Friday, August 28, 2009

Lunch at Antonio's.

We tend to eat out often in just a handful of restaurants and most always in Makati and the Fort area. So, for my wife's birthday, she wanted to eat someplace we don't often go to and chose Antonio's in Tagaytay. Though we've been going Antonio's since it was relatively newly opened, because of the distance and traffic, we rarely eat there. Since she wanted to have dinner with the children, she opted for an intimate lunch with long-time friends, Tonji & Sylvia, who we haven't seen much of recently. Tonji offered to drive us all there and back, for which I am very grateful.

Last time I was at Antonio's was over a year ago, in May 2008. I understand there were some renovations made and it is even more beautiful than ever.

We ate at where we most always do, at their upstairs veranda, overlooking the gardens.

For starters, we shared plates of Chanterelles with Foie Gras, Raclette and, since Miguel said it was the best he's tried in the country, Steak Tartare...

...which we enjoyed with a bottle of 2006 Saintsbury Brown Ranch Estate Bottled Carneros Chardonnay . My wife likes the fuller, buttery style of good California chards, so a bottle thereof at her birthday lunch was definitely in order. Anticipating this lunch, I picked up a few bottles of this in Premium Wine Exchange after this past Tuesday's Rosés and Reds lunch.

Pretty typical Cali chard, the dominant flavors are lightly buttery, baked apple, pear with a light touch of ground hazelnut, spice, bit of vanilla/oak and discreet white floral notes. Not as big and opulent as, say, the Beringer Sbragia Limited Release, Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay or Ramey Hudson Vineyard, but with marginally better acidic balance in my opinion. It went well with the foie and chanterelles, the steak tartare, and reasonably well enough with the raclette.

Appetizers done, we moved on to the soup course...

...and, then, to an excellent, super fresh and crisp garden salad, both of which come with the main courses.

For our main courses, my wife had a Duck Confit, Tonji & Sylvia shared a Rib Eye Steak (it's served for 2 persons) and I had the Magret de Canard.

...all of which was paired with a bottle of 1999 Louis Jadot Corton-Pougets Grand Cru. I've written about this wine twice and recently: from a post-golf dinner at home and a dinner at Sala with Apple. My notes then were:

From Jadot's own south-eastern exposed vineyard situated on the Rognon de Corton (literally, the "Corton kidney"), just below the vineyards of Corton-Charlemagne.

A bit reticent, initially, after around 15 minutes in the glass, this attractive dark red wine started opening up with sweetly-spiced raspberry, cherry and fine cedar - eventually developing into a nicely perfumed bouquet.This wine was alluringly, seductively feminine in character, with very notable finesse - from the attack to finish, there is definitiveness, but elegantly understated. In the mouth, notes of dried cranberry, red beet and a whisper of violets are intricately intertwined with the mirrored sweetly spiced red fruit/berry aromas - making for a very enjoyable wine indeed.

I can add now, since the wine had more aeration in bottle and glass this time, that it exhibited more openly the power, breadth, body and push expected of grand cru status and more depth in its deep, pure and well-defined cherry and raspberry flavors - but all in a polished and poised manner.

With this bottle, I noted that the cherry/raspberry were obviously tarter and not as sweetly spiced than the previous two bottles and the bouquet took a longer time to display (around 35-40 minutes), whereas the other bottles displayed almost immediately after being popped and poured.

After all that, we were all so full that my wife wanted to walk around the gardens before we had dessert. We, thus, ordered our desserts of Crème Brûlée, Tartufo Nero (my favorite of the desserts), Poached Pears, etc. to be served 20 minutes later at the lower veranda.

We had all these with a half bottle of 1988 Hugel Gewürztraminer Selection des Grains Nobles.

I've had this twice before: the first time at Domaine Hugel in Riquewihr on the 27th September 2007, Alsace, and the second time over lunch at Je Suis Gourmand in late December 2008. My last notes were as follows:

Ethereal, light, airy, soaring, joyful lychee and flowers. Beautiful, very openand generous. I will definitely get this for my wife and enjoy it with her. This was probably the best in the tasting for me. It was certainly the most memorable. This would be dessert by itself.

