Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Final Gourmandise Dinner.

Yes, the Gourmandise dinner last night (25th April 2009) was the swan's song of Rob's and Sunshine's string of well-attended dinners at Global Academy - to make way for the restaurant the young spouses-chefs shall be opening not too long from now. Per Rob, they are seriously considering the Fort area for their new venue.

Sunshine and Rob busy in the kitchen

Unfortunately, Rene and Aimee had to attend to an important family matter, so had to back out at the last minute. Miguel is out of the country and Santi, according to younger sister, Monica, wanted to attend but was too busy (in a poker game, I bet). Nonetheless, Tita Bella was there, naturally, with her friends, and made sure everyone was very well attended to.

My wife and I actually were at our firm's summer outing at the beach, but left a day early to attend this dinner. We were a table of 10 of long-time friends (a.k.a., the Alabang Group)...

...all of whom appreciate good food...

...all raring to try the latest (and last) multi-course Gourmandise tasting menu.

For the amuse bouche, we had a properly bite-sized portion of Mango, Salty Lime Sugar, Beet Foam & Crispy Anchovy.

As an amuse bouche (i.e., a small, complimentary, single-bite-sized appetizer offered by better restaurants - a French term that means "(it) entertains (the) mouth"; also called amuse-gueule), this did the trick to tease and tickle the taste buds, priming it for the coming courses.

Its properly miniscule size, however, gave the group's resident big eater an opportunity to start kidding around, saying that he would have to order some take-home kalbi and bulgogi from the nearby Korean restaurants to satisfy his prodigious appetite.

Next came what was my personal favorite for the evening, the Tuna Sashimi with Mustard Sorbet, Mirin Gelée and Puffed Rice.

This dish's flavors and textures were exquisite juxtapositions of freshness and earthiness with precise nuances of the mirin gelée's sweetness and the mustard sorbet's spice; the puffed rice lending contrast in texture. Great balance in this dish. Loved it.

I paired this with some of my currently favored summer white - the roundly fruited, yet brightly acidic 2007 Laxas Albariño from Rias Baixas (a picture of which I forgot to take). I've written several times about this dry Galician white that pairs perfectly with fish and shellfish. I obviously drink a lot of this, so need not say more about it except to emphasize that it is a great value for money white as well - available at Terry's for only P750 at full retail.

With this wine, we continued through the next course of Parmesan Spaghetti, Pesto and Strawberry Compote.

I do like my traditional Spaghetti with pesto, but the addition of strawberry compote worked in amusingly enough. Honestly, I really wished I had a lot more of this, but maybe wouldn't have been able to make it through to the end of the meal if I did.

The next dish of 21st Century Eggs Benedict was easily our table's collective favorite dish of the night, many commenting that the earthy truffle flavors simply elevated this (to my mind) creative spin off oeuf cocotte to new heights.

With this I paired no wine. I've always been gun-shy pairing egg dishes (or predominantly egg dishes) with wine though I've tried several. While some attempts were innocuous enough to "puede na rin" (i.e., "passable" or "decent at best"), I hardly think "puede na rin" is the point of wine pairing. In such cases, I prefer to have the dish alone, sans wine.

The next dish, however, Seared Foie Gras atop a Chestnut and Onion Tart with Caramelized Apple Marmalade, was all too easy to pair. Instead of the usual Sauternes or Tokaji Aszú, it being summer, I felt that something lighter, brighter and more whimsically playful was in order.

2006 Dr. Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese - Off-dry (it is a spätlese, after all), mildly floral, pure in fruit (white peach, sweet/crisp apple, pear and a bit of ripe apricot) with bright minerality and acidity lending it a playful and easily approachable and likable personality. Its flavors dance lightly on the palate. Very, very nice. Admirable focus, good balance.

Its slightly sweetish fruit was a classic foil to the foie gras' fatty goodness while it ran with the earthy-sweetness of the chestnut and onions, its fruitiness blending well with the apples. Loved the pairing, and, I believe, everyone did as well.

I told Rob this was also one of my favorite dishes, and he humbly replied that it isn't difficult to make a dish involving foie gras a crowd pleaser. True, but it was one of my favorites in any event, so much so that the following course of Scallops, Squash Risoni, Crispy Pancetta & Brown Sage Butter , though quite enjoyable in its own right, was over-shadowed.

