Monday, November 30, 2009

Bacchus' Press Lunch for Jean-Michel Cazes (Château Lynch-Bages).

I'm not quite a member of the press, my occasional wine-related magazine articles hardly qualify me as one. However, for Bacchus' Press Lunch for visiting Château Lynch-Bages proprietor, Jean-Michel Cazes, this past Thursday, the 26th November 2009, at Old Manila, I was asked to attend in Raul Manzano's stead to cover the event. Of course, I readily accepted. Though Metro Society sent Zari over to take photographs, I, naturally, also took some of my own.

L-R Seated: Dave Celdran, Ana Sobrepeña, J-M Cazes

I've actually met J-M Cazes on a few occasions, the first time on the 6th March 2006, at a Bacchus dinner featuring his wines; Jojo Madrid, Gerry de Jesus and I arrived early so we had J-M all to ourselves to chat with for quite a while. The other times I bumped into him were at a couple of wine events in Hong Kong and a few times with the Miailhes in Bordeaux. I've actually toured Château Lynch-Bages once and eaten at its Café Lavinal a few times, the last time being in June 2007 with lady-chefs Myrna Segismundo and Jill Sandique before spending a rainy afternoon at the old town of Pauillac.

L-R: Johnny Litton, Mickey Fenix and Alex Lichaytoo

More importantly, I am very familiar with the grand vin of Lynch Bages, the crown jewel of J-M Cazes stable of wine estates, having repeatedly enjoyed, to the best of my recollection, at least 18 of his vintages, namely: 1982-1983, 1985-1990, 1993-1996, 1998-2001, 2005 and 2006. Obviously, Lynch-Bages is a wine I favor, having gone through my last batch of their 1999s much faster than I should have.

In a nutshell, Lynch Bages is a showpiece for the Pauillac appellation; it's wines are consistently well-crafted, long-lived, displaying a subtle, dignified power, great harmony, complexity and admirable balance in its deep, typical earthy notes of blackcurrant, cassis, cedar, violets, lead pencil shavings, gravel and dark spice. In any event, we were to have several of the wines from J-M's stable during lunch.

Château Lynch-Bages was so named after Thomas Lynch, son of Irish immigrant-businessman John Lynch. Sometime in the early-mid 18th century, Thomas married Elizabeth Drouillard who had inherited vineyards situated in Bages, including those on the Grand-Puy plateau. By the first quarter of the 19th century, the estate was sold to a Swiss wine merchant named Sebastian Jurine, under whose watch Lynch-Bages was classified a 5th growth (cinquième cru) in the 1855 Classification.

Many years, three inheritances and two sales later, Jean-Charles Cazes, J-M's father, purchased the estate in 1939. In 1974, J-M Cazes took full control of Lynch Bages, and, in 2006, passed the baton to his son and father's namesake, Jean-Charles. Prior to this, J-M also headed AXA's wine portfolio for several years until 2001 when he opted to concentrate on expanding the Lynch-Bages group of wineries.

Being already conversant in the history of the estate and familiar with the Cazes family's wines, I had an interesting chat with J-M Cazes and Dave Celdran about agneau de Pauillac, the area's famed baby (milk-fed) lamb, and certain unscrupulous businessmen's attempts at passing on their inferior products as the real deal. In the meantime, some wines were already being poured:

2006 Domaine des Sénéchaux Châteauneuf-du-Pape - I first tried this over a working lunch at the Lichaytoo brothers' Bacchus Kitchen on the 26th October 2009. My notes from that time were as follows:

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 (the area's vintage 2006).

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.

Amusingly, when someone asked how much this wine retails for, I knew Bacchus' price more than Clifford, Bacchus' CFO. I obviously spend too much time at his wine shop.

2005 Michel Lynch Reserve - This red blend falls under the general Médoc Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC). Basically, this means the grapes which made up the wine came from within a specifically delineated, somewhat triangular, albeit not totally contiguous, area in Bordeaux, containing approximately 15,400 hectares of vineyards. The Médoc AOC is subdivided into the northern Bas Médoc and southern Haut Médoc. Within the latter are situated the four most famous communal appellations of (from north to south) St-Estèphe, Pauillac, St-Julien and Margaux; the other two being Listrac and Moulis (both west of Margaux).

