. Very nice purity and balance - nothing like the many aggressively exuberant and overly grassy sauvignon blancs from New Zealand.

As regards the pairing, it was a no-brainer for me. Crottin de Chavignol is a pungent, gamey, creamy goat cheese with its own AOC near Sancerre (as well as the town of Berry) - so it is a natural, regional and traditional pairing with Sancerre blanc - the dry, minerally citrus notes and bright acidity cutting the gamey creaminess, the grapefruit flavors complementing that of the cheese, and its freshness and minerality cleansing the palate between bites. Lovely. I'm glad Jérôme Philippon's Sommelier Selection makes this locally available.

~ oOo ~

2003 Château Gruaud Larose (Double Magnum) - The Stockbroker's bottle, as earlier mentioned, and the reason for Thursday's lunch. As mentioned earlier, this is a young wine, moreso because it is in a large format bottle (wines in larger formats are generally accepted to have materially greater ageing capabilities than those in smaller formats).

Since there was no decanter large enough to hold all the wine, we made do by immediately opening the bottle and pouring out glasses for everyone at the beginning of the lunch. The reasons behind this were that our wine would breathe in the glass while we had our white and appetizers, and, in the meantime, the bottle itself would act as a decanter for the rest of the wine.

Around 10 minutes after the first pour, the wine grudgingly gave up smoky cedar and vegetal notes hovering over deep dark fruit and nuances of anise and warm asphalt. In the mouth, it was dense and a touch too tight and burly in character, but already richly extracted in ripe, molten dark fruit, pronounced toasty wood notes and semi-sweetened dark chocolate. I left it alone and had my starter and white.

Approximately 45 minutes later, the same wine still displayed a pervasive topnote of smoky cedar but the vegetative character had taken a back seat. In the mouth, it had noticeably eased and broadened, releasing creamy cassis, a touch of espresso and cedar into the dark chocolate tinged fruit. I then tried a half pour in a smaller glass, but using Arnie's Vinturi Wine Aerator as an experiment. I must admit that I did the "instantly aerated wine" was noticeably more approachable and less alcoholic compared to the very first, un-treated taste.

By the end of lunch, we were practically the last table left, so Marc joined us for half a glass and I made sure to tell him how very hearty, warm and comforting his cassoulet was. I particularly loved the melt-in-your mouth slice of braised pork belly in it, as well as the sausage. The beans were soft, earthy and very flavorful. I will will definitely be back for more.

My last half glass of red presented a shy-of-full-bodied liquid of roasted-ripe black fruit, cassis, dusty cocoa, moderate toasty oak, bit of licorice, touches of espresso and leather, underlying dark minerality, with cedar kicking in towards the back and in the finish. Nice middle, but not much of a crescendo - it just chugs along the tongue, tapering towards the throat. The alcohol, though still youthfully eager, had subsided considerably; a wine typical of the hot vintage.

A few more jokes and funny stories flew, bringing to an end a moderately boozy but very pleasant Thursday lunch. Again, thanks to the Stockbroker for giving us the opportunity to try out (in such great quantity) this young classed growth.

L-R: The Stockbroker, Arnie, Keiichi, J-Lab (partially hidden), Bernd.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Kokotxas a La Tienda.

Last night's dinner at La Tienda (Polaris Street, Makati City) was organized by Spanish cuisine aficionado Miguel, who discussed and coordinated the menu with Chef Javi Lecumberri. We were 9 in all (Miguel, Edwin, the Stockbroker, J-Lab, Johnny R, Rene & Aimee and my wife & I).

The dinner was to revolve around a dish called Kokotxas al Pil-pil, a typical dish from the Basque area wherefrom Javi hails (San Sebastián).

La Tienda's interior

Kokotxas al Pil-pil is a dish traditionally made of the ganglions (tender, gelatinous pendulums of flesh in the throat area) of hake fish (a.k.a., merluza) with the "pil-pil" sauce made from, as I understand, olive oil in which the fish has been cooked, with garlic and guindillas (very small, hot peppers), served in individual clay dishes. Due to the dearth of hake ganglions in the Philippines, Javi used those from our own lapu-lapu (grouper), needing around a month's time to collect enough of them for our dinner.