That said, this version of the classic scallop and bacon pairing was well enough appreciated - especially with the vaguely nutty brown sage butter. Good dish. In all fairness, foie gras is a tough act to follow for most any dish. Because of this, I like following foie gras course with something contrastingly fresher, lighter and brighter on the palate - this would not only revive the taste buds, it also helps obviate a "competition" with the previous dish - and make the latter dish easier to appreciate for its own merit - outside the formidable shadow of foie gras.

Next came the first of two main courses, Grilled Duck breast with Tomato Confit, a Sweet Corn Velouté and Truffle Oil.

The second main course was a likewise familiar but heartier dish of Sous Vide Lamb Ribs with a Balsamic-Port Jus and Cauliflower Purée. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of it. In any event, we paired both these main courses with two reds - both of which I have recently posted on.

1999 Castello Banfi Poggio Alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino - Since I wrote about this full, muscular Tuscan red in my last post, I reproduce an excerpt thereof as follows:

This BdM was obviously modern, crammed with big, opulent, mouth-filling, very round, smoothly rich dark cherry, molten dark fruit, kirsch, underlying dark chocolate, very apparent but well-integrated vanilla/oak, underlying dark chocolate, clove and a bit of licorice. Full-bodied, with a chewy mouth-feel. Lowish acid, but, in all, acceptably good balance. Big but very gentle, velvety tannin.

Easily enjoyable, quite approachable despite its size - and apparently designed to be just that. Neither traditional by a long shot nor deeply complex, but still very pleasing. This is a wine to be enjoyed for enjoyment's sake (apt for the night's celebration), if not one to contemplate life's mysteries over.

2001 Bodegas Beronia Rioja Reserva - Another wine I think is another huge value for money find. Most all the guys at the dinner - experienced wine drinkers all - vocalized appreciation for this.

My last notes on this were from a Spanish dinner at home mid-last month, as follows:

I quickly grabbed a couple of bottles of this off the shelf of Terry's last I was there, thinking it was the 2001 Grand Reserva I so enjoyed from Johnny R a few weeks ago at our first kokotxas dinner. It was only when I got home that I realized that what I grabbed was the Reserva instead of the Gran Reserva. No matter, thought I, it just meant (assumedly) comparatively shorter oak ageing (a good thing for me) and, likely, earlier maturing (which I have no problem with at all).

After approximately 30 minutes in a decanter and another 15 minutes in my glass, this displayed aromas of dark fruit with trace nuances of meat, balsamico, leather and licorice, cedar, slightly toasty oak/vanilla, hint of cinammon, slight topnotes of strawberry and cherry. Could use just a touch more of acidity, but, in all, I enjoyed it a lot.

The wine from this bottle was firmer and with better buttressing acidity. Very proper, very Rioja, it showed better purity and more of typical tempranillo red berry/cherry notes.

We, thereafter, moved onto the dessert course of Vanilla Bean Custard with Mango Sorbet and Caramelized Banana.

While this was competently executed and drew compliments from those who especially enjoy banana-based desserts (my wife amongst them), for me, the petits fours, every single one of them, stole the main dessert's thunder. I enjoyed them that much, and I'm not a big dessert fan.

The group favored the chocolate éclair - nostalgic parallels were drawn with that of the choux pastry of the Dulcinea near Rizal Theater when it was still owned and run by the original owners back in the '70s. The cream filling and chocolate topping of Sunshine and Rob's version though were clearly more sophisticated.

Me, I love French macarons, especially when they are properly made, such as these - so the macaron was my favorite. I find commercially available macarons in these parts far too sugary-sweet and cloying. The evening was then brought to a close with a selection of Netspresso coffees. As always, I just opted for a simple double espresso.

We lingered and were the last to leave. Many thanks to Sunshine and Rob for such an enjoyable dinner and to Tita Bella who was so solicitous and made sure everything ran smooth as silk. I must say you have made some new fans who eagerly await the new restaurant's opening.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Thursday Birthday Dinner at Sala.

