Saturday, March 28, 2009

Friday Lunch: Daniel Boulud-esque Escargots at Jes Suis Gourmand.

Yesterday's lunch (Friday, the 27th March 2009) was back at my favorite French restaurant, Je Suis Gourmand with Miguel, Rene and Santi. We had earlier requested Chef Marc Aubry to make a dish similar to Daniel Boulud's Escargots, Chicken Oyster and Hazelnut Spatzle that Miguel recently had at Boulud's Brasserie at the Wynn in Las Vegas. I e-mailed Marc Miguel's photos and description of the dish the week before so he could approximate the dish. Marc graciously agreed to do it for us.

I also brought along a 1978 Château Siran (Margaux) to serve blind to show Miguel and Rene how well Siran's wines can age. Santi already knew about Siran's wines' longevity since he was there with us when we tried, among others, the 1928 and 1953 Siran. I didn't tell him what I'd be bringing though.

By around 12:45, Miguel opened his already chilled bottle of 2007 Domaine Raimbault-Pineau Pouilly-Fumé. Ever since Rene introduced us to this domaine's P-F, we've bought and gone through so many bottles and I've written about it in my blog so many times (both the 2006 and 2007 vintages), readers of my blog know well enough how much I love this fresh, fruity, extremely charming sauvignon blanc-based eastern Loire wine - especially when paired with goat cheese and simply prepared, fresh shellfish dishes.

Our much anticipated escargot dish was then served.

Boulud Escargots à la Marc

There is a poached egg hidden by the ring of crunchy toasted bread and greens...

Miguel said that in Boulud's original dish, the poached egg was also hidden and not mentioned in the dish's description, so, when he cut into it and saw the yolk oozing out, it was a wonderful surprise. "Like finding liquid gold" he said.

Though Marc couldn't source chicken oysters per se and so used readily available parts, added some lardons, and I noted the absence of hazelnut spätzle, I loved it. Nothing short of superb. Santi liked it so much, he got a second order of it for his main course, and, Rene swore to bring Aimee and Tita B over to try it.

Not having tried the original dish by Boulud, I, personally, wouldn't know how it would compare; but Miguel, who did, wiped his plate clean and pronounced it delicious. I think he even ate the the plate's embossed design.

Marc assured us that he could make it again given a day's prior notice. We then discussed the possible variations on this dish. Rene suggested that added seared foie gras would go well - but, then, he'd probably want foie gras on anything. I'm sure Miguel was silently having red dreams of this dish with steak tartare. Heh heh.

I love it the way it is, but imagine that a sprinkling of crunchy animal (crisped pork belly bits or duck or chicken skin cracklings?) would add nice touches of textural contrast and saltiness. In any event, that dish was, undoubtedly, the star of our lunch. I'm mentally re-savoring it as I write.

~ oOo ~

We then shared a dish of Pan-Seared Foie Gras Salad and ordered our main courses - a dish each of Cassoulet topped with Duck Leg Confit for Rene and myself....

...while Miguel opted for the Provençal Lamb Loin. As earlier stated, Santi got a second order of the escargots for his main course. Before and together with these dishes, we enjoyed bottles of...

1978 Château Siran - My bottle, ex-château (i.e., straight from the château's cellar), a gift to me from the Vigneron around a month ago when he arrived from Bordeaux. Since this is a 30+ year-old bottle, Marc and I watched carefully as one of the staff uncorked it.

It turned out, though, that there was no reason to worry since the cork was relatively new - bearing the words "Rebouché en 2005" (see below) - meaning "re-corked in 2005". It is a practise of the better châteaux to have corks of their old bottles changed after a few or several decades.

I last had this wine in early January 2007 (also in Je Suis Gourmand) and it was absolutely in fine form. My notes then were as follows:

Chateau Siran 1978 - straight from the chateau's cellar, it was a Christmas gift from Edouard. I had it with duckling in foie gras and wild mushroom sauce. With no available decanter in the restaurant, I poured and let it breathe in the glasses while we had the Corton Charlemagne with our appetizers. A darkish, medium brick-red slightly lightening at the rim with a slight red-orange tinge. The bouquet and taste were typically Siran: mildly earthy cassis base, touches
of violets, small red berries to the rear, cedar and leather, masculine for a
Margaux, with just a slight touch of the sweetness of bottle-age to the red
berries. Good balance, this wine proudly wears its years well; and can go on for
many more. To my mind, with more bottle-age sweetness, elevation of the red
berries and the seams easing out in the process.

