Friday, October 30, 2009

A Night of Carmenères & Classified Bordeaux, Etc.

The 29th October 2009, was a day of work and wine - work first, of course, and, in the evening, wine and lots of it.

~ Part I: Chilean Carménères Blind ~

I left the office a quarter past 6pm and went straight to Café Ysabel for Gene Gonzalez's Blind Carménère Tasting Dinner of 15 wines locally available or under consideration for local distribution. I understand that actual and prospective distributors presented the bottles for evaluation. We were 10 tasters for this event: Gene, Arnie del Rosario, Aaron Palileo, Cecille Mauricio, Dicky Boncan, Marty Villarica, Johnny Revilla, Ivo Dualan, myself and J-Lab (who arrived quite late and so was not in the group photo below).

After a brief lecture by Gene on the history and nature of the carménère grape...

...we tasted in 3 flights, grouped according to price. Because of the speed the tasting and voting was conducted, I could not really make as definitive notes for each wine - mere scribbles really - so I will only give the basic results of the groups' collective top 3 wines in descending order.

1st Flight - Below P500/bottle; 6 wines tasted:

L-R: 2008 Carmen Reserva, 2008 Undurraga, Concha y Toro Frontera, 2007 Carmen Valle de Rapel, 2007 Luis Felipe Edwards Reserva and 2008 Ventisquero Reserva (not in photo).

# 1 Choice - 2008 Carmen Reserva (P335)

# 2 Choice - 2007 Luis Felipe Edwards Reserva (P410)

# 3 Choice - Concha y Toro Frontera (P300)

The 2008 Carmen Reserva as the top wine was virtually unanimous. If I'm not mistaken, per Arnie (who tabulated the votes) the only person who didn't vote it #1 voted it #2.

2nd Flight - P500-P1000/bottle; 5 wines tasted:

L-R: 2008 Caliterra Reserva, 2007 Montes Cabernet Sauvignon-Carménère, 2006 Terra Nova, 2007 Anakena, 2006 Luis Felipe Edwards Gran Reserva.

# 1 Choice - 2007 Montes Cabernet Sauvignon-Carmenère (note: majority cab sauv, P675+)

# 2 Choice - 2006 Luis Felipe Edwards Gran Reserva (P510)

# 3 Choice - 2007 Anakena (P530+)

3rd Flight - Above P1000; 4 wines tasted (no photo of the bottles taken):

# 1 Choice was a tie between 2007 Antu Ninquen Cabernet Sauvignon-Carmenère (note: majority cab sauv, P1100) and 2006 Ventisquero Grey (P928). Johnny was happy with the result since he buys and enjoys a lot of the Antu Ninquen. The other wines in this flight were 2006 Arboleda (P1200) and 2004 Albis (P1800).

I note that the (majority) cabernet sauvignon blended carménère wines fared best in their respective categories.

~ Part II: Classified Bordeaux ~

At a little past 9pm, I had to skip dinner and rushed to Bodjie Tobillo's birthday party at his recently opened Decanter Wine Bar along Tomas Morato, the only wine bar in Quezon City. It was my first time at Decanter, a good-sized wine bar with live music on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I noted that the bar was decorated in a Halloween theme and there was a band playing for the occasion.

The evening's host and celebrant in Decanter's 1500-bottle, 24/7 temperature-controlled wine room complete with its own back-up air-conditioning units and generator to ensure all bottles are kept at proper temperature at all times.

Bodjie with Usual Suspects J-Lab and Greg Clavano

Many friends and familiar faces were there when I arrived (aside from Bodjie of course): Greg Clavano, Nelson Uy, Jay-Jay (Bodjie's partner in Decanter), William Siapno; plus I got to meet, among others, Jason (Bodjie's brother-chef, back from a US stint, who runs Decanter's kitchen) fellow WSCP members Willy, Gino and Eric all of whom I greatly enjoyed chatting with. It is always a pleasure to get to know those with a genuine and honest love for wine. Speaking of which, several French wines were on the table in various stages of consumption. Greg, however, thoughtfully reserved glasses for me and J-Lab of...