We kicked things off with some glasses of chilled:

Freixenet Cordon Rosado Brut - A most festive looking Catalunya cava from J-Lab who always must have some bubbly to start (good for the rest of us!). Tastes like there's quite a bit of granacha in this juicy, rounded, fruity, fresh strawberry, raspberry and red fruited bubbly. There is a slight softness and candied nuance to the fruit as a whole which make this very easy to drink a lot of. The bubbles, though, bring exuberance and liveliness to this charming and simply disarming cava.

This would be very approachable to many, I'm sure, and, more than likely, very reasonably priced as well. Great for the beach, big parties and any general light-hearted get-together of friends. We enjoyed this with a few bite-sized slices of boiled chorizo which were very flavorful and spicy despite not being fried (a less guilty indulgence indeed).

It was certainly a most welcome starter for the evening to toast to the Stockbroker's son's health (the poor little guy was in the ER that afternoon, but all's well) and Johnny R's new movie. Raising a thanks-giving toast at the beginning of a dinner always adds a festive air to the evening.

The appetizers then started coming in: my favorite Escalivadas, Fresh Boquerones and Pulpo a la Gallega which we had with two different albariños:

Pulpo a la Gallega; Escalivadas

Fresh Boquerones

2007 Pazo San Mauro Albariño - Miguel's bottle, purchased from Barcino just to try out, an albariño from Rías Baixas in Spain's north-western region called the "land of a thousand rivers", Galicia. Not surprisingly, Rías Baixas albariños are typically paired with the abundant fresh fish and shellfish dishes Galicia is famous for.

White florality and minerality mark this fresh, clean, taut-bodied young wine. Though some producers in the area have already been taking stabs at subjecting their albariños to oak, I very much doubt this wine was - well, it didn't taste that way to me, anyway. It's fruit flavors of mild grapefruit, pear, white stone fruit, citrus, the lightest touch of lime and discreetly underlying melon are pure, minerally - almost steely. The minerality has a crushed seashell nuance to it.

Good acidity, it ran playfully with the mildly spicy escalivadas and the fresh boquerones.

2007 Laxas Albariño - My bottle. I've had this just a little over 2 months ago at La Tienda. Miguel introduced me to this. My notes then, on the 2006 vintage were as follows:

Fresh, bright, crisp, vibrant mineral/flint touched, slightly grassy green apple, guava, grapefruit, gooseberry and a bit of ripe lemon. Healthy acidity lends good lift despite the apparent ripeness of the fruit. Lively and dryly refreshing wine. As a match with the fresh boquerones, it was perfect....
I add now, that the 2007 seems just ever so slightly bigger yet gentler in fruit than the 2006 and has an added nuance of almond infused into the fruit - very enjoyable albariño and great money-for-value. I will make sure to purchase more of this for the house (available at Terry's at P750 per bottle retail) to pair with seafood meals.

~ oOo ~

The platters of much-awaited Kokotxas al Pil-pil then made their way to the table...

Miguel told us that the fish was cooked in the emulsified (i.e., the pan shaken constantly with the flame turned off) pil-pil sauce. Gelatinous in texture, it was almost like eating the belly of a very fat fish. I loved it because the stomach and head are my favorite parts of fishes. With this richly delectable Basque dish, we enjoyed...

2007 Le Rosé de Pavie Macquin - Miguel's bottle. I've enjoyed many bottles of this relatively fuller-fruited rosé from St-Emilion and written about it a few times. My most recent, complete notes on it, for convenience's sake, are as follows:

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.

Available at Premium Wine Exchange for a mere P700 per bottle, it's a definite buy for our Philippine clime - plus it actually pairs well with local dishes like adobo seco, crispy tadyang ng baka, etc. We also enjoyed this rosé with...

Squid Ink Basmati Paella (in lieu of Fiduea since Javi couldn't source the proper noodles in time). Thereafter came my and my wife's favorite the Basmati Paella Verduras, the Besugo al Horno, and, thereafter, the Chuleton.