Dinner this past Thursday (16th April 2009) was at Sala to celebrate my eldest son's birthday. He invited two of his closest cousins to join us. While we did have a white and a red which I will discuss, wine wasn't the focal point of the evening.

This post is more about the kids having a fun dinner - we adults were just there for the ride. It was great fun watching them enjoy themselves. It isn't always all about wine.

The celebrant and his de facto elder sister.

My second son with his younger cousin. My youngest son, tired from the afternoon's celebration, opted to stay at my in-laws' with his cousins closer to him in age.

Though the kids all had their preferred starters, we had them put everything in the middle (whatever could fit in the middle anyway) so that everyone could have a taste of everything. We ordered many starters, those I recall are the Twice Baked Prawn and Goat Cheese Soufflé (2 orders as I like this as well), Wagyu Beef Carpaccio, Seared Foie Gras and a kind of Prawn Salad. If there were any more, I don't remember them. The kids attacked them so fast, I couldn't take pictures of them all.

With these appetizers, I opened a 2001 Domaine Trimbach Gewürztraminer Cuvée des Seigneurs de Ribeaupierre - Purchased at Wine Depot on sale at around P2200. I forgot to take a picture of the bottle; we shared some with the children, but mostly with the 2 older ones. Gewürztraminers display a distinctive lychee dominant aroma and flavor which makes them almost impossible to mis-identify. My wife loves these wines. Trimbach is one of the old guard traditionalists in Alsace (another is Léon Beyer) who eschew modern exaggerated ripeness in fruit and too much residual sugar in their wines - that's why I like them.

The wine's aromas included typical faint spicy lychee, slight rose petals and ripe peach and apricot. All these were mirrored off-dry on the palate in a plumpish body. Readily and easily pleasing, no doubt, very approachable as well. I would have liked it with better acidic lift/ and purity/brightness of fruit though. My wife and I couldn't help but compare it with the 2006 Domaine Bott-Geyl Gewürztraminer (Sommelier Selection) which possesses all the traits we were looking for and at a lower price at that (approximately P1800).

We all had our own individual main courses but passed around small plates so the others could have a little taste of everything. My wife and I went for the Magret de Canard with Roasted Pear while the celebrant with Roasted Veal Loin. My second son and niece went for the two specials of the night: respectively, Roast Lamb Rump and Fresh Salmon just flown in earlier in the day. Our nephew/godson opted for Rosemary Grilled Angus Beef Filet.

Magret de Canard

Veal Loin

Fresh Salmon

Roasted Lamb Rump

Rosemary Roasted Angus Beef Filet

I've never had a disappointing meal in Sala, but Chef Carl Miguel, an old and good friend of mine, was in the kitchen that night which made our meal even better than it already usually is. Another most memorable dinner there was when both Colin Mackay and Carl were personally in the kitchen for the 150th year dinner of Château Siran.

With our excellent main courses, I had much earlier opened and decanted a bottle of...

1999 Castello Banfi Poggio Alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino - Decanted for aeration for around 1-¼ hours by the time we got to it. Brunello di Montalcino is a DOCG located in Tuscany, "brunello" is Montalcino's version of sangiovese (a clone actually) - the dominant red grape of the Tuscan region. 1999 is an excellent Tuscan vintage; and Castello Banfi is a big, modern US-owned winery.

I've loved good Brunello di Montalcinos after having a bottle of 1997 Castelgiocondo Brunello di Montalcino (by Frescobaldi) around 5 years ago with roast lamb in Caffé Caruso.

This BdM was obviously modern, crammed with big, opulent, mouth-filling, very round, smoothly rich dark cherry, molten dark fruit, kirsch, underlying dark chocolate, very apparent but well-integrated vanilla/oak, underlying dark chocolate, clove and a bit of licorice. Full-bodied, with a chewy mouth-feel. Lowish acid, but, in all, acceptably good balance. Big but very gentle, velvety tannin.

Easily enjoyable, quite approachable despite its size - and apparently designed to be just that. Neither traditional by a long shot nor deeply complex, but still very pleasing. This is a wine to be enjoyed for enjoyment's sake (apt for the night's celebration), if not one to contemplate life's mysteries over.

