Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Wines & Spirits Club Philippines: Concha y Toro Night.

The evening of 22 September 2009 was at Café Ysabel for the Wines & Spirits Club Philippines' (WSCP) Concha y Toro Night. All the wines that evening, as well as some other food products (such as canned mushrooms, corn and other vegetables) used in the menu, were sponsored by importer/distributor Fly Ace Corporation. It turns out, I had previously met Fly Ace president, Jun Cochanco, in late May 2008 at the NAIA departure area as we were waiting for the same flight to HK to attend Vinexpo Asia Pacific 2008 - so it was nice to bump into him again, and, this time, to get to try his wines.

L-R: Gail, J-Lab, Chef Gene, Greg, Arnie with Fly Ace's Jun Cochanco.

I've mentioned around 6 months ago that the WSCP is the first and, as far as I know, the only broad-based Filipino wine-centric web community/bulletin board/club, a brainchild of chef-restaurateur Gene Gonzalez (with the help, as I understand, of Usual Suspects Arnie and J-Lab). I think it's a great idea as it encourages and enables all those new to and/or curious about wine to ask questions and learn from those longer-in-tooth to the vinous world. It is also an excellent resource for getting recommendations on a wide range of locally available wines, where to buy them, their prices, as well as tasting notes thereon.

It's not all just sitting at a computer though - the WSCP holds get-togethers such as the subject dinner/tasting every so often, and Gene makes it a point to charge very affordable prices for such events so as to make them easily accessible to many. I've attended 3 such events thus far, and they have all been a lot of fun. I've met a lot of new friends and re-connected with some long-lost ones as well at these events. It is also a good opportunity to get together with my brother, T, (also a WSCP member) and sis-in-law, C, who live nearby.

Concha y Toro is widely recognized as one of the very top producers of Chile, making several lines and bottlings. From top to bottom, though, they are known to consistently adhere to strict standards and for producing good Quality to Price Ratio (QPR) wines. The fact that Bordeaux 1st growth Château Mouton Rothschild chose Concha y Toro as its Chilean joint venture partner in creating highly acclaimed Almaviva is a testament to the latter's capabilities.

Checking out the food products. Greg is wondering: "Kasya kaya sa jacket ko 'to?"

Cocktails consisted of Fried Green Olives, Almonds, and Garum with Fried Pasta Sheets, with which were poured two wines from Concha y Toro's entry-level Frontera line. These are very inexpensive at only approximately P250-P300/bottle. Over cocktails, introductions of new members, first time attendees and guests were made. I didn't know that we were allowed to bring guests. I will next time.

2008 Frontera Chardonnay - To begin with, the Frontera line is a basic bottling that is very inexpensive, so it must be judged as such. Be reassured that I did not come to this tasting/dinner expecting to drink Montrachet or top-growth Bdx for my P800 fee - nor should anyone else have. I mean, c'mon, let's get real here.

That said, this wine presented clean, nicely focused, pleasant and easily drinkable green apple, pear and bit of lemon/citrus that expands mid-mouth and trails in the finish. No oakiness at all did I detect - which, for me, is a good thing as it was served as an apéritif. The last thing I want to drink before dinner proper is a glass of vanilla-wood. More than decent at its price.

I'd recommend this for weddings, large corporate affairs, etc. Just be sure, as my wife accurately noted, to keep this properly chilled at service.

2007 Frontera Carmenere - Gene said a few words about Bordeaux's "forgotten grape". Later on, I mentioned to Jun that I saw a few rows of vines of carmenere along the path towards Mouton Rothschild's winery. Our guide told us they were only for display as Mouton Rothschild neither grows nor uses any carmenere in its wines (as if we needed to be told).

This wine is certainly not shy in showing off its smoky, earthy, spicy, ripe, softish dark fruit, a pronounced herbiness and dark minerality, black coffee, some leather, bit of anise. I'd think this is a wine suited for particular tastes. My past experience with carmenere, not a happy one, was with Viña Mont Gras', the vintage of which I no longer recall, nor do I care to.

This Frontera, though, I found much more drinkable, approachable and, yes, quite pleasant especially after a couple of sips getting used to it. It grew on me, a pleasant surprise. For its price, carmenere fans should surely check this out.

The first course was a Sardine Pizza Bianca and Grape & Anchovy Salad with Mango-Passionfruit Gel. This was paired with...

2005 Marqués de Casa Concha Chardonnay - This was readily heftier, riper in fruit than the Frontera chardonnay, with immediately apparent moderately creamy oak - not really over-bearing, though - little new oak exposure, if any, I'd say (again, a good thing for me). My wife who favors good Napa chards liked this more than the Frontera. Its comparatively riper, softer, rounder fruit had more pronounced citrus notes that dominated a definitive finish.

With the soup course of Chowder of Mixed Shellfish with Leek en Croûte, we enjoyed...

2006 Amelia Chardonnay - This chardonnay seemed to combine the traits of the Frontera and the Marqués de Casa Concha in that, while it was heftier, riper than the Frontera, its fruit was cleaner and better-focused than the Marqués de Casa Concha. The Amelia's oak touches were lighter and less obvious, allowing it's leesy, lemon cream, ripe pear and baked apple notes center stage. Nice wine.