With the chuleton, we had the following Spanish reds:

2001 Alvaro Palacios Finca Dofí - My bottle, purchased from Terry's. Miguel told me that Alvaro Palacios was instrumental in putting the Priorat region on the world's wine map and that they produce three reds in the area, namely, their top bottling L'Ermita, with Fica Dofí next in line, and then Les Terraces.

I don't know what exactly the cepage is for this wine except that it is mainly grenache - typical of the area since its introduction possibly in the 12 century by the Carthusians (I didn't know that offhand, I looked it up).

In any event, this wine, having been breathing in a decanter for around 3 hours by the time it was served, was lush, full, concentrated, opulent in well-knit, deeply-veined dark fruit, blackberry, slight dark chocolate notes underneath, dashes of black pepper, licorice and, towards the back, faint traces of graphite and dark minerality.

Hints of cinammon emerge later on. There is also readily apparent toasty, vanilla-oakiness - likely all new oak barrels were used - but deftly blended into the fruit. Big, but smooth molten tannins, slightly low in acid, the hefty 14% abv is apparent but not obtrusive. This easily stood up with the chuleton. A hedonist's wine at this point. I'd be very interested to see how this ages over the next 10 years.

2000 Venus "la Universal" - Miguel's bottle, from Montsant, in the province of Tarragona, Catalunya, south-southeast of Priorat. I think Miguel bought this in Spain a while back. I've never seen this wine in Manila, or, at least, I don't remember ever seeing it here.

Ultra-ripe, sweetlriper than the previous wine but very different. Here, spicy, jammy dark raspberry, blackberry, some cassis, black pepper dominate, with a slight toffee-ish nuance towards the back. Likewise deep fruit though, and there is also a dark minerality, but there the similarity ends. Syrah in this? It kind of reminds me of a modern-styled Rhône wine. Powerful like the previous wine, with a similar 14% abv.

2000 Torres Grans Muralles - J-Lab's bottle, I have no idea where in Spain it's from as the small text on the label in my picture is hoplessly blurred (I really must buy myself a decent camera one of these days). While we all have had Torres wines at one point or another, I've never had or heard of the Grans Muralles.

Much closer in character to the Finca Dofí than the Venus, but the oak, also quite apparent, seems comparably creamier and toastier. With a good swirl, some toffee-ish, cinammon notes were released. This seemed between the first two wines in terms of ripeness and extraction and had a notable, comparatively refined calmness about it.

Miguel and Rene must have noted that as well as they asked J-Lab where to source this wine.

1995 Marqués de Murrieta Dalmau - The Stockbroker's bottle, he brought an array of very fine aged Riojas and told Miguel he could choose what to open. Miguel told me that this was a newish bottling of Marqués de Murrieta and clearly was eager to try this, as was I.

It wore its dark brick-red, red-orange trimmed robe regally. Traditionally long wood exposure, surely, but well and finely integrated, its toasty, cinammon/toffee notes there but subtle.

A few notches over medium-bodied after the previous three wines, it was lushly curvy, feminine, elegant, mildly earthy cerise and strawberry, with a bed of underlying vibrant dark fruit, sweet cedar, just a hint of tobacco and licorice - serene and comforting. Lovely wine.

1982 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 890 - Also from the Stockbroker, he's the only one in the Philippines, to my knowledge, who has a stock of fine Rioja this old. Though he had already opened a fine, aged Rioja, I couldn't help but ask him if we could open this one as well, and, he, as always, graciously agreed.

Lighter brick-red than the immediately preceding wine, with an orange-red and mahogany blush. This was a fine silken sheet of red berry essence (strawberry, raspberry, other red berries that are beyond my vocabulary), sweet cedar, just a touch of old, worn leather and spice in the suavely dark fruit base.

Not for those who demand lush fruit-drive and kilometric finishes, as the fruit has passed the stage of the flesh, leaving its spirit and essence for hopeless romantics to savor and appreciate. Ethereal, nostalgic, sad elegance to be enjoyed now.