Good, well-aged wine is always a special treat for me. This was no exception.

I didn't decant this bottle and just left it open for around an hour or so - any more aeration it would need could be had in our glasses. Served blind, the bottle's label was covered with paper and taped firmly, the tell-tale foil completely removed and the cork hidden in my pocket.

The guys noted the wine's dark brick red/red-orange tinted with mahogany color of age, and, after a few sniffs, gentle swirls and a couple of tastes, Santi called it very closely to be from 1976 more-or-less, and maybe from St-Julien. Rene called it as a wine from the Margaux appellation (a stone's throw south of St-Julien). After more breathing time, Santi agreed that it was from Margaux. Pretty impressive, together they got the appellation and were just 2 years off the true vintage.

As far as this bottle went, it was more advanced than the one I had back in 2007 - more than an additional 2 years of bottle age could probably justify. A bit of bottle-age sweetness, spicy dark cherry, led the way over old-pressed violets/leather/iron -infused somber dark fruit and cassis. Surely showing its age and, after around 25-30 minutes in the glass, the wine started to fall apart, and its spicy/violet/licorice/sour dark cherry/raspberry medium finish shortened noticeably. Still and all, an enjoyable wine with a bit of nostalgia and history thrown in -1978 was the year I graduated from elementary school and entered high school. The other guys were surely still in short pants.

The next 2 reds were Rhônes from Miguel and Rene:

2001 E. Guigal Côte Rôtie Brune et Blonde - From arguably the finest area of syrah-dominated Northern Rhône, a very good Rhône vintage and one of the most highly-reputed makers; the last notes I have on this particular wine were from 23 April 2008 during Je Suis Gourmand's Night of Rhône Cuisine & Wine:

2001 E. Guigal Côte Rôtie Brune et Blonde - I must say that I appreciated this properly refined, medium-bodied Rhône (none-too-alcoholic unlike many other modern Rhônes), such as it was: laced lightly with dried/roasted herbs/pepper; red berry-dominated (red currant (or was that the sherbet haunting my
palate?)/raspberry/hint of strawberry, mild tobacco and dark spice, woodiness and just a dash of pepper. Very mild earthiness. Finely and delicately layered. If there is any criticism I can make, it would be that the middle is a bit weak. But that's about it.
This bottle, decanted for around 40 minutes, was similarly earthy, spicy but had a confident middle unlike the one I last wrote about, with a strong roasted herb accent as well as a good dose of garrigue. Robust and masculine. Great pairing with the earthy and robust cassoulet with duck leg confit.

2001 E. Guigal Gigondas - Belatedly opened as Santi is still watching his wine intake (if not that of other forms of alcoholic drink), from the southern Rhône, neighboring better-known Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The wines from said areas are made up of a mix of several grapes, usually with more of grenache.

I've had several of bottles of this wine in the past 2-3 years, but, curiously, I only have my handwritten notes (none in my blog or other vino-centered websites I post in ) from the Manila Gentlemen's Club's 22 February 2008 Cantonese Night at the Ming room of Tower Club's Taipan restaurant. I know for sure that I opened more of them at Mamou (with the huge steaks of course), home and friends' houses.

In any event, I have the Stockbroker to thank for recommending this wine for pairing with the spicy Deep Fried Pork Ribs with Salt & Pepper course of the immediately aforementioned dinner. It was an absolute hit, especially with the club's resident Aussie, Richard Everingham.

This bottle, like the past ones, had a generally rustic, earthy, spicy character to its dark red cherry, raspberry and licorice, with underlying black coffee and minor notes of pepper and iron. This wine, purchased by Rene and Miguel at Bacchus (as well as the above '01 Côte Rôtie) is excellent value for money. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, this vintage of the Gigondas is already all sold out. There just may still be some of the pricier and more imposing '01 E.Guigal Côte Rôtie though, but I'm not sure of that.