1999 Château Montrose - Greg's bottle, a 2nd growth from St-Estèphe. Château Montrose, together with Cos d'Estournel, are generally considered the top producers of St-Estèphe, the former known for its masculine and long-ageing wines. I've long favored Montrose's wines, their vintages 1986, 1989, 1990 and 1996 vintages all excellent in my opinion. I believe Greg's bottle was only the 2nd or 3rd time I've had the '99 vintage.

It is no secret that Bordeaux is my palate default setting, and, after academically tasting 15 young carménères, this wine was a great comfort. Familiar earthy, leathery, cedar infused cassis, bit of plum, with rasperry and cherry highlights eased me into things. The wine's structure is there, undoubtedly, but on a noticeably lighter frame than usual, typical of general vintage assessments. Properly austere and correct. Very nice. Thanks for saving me some, Greg, much appreciated.

Next, Bodjie poured us some...

1999 Château Pichon Longueville Baron - Nelson Uy's bottle, another 2nd growth but this time from Pauillac. I believe this is the 2nd time I've had this wine, but the 1st time was at a blind academic tasting, so this is really the first time I got to analyze and enjoy this at leisure.

At first whiff, this was very expressive of Pauillac with distinct scents of pencil shavings, gravelly earth, black currant/cassis and cedar leading the way. Another very comfortingly familiar wine that holds true and proud to its terroir. This one I imagine I could easily identify as Pauillac if served blind. On the palate, it was more open, broader and with the most heft and pronounced middle amongst the Bordeaux I had at this party. It's finish was long and confident. Again, great typicity in this - something I believe is very important to a wine.

Next was the evening's most anticipated wine...

1995 Château Haut Brion - Bodjie's bottle, a 1st growth (the only non-Médoc in the 1855 Classification - and in the top echelon, no less) from a heralded vintage. We noted that the cork broke in half, the bottom portion slightly soaked on the sides, but no soaked-through wine markings in the cork's cross-section. The wine was poured from bottle, so after a few sniffs, I let it air in my glass. J-Lab arrived a few minutes after and got a hefty glass of '99 Montrose courtesy of Greg and the last pour of the '95 Haut Brion courtey of Bodjie.

Initially, J-Lab and I found this wine quite tight and reticent. I noted the aromas not fully developed into a proper bouquet were led by sweet cedar, bit of a minty topnote, whispers of dried herbs (I recall thyme) and minerals. In the mouth, its discreetly cedar-lined fruit (sweet plum, raspberry over blackcurrant) was pure, lightly silken but not very expressive. I had to work the wine in my mouth to get at the mentioned nuances.

After around 30-45 minutes more (a rough estimate at best since I already had quite a bit by that time), the dried herb nuanced fruit became marginally more expressive and a subtle gravel/tar/asphalt emerged from within. I still couldn't help but feel that the wine was not "giving all it could", as it were (mentally comparing it to the Stockbroker's '94 Haut Brion that I voted 1st place in Blind Bordeaux Challenge IX over my own '82 Gruaud Larose). It probably should have been decanted for 2-3 hours before serving as I read in an account of a recent Haut Brion vertical in the US held by the château itself.

That said, I admit I am nit-picking and debating degrees of excellence as this was clearly an elegant wine - so much so that despite my comments, this was, to me, the finest red of that night. Haut Brion, like Cheval Blanc, Lafite and Margaux, is, to me, never about opulence or smoldering power however refined or complex (like, say, Latour) or "blockbuster", but about depth, contemplativeness and elegance (ok, I'll grant the '90 Haut Brion has one foot in the "power" category, but not the '82).

A revelation of the night was that Bodjie is a very good singer and used to be in Kundirana and, later on, a professional singing group in the mid 90s before taking up law. Here's proof positive, an excerpt of his cool rendition of "Just the Way You Look Tonight":

Ever game and fun, Greg responded with his take on Bread's "Guitar Man":

Thereafter, Bodjie had opened and poured a magnum of Piper Heidsieck Brut Champagne (from Nelson), and, honored me by opening my gift of Taittinger Champagne Brut Rosé Prestige when the clock struck midnight on his birthday itself. More bottles were opened from Decanter's stash, courtesy of Bodjie's generous guests (I apologize, but I no longer recall who opened what)...