2001 Bodegas Beronia Gran Reserva - Johnny R's bottle, he brought it for me, said he, as he knows how much I love the 1996 version of this wine. I opened and decanted it right before the '82 Rioja Alta GR 890 and let the former breathe while we savored the latter.

Youthful, but in stride and very enjoyable now. The nicely rounded dark fruit is subtly laced with tobacco, cedar and spice box. The topnotes are typical strawberry and red berry. A few shades over medium-bodied, the wood is judicious and in good harmony. Wonderful, a definite buy for me.

I've only tried 2 vintages from this maker (both good Rioja vintages: 1996 and 2001) and I'm already a sucker for their style. A touch lower in acid than the '96 but nicer fruit and a more pronounced middle at this point, this is dangerously more immediately pleasing.

There were several more bottles to try, but the exigencies of life beckoned (read: pinapauwi na si Johnny ng asawa niya) and we were all pretty past tipsy already anyway, so those bottles were left for another Spanish feast.

That didn't stop me though from taking, literally, a few parting shots of J-Lab's bottle of Cardenal Mendoza Brandy de Jerez Solera Gran Reserva (by Sánchez Romate Hermanos). I simply can't resist this Jerez since I tried it from J-Lab over dinner on the 27th November 2008. My notes then are still consistent:
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.
Of course, I wouldn't and couldn't forget to mention the indulgent yet refreshing dessert of Torrijas de leche that Javi prepared for us that evening, complete with a milky, home-made ice cream and topped with caramelized olives.

Truly a memorable night with exceptional Spanish food, wine and lots of laughs in the company of great friends. Many thanks, Javi and Miguel, for thinking up this wonderful dinner and making it possible for the rest of us to enjoy so much - and to everyone else there, of course, for generously sharing their wines and company. Until the next!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bubbly, Three Whites, Four Reds, Kicker Aszú Essencia.

17th February 2009, dinner at Ciçou organized by the Stockbroker. We were 8 in all: the Stockbroker, Bernd, Johnny R, J-Lab, Keiichi, Arnie, Vince and myself. In light of the bottles to be opened, I was assigned to make the pairing menu. Before anything else, I would like to thank Cyrille for accommodating our request for this special menu.

Through a series of group e-mails, we decided on the bottles to be brought way beforehand. I thought to keep the menu simple, a backdrop, really, for the wines to take center stage. It wasn't difficult at all, it took only two e-mails between Anna Soenen and I to get it finalized, and, thereafter, approved by the Stockbroker. For the mignardise, I specifically requested for Cyrille's macarons to be included as they are the best I've had locally - not overly sweet like the "commercial" ones tend to be.

We all started trickling in at 7 pm; the reds were opened but not decanted, while the whites were placed in buckets of ice water. By the time the amuse bouche was served, we had started on the bubbly...

1988 Louis Roederer Champagne Cristal - J-Lab's bottle (he and Bernd are this group's champagne aficionados), the top-of-the-line cuvée of the house, created in 1876 for Russia's Tsar Alexander II - so named because its distinctive flat-bottomed bottles are made with clear lead crystal. So exclusively made was this cuvée that it did not see commercial distribution until after WWII.

In past experience with the '88s of Dom Pérignon and Krug, they have been comparatively linear, more focused, not as hefty or rounded in the middle, and the fruit not as ripe as the mentioned producers' '90s. I've not had the '90 Cristal, so would have no idea if this seeming vintage characteristic would hold true in this case.

This tastes much younger/fresher than any '88 Dom Pérignon I've had. It is also lusher, materially rounder and much more complex, I couldn't even think of calling it linear. There was a touch of grapefruit jutting out at the finish early on, but this eventually submerged. Exquisitely layered ripe apple, pear, fresh apricots, whisper of coffee underneath, with gossamer notes of gingerbread spice flitting about.