This Médoc AOC reserve is mainly composed of cabernet sauvignon and merlot, though I suspect there is possibly a dash of cabernet franc in there somewhere, partially aged in French oak. Named after Thomas Lynch's son, Michel, a famous wine-maker in his own right and the pioneer of the now standard practise of de-stemming, the subject wine has a very approachable masculine suavitée to it. Medium-bodied, smooth, no sharp edges or angularity, it is easy to drink yet retains the proper austerity typical of classic Médocs. Priced at only P600-P700 per bottle, it is ideal for casual, everyday drinking and, in addition, an ideal food-friendly red for weddings and large parties.

There being no white wines served, the 2005 Michel lynch Reserve, the least heavy among the reds present, was the logical choice to pair with the Pan-Seared Sea Scallops, Blue Cheese and Cauliflower Purée, Crisp Spanish Chorizo, Arugula and Black Truffle Oil.

Thereafter, on its own, I tried the...

2005 L'Ostal Cazes Minervois la Livinière - J-M Cazes vinous venture in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France, Minervois la Livinière is a relatively new (created in the late '90s), 200 hectare specific "sub-commune" made up of 6 villages, the most important of which are La Livinière, Cesseras and Siran. As I understand, pursuant to the area's regulations, wines produced must be composed of at least 40% syrah or 40% mourvèdre grapes and the two grapes, together with grenache, must make up at least 60% of the wine. In addition, the wines have to be aged for at least 15 months before bottling, at least 12% alcohol by volume (abv) and yield is limited to 54 hectolitres per hectare.

Generously warm, very concentrated with evident oak lashings, I tasted mostly syrah in this wine and figured it to be pushing above 14% abv. Unabashedly full-bodied, it shows off indulgently rich, sweetishly roasted-ripe black cherry, black currant and raspberry flavors touched with notes of black pepper, tobacco, violets, a touch of dried Provençal herbs and considerable oak. Quite forward and powerful, I'd pair this with hearty roast meats and game, particularly wild duck, boar and venison.

2001 Château Cordeillan-Bages - This is the signature wine of Pauillac's very best hotel which boasts of a 2 Michelin star restaurant run by Thierry Marx. Cordeillan-Bages owns a tiny 2-hectare vineyard in the south of Pauillac, on the gravelly ridge of the plateau de Bages adjacent to the hotel and the wine therefrom is made by the Lynch-Bages team.

I've found vintage 2001 a pretty classic one in general for Haut-Médocs in general, and Pauillac especially, with old-school typicity and admirable structure similar to vintage 1996 - unlike the recent super-ripe, heatwave vintages such as 2003 and 2005 that appeal so much to so-called "California palates". This small production (well under 1000 cases produced annually) is a good example.

Halfway between medium-bodied and full, this was a perfect springboard for the grand vin of the same vintage. Presenting its predominantly cabernet sauvignon profile of black currant, cedar and underlying black coffee discreetly infused with gravel, pencil lead and violets, it foreshadowed on a lighter frame it's bigger brother's serious depth and complexity.

With the main course of Pepper Roasted Rack of Lamb, Pomme Dauphinoise, Vegetable Ratatouille, Confit of Garlic and Thyme Jus, I had the grand vin.

2001 Château Lynch Bages - I tried this at twice before if memory serves; surely once in an International Wine & Food Society function but I wrote no notes thereon. The 2001 harvest for the grand vin vineyards began on the 2nd of October starting with the earlier-ripening merlot with cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc following a few days later. The weather cooperated with sunny to cloudy days and high temperatures that allowed for healthy ripening.

Moderately fuller and heftier than the 2001 Cordeillan-Bages and with evidently greater depth and complexity, the grand vin of the same vintage discloses earth, leather and subtle warm asphalt and tobacco nuances underlying the slightly smokey dark fruit, cassis, pencil lead, cedar and violets. Its mouth-feel is also more rounded, the middle more pronounced, with good crescendo and expressiveness without at all being loud or over-bearing. Classically cut, its acidity and structure are noteworthy, as well as its moderately long finish.