1997 Staglin Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon - Having tried the 2003 and 2005 versions before from the Stockbroker, this was my first taste of an older Staglin cab. I've found the 2003 and 2005 far too forward, alcoholic, syrupy and candied for my taste, but this older one opened my eyes to how truly good Staglin cab can be.

Rich, opulent, yet moderately sweet (so much more dialed down, probably by age), viscous, luscious, dried red fruit, plum, crème de cassis, vanilla bean, slight anise and dark minerality, it is full-bodied but not at all loud or screaming for attention. Seamless, rich, yet smooth and, dare I say, seductive. It had a luxuriously sexy, malleable texture and heft mid-palate that made me enjoy lolling it on my tongue. J-Lab and I were very impressed.

Unfortunately, J-Lab had left when the next bottle was opened...

2004 Corté Riva Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley - From a Napa winery owned and run by 2 Filipino-Americans, the wines of which are exclusively distributed in the Philippines by J-Lab's company. Honestly, I've never been a fan of California merlots, but this wine was a very good one - surprise no. 2 for the night to me. Another indulgently rich and luxuriously smooth-textured Cali wine displaying concentrated very ripe plum, cherry, mocha, toasty oak notes of cinammon and toffee, with a dark chocolate and creamy dark fruit underbelly.

Despite this seeming top-heaviness, the wine somehow pulls off good balance and is undeniably enjoyable. It called to mind a thick, fatty, juicy, rare slab of rib-eye. I was told then that Corté Riva actually is specialized in merlot - which J-Lab confirmed the day after. I can see why.

There were 2 more bottles opened after these, but, I no longer was capable of analyzing or commiting them to memory. I was just enjoying the company and stories, much appreciating how these younger budding connoisseurs and collectors are finding their ways well through the wonderful world of fine wine.

We finally broke up way past 3am. It was a most enjoyable night (and morning). Many thanks Gene, Bodjie and everyone else for inviting me and generously sharing your company and wines. As always, until the next (but not until I recuperate for the following few days, I haven't gone home this late from drinking in well over a decade).

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wines & Spirits Club Philippines: Pizza & Wine Night at Café Ysabel.

Dinner on the 28th October 2009 was another Wines & Spirits Club Philippines (WSCP) event at Chef-Restaurateur-Educator Gene Gonzalez's Café Ysabel, downstairs, where the former "Lasap" used to be located (I miss their tapang usa, sizzling kwaket, etc.), and where Gene's new, brick, wood-fire oven is situated. This event, I believe, arose from a thread in the WSCP website about favorite pizza places. Some of us asked Arnie to convince Gene to hold a pizza and wine dinner for the club's next event using the latter's new "toy", and Gene graciously consented.

The Menu

The Tables

Clockwise from left: Arnie & Helen del Rosario, former batchmate Dr. Dicky Boncan, Usual Suspects J-Lab & Johnny R, China Cojuangco, Gino Gonzalez; Standing: Giannina and Gene Gonzalez.

L-R: Newlyweds Matt & Chinkee Koppe with WSCP patron Aaron Palileo

Clockwise from left: my wife Catha, Joan Palileo, Bob Houldsworth, Bill Stone, party of Matt & Chinkee, Ines Cabarrus, my brother Tad and my sis-in-law Hisako.

Clockwise from left: The spouses Clavano with Decanter partners, Bodjie and Jay-jay

Fellow lawyer Nico Padilla (left, sans "kumander" this time), with his table of legal eagles.

Nelson Uy (left) and party, with spouses-Drs. Dualan, my former batchmate/neighbor/fellow lawyer Perry Consunji, and the spouses Villarica (unfortunately hidden from view).

Greg and Aaron

As regards wine, it was a bring-your-own-bottles event. This format I always enjoy, not only because I can control what wines I drink and pair with the food, but also because it is fun sharing with and tasting from everyone else. It just sets such a convivial mood to the whole evening. Gene also makes it a point to introduce new members and guests to everyone. The IWFS does this as well, a practise I think all clubs should follow to make everyone feel welcome.