A bit of air and a gargle release lightly creamy brioche and slight nuances of biscuit and mocha just past mid mouth. I noted that whatever it gave up to Krug in body and power it made up in an acid balance, vibrancy and freshness of fruit. Beautiful champagne that can last years more.

~ oOo ~

With Home Made Pork Terrine and Pork Rillette with a side of Cornichons...

Vince preparing for a cardiac first course.

1999 Rolly Gassmann Gewürztraminer Kappelweg de Rorschwihr - Arnie's bottle.

Just to get this out of the way, Rolly Gassmann is not a person. The name is the combination of the last names of the founder-spouses Marie-Thérèse Rolly and Louis Gassmann. It is based in the small town of Rorschwihr (which, if I recall properly, is just a few minutes drive south by southwest from medieval Riquewihr) and Kappelweg is considered one of the top lieu-dits of the area.

Viscous and oily in mouthfeel. Sweet lychee-dominated palate with notes of rose, ripe peach, hint of white minerality. Hefty residual sugar in this - tastes like a vendange tardive, but isn't - I've noted a similar characteristic in Weinbach's wines made of fruit from the Altenbourg lieu-dit. Its sweetness and sufficient acidity made for a good marriage with the richness of the pork terrine and rillette. The cornichons also helped cut the dishes' luscious fattiness.

Together with this, I had...

2004 Leewin Estate Art Series Margaret River Chardonnay - Johnny R's bottle. I remember this wine showed quite well in the International Wine & Food Society's Blind Chardonnay tasting a little over a year ago (24th January 2008).

This hefty, generous and very fruit-forward Aussie chard has nice balancing acidic and mineral lift to its nicely rounded, ripely sweetish, softly-baked apple, pear and vanilla/oak dominant flavors. Nuance of butterscotch as well. Mild citrus notes emerge past mid-mouth and hug the background. I also liked this a lot with the pork rillette, its ripe fruit and vanilla/oak running hand-in-hand with the dish, adding a baked apple dimension to the pork (roast pork loin with applesauce came to mind), leaving the cut to the cornichons.

~ oOo ~

With Mussels in White Wine Two Ways...

2003 Dagueneau Pouilly-Fumé Pur Sang - The Stockbroker's bottle, from the late, great Didier Dagueneau, the Loire's bearded, long-haired "madman of St-Andelain". "Pur Sang" in English literally means "pure-blood" or "pure-blooded".

Despite being riper and oakier than most any Pouilly-Fumé I've had, this wine's flinty minerality shines through the ripe grapefruit, gooseberry, citrus with hints of chaume and even a whisper of sampaguita in the initial aroma.

Definite yet discreet drive in this. Vibrant and confident. Admirable structure; excellent balance of fruit-ripeness, oak against minerality and acid. This I enjoyed with the first way of mussels - the mussels themselves with crusty bread - as the Leewin was too fleshy and low in acid for the dish - providing no refreshing contrast or cut that I normally prefer in pairing wine with food. I'm also a stickler for regional pairings - in the Loire, especially in the Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre areas, these wines are paired with simply prepared mussels and other shellfish.

With the second way: a moderately creamy soup incorporating the juices of the mussels and the white wine, the Leewin paired well. Personally, though, I felt the Leewin paired best with the pork rillette and pork terrine.

~ oOo ~

With a fat, juicy, earthy main course of Roasted Pigeon with Fricassee of Mushroom, Braised Red Cabbage and Baby Potatoes in Garlic Confit...

1997 Domaine de la Romanée Conti Grands Échézeaux - Keiichi's bottle, a generous treat indeed. Anyone who is even vaguely familiar with Burgundy knows this maker and its sticker-shock wines. Madam Lalou Bize-Leroy, also a top producer of the Côte de Nuits in her own right whose wines approach the prices of DRC, is part-owner of Romanée Conti as well.

Grands Échézeaux is a grand cru located near Clos de Vougeot. Keiichi said, when he visited, he'd take his morning runs through country roads from the latter, through the former, all the way to Vosne-Romanée.

As for me, while my wife and I would stroll through the famous vineyards in the same area, I'd drive to Clos Vougeot. Apparently, taking the main road loops you around quite a bit.