In addition, the chowder was one of my favorite courses of the evening - not at all unduly creamy or heavy like ubiquitous SF wharf area chowders; it was precise, properly showcasing the seafood. Good show.

The reds started to pour beginning with the fish course of Smoked Roasted Lenguado with Brown Butter & Caper Beurre Blanc...

2008 Casillero del Diablo Pinot Noir - There was a bit of a musky/"armpit" miasma hovering over the ripe, dark, slightly raisined/candied cherry, raspberry, plum base aromas that, thankfully, blew off in around 15-20 minutes in the glass. Once that cleared, the fruit had a pronounced herby, somewhat medicinal minerality and dustiness (as accurately pointed out by my sis-in-law) to its pine, fruit and underlying toasty oak (toffee, cinammon) nuances. If I recall correctly, this wine is available at around P450/bottle. For that price, it's good to go.

After a Mandarin Sorbet, the meat course of Grilled Beef Riblets Smothered in Sautéed Mixed Mushrooms with Whole Kernel Corn & Vegetables á la Polignac was served with...

2005 Marqués de Casa Concha Merlot - Somber, very ripe, moderately concentrated black cherries, dark plum, blueberry with minor notes of soft, damp earth, dark chocolate and black coffee. Rather straightforward, but nice, it has a comforting warmth. Soft, lowish acid, quite approachable. Not sure of the price, but I think it's around P1400-P1500/bottle.

2006 Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon - Dense, thick, "jammy" (as well noted by Gene), concentrated raspberry, kirsch, dark fruit, cassis, underlying licorice, pronounced dark minerality, bit of violets, sweet/somewhat creamy and toasty oak. Brighter fruit than the merlot, better focus and healthier acidity as well. This, I imagine, would be a good cross-over wine for those who enjoy concentrated, jammy California cabernet sauvignons and want to get something at approximately P2700/bottle.

I took another break for a quick smoke outside and chatted with fellow member/lawyer, Bodjie, about visiting his Decanter Wine Bar sometime next week. It turns out he has an event this coming Thursday featuring the wines of Penfolds and that our common friend, James du Vivier, of Futuretrade (Penfolds' local importer/distributor) will attend, but I'll, unfortunately, have to give that a miss.

When I got back to the table, my wife was preoccupied with an, admittedly, really cute Jack Russell Terrier pup. Oh, no, for sure she'll want one now.

Dessert was a Crumpy Ice Cream Terrine with Cherry Sauce (Crumpy chocolate also distributed by Fly Ace Corporation).

Arnie and J-Lab then started pulling out their bottles of a bit older Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignons. Johnny R then traipses in, just in time for the mini-vertical - and, what timing, since he is an avid fan of this top bottling of Concha y Toro. Everyone welcomed him warmly though. Everybody likes Johnny. Really, this guy should run for public office one day.

As is usually the case at these gatherings, after dinner proper is served, tables start to meld as people wander around to chat with others and, naturally, get a sip or two of more wine. That's when things start to get a little noisier - but in a good way.

Meanwhile, Gene called out and introduced the night's cooks to allow everyone to thank them properly.

My table indulged in a couple of glasses each of a comfortingly warm, smooth, pine-needle, wood and hazelnut nuanced, moderately dry (notably drier than J-Lab's favorite Cardenal Mendoza or Miguel's Gran Duque de Alba) Conde de Osborne Brandy Solera Gran Reserva de Jerez bottling of the centuries-old Groupo Osborne. This was sent/donated by Aaron, though he wasn't able to make it due to work. What a guy. Thanks, Aaron, we certainly enjoyed it!

People trickled out eventually, my brother and sis-in-law included, so my wife and I sat with J-Lab to help him finish the last couple of pours of...

2005 Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon - This is notably more self-possessed than the sweeter, young, jammy 2006. Similar to the above-described 2006, definitely ripe and rounder in fruit, but not quite jammy (again, a good thing for me) and not so extracted or syrupy. This was much more approachable and easier to drink for me. I think my wife agreed.

Our glasses drained, J-Lab, my wife and I thanked Gene and congratulated him for yet another successful WSCP event (and many thanks, too, of course, to Jun and Fly Ace Corporation for sponsoring the wines and food products). It seemed like an unusually short drive home southward that night....


Steven Jackson said...

2007 Frontera Carmenere costs $4, so even if it tasted horrible, I'm not out much cash. But I've been pleasantly surprised. I wasn't familiar with this grape--I think it's extinct in its home of Bordeaux, where it was used as a blending grape. This wine is 85% Carménère, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Syrah. I don't know if I could identify this grape on its own, but I like this wine. It's like merlot with balls, if that makes any sense, and the supporting grapes definitely improve the flavor. It's something a little different, and solid enough to stand up to hearty beef dishes or spicy Indian/Mexican fare.I like this one with Cuban Cigars, especially Cohiba.

Noel said...

Not quite extinct in Bdx, I did mention that Mouton Rothschild has some living vines of carmenère on display in its grounds but they are just there for historical purposes and not used in wine-making.

Chinkee said...

Too bad I missed this one. Had to attend an event with the hubby. When's the next one?:-)

Noel said...

Hi, Chinkee. I really wouldn't know when the next one is. Depends on the WSCP powers-that-be (i.e., Gene, J-Lab and Arnie).