L-R: Marty, J-Lab and Gene

The Food & Wine

Goat Cheese Pizza with Red Wine Simmered Onions Topped with Arugula, lined up and ready for the wood-fired brick oven.

Bisol Prosecco Cartizze di Valdobbiadene NV - My bottle. As the name indicates, this is a non-vintage spumante made from 100% prosecco grapes grown in a particular hilly zone in the hamlet of Cartizze (wherein Bisol owns 3 hectares of vineyards) in the Valdobbiadene commune of Veneto’s province of Treviso, northeastern Italy. Bisol is an ancient producer of the area, credited by many to have put prosecco on the world's map.

Fresh, pure nose of small white flowers, white fruit, apple, citrus, hints of peach and white grapefruit mirrored in the mouth softly/pillowy, somewhat creamy middle. There is just a whisper of sweetness in this prosecco, but, in the flowery finish, I could just get a slight hint of the appetizing bitterness of drier bottlings which went hand-in-hand with the arugula in particular; while the dryish, creamy fruitiness gave nice counterpoint to the gamey feta. Purchased at Bacchus for around P2300 full retail.

Turkish Pride of Lamb Sausage, Chives, Parsely, Olives, Feta and Mozarella

1999 Bodegas Olarra Cerro Añon Rioja Gran Reserva - Hisako's bottle. I've had this at least twice in the past few months (July and September) and so unhesitatingly recommended it to Chako. My previous notes were:

1999 Olarra Cerro Anon Gran Reserva - Johnny's bottle. I had this on the 2nd July 2009 during another dinner by JC. My notes at the time, which I find pretty consistent, are as follows:

"Pure and clean, showing off its sturdy structure and well focused, mildly spicy, dominant cherry and strawberry notes with style and panache. Underneath, there is some dark fruit and the wine is highlighted by nuances of violets and a bit of cedar. This is much brighter in character than the 2001 Reserva and lighter as well, but with much nimbler feet, much better in purity and infinitely better integrated wood. It dances on the palate. Very nice indeed, with comforting typicity to boot. Though with undoubtedly firm structure, the wine's light touch did not overpower the scallops, the fricasée of spring vegetables lending a bit of earthiness and body to the shellfish which helped the pairing work as well with the next, slightly heftier seafood dish of Olive Oil Poached Bacalao with Vierge Sauce."

Comparatively leaner, edgier, more vibrant fruit and with good focus. I, personally, like this style. This projects itself very youthfully, but already very enjoyable. Available at Terry Selection at around P1800/bottle, more or less.

Last night, the wine was open, warming, comfortable, clean and most expressive of Rioja (there was notable, underlying leather to the pure fruit). I was exhaling cedar and violets at the finish. Excellent bottle. Aaron, Jo, Catha, Tad, Chako and I really enjoyed it. Again, very highly recommended, especially at its reasonable price. Great match with the lamb sausage flavors as any right and proper Rioja tinto should be. Excellent value for money.

Bob and Bill listen intently to Gene's brief spiel.

2004 Renato Ratti Torriglione Barbera d'Alba - Bill's or Bob's bottle, 100% barbera grapes from the producer's south-eastern exposed Torriglione vineyards in La Morra, in the Barbera d'Alba DOC of Italy's Piedmonte wine region. A somewhat lighter, more easily approachable style of barbera (nb: Barbera d'Albas are generally viewed as lighter than Barbera d'Astis). Soft, earthy, ripe black cherry over slightly dried fruit/plum, a tiny bit of tar and violets and cedar thrown in, somber in character, medium-bodied, slight minerality underneath, apparent but rounded tannins, adequate acidity, fair enough balance. Bit of leather surfaces mid-mouth, cherries turn very slightly tartish at the finish. A bit rustic, very approachable and easy to drink. This is a food friendly wine.