Though the children are now teen-agers and no longer little - far from it, my eldest is taller than I am already and the youngest there, our nephew, is already several inches taller than my wife - they are not too old to go wild over dessert, so we ordered around seven of them. I recall two orders of Affogato al Café with Sala Biscotti, Mango & Passion Fruit Pavlova and a special Berry Soufflé.

I can't recall the others, but I think there was something that involved chocolate as well. The children dove into the desserts and destroyed them all within a few minutes so I couldn't really take any pictures of the desserts.

I'm certainly glad I wasn't born a soufflé.

The evening wound down with double espressos for my wife and I, none for the kids. We spent a few minutes chatting with Carl and thanking him, of course, for such a wonderful dinner. We all enjoyed ourselves greatly, especially the children.

Thanks again, Carl, and, happy birthday again, M.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Wednesday Dinner at the Spouses Vignerons'.

The Vigneron called early last week for dinner at his new home, in honor of his best friend from Paris who is currently in Manila on vacation. I offered to help cook dinner (yes, I can cook), and he requested for my roast rack of lamb which he likes. How can anyone who cooks refuse such a request? We were only 9 persons as my wife was very tired that day.

I arrived at around 6pm and immediately started. Fortunately, their kitchen is air-conditioned and their ever trusty Edna was there to help me make my way around their kitchen. The menu was simple: Gazpacho (prepared by their staff), my Spaghetti Pomodoro (I had a batch of sauce already made at home - no problem), Roast Rack of Lamb with sides of Baby Rosemary Potatoes and lightly sautéed Cherry Tomatoes, Fresh Button Mushrooms and Basil. It took me around 1-½ hours to prep, cook and finish these dishes, but we had to wait a few more minutes for the lamb to rest properly.

After the soup (a cool gazpacho is simply perfect for summer) and pasta courses were served, I returned to the kitchen to carve the lamb but left the plating to Edna (I plate like a greasy spoon short-order cook - I just slap food on a plate).

Within a few minutes, the lamb was served.

With this we had...

2001 Château Siran (Magnum) - Obviously the Vigneron's bottle, from his family's château in Labarde/Margaux. Though I've had this many times, I haven't had this for over a year. My last notes (handwritten, not on the net) were taken during the 22 February 2008 dinner of the Manila Gentlemen's Club at the Tower Club - likewise from magnum, donated by the Vigneron, to wit:

Decanted from magnum for 1 hour, it was typically masculine Siran with the hallmark leather, iron, earthy nuances to expansive dark fruit/cassis, cedar, laced with small, spicy red berries. Good length. Still very young, a bit hard, lots of youthful grip, this should be able to age for at least 20 more years.

The magnum this past Wednesday night was over a year older and subjected to extended aeration - much longer than the hour in a decanter I gave it over a year ago. It was materially more subtle, comparatively graceful, displaying more spicy red berry on the surface than dark fruit. The cassis is laced with a nuance of violets, the cedar more subtle and finely woven in, the leather and iron notes have taken their seats far in the back. Definitely feminine in character compared to the mentioned previous magnum. Very nice. I was impressed.

2001 Domaine Daniel Rion Clos Vougeot Grand Cru - My bottle, one of many I've opened in the past few months. I believe I've mentioned before that I visited this domaine in early October 2007, barrel-tasted through their '06 premier and grand crus and was very impressed. This bottle received only a few minutes aeration in a decanter (don't look at me, I was cooking, the Vigneron was in charge of the wines). My notes from a bottle opened on the 3rd April 2009 are as follows:

2001 Domaine Daniel Rion Clos Vougeot Grand Cru - Yes, another of my bottles of this wine. I know I've been opening this in succession, but yesterday was a mistake. I intended to bring aged Volnay, but, I hurriedly pulled the wrong bottle and stuffed it in my wine bag without making sure it was the right one (not the first time this has happened to me - which makes it even more embarrassing). My complete notes from a 12 February lunch at CAV contain a more complete dicussion of the Clos Vougeot grand cru vineyards, while my more recent notes from a 24th March dinner at Lemuria add:

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.

Now, also with material decanting for aeration, I add that I detected some sweetish dried fig and mild/subtle spiced new oak/vanilla notes to the mix. Also quite young at this stage, with very good ageing potential as well.