I add now that its lively botrytised fruit and minerals just danced on my tongue and was an excellent counterpoint to the mildly sweetish earthiness of the chestnut soufflé. Excellent acidic balance. Wonderful match. I loved the soufflé alone, the wine alone and the both together. Undoubtedly my gastronomic apex of the lunch.

This third bottle was still quite nice, but, noticeably, the fruit was not quite as fresh or lively as before. I had been saving this bottle for a long time, maybe I should have opened it sooner. In any event, it added a sweet note to the close of a lovely lunch, in a beautiful setting with my wife and old friends. I can't really ask for anything more than that.

An excellent double espresso pick-me-up saw me off home.

Happy birthday again, Catha. I wish you many more to come (at least one more than me, heh heh).

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Rosés and Reds.

A few weeks ago, the Stockbroker thought to have a lunch comparing the 2007 Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé and the 2007 Domaines Ott Château Romassan Rosé Coeur de Grain as he had picked up some of the latter at a recent trip to Tokyo. I'd heard and read about Domaines Ott, but I don't recall ever having had its wines. The unanimous choice for today's lunch, 25th August 2009, was, naturally, Je Suis Gourmand - since 2 top Bandol rosés were featured, Marc Aubry's escargots bourguignonne were definitely in order.

We were 5 in all today (the Stockbroker, Keiichi, Miguel, Rene and myself) and we all ordered the same meal: an order each of Escargots Bourguignonne to start and Beef Onglet for main. The Stockbroker tested the rosés, found them in order... the rosés were poured...

...and the tasting began.

2007 Domaines Ott Château Romassan Bandol Rosé Coeur de Grain - The Stockbroker's bottle, as earlier mentioned. Just a shade lighter in color than the Tempier, this is made up of mourvèdre, cinsault and grenache. Fresh, very supple, fruity and extremely easy to drink. The aroma called to mind a light, cooling summer drizzle, light melon, cantaloupe, whispers of grapefruit citrus, underlying red currant - the entirety of which was possessed of a cool, delicately steely character. This is a happy, light-footed, delightfully fruity, feminine wine. Very fresh.

2007 Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé - My bottle, unsurprisingly, as it is my favorite rosé. It is likewise a blend of mourvèdre, cinsault and grenache. The dominant fruit flavors are somewhat similar to the Romassan Coeur de Grain, but the dominance, structure and character are totally different. Most obviously in the nose and on the palate is the Tempier's readily apparent garrigue (emphasis on lavender, fennel and oregano) and an underlying mild woody toastiness. It is also more complex, firmly structured and the fruit clearly more deeply veined (I suspect the Tempier's vines are older).

My thoughts, as well as Rene's, are that the 2007 Romassan rosé is a fun, feminine, light-hearted wine that dances on one's tongue. It is, per Rene, something one could drink tons of at the beach. The 2007 Tempier rosé, on the other hand, is, comparatively, a more serious, complex, structured, intellectual wine. As such, to me, the Tempier is also more versatile as a food wine, though I could easily sip an entire bottle of it alone as well - but, admittedly, not as easily as I could the Romassan.

Conclusion? They are both excellent rosés, though totally different in character. Both have their own places. If pressed, I would say that the Tempier is still my favorite rosé, especially with Marc's escargots.

That done, our orders of Beef Onglet made their way to the table. I must mention that everyone seems to love this dish's deeply earthy, slightly gamey flavors heartily accented by caramelized onions. With a side of excellent frites, what's not to love? Due to its robust character, we unanimously decided to have it mainly paired with an equally robust Spanish red.