Double Pepperoni Pizza

2001 Michele Chiarlo Barbaresco - My bottle. This is Chiarlo's basic Barbaresco bottling (nebbiolo grapes from Barbaresco in Piedmont). Black cherry, black olives, bit of tar, tobacco, violets and some cedary, dry woodiness towards the back (but not bothersome). Barely over medium-bodied, somewhat linear in mouthfeel, decent complexity, firmly structured, good acidity. Finishes with a flourish of cherry, violets and cedar. Undoubtedly pleasing, if not particularly memorable. Another food friendly wine. I recall J-Lab, Johnny and Greg liked this too. Available at Bacchus for a mere P2000 at full retail.

2005 Peju Province Estate Bottled Zinfandel - Chinkee's bottle, from Napa Valley. At the outset, I must confess that I have very little experience with zinfandels. The wine was sitting in my glass for a few minutes, and, when I sniffed it (without swirling) there was a curious, gamey (but not unpleasant), somewhat animal smell over sweet, minerally dark fruit. Not knowing if this is natural or typical to zinfandels, I passed the glass to J-Lab who swirled and sniffed - and passed it to Johnny R who did the same, then to Arnie, then to Gene. Nobody detected the gamey/animal scent I picked up (most all detected cola, licorice, coffee, minerals, sarsaparilla, clove, etc.).

By the time my glass circled back to me, I sniffed and all the game/animal had disappeared (swirled away, most likely - I have a habit of not swirling or barely/gently swirling because of drinking older French wines) - what was left to me were the sweet, jammy, spicy, minerally, somewhat syrupy, viscous fruit, oak and licorice. Interesting and pleasant enough; I'm not really into zins, but this was ok.

2002 Ridge California Lytton Spring - Arnie's bottle, one he brought home from a wine trip in the US. Smooth, rounded, sleek on the palate, slightly jammy/spicy brambly blackberrries, raspberries, very soft dark fruit underbelly, sweetish. I noted a high 14+% abv on the label, but there didn't seem to be any heat in the nose or palate - in any event, the wine came off quite mature and carried its alcohol admirably well. Nice, I'm surprised I liked it as this is primarily zinfandel per Arnie. My wife liked it and asked for more. Arnie obliged. Thanks, Arnie.

Catha, Jo and Bob awaiting the main course.

Shortly after the Minestrone of Charred Vegetables (I forgot to take a photo of it), Gene brought out the lip-smackingly juicy and delectably tender, dinosaur-sized Fire-Baked Beef Shortribs with Spicy Bourbon Glaze with Baked Corn and Napa Style Cauliflower. I specifically asked for a small but fatty portion and simply loved how it just melted in my mouth. With this hearty dish I enjoyed:

1999 Michele Chiarlo Barbera d'Asti Nizza La Court - My bottle. I've gone through several bottles of this very good barbera d'Asti ever since Alex Lichaytoo recommended it to me and I first tried it at the Stockbroker's impromptu Italian wine lunch at Premium Wine Exchange (9th June 2009). My notes then still hold true, but, with added mild underlying tar, chocolate and well-integrated oak/vanilla:

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.

At only around P2250 full retail at Bacchus, I think this is a very good bargain.

2005 Castello Banfi Cum Laude - Ines' bottle. Like the 2000/2001 Banfi Chianti Classico Riserva, 1999 Castello Banfi Poggio Alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino and 2001 Summus I've had in the past, among other Banfi wines, this wine reflects a plushly, indulgently modern style of Italian wine.

There is a bit of heat in the aromas of green pepper, cassis, blackberries, some cherry, raspberry, plum, mocha, mildly toasty oak, bit of leather, anise and violets. The oak is quite apparent, extraction and concentration high, fruit very ripe and soft, acid low as with the other Banfi lines I've had. Though pleasing enough on the palate and easy to drink, this is a very curious, modern wine in that it is something that will surely stump me (as non-traditional blends tend to) if served blind as I cannot really get a sense of place from it. That said, it's still very young - perhaps a sense of place will emerge in years to come. In any event, I've been curious about this wine and welcomed a chance to try it out.

The Cheese Course of Frico Dutch Master Cheese, Frico Chevette Cheese with Grapes, Dried Fruits and Nuts was served which I had with...