1996 Château Cos d'Estournel - Felicia's bottle. This is a wine I've had several times from the Doc, in magnum and in regular 750ml format. The most recent one I had before Felicia's bottle was a magnum served by the Doc at Mrs. Doc's birthday dinner in early January 2009. My notes then are as follows:

1996 Château Cos d'Estournel (Magnum) - x x x I think this is the 3rd I've had this wine from him since he won with it by a landslide in our Blind Bordeaux Challenge VIII a little over a year ago (I believe it still holds the record of the widest winning margin). My notes then were:

Wine # 1 - Best nose of the night, an exotically spiced, delicately sweet jasmine tea/plum/raspberry liqueur perfume. I immediately guessed it to be a Cos d'Estournel. In the mouth, it was definitive all the way from the confident attack to the long finish. Rich and generous in the mouth, leaving virtually nothing for analysis or the imagination.

In the Doc's and Sevrine's notes, they indicated that the mouth did not fulfill the bouquet's promise, commenting that it was even a bit short. Edouard liked it best and easily pegged it as a left bank. The Stockbroker commented that it tasted quite fresh. I identified it as a Cos...

The Doc had told me what he was bringing, but not the Stockbroker. With one whiff, however, of the rich, exotic spice laced (vaguely Asian/Indian) bouquet, he immediately nailed it as a Cos d'Estournel despite the Doc's attempts to mislead him.I had just a few sips of this graceful red with the beef with peppers, but drank most of my share after dinner proper, before dessert. This '96 Cos had the most breathing time compared to the others I've had - at least a couple of hours worth. Tonight's performance was the most refined so far, with an almost ethereal display of its warm, dark spice and jasmine tea leaf notes intricately woven into its barely full-bodied cassis, cedar, dark plum, whisper of raspberry, slight mocha and barest hint of vanilla.

The wine from Felicia's bottle needed to be coaxed to release its charms. I don't know how long it was decanted. However, after additional aerating time in my glass, it showed very finely indeed.

Assorted cheeses and hams were served, and, thereafter, an assortment of cakes, rounded off by coffee while the subject of politics livened up the conversation. I left relatively early (i.e., before midnight) - it was a fun dinner, but I was a bit tired and had to work the next day.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tuesday Italian Lunch and Wines at Pepato.

During our last Burgundy Lunch at Je Suis Gourmand, we set aside the 14th April 2009 (Tuesday) for our next. It eventually turned into an Italian wine lunch at, of course, Pepato. We use any excuse to get together for wine lunches, but, his most convenient one the past couple of months is that he has to cull his maddeningly huge wine collection - to make space for more. It just so happened that, this time, The Stockbroker chose Italian wines.

We were 6 for lunch (the Stockbroker, Laraine, Rene Jr., Rene Sr., Miguel and I); unfortunately, J-Lab had a dental appointment, so couldn't join us. Santi already had a lunch but passed by afterwards for a few glasses of reds.

I was the first to arrive as the others were running late. After consulting the Stockbroker over the phone about breathing time for the wine I brought, I immediately had it opened and poured in my decanter.

Since there was no diwal currently available (apparently, they are no longer in season), we started off with the usual appetizers of Tempura Squash Flowers (right), Roasted Bone Marrow, and Squid Ink Crostoni (immediately below). The Doc, Stockbroker and I dine in Pepato frequently with our respective wives, and I don't recall ever a time we didn't order these, among other, appetizers.

Squid Ink Crostoni with Mozzarella, Anchovy atop Sliced Peppers.

With these, we enjoyed...

Bisol Crede Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Brut - From Miguel. Rene, Sr. and I remembered that this same bubbly was served at the beginning of Oscar Ong's IWFS Board Dinner at L'Opera (I'm not a member of the board, I was just Oscar's guest) mid-June of last year. I mentioned then that it was dangerously drinkable, and, almost a year later, my assessment remains the same.

This is a totally different animal from champagne, the method (e.g., fermented in tank, as opposed to in bottle), grapes (mostly, if not all, prosecco grapes), etc. One shouldn't try prosecco expecting champagne, as the former has its own identity and merits.