After a quick smoke outside, we returned to find dishes of Pears Poached in Red Wine topped with Homemade Nougatine Ice Cream. Marc confirmed to us that this dessert contained fine laces of lemon peel and a touch of anise as well.

Knowing that pears poached in red wine is a favorite dessert of my wife, Marc thoughtfully gave me a serving of them to take home to her - which is very much appreciated. With Marc's hallmark personal touch that permeates all aspects of Je Suis Gourmand, how can anyone wonder why this is my, and many others', favorite restaurant?

Though Santi left at around 3pm to return to the office (or so he said), we lingered over the wine and double espressos until a little past 4pm. What a great way to end the work week. Many, many thanks again to Marc for his indulgence and the great dishes. Merci bien!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Riesling Dinner at Lemuria.

As summer rolls in, I've been drinking more whites and rosés than usual - mostly my favorite crisp Galician albariño and crunchy Navarra rosé. A couple of weeks ago, at one of our wine lunches, I asked J-Lab if he could organize a riesling pairing dinner at Lemuria (he's the wine pairing consultant, I understand) as I'd been much enjoying the German rieslings the Doc has been opening lately, and, especially, the 2007 Weingut Hermann Dönnhoff Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling Spätlese that Rocky and Apple gave me for Christmas. Other than those, the rieslings I usually have are from Alsace.

I'd never been to Lemuria (mainly because of the distance), but had heard very good things about it from fellow foodies. I figured it would be the best place to have a riesling pairing since the proprietress, Marina Schroeder, also owns Brumms, the German wine importing company. I left all the dishes and pairings to J-Lab, naturally, and, on the evening of the 24th March 2009, my wife, I and several friends trekked to Lemuria for our feast.

We were 12 in all: Marina, J-Lab, chef-restaurateur Colin Mackay, Miguel, Rene Fuentes, Jr., Robert Burroughes, Lawrie Martin, James du Vivier, Apa & Ana Ongpin and my wife & I. At a nearby table, I saw Gentleman Joe having a quiet dinner as well, but, surprisingly, sans fine wine. Apa, true to form, was late (but we were happy that he and Ana made it at all since they came all the way from Manila).

J-Lab, Marina, Robert and James were there when we arrived while Rene, Colin and Lawrie followed shortly after. Unless otherwise stated, all rieslings served that night were from Lemuria/Brumms. To start things off as the others trickled in, we enjoyed chilled glasses of:

2002 Reichsrat Von Buhl Riesling Sekt Extra Trocken - This may very well be the first bubbly riesling I have ever had. Lean, taut and bone-dry, this is a crisp, edgy, tense, dry bubbly that exhibited strong citrus, white grapefruit, just a touch of green apple, lime and underlying orange peel, with an over-all bright white mineral lift to it.

Very pleasing and light, yet there is a seemingly nonchalant depth to its fruit. Tastes fresh with lots of bracing acidity - zippy, with a dryness you could cut your cheek on. Nice first experience with a bubbly riesling. Will wake you up and nice for the summer's heat.

~ oOo ~

James (proprietor of Futuretrade, a major importer of many well-known wines from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA) then had served his bottles of:

2007 Kim Crawford Marlborough (New Zealand) Dry Riesling - This seemed to be an evening of "firsts" for me, as this is, undoubtedly, the very first riesling I have had from New Zealand. I'm much more familiar with their sauvignon blancs.

This was a nicely rounded, moderately ripe-fruited New World riesling that exhibited slightly honeyed apple and white peach. There are mild ripe lemon-citrus, orange rind nuances underneath as well.

Comes off a bit tropical to me, with a seeming ripely-sweetish slant to its fruit. Its mildly honeyed fruit character and sufficient acidity made it a very nice match with the excellently rich Duck Liver Ballotine with Wasabi amuse bouche.

Relatively forward and readily pleasing - I'd say this would be very approachable to very many people, as well as those new to rieslings. Me, I liked it a lot. Straightforward, honest and very friendly.