1998 Domaine Le Clos des Cazaux Gigondas Cuvée de La Tour Sarrazine - Bill's bottle. Smells like it's primarily made of grenache. Deeply-veined fruit flavors suggest old vines. There are peppery notes in the red berry and cassis which make me think syrah. Faint suggestions of garrigue and whispers of leather and meatiness. A bit of separation of flavors and raggedness at the finish, but, to me, it adds to the amiable air of rusticity and tradition of this wine. Liked it. Mature. Nice.

Thereafter dessert of Burned Butter Ice Cream with Roasted Pineapple and Pan de Putok was served...

...and, thereafter, the kitchen staff came out to be acknowledged and thanked with a round of applause.

Cups of Vittoria Coffee Oro then followed, perking me up for the long drive home. It was a most enjoyable evening with family and friends, lots of laughs over good food and wine. Doesn't get much better than that. Congratulations to Gene, crew and WSCP, and, as always, I look forward to the next.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Working Wine Lunch for the Commanderie de Bordeaux.

Yesterday, 26 October 2009, was a lunch meeting sponsored by Bacchus International's Alex Lichaytoo at their offices along Amorsolo. We were 11 in all to discuss the organization and inaugural dinner of the Commanderie de Bordeaux Philippine Chapter. I arrived just a little late, catching Alex hard at work with the pasta course while the others were having the salad.

Alex actually made 2 tasty pastas (the sauces available at Bacchus), but, unfortunately, I was so preoccupied eating and tasting, I only got a photo of one of them: with Salsa Tartufata.

I was not the last to arrive. Bernie Sim made his entrance several minutes after I, toting his wine bag as is usually the case.

With the hot bread, good butter, olive oil, salad and pastas on the table, we were treated to excellently prepared (i.e., nicely crusted outside and rare inside) humongous bone-in rib steaks. The quality of the meat was impeccable: goodly amount of fat, juicy, tender but not mushy and no bothersome sinew or gristle...

...a natural accompaniment to the reds on deck: several petits châteaux - some currently available at Bacchus, some under consideration for sale.

L-R: Dong Puno, Alex, Maja Olivares, Alex's daughter opening the wine (I don't mention the names of children unless expressly allowed by the parents), the Vigneron, the Stockbroker, Keiichi & Christine Miki.

2005 Château Lalande-Borie - from St-Julien, owned by the Borie family who count Ducru-Beaucaillou (St-Julien) Grand-Puy-Lacoste and Haut-Batailley (both Pauillac), among others, in their impressive roster of Bordeaux wineries. I can find notes of mine on this château's wines only on their 2000 vintage from late September 2006, though I'm sure I've had a handful of other vintages from them:

Ch. Lalande-Borie 2000 - Opened two bottles of this the past couple of weeks. A charming, typical, inexpensive (around US$25 excluding tax and shipping in CA) St. Julien, it has good balance, respectable depth of dark fruit and cedar and earthy dark spice profiles to its pleasantly rounded body which borders on the full side of medium. This is a very approachable, friendly wine; one I would recommend for those beginning to explore St. Julien's offerings. Good to go now, but should continue to drink well for another, say, 5-7 years.

The 2005 version is very expressive and open at this point, showing off good typicity in its earthy cassis, cedar, hints of leather/pencil shavings/subtle dried herbs/violets and warm asphalt. Well pronounced middle with a good crescendo. Nice harmony and balance on a body several notches over medium, this finishes with a flourish. Masculine, smooth, with notable stylishness yet food-friendly - I can sip this and eat with it was well. Of the petits châteaux served that lunch, I believe this was most everyone's favorite, myself included. I can easily recommend this wine. Available at Bacchus at P2800 full retail.

L-R: Clifford Lichaytoo, the Stockbroker, Vigneron, Alex and Keiichi

2005 Fugue de Nénin - from Pomerol, a wine I can only assume because of its name ("fugue" in musical terms, not the befuddled state of consciousness) is the 2nd wine of Château Nénin, curently owned by the Delons of Léoville las Cases. The merlot dominance is very evident in the plummy, cedar, violet nose. Seemingly refined, but seems a bit closed now and needs to gain a bit of weight and drive on the palate. Pleasant, if not particularly distinctive at this point. Dong Puno shared my opinion on this. Would like to try this again before passing definitive judgment.