This was easily the best wine of the lot, which is hardly surprising. Dessert followed, an indulgent Chocolate Truffle Cake with Honey Ice Cream. It sounds simple, but, though I am not overly fond of rich desserts, it was delicious.

A bracing double espresso during discussions on vine stress, vineyard density and the significance of the number of grapes on each plant brought a close to wonderful lunch. In all, it only remains to be said that we are all most fortunate to have a wide range of J-M Cazes' wines locally available through Bacchus International. In this, the essence of Pauillac, Bordeaux, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Languedoc-Roussillon is but a mere sip away.

Seated: J-M Cazes; Standing L-R: David Celdran, Alex Lichaytoo, myself & Clifford Lichaytoo

Sunday, November 29, 2009

WSCP René Barbier-Freixenet Christmas Dinner 2009.

This past Wednesday, the 25th November 2009, was the Wine & Spirits Club Philippines' (WSCP) Christmas party at Gene Gonzalez's Café Ysabel. All the wines and some of the ingredients were sponsored by the Palileo family's ADP Enterprises, Inc., courtesy of Aaron Palileo and his wife, Joanne (a.k.a., "Jo").

My youngest brother-in-law, Topsy, and his girlfriend, Michi, came along. Unfortunately, my brother, Tad, is still out of the country and his wife, Chako, was sick, so neither of them could join. We arrived at around 7:30, so many WSCP regulars were already there, including J-Lab; Nelson and guests; and, former schoolmates Marty and Dickie.

L-R: Topsy & Michi; Greg & Jeanette; Gino & China; Arnie

Nelson & guest; J-Lab

The Menu

The evening began with welcome glasses of 2 kinds of cava and Aaron's newly available albariño from Rías Baixas...

Freixenet Cordon Rosado Brut - I first tried this in February 2009 during a kokotxas dinner at La Tienda. My notes then were as follows:

Freixenet Cordon Rosado Brut - A most festive looking Catalunya cava from J-Lab who always must have some bubbly to start (good for the rest of us!). Tastes like there's quite a bit of granacha in this juicy, rounded, fruity, fresh strawberry, raspberry and red fruited bubbly. There is a slight softness and candied nuance to the fruit as a whole which make this very easy to drink a lot of. The bubbles, though, bring exuberance and liveliness to this charming and simply disarming cava.

This would be very approachable to many, I'm sure, and, more than likely, very reasonably priced as well. Great for the beach, big parties and any general light-hearted get-together of friends. We enjoyed this with a few bite-sized slices of boiled chorizo which were very flavorful and spicy despite not being fried (a less guilty indulgence indeed)....

Freixenet Cava Primer Cuvée Brut - A rather straightforward, fresh, crisp, bright and pleasant cava, this presents green apple, citrus (there's a bit of lime in there) and mere hints of pear, zesty yeasty topnote, frothy middle. Good acidity makes this come off as very fresh and cleansing. Very easy to drink a lot of this. Liked it with the mejillones (a.k.a., mussels) and croquetas.

Another fine, traditional/regional match for the mussels was...

2008 Vionta Albariño - From Rías Baixas in Galicia. I first tried this at Aaron's Spanish Wine Dinner at La Tienda on the 10th August 2009. Paired with almejas, escalivadas and boquerónes, it was a big hit with everyone, especially the members of the UK contingent. It wasn't yet available for sale then, but it is now. My notes were as follows:

2008 Vionta Albariño - a newly locally available albariño hailing from Rías Baixas, Galicia, perfectly paired with the almejas and boquerónes (Miguel deftly kept a plate of the latter aside for this wine). With clean flavors of green apple, ripe pear (in the middle), white peach, bit of ripe citrus and a hint of fennel, this was undoubtedly one of the wines of the evening. Paired with the seafood tapas (as well it should as this is the traditional/regional pairing in Galicia), it drew enthused comments from Aled Morris, Dave Stockdale, Brendan Egan and John Harvey. Chef Javi even took a quick break from the kitchen to savor a glass of this wine.