Me, with the clos of DRC-DRC on the right (the fruit of which is made into DRC's self-named top wine).

A few deep sniffs of this wine reassured me that I made the right choice in choosing the main course. Its earthy bouquet and flavors of black cherry, dried cranberry, ripe dark raspberry, whisper of cola, ceps and old violets over somber dark fruit, with just a whisper of Burgundy decay, didn't jump out, but were easily detectable if one paid proper attention. In the mouth, there was an added nuance of earthy red beet. When I think of it now, I was probably unconsciously trying to re-create the dinner I had with my wife at Jardin des Remparts (*Michelin) at Beaune where I had a similar dish with a somewhat disappointing bottle of '96 Domaine Dujac Échézeaux (also a grand cru, but different from Grands Échézeaux).

The structure of this '97 Grands Échézeaux was good enough to make a quiet statement, very pliant, its medium body a bit soft and low in acid. It was delectably earth-driven (as traditional red Burgs should be) and in good form. If I had any of my own (which I don't), I'd drink up within the next two or three years. In better shape though than the 1992 Domaine Romanée-Conti Échézeaux.

1986 Château Lynch Bages - Bernd's bottle, this being one of his favorite makers of Pauillac I believe.

It took around 10-15 more minutes breathing in my glass for it to start releasing. Very masculine Pauillac, with great depth to its mild warm asphalt, slight roasted herbs, discreetly lead pencil-infused molten dark fruit/cassis, cedar, just whisper of leather underneath the fruit.

Great depth in this earth-driven, quietly serious wine - excellent typicity for Pauillac. Not really a wine for those who look for lush, juicy fruit-forward/driven reds. This is classic Pauillac as opposed to the generally more approachable, lusher, bigger-fruited wines of, say, Mouton Rothschild, Pontet Canet, etc. I must mention though that 1986 yielded notably tannic, very masculine, somewhat stern, long-maturing wines. Me, I love 1986 Médocs.

1998 Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape - Vince's bottle, by one of the most highly regarded producers of the southern Rhône. 1998 is one of the best recent Rhône vintages, along with 2001. I, personally, find that '98 CdPs mature materially slower than '01s. That said, this bottle seems to already be beginning its stride.

Admirable structure in this, lots of baked, meaty dark fruit with great breadth, power and grip - hints of violet and wood infused in the fruit and a touch of garrigue peeking from underneath. This is no mindless fruit bomb, the wine shows marked balance in its fruit, acidity and tannins. Earthy, but to a much lesser extent than the two previously discussed wines. Very good push in this.

A few noted the absence of barnyard/gamey notes Beaucastel is known for. The Stockbroker explained that the wine is probably too young to have developed the same. Personally, I loved this wine the most as a pairing for the pigeon; it had the push, youthful muscle and fullness of fruit to counterpoint the dish's inherent earthiness. Many, many years of life in this wine. I enjoyed the aged Burgundy and Bordeaux more on their own and happily ate with this wine.

Knowing how much I love his Cassoulet (ever since I tried it at Jérôme's Beaujolais Not Nouveau Dinner), Cyrille sent out a sizable complimentary bowl of it for everyone to enjoy. Ok, I admit, I jokingly told one of the waiters right before dinner that I certainly wouldn't mind trying it again that night, but I, in truth, did not think he would relay my joke to Cyrille.

In any event, it was an absolutely delightful and much appreciated surprise. Its natural earthiness made it a hand-in-glove pairing with this wine.

1979 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande - My bottle, one of a batch I purchased around 2½ years ago. The last bottle I opened took second place to the Doc's 1996 Cos d'Estournel in our Blind Bordeaux Challenge VIII on the 20th December 2007. Pichon Lalande typically uses more merlot than most Pauillacs and has a hallmark graceful and feminine air about it (Siran, owned by members of the same family until Pichon Lalande was sold around a year and a half ago, also uses more merlot than normal in its appellation, but, as far as I know, uses materially more petit verdot than the latter that helps give the former a more masculine and spicy character).