L-R: Dong, Bernie, Alex (standing) and Maja

2006 Domaine des Sénéchaux Châteauneuf-du-Pape - An old and respected name in CDP, now owned by J-M Cazes (known best for his Lynch Bages). I'm not very familiar with recent vintages of the Rhône in general, but quick research shows Jancis Robinson and other respected reviewers speak well of it.

This wine's dominant "grapey" scent shows the dominance of grenache (which, as far as I know, is pretty much the norm of CDP blends), with typical garrigue (with thyme and lavender particularly noted) and captivatingly subtle touches of animal (the mourvèdre more than likely) and truffle complexing the moderately spiced fruit. What made me really like this wine were its admirable harmony and balance - not overly hot/alcoholic, exceedingly-ripe and blatantly fruit-forward as many more modernly-styled ones are.

This is smoothly refined, proper and has a classic cut to it. Definitely this is a style I like and prefer. The first few sniffs and sips brought roast venison to mind. Available at Bacchus at around P2600 more or less.

2006 Seigneurs d'Aiguilhe - the second wine of Château d'Aiguilhe in the Côtes de Castillon. Honestly, though I am an admitted fan of Comte von Niepperg's wines in general (especially his Canon la Gaffelière), his d'Aiguille is not a favorite of mine, though some of the Usual Suspects (e.g., Johnny R.) deem it a very good QPR (quality-price-ratio) wine. This 2nd wine, to me, though easily quaffed and charming enough in its barely medium plummy, cherry/raspberry as a casual sip, is not of much interest. That said, it would be more than acceptable as a casual red for sipping and for large parties.

2002 Château Domaine de Chevalier - Bernie's bottle, not a petit château, but a low-key yet, to my mind, excellent Pessac-Léognan producer in the classic style, their '96 vintage of which I have enjoyed many bottles of (the one I entered in an IWFS Blind Tasting of vintage '96 won 1st place). Though '02 is generally a cooly-regarded vintage, especially for those obsessed with sweeping vintage pronouncements of professional reviewers, this wine is, to me, very good in itself.

Typical Domaine de Chevalier, expressive of terroir in its over-medium body and dried herb infused (notably rosemary) in its gravelly, "tar" touched, cassis, cherry, cedar and violets. Not as refined as the much more mature '96, but time will likely make it come together (the rosemary and wood jut out a little bit) and smoothen out even more in a few years. Definite typicity in this. Good show. Even in an off-vintage, Domaine de Chevalier undoubtedly delivered.

2004 Pauillac de Pichon Lalande - Alex told me this is the 3rd wine of Pichon Lalande - their version of a basic Pauillac. It shows some of the characteristics of its terroir, granted (bit of pencil shavings, cedar, dark fruit, cassis), but on a relatively light frame, the fruit of which (as also noted by Alex) is somewhat submerged and thin, putting into question its ability to age for 3-5 years more. That said, when the wine is "worked' in the mouth with a bit of air sucked in, the fruit does emerge more and flesh out a bit. Not bad, but not very interesting. Alex opined, and I agree, that the 2005 would most likely be in better balance and could hold a better and longer plateau.

1999 Domaine la Soumade Rasteau Côtes du Rhône Villages Fleur de Confiance - Bernie's bottle. Let me begin by saying that this is a wine highly rated by Parker (annointed with no less than 94 points, I understand). Let me add that I am a fan of Domaine la Soumade's vin doux naturel - a style they do very well. This is a wine high in alcohol and jammy in its ultra-ripe, forward, somewhat candied fruit, viscous/hefty mouthfeel. There is great depth to the fruit (very old vines likely) and a good level of complexity as well. Those who like this style of wine (I suspect those who like big, bold shiraz will take very easily to this wine) will surely enjoy it. It's not my type of wine, but that's just me.

We wound down with espressos expertly pulled by Alex out of his formidable machine...

...with bites of some sugary confections.

Great lunch and tasting - what a nice way to have a meeting (yes, work was actually accomplished between bites and sips). Thanks, Alex, for generously hosting.