2006 Künstler Estate Riesling Medium Dry - Served with the appetizer course of Tuna and Compressed Watermelon with Wasabi Mousse.
A nicely dry, minerally riesling for the fish, with notable freshness and focus to its clean and lean streamlined white apple, stone fruit, comparatively less ripe (a good thing for me), drier and not forwardly citrusy.

There was also more depth, minerality and underlying orange rind, with an alluring, subtle cold stone character. Merest whispers of petrol and small white flowers surface towards the back and in the finish. A precise and correct wine.

With the seared/crusted tuna, it was an unsurprisingly good match, cleansing and refreshing the palate of the salty spice of the tuna's crust.

~ oOo ~

With the outstanding Cacao Smoked Duck Breast with Violet Confit and Dried Plums, we had two rieslings:

2006 Leewin Estate Art Series Margaret River Riesling - Another New World riesling thoughtfully donated by the Stockbroker who, unfortunately, couldn't join us that evening. Another first for me, as I do not recall ever having tried a riesling from Australia. I've had, however, a vintage or two of Leewin's Art Series Chardonnays and found them quite good.

Distinctive concentration and ripeness of white fruit make it come off plumper (especially mid-mouth), marginally heftier and noticeably less dry in comparison to the leaner, less fruit-driven, edgier and more minerally German rieslings, this is a more forward and eager to please style of riesling.

Like the Kim Crawford riesling above-discussed, I would say that this would likely be more approachable to those just "getting their feet wet" with riesling. Pleasant enough and more than just a little charming; very easy to drink.

2005 Gunderloch Rothenberg Nackenheim Riesling Spätlese - A mouthful of a name, as well as a wine, indeed. Not that I am at all well-versed in the heirarchies of German wines, but, as far as I know, spätleses are next in line in sweetness to auslese, the latter being the equivalent to Alsace's vendanges tardives or late harvest wines. Thus, one should expect a natural touch of sweetness in spätleses.

Perfumed aromas of sweetly spiced white peach, honeyed baked apple, candied lemon, small white flowers and a slight breath of eucalyptus. Quite alluring. On the palate, the aromas are mirrored in a viscous, barely-medium body. Its heft and viscosity is very apparent, perhaps amplified by the string of preceding, drier rieslings. Lowish on acid, but still in good balance, with supple curves.

I must mention that the duck course was my favorite of the evening, with its delicate smokiness and entertaining sweet-and-savory interplay. The spätlese was an excellent match, its sweet fruitiness jumping in with the interplay of the plums' fruit-sweetness and the smoky/savory duck.

~ oOo ~

Thereafter, Miguel and I took a quick cigarette break outside, on a small balcony overlooking the compound's nicely lit driveway, main house and gardens. In a few minutes, my wife waived us in as the delightfully cool and refreshing intermezzo of Ginger and Grapefruit Ice (in the form of a small, triangular popsicle) was served.

As the main course of US Rib-Eye Steak with Porcini, Creamed Spinach and Leeks with Madeira made its way to the table, the evening's reds, brought by us, were served. Marina kindly waived the corkage for those of us who opened our bottles to share.

Not all of us had the steak for the main course, Lawrie and Robert avoid eating red meat as much as possible, so J-Lab arranged for their main courses to be Halibut Baked in Vine Leaves with Spices and Aromatics. I didn't taste it, but the halibut looked succulent and Lawrie confirmed it to be delicious.

If I'm not mistaken, we started off with a pleasantly light, young, cherry and raspberry dominant quaffer of a Bourgogne shared by Colin that helped "acclimatize" and prime our palates for the transition from white to red. I recall (correct me someone if I am wrong) that it was a 2006 Domaine des Terres Dorées Jean-Paul Brun Pinot Noir. J-Lab decided the order of the reds, so I am sure he meant this for a smooth transition to the next, heavier Burgundy. Excellent call.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of Colin's bottle, since Apa (sporting a Wolfman-like beard) and Ana had arrived and I had to talk to the waitstaff to make sure they served the late-comers their first courses and whites (or whatever was left of the whites anyway). Since Ana is expecting, she limited herself to just one glass of red.