This wine, to my mind, is fully mature and this particular bottle was in impeccable condition. I bought the batch from a particular retailer in SF because I knew that the negociant who supplied them (LD Vins) got them straight from the château. It displayed its typical feminine grace yet still called Pauillac to mind with whispers of sweet cedar, gravel and lead pencil in the perfumed bouquet. In the mouth, it was a silky, seamless blend of red fruit over dark with just a fleeting hint of truffle. Lovely wine, as good as the last one I thought, though the Stockbroker said he felt my last bottle of this was better.

1986 Château Ducru-Beaucaillou - Bernie Sim's bottle, he wasn't with us for dinner but at a nearby table with his other friends. That didn't stop him though from sending Johnny and I a glass each of this to try.

In all honesty, I am no big fan of this famous 1855 Classified 2nd Growth from St-Julien. I've tried several of their vintages and liked them well enough, but find them too expensive in relation to the enjoyment I derive from them. For St-Julien, I prefer the wines of Léoville las Cases, Léoville Poyferré and Gruaud Larose.

In any event, the flavors of this wine were nicely and comfortingly St-Julien. Suave, smooth and harmonious cassis, blackcurrant, suggestion of charcoal, tar, slight licorice, nuance of cigar box. The body, however, was sorely lacking, thin, virtually emaciated. The flavors were there and quite nice, but they just washed away with virtually no finish. Good for quaffing, I suppose, but not at the price Ducru Beaucaillou normally commands. That said, I am thankful to be able to have tried this wine as I wouldn't have bought it myself.

With Roquefort and Dried Figs came the star of the evening, the dinner's raison d'etre...

1993 Royal Tokaji Wine Company Aszú Essencia - The Stockholder's bottle. I've explained in previous posts the nature of this ancient Hungarian sweet wine called Tokaji Aszú, the measure of sweetness being measured by puttonyos up to 6, the higher, the sweeter. Aszú Essencia (or "eszencia") is different in that it is made completely from the juice of botrytis cinerea infected grapes without any base wine (of uninfected grapes). As such, Aszú Essencia has, by definition, higher sugar levels than Tokaji Aszú.

Tokaji Essencia (without the word "Aszú") is the highest level of this type of sweet wine, the difference between it and Aszú Essencia being that the former is made only from the free-flow juice of botrytis infected grapes (i.e., no manual or mechanical pressing, just the weight of the piled grapes themselves).

While Aszú Essencias are inherently darker than Tokaji Aszús, this wine appears, to me, more advanced than its 15+ years of age (these types of wines, like Sauternes, are very long-lived and get darker and darker as decades pass). There was a tiny bit of murkiness as well.

That said, it was a rare treat, displaying dried apricot, touch of canned peach, bit of orange marmalade, dark caramel, dried fig, roasted walnuts, suggestion of Turkish coffee, very faint nutty-sherry-oxidative notes (n.b., a whisper of oxidation is not necessarily a flaw as, traditionally, these types of wine are purposefully allowed a bit of oxidation). These flavors are ethereal, no heaviness, nowhere near cloying despite its sweetness due to its fresh, brightening acidity. What struck me most about this is how very clean it tasted, from strike to mid-palate all the way to the long finish.

Pairing this seemed like a no-brainer with the bleu and dried figs (as they are also traditionally paired). It would also go with foie gras, but I figured to make this the evening's pièce de résistance. I suggested that it be taken alone, with experimental sips, at most, with the cheese, figs and the following dessert of Vanilla Crème Brûlée. Of those three, I felt the wine was best with the dried figs. Johnny R commented that he could taste mostly the cheese at the finish - and, after trying it, I agreed - the roquefort was a bit too obtrusive - maybe a less agressive aged cheese would have gone better.

Cyrille then came out, greeted by a round of well-deserved, heartfelt applause and a fullisade of congratulations.

Many thanks, Cyrille and Anna, for the wonderful meal; of course, to the Stockbroker for conceiving and organizing this dinner, and to everyone in attendance who generously shared their wine and company that night.