2004 Flor de Pingus - Miguel's bottle, one he recently brought back from Spain. As I understand, Flor de Pingus, is not technically a second wine as it is made from fruit of a separate vineyard of Peter Sisseck's Dominio de Pingus of Ribera del Duero. Pingus' wines are produced in small quantities, consistently highly rated by influential reviewers, consequently highly prized by collectors, and, accordingly priced - so much so that they are perceived as "cult wines". I've only ever had one Pingus, the 2001, which I liked a lot...but, when I found out how much it cost, I nearly had a heart attack. It's modern, definitely openly pleasing, but I'd never pay the lofty price it commands (I feel the same way with Le Pin's wines).

Flor de Pingus is produced from the estate's vineyard of "younger" vines - I use quotation marks because I've read that the so-called younger tempranillo vines average a good 35 years of age (the average vine age for Pingus is 70 years). The 2004, though obviously and understandably quite young, is a lusciously, rich, ripe, super-concentrated wine, cascading lowish-acid, high in alcohol, dense, slightly briary dark fruit, blueberry, ripe strawberry, mild tobacco, a hefty dose of vanilla/oak. Again, very open and pleasing, and I am very thankful to be able to try it. For my pocket, however, I'll stick to Vega Sicilia when my Ribera del Duero cravings come upon me.

The lunch's extra bonus points wine was...

1994 Château Lafleur - Keiichi's bottle - a more than generous treat. The wine wasn't decanted, the bottle was just left opened - I'm not sure for how long, but at least a couple of hours before it was poured.

I've been having a string of good luck the past year or so when it comes to much maligned 1994 Bordeaux. Impressive wines that immediately come to mind have been the 1994 Haut Brion, La Mission Haut Brion and Angelus (the '94 Margaux, however, was quite a letdown). This '94 Lafleur, after around 35-45 minutes in the glass, was captivating: incredibly deep, powerful but properly reserved and elegant, finely cedar-and-gravel-laced dark fruit/plum, discreet black cherry, violets and minerals, just the merest trace of dried marjoram in the cedar and dark fruit. Complex, contemplative, exquisite and unmistakably Bordeaux. This is my kind of wine. Loved it.

2002 Château Smith Haut Lafitte - Rene's bottle (I don't have a photo of him with his bottle - or the Stockbrocker with his for that matter - since they were seated on either side of me - difficult to take photos of them at those angles). This is light-years removed from the lasciviously ripe, wantonly oaky 2003 of SHL that I remember from the UGC tasting at Vinexpo (Bordeaux) 2007. Rather, it is quite toned-down, proper and Pessac-Léognan-like compared to most SHLs I've had. Notes of cedar, warm asphalt and dried thyme are present in the cassis and slight raspberry/cherry base. Quite correct and typical. Impressive given the vintage. This is undoubtedly the best 2002 Bordeaux I've had (not that I've had many, admittedly). Keiichi was openly complimentary of it.

We all skipped dessert and, with the cheese plates, went on to...

2006 La Bella Estate Moscato Passito - Miguel's bottle which he brought home from a recent trip to Italy (this fellow certainly travels a lot because of work). A rather simple, straightforward, charming and easy to drink light, nimble, moderately sweet Piedmontese moscato - reminiscent of a mildly honeyed, floral white grape juice with a light touch of vanilla/oak. Nicely clean and cleansing.

Cups of coffee, double espressos and glasses of Eau de vie de Prune brought an end to yet another excellent lunch with fine food, wine and company.

The Stockbroker had business to attend to at Premium Wine Exchange and Keiichi headed off for home - but Miguel, Rene and I weren't done yet. It being slightly before 4pm, we followed to PWX where the Stockbroker opened...

2004 WesMar Pinot Noir Hellenthal Vineyard (Sonoma Coast) - Jammy, resinous, concentrated spiced cherry, raspberry, blueberry, some plum underneath, notes of cola, cinnamon, muscovado and vanilla/oak. Big, dense, concentrated, with a definitive and long finish. Very California pinot noir.