Next served was...

2001 Domaine Daniel Rion et Fils Clos Vougeot Grand Cru - My bottle, the one that was not opened Monday night at Pepato. My last notes on this (though I've had it another time since then I think), were made after a 12th February 2009 lunch at CAV with the Stockboker, James and Keiichi, wherein I did not decant the wine, to wit:

...this relatively young wine, after around half an hour's breathing in my glass, readily displayed a perfume of dried cranberries, ripe black cherry, pressed violets, whispers of damp earth, all bringing to the fore the wistful romance of Burgundy decay. In the mouth, it was just shy a notch of legitimate full-body. Neither austere nor lavish, the wine readily rewarded the palate with a smooth, supple blend of dried cranberry, ripe cherry, raspberry over red beet, touches of plum and violets. Slight chocolate notes emerge discreetly just past mid-mouth and join in the finish. The dried cranberry/cherry/cranberry/ceps notes form the firm backbone of this wine. Admirable focus and grace, good typicity.

I liked this a lot and ordered more the moment I got home. I also read up
on it on the net (what would we do without google?), and found out that in the
first quarter of 2003, Allen Meadows' Burghound rated this wine 89-92. While I
am no big fan of assigning scores to wine (something I have absolutely refused
to do), I do have great respect for Meadows' evaluations of Burgundy's wines.
Happily, I got it at a very reasonable price.
This time, I decanted the wine before dinner started, so it was breathing for around 1-½ to 2 hours before it was served. Since it is a grand cru, it is still quite young at point, so material decanting does help it release its charms. This bottle was noticeably more complex, heftier and richer than before - Burgundy decay was not apparent in its bolder fruit infused with violets, touch of Asian spice, moderate dark chocolate and well-integrated vanilla/oak. Nice body, not quite chewy, but showing its grand cru girth.

Then came...

1997 Clos du Marquis - Rene's bottle, the 2nd wine of St-Julien's "super second growth" powerhouse, Château Léoville las Cases. 1997 is an under-appreciated vintage, in my humble opinion, due, mostly, to a certain influential critic's vintage assessment and his apparent preference for heavier, very ripe, fruit-driven wines. I have had some very enjoyable '97s (e.g., from Léoville las Cases, Cos d'Estournel, Léoville Barton, La Mondotte, Lascombes, etc.), thankfully, at very affordable prices due to the public's coolness to the vintage.

Sure, they may not be as long-lived as those from better years, but, who cares? That just means I can enjoy them sooner rather than later.

In any event, this wine is medium-bodied, earthy and dry, rendering gravel and earth touched cassis, cedar, slight roasted herbs, violets, licorice and underlying tobacco. Very food friendly, properly reserved and, though not very complex, it is comfortingly familiar and undeniably a pleasure to drink. Good to go now and within the next two years, I'd say.

2005 Christian Moueix Bordeaux - Shared by Marina, this is the basic Bordeaux of Château Petrus' Chrisitian Moueix from the much hyped, hot, ripely-roasted 2005 vintage. Simple, though somewhat charming, warm, round dark plum and dark fruit, bit of cherry and some cedar. Probably merlot-dominated. Not bad, though, for a basic Bordeaux. Good as a house claret and for large parties.

2001 Penfolds St. Henri Shiraz - Shared by Lawrie, one of the several Penfolds lines that James's company distributes. This was chilled down and decanted near the start of the dinner, so it had been breathing for around 2 hours or so by the time it was served.

Bigger, warmer, riper, more extracted, forward and concentrated than any of the previous reds, yet calm and collected. Viscous and round, a bit dense, plush with exceedingly ripe raspberry, blackberry, black cherry, confited dark plum, bit of pepper and a hefty dose of mildly creamy oak/vanilla nicely knit in. Hints of toffee and cinnamon, licorice. The red berries/fruit had a touch of candy to them.