This playfully light, simple and dry bubbly a most welcome starter for a hot summer's day. Fresh green apple, bit of Korean pear dominate with mere hints of straw and unripe white grapefruit. There is a mild undertone of almond skin bitterness surfaces a bit more towards the back and finish - the slight, appetite-enhancing bitterness that Italians favor in their apéritifs.

2007 Brewer-Clifton Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay - Brought by Laraine, the only non-Italian wine of the lunch. Premium Wine Exchange will have this in stock soon, the selling price is yet to be determined. I generally don't go for typical big, ultra ripe, super oaky style of most California chardonnay makers - but this is different.

Immediately when I tasted it, it was obviously cut from a better cloth altogether. The chardonnay fruitiness is there, with slightly minerally green apple, touches of lemon and other citrus, but properly restrained - not loud or shouting out ripeness or slathered in new oak. Very good acidity gives it good structure, lift and contributes to its admirable balance. Excellent with the tempura squash flowers.

This is the type of Cali chardonnay that I like, with a nice, crisp acidity, subtle minerality and discerning use of new oak. Other California makers whose (somewhat similar) styles of chardonnay I also like are Grgich Hills and Château Montelena.

2005 Castello della Sala Antinori Cervaro della Sala - Rene's bottle, I believe, an IGT from Umbria, composed of chardonnay mainly said he. It certainly tastes like it is.

If served blind (which it wasn't, nothing was served blind that lunch), I would almost have surely guessed it to be a Napa chardonnay. Hefty, wide-open, expansive; its ripe apple, pear, melon, white flower notes generously slathered with butter and toasted oak. There is a baked aspect to the rich, ripely fat fruit, a bit of oily viscosity in the mouthfeel as well. Comes off as low on acid.

This presented a huge contrast in chardonnay styles - those who go for big, fat, buttery, oaky Napa chardonnays (like my wife) would probably like this a lot.

After our pasta course of Spaghetti Pepato, two platters of medium-rare "Double Prime" Steak alla Fiorentina made their way to our table...

...and the afternoon's reds were then served in earnest (I had a tiny bit of my bottle with the pasta course).

I was remiss at taking pictures of everything - the food, and even the bottles of wine. The picture above doesn't include the Stockbroker's bottle of 1988 Castello dei Rampolla Sammarco or the Spaghetti Pepato. Truth to tell, some of the pictures I'm using in this entry were taken by Miguel (the Sammarco, Grattamacco Bolgheri and Squid Ink Crostoni) and Rene (the Cervaro della Sala).

A complete (and better) set of pictures of the food and bottles may be viewed at Miguel's blog.

2001 Antinori Pian delle Vigne Brunello di Montalcino - My bottle, 100% sangiovese (called "brunello di Montalcino" in the Montalcino area). I've had this wine a few times before (as well as a few of other vintages of it). The Doc was the one who introduced me to this wine many several years ago. I last had this from the Stockbroker during his 2008 birthday lunch, side-by-side the more modern 2001 Casanova di Neri Brunello Montalcino. My notes then were as follows:

2001 Antinori Pian delle Vigne Brunello di Montalcino - Off the bat, from the aromas, I opined that this one was closer to the classic/traditional style: More of sweet cedar, touch of camphor, ripe strawberry, raspberry, cherry, cassis, underlying espresso, light touch of licorice, tobacco, minerals, violets, a whisper of leather. The fruit was not as sweet, but well-ripened as well, and earthier in character.

Clearly more earth-driven (rather than fruit-driven) compared to the other wine - less polished, rounded and sleek as well; but firmer in structure, much better focus and definition. Much more properly reserved. I liked them both, but much preferred this wine as a match for the steak. This is more of an eating wine, it needs food to show its beauty, where the other wine I enjoyed more alone. I accepted a second pour of this one and drained every drop. Excellent match. Loved it with the steak.

This bottle was, as earlier mentioned, decanted and aerated since 12:15 - so over an hour before serving. I like the firm but flexible, somewhat lean but sturdy structure of this wine. Showed more apparent leather notes than last time. Definitely masculine brunello, if not particularly complex, but a no-brainer pairing with the steak.

2004 Elio Perrone Mongovone Barbera d'Asti Superiore - The Stockbroker's botle from the northwestern Italian Piedmont region wherefrom also hails the better known Barolo. Barbera is a grape; "Barbera d'Asti (Superiore)" is a DOC and may also be used for the grape or wine from this particular area in Piedmont, the latter meant to be consumed relatively much younger than Barolos.