2006 Freeman Vineyard & Winery Akiko's Cuvée Pinot Noir (Russian River) - Easily lighter in frame and weight than the WesMar Hellenthal, its dominant fruit flavors (raspberry and cherry fruit) are neither jammy/spicy/sweet/ripe nor as concentrated. It is evidently cleaner, more refined and much lighter on its feet, albeit not as layered or complex. I likened it whimsically to a Louis Latour Marsannay. Very easy to drink.

Both the above-mentioned California pinot noirs are available at Premium Wine Exchange.

6 pm rolled around the corner and we all had to head off home. I picked up a few bottles of PWX's 2006 Saintsbury Brown Ranch Estate Bottled Chardonnay for my wife on the way out as she favors this curvy, buttery style of chardonnay.

Again, many thanks to all for sharing your wine and company. As ever, until the next!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Miguel's Birthday Dinner.

Miguel's week-long celebration (or should I say "debauchery"?) of his birthday culminated last night, 22 August 2009, with a dinner held at his in-laws' place. We were 15, more or less, to help him celebrate with a lot of food, wine and camaraderie. I was to be his sous-chef that night, had prepared some racks of lamb as a birthday gift, and, naturally, brought a couple of bottles as well (i.e., Leyenda Amontillado Jerez for the tapas and a 1999 Michel Chiarlo Barbera d'Asti Nizze La Court for the grilled steaks and herbed, roasted lamb racks).

Assorted tapas and some cheese to start, the sobrasada was sinfully good, and...

...some appetizingly dry Bodegas M. Gil Luque Leyenda Amontillado Jerez to go along with them. I first learned to appreciate having dry sherry with tapas at a lunch at La Tienda with Miguel and J-Lab. J-lab brought a bottle of nice manzanilla pasada and it was a revelation for me as an apéritif with tapas. Miguel later on told me that this is a typical apéritif in Spain to go with some olives and curados. This particular sherry is dry, a little nutty with nuances of black coffee to its savory dried fruit and very slight, well-integrated wood. Nicely clean, straightforward, good value-for-money, it seems like a natural pairing to me.

My only regret is that I didn't learn about this pairing sooner. Available at Terry Selections for just P700+/bottle, it's a definite repeat buy for me. I drank this all the way until dinner proper, uncharacteristically eschewing the several bottles of rosado Miguel had on deck. Many of the others enjoyed and finished off the rosados though.

After a while, Miguel and I got to work in the kitchen, and dinner was thereafter served.

Well, at least everyone moved over to the main dining room, anyway...

...but, eventually, everyone sat themselves down to dinner proper.

The Food:

A fresh, crisp, guilt-suppressing Garden Salad

Prawns and Blue Marlin quickly grilled and immediately served

Roasted Herbed Racks of Lamb

One of the 2 platters of Grilled US Prime Grade Rib-Eye Steaks with Twice-Fried French Fries

The Wines:

2007 Burgáns Albariño - From Rias Baixas, for the Grilled Blue Marlin and Prawns, naturally. This somewhat riper and rounder style of albariño is very easy to like and drink. More fruit-forward and a shade less edgy, tense and minerally than its cousin, the '07 Martín Códax Albariño, it, I imagine, would be a lot more approachable to those new to albariños. Good lift to the fruit though. Still a very good accompaniment to the seafood. This wine placed 3rd in our relatively recent Locally-Available Albariño Challenge. Available at Barcino.

1999 Michel Chiarlo Barbera d'Asti Nizze La Court - I've enjoyed this wine many times. It pairs well with roast chicken, lamb, and even grilled steak. My most recent notes are as follows:

I first tried this upon the recommendation of Alex Lichaytoo with a simple, rustic Italian lunch at PWX on the 9th June 2009. I liked it and promptly bought a few bottles from Bacchus for myself. My notes then are as follows:

From Piedmont's Barbera region of Asti, this wine is made up wholly of barbera grapes from the same-named, 6 hectare, south-west exposure single vineyard "La Court". Largely over-shadowed by the more famous Piedmontese nebbiolo-based wines, Barolo and Barbaresco, Barberas receive comparatively little press. Considering the subject wine, however, this lack of attention is undeserved and, perforce, lamentable.