I'm quite surprised how much I liked this, given that I don't particularly favor shiraz - there are always exceptions. Good with barbecued ribs and very hearty roast or grilled red meat with robust sauces. Make sure to decant for around 2 hours before serving like we did.

2004 Corté Riva Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon - J-Lab shared this bottle, a label he distributes. As I understand, the winery that produces is Corté Riva wines is owned and operated (including the wine-making itself) by 2 Filipino-Americans Lawrence Cortez and Romel Rivera, formerly cellar master and assistant winemaker, respectively, of Pride Mountain Vineyards.

2004, like 2001, is a highly acclaimed recent Napa vintage. Since the wine is quite young, J-Lab had it decanted for aeration but I don't know for how long, but I'd guess at least 1-½ hours by the time it was served.

This is unmistakably Napa cabernet sauvignon, with dense, yet pliant ripe dark fruit, cassis, licorice, oak, dash of kirsch, with topnotes of slight cedar and mint leaf. Though still quite primary and, basically fruit-driven, it will, with aeration, surely please Napa lovers and fill nationalists with pride.

Though I'm neither a chest-thumping flag-waiver nor a Napa-head, in all objectivity, I say that this is a very well-made wine, displaying more craftsmanship, balance, self-control and structure at this early stage than many, many over-blown, syrupy Napa cabs I have tried. Yes, I did like this wine, I honestly did. Well done.

Dessert, then was finally served, a delightfully light three-part play on apples called "3 Ways to Love Apples", namely, as tasting portions of soufflé, beignet and jellied apple. This was precisely paired with...

2005 Bassermann-Jordan Ruppertberger Reiterpfad Riesling Auslese - Another tongue-twister of a name, Marina's last bottles from Brumms' inventory. As mentioned above, in the note on the 2005 Gunderloch spätlese, "auslese" indicates that a wine is a late harvest, equivalent to a vendanges tardives.

This means that the grapes are picked very late, at times already lightly touched by botrytis cinerea, but not to the extent of a beerenauslese (the equivalent of a sélection de grains nobles) or
trockenbeerenauslese. Thus, ausleses should inherently be sweeter than spätleses.

This wine had a lot of bright, refreshing mineral lift and a bit of youthful spritz in its display of sweet crunchy pear, peach, green apple and hints of orange peel. The acidity balances off the sweetness very nicely, cleansing and resuscitating the palate as one enjoys its playful sweetness. Notably good purity in the fruit as well. Still quite young, but already very enjoyable.

Thankfully, Marina said Brumms expects be getting a new stock of this within a month or two.

~ oOo ~

After a round of brewed coffee and double espressos, several diners took their leave. For those of us who lingered, J-Lab offered to open another red and we happily agreed to help him drink it.

2004 Pierre Usseglio Châteauneuf-du-Pape - As stated, this was J-Lab's bottle, a young Southern Rhône from a very highly reputed maker, from a strong, recent Rhône vintage.

The wine was not decanted, and, young as it is, was understandably tightly-wound and a bit unyielding at first. Thus, we let it aerate in the glass while chatting with one another, while checking every so often to see how it was coming along.

After around half an hour or so, I noted that it had loosened up a bit, giving up more of its spicy, dried herb-infused, roasted-ripe red fruit, black cherry, tobacco, slight anise and pepper. The fruit is still shy, however, but there seems to be a lot of it hiding below the surface. There is a bit of heat as well, but, then, it is a young wine. Structure was very firm; there is a sturdy acid backbone to this that would suggest a long life ahead.

Marina sat with us stragglers and entertained us until past midnight when the last of us took out leave. After profuse thanks, we made our way back home, very happy with our first wine-and-dining experience at Lemuria. We'll surely be back for more. Many thanks to J-Lab and Marina for organizing this event and accommodating us so graciously. Until next time, auf wiedersehen!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Monday Night Dinner: Pepato, 23rd March 2009

Last night was dinner with the Doc and James at Pepato - just a white and a red, both Doc's bottles. James brought a 1991 Dominus and I brought a 2001 Daniel Rion Clos Vougeot, but those bottles were handed down a suspended sentense since it was just us three.