100% barbera, medium-bodied, good purity of fruit, not as firm as all the other reds, nice focus, easy to drink; its dominant dry black cherry, blackberry and violets go down easily. The dominant fruit is touched with dried herbs and wood, the finish is moderate displaying more violets and drying woodiness.

I made a mistake of having this after the 2001 Pian delle Vigne. I also should have, in hindsight, tried a bit of this with the Spaghetti Pepato as well. In all, quite nice, I certainly should have had it before the Pian and the steak.

2001 Grattamacco Bolgheri Rosso Superiore - The Stockbroker's bottle. I'm not familiar with the wines of this relatively new Tuscan DOC. All I knew at the lunch was that I found the flavors familiar and comforting. A bit of reading discloses that this is an IGT composed of 65% cabernet sauvignon, 20% merlot and 15% sangiovese - the cab sauv/merlot blend explaining to me why I found it more familiar.

I find it difficult to describe, however, likely because of the 15% sangiovese thrown in - as I have limited exposure to "super Tuscan" blends and they have almost always thrown me off.

Very nice balance of rounded, sweetish cassis, ripe blackcurrant, plum, bit of tobacco, with topnotes of strawberry. Lush, comparatively a bit lowish on acid and less firm/stern/structured, but very approachable for it. This should be more of a crowd pleaser.

2001 Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Clàssico - The Stockbroker's bottle. Amarone della Valpolicella is a DOC located in Valpolicella in the northeastern Veneto region of Italy. The grapes used are typical of the area are corvina (75%), rondinella (20%) and molinara (5%) that are, after picking, air dried for 3-4 months berfore fermentation (appassimento). This yields a wine with an "over-ripe", raisiny character with a lush, curvy body and elevated alcohol. There is a sweet wine is also produced in the area called "Recioto della Valpolicella".

This particular Amarone openly/eagerly displays extremely ripe-roasted, jammily sweet, dark fruit, cherry and berry compote with nuances of dried fig, date, bit of tobacco and underlying vanilla/oak. There is a lot of "glycerin" roundness and heft on the palate and low acidity.

This is definitely the most modern, sweetest, most user-friendly Amarone I have ever had with none of the typical slight bitterness in the dried, raisiny fruit, especiallytowards the back. Despite its elevated 15.4% abv, however, I didn't feel the heat. Openly pleasing, it is, in different ways, both typical (in its dominant raisiny flavors) yet modern (in its lushness and lack of the usual bitterness. Those who like big, bold, rounded, lush, low acid reds will like this a lot, I'd expect. It carries its alcoholic punch very well and, perforce, naturally promotes a convivial atmosphere.

1988 Castello dei Rampolla Sammarco - The Stockbroker's bottle. In all honesty, I do not recall having tried a glass of this during the subject lunch. I know there was a bottle opened because I recalled that the Stockbroker had opened one of these before during one our lunches at Old Manila where I opened one of my 1988 Léoville las Cases. However, because of too much chatting, going outside to smoke and, surely, the effects of so many strong Italian reds, I don't remember a thing about this wine. Thus, my old notes from 24 August 2005 will have to, somehow, suffice:

Castello dei Rampolla Sammarco 1988

Brought by the Stockbroker, a "Super Tuscan", 90% cabernet sauvignon and 10% sangiovese, according to him.A handsome wine, dark red with a mahogany blush, darkening to a deep violet-red core, lightening to a slim red-orange to the rim. Fairly reflective disc, good clarity.

In the nose, an earthy bouquet of cassis, dried herbs, tobacco and cedar with mild, yet distinctive sweet soy sauce and dark spice underpinnings. The aromas held true in the mouth sans the soy sauce, more wood and added cherry/red fruit notes and just a whisper of gaminess.

L-R: (Seated) Rene Sr., Rene Jr., Santi, the Stockbroker, Laraine (Standing) Miguel and myself.

It was an excellent lunch with good friends, great food and superb Italian wines. Many thanks to everyone for sharing their time, company and bottles (especially the Stockbroker). Magnifico!