The complex bouquet recalls dark fruit compote, dried cherry, kirsch, violets and cedar. Its medium body presents mature, soft, velvety dark cherry, violets, a light touch of dried herbs (lavender? thyme?) and hints of balsamico and leather in the underlying black fruit. The finish was moderate and precise; the tannins soft and smooth. It paired very well with the roast chicken. With the first sniff and sip, I decided I must have more bottles of this.

Available at Bacchus at P2250/bottle full retail.

2000 Cesca Vicent Abat Domènech Priorat - As I understand, this is made by a family friend of Miguel at their winery in Gratallops, Priorat - a small production, higher bottling (single vineyard) than the Lo Piot, the 2002 vintage of which we enjoyed with steaks at my place this past 17th June 2009 dinner. Research shows that only 500 cases were produced of this predominantly grenache blend and that Robert Parker bestowed upon it a 93-point rating (for whatever the latter is worth).

This is a (typically to me) big, thick, full-bodied, ripe, tannic, alcoholic bruiser of a Priorat, displaying lots of juicy, spicy dark berry, some raspberry, licorice, wood and touches of sweetish tea and violets. It stood well with the steak but clearly over-powered the lamb. Good concentration, a long finish. Not really my style, personally, but those who like Priorat will probably like this. Not available locally.

2003 Descendientes de José Palacios Corullón - From Bierzo, yet another masterpiece of mencia by the Alvaro Palacios Team. I'd previously enjoyed bottles of their rose-scented entry-level 2006 Pétalos and their fresh, pure, graceful and very food-friendly 2003 Moncerbal. As I understand it, the Corullón is from older vines (60-100 years old) of the steepest vineyards. Again, for whatever it is worth, Parker's Wine Advocate gave this a rating of 93 points.

This is, personally, more my style than the immediately above-discussed wine. Leaner, much more focused, refined and complex, not super-ripe, overly tannic or alcoholic - discreetly floral, a fine minerality laces blackberry, cherry and raspberry with nuances of thyme and rosemary (or was that the same herbs I used in the lamb playing along with the wine?). Very nice. Notably deeper and more concentrated than the lighter-footed, graceful moncerbal, it is a wine I will buy.
Available at Terry Selections at P2450/bottle full retail.

2003 Château Lascombes - The sole Bordeaux for the evening, an 1855 Classification 2nd Growth, no less, from Margaux. I used to buy a lot of Lascombes and even their sister property Segonnes in the mid-to-late 90s, but now have Lascombes rarely and far between. This is the first Lascombes I have had since I enjoyed their '97 vintage at my dad's house (very good considering it is an off vintage) late December 2008.

Lascombes' 2003 is quite unlike the much earlier vintages I have had. In a word, it is now modern, in the sense that fruit is much riper and there is much obvious new oak to it. That said, a good Margaux is always welcome to me. Smoky, cedar, plum and raspberry/cherry over cassis, gravelly nuance underneath, toasty wood, slight violets, merest whisper of pencil lead - mirrored on the palate on a slightly above-medium body. Nice enough, but very difficult to appreciate fully after all the foregoing wines.

After such a huge meal, many of us guys skipped dessert (had I known though that it was Baba Ibazeta's Lemon Torte, I would have made sure to get a slice or two) and went out to the poolside area for some cigarettes...

...and some glasses of...

La Navarra Pachrán Etiqueta Verde - A typical Spanish digestif per Santi. Moderately sweet, candied, dried plum, touch of apricot deftly infused with anise. Quite nice, I enjoyed this a lot and it did settle my stomach. I could get into this very easily. According to Miguel, this is available at Terry Selections at approximately P800/per bottle only. I'm getting some for sure.

A good double espresso and a lot of stories later, we took our leave at around midnight. It was a most enjoyable and relaxing dinner. Thanks, Miguel, and, again, happy birthday.