Luckily, Pepato had diwal (angel wing clams) available, so we started off with 2 orders of them simply grilled. With these, we paired...

2002 Domaine Billaud-Simon Chablis Grand Cru Vaudésir - Vaudesir is one of the largest (around 32 acres) of the 7 grand crus of Chablis, steeply sloped and situated between fellow grand crus Les Preuses and Grenouilles. Chablis are made of chardonnay and are, typically/ideally minerally, flinty, stony and tense. Certain wine "authorities" have referred to it as the "purest expression of the chardannoy grape". Me, I love them.

2002 was generally a Burgundy vintage touted by a few very influential professional wine reviewers. Those I've tried have been pretty good and undeniably charming, if a touch ripe and less tense and lowish in acid. These vintage characteristics, however, would make them more approachable to more people, especially those not very familiar with true Chablis. I've not before tried any of this maker's wine, and, so, was very particularly glad to try something new.

For my initial sips and whiffs, I let my glass warm up a bit to be able to let the wine release as much as possible. Firm attack, pleasant, vaguely tropical notes of ripe apple, white peach, hints of lemon/citrus mid-mouth, with an over-all "cold stoniness" to the fruit. Towards the back and to the finish, its white minerality and oyster shell notes emerge to say their piece. Good heft, concentration of deeply veined fruit (vines are probably old) - it is a grand cru after all - and decent acidity. Very nice, one of the better 2002 Chablis I've had.

With our usual, old favorites of Steak alla Fiorentina with side orders Spaghetti Pepato...

1998 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Falletto di Serralunga d'Alba (Bottle#11446) - One of the lighter colored 1998 Barolos I've had (though I'm very far from being well-versed in Barolo), but with notably good clarity. Doc said it looked pretty advanced for its age. No decanting, I let it breathe in my glass for around 30minutes before trying it out.

Its nose seemed typical with mild cedar, violets, bit of asphalt, hint of rose hovering over the warm black cherry. In the mouth, the dark cherry flavors were initially a bit tight and tart, but it fleshed out a bit after a while. Very firmly structured, stern, with a strong grip in its medium body. The dark cherry are joined by minor raspberry, touch of black olive, asphalt, violets and an earthy nuance of fresh button mushrooms. There was a touch of stem/green to the fruit, and the acidity was definitive, bold and bright - making it an excellent foil to the rich, steak.

I have favored pairing steaks and other grilled red meat with Italian reds over Bordeaux, Burgundy and even Napa reds, ever since Oscar's Italian Night at L'Opera. Tonight's Barolo served to strengthen such favor - a superb way to have dinner on a Monday. All Monday dinners should be like this. Thanks much, Doc.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Blind Bordeaux Challenge XII.

20 March 2009, Old Manila, the Grand Crew's Blind Bordeaux Challenge XII. The Doc was running late and a bit under the weather, so, while waiting, we ordered our appetizers and mains, starting with a chilled bottle of Old Manila's house champagne by Deutz.

This simple, fresh, linear, apple, white grapefruit and citrus slanted bubbly was enjoyed with an amuse bouche of lobster croquette. Doc and Mrs. Doc arrived very soon thereafter.

Upon the Vigneron's suggestion, we agreed to have the tasting and voting of the four competing reds before the main courses arrived so as to judge the wines in themselves and to avoid their pairing with food affecting our analysis. And so we did, right after we had our traditional "pre-hostilities" photo. The reason we always take a shot of us four before the competition is because there's no telling if we'll still be friends after.

The reds were then served and the battle was joined.

Wine # 1: Initially, this exploded from the glass with a vigorous aged bouquet of truffles, cedar, leather, herbaceaous dark fruit and cassis. In the mouth, it was very broad, expansive, masculine, earthy with mushrooms lacing the cassis and dark fruit. There was, as well, an underlying herbaceaousness, with classic touches of leather, tobacco and cedar. Obviously an aged Médoc. Nice heft and body (like a light-heavyweight), with good push.

However, after several passes, the alluring bouquet, flavors and body just seemed to fall apart, becoming a bit diffuse. I simply had to rate it down materially as a consequence, though, early on, it was a strong contender for 1st place. I finally rated it 4th place.

Mrs. Vingeron guessed this to be the oldest wine, the Stockbroker identified it as a left bank from 1990, and the Vigneron identified it as his wine. It turned out to be the Vigneron's 1988 Château Calon Ségur, a very reliable 3rd Growth from St-Estèphe.

Wine # 2: With its dignified deep brick-red with red-orange highlights and a dark violet-red core, it was, by sight, the oldest wine of the four. The initial sniff yielded a slightly less bold bouquet of roast meat, violets, cooked plums, a notable touch of animal (which subsided later on).

These notes were mirrored on the palate on a body more streamlined and less hefty in body than Wine # 1. The fruit seemed a bit riper with plums and red fruit on the surface of the dark. Silkier with good elegance. Very nice.

The Doc pegged it as a right bank and guessed it to be a 1982 Figeac, while the Stockbroker, in his notes, identified it as his wine.

I eventually rated it 3rd place. It turned out to be the Stockbroker's 1985 Château La Conseillante, one of Pomerol's old guard top growths.

Wine # 3: The bouquet was more subdued than the two previous wines' - with cedar, pencil shavings, cassis, whisper of licorice and leather. As regards the palate, it had very deep and subtly complex graphite, tobacco, cedar and "tar" infused dark fruit, cassis, as well as slight plum and licorice nuances. Beautiful mouthfeel - very masculine, expressive, yet proper and understated. Difficult to guess its age though it was undoubtedly mature and in incredible shape - consistent throughout the evening.

The Stockbroker pegged it as a left bank, guessing it to be from the mid 1990s. I rated it 2nd place. It turned out to be the Doc's 1989 Château Lynch Bages, an over-performing 5th growth Pauillac that the group favors.

Wine # 4: Comparatively (with Wines # 1 & 3) a subdued nose of ripe plum, cherry, bit of cedar, some chocolate and creamy/toasty vanilla/oak with the merest topnote of herbaceousness. Can't really call it a bouquet as there isn't much complexity or maturity in it - easily the youngest wine in the bunch (as I, Mrs. Vigneron and the Stockbroker noted), and just as easy to identify it as my own. A powerful, well-rounded, full-bodied wine with lush, ripe plum, kirsch, chocolate, underlying violets and vanilla infused cassis, smoky cedar trailed at the end. Broad, long and powerful.

Though this group obviously is Médoc-and-Pessac-Léognan-centric, I gambled on this wine's power and plush rounded body for it to stand out in a blind tasting. I rated it 1st place. It was, in fact, my 1998 Château L'Evangile, another top Pomerol owned and run by the Rothschild family (of Lafite Rothschild, not Mouton).

Finally, the tasting done and votes submitted, I relaxed to enjoy my meal with the rest of the wine.

As usual, Mrs. Vigneron (whose rankings, yet again, matched mine exactly) tallied the scores and announced the winners. It was a very close fight.

1st Place - My 1998 L'Evangile, with a total of 23 points (4 votes for 1st place, 1 vote for 2nd place, 1 vote for 3rd place and 2 votes for 4th place).

2nd Place - The Doc's 1989 Lynch Bages, with a total of 21 points (1 vote for 1st place, 4 votes for 2nd place, 2 votes for 3rd place and 1 vote for 4th place).

3rd Place - The Stockbroker's 1985 La Conseillante, with a total of 20 points (2 votes for 1st place, 1 vote for 2nd place, 2 votes for 3rd place and 2 votes for 4th place).

4th Place - The Vigneron's 1988 Calon Ségur, with a total of 16 points (1 vote for 1st place, 1 vote for 2nd place, 3 votes for 3rd place and 3 votes for 4th place). Incidentally, he later told me that had intended to enter the 1985 vintage of Calon Ségur but realized only on the night itself that he had left only the 1988.

It was a great evening yet again, full of fun, good food (the new, young Chef de Cuisine of Old Manila will surely receive this group's support), great wine and excellent company. A post-hostilities shot shows that we are all good sports and still all good friends - no matter how our little competitions turn out...

...I guess.