Gene then stopped by our table and my wife re-introduced him to my brother-in-law who I first took to the original Café Ysabel (then on Wilson Street) when Topsy was around 9 or 10 years old. Topsy still remembers the giant chocolate chip cookies of the old Café Ysabel - that was over 20 years ago.

Since then, Topsy, with my father-in-law, would regularly eat at Gene's Lasap and Café Ysabel when they used to hold office office at the nearby Home Cable compound in the mid-to-late '90s.

Gene then took the floor, welcomed everyone, introduced the new/first attendance members and guests, thanked Aaron and ADP Enterprises, and gave everyone a brief run-down of the night's menu.

The pica-picas and tapa courses done, dinner proper was served.

With some hot, freshly baked bread, we had my favorite of the evening's reds.

1999 René Barbier Gran Reserva - This is the third time I've had this wine, and I've liked it every single time. At around P1100-1200/bottle, this is an absolute steal for a good, mature Penedés tinto gran reserva. My previous notes are brief, but still applicable.

This was a suave, confident, more complex wine with violets on the nose and chocolate, leather and slight kirsch to the mellowed, well-knit, softly mature fruit. Warm and somber. I would buy this wine and could definitely drink this on rainy evenings at home.

Those whose tastes lean towards new world fruit bombs may find this "over-the-hill" or "fruit-faded", but old world palates like mine, used to mature wines, I would think will appreciate more this wine's quiet, confident serenity. Confidently recommended.

Next was a Soup of Bacalao with Cidacos White Beans...

..followed by a nice "Fideuà" of Gallo Maccheroni with Sauce Romesco with...

Cosme always used to be the one to serve Topsy in Café Ysabel back in the '90s, and until today.

2005 Château Trimoulet - A first for me. I'd never before had wine from this St-Emilion producer. At this early stage, the wine comes off as a bit rustic and old school. It exhibits typical dark plum and black cherry with minor notes of blackberry, espresso, violats, bit of cigar ash and slight spice . The wood/oak-related notes are very mild, leading me to suspect that little new oak is used in the ageing barrels and those have moderate/judicious toasting (good things for me as many seem to have gone whole hog on new oak in 2005 - probably thinking the extremely rich, ripe fruit of '05 could take a lot more of it). Nice balance, good typicity. At P2000/per bottle for a 2005 St-Emilion, it's good to go.

I used quotation marks on the "fideuà" because the noodle used isn't the traditional one of Valencia, but, for me, this was a very nice dish. I ate three servings of it.

This was followed by my other favorite dish of the evening: Charred Lamb with Cidacos Lentil Salad & Fresh Peppercorn Sauce, paired with...

2005 Château Preuillac - Another new one for me, my first taste from this (Médoc) château. Relatively firmly structured, fleshy and definitely ripe-fruited - true to the vintage. This is obviously young and primary and, as far as I could see, was not decanted for aeration beforehand - so I don't think it was fully opened up. That said, its rounded and fleshy, almost chewy, dominant dark fruit (good amount of plumminess suggests a lot of merlot in the blend) and mild oak (like the Trimoulet, probably not much new oak used) on a slightly over medium body was quite pleasing.

This is not to say this is a fruit bomb, as the acidity and structure are definitely firm. I'd hazard this will hit full stride within 4-6 years. At a mere P1700/per bottle for a 2005 Bordeaux, this suits me and I can (and do) recommend it.

I realize now that I had the two red Bordeaux in switched order in pairing. Not to matter, though, as I do prefer left banks to right when having roasted lamb.

Dessert then followed, an Orion Ice Cream Bombe. One doesn't get to eat the once popular bombes that often these days (the ones made in the old-style spherical molds). A pity, because I do enjoy them. With this we had...

2005 Château Romer - Yet another introductory taste for me. I've never had this producer's wine before. Rather straightforward at this point (as it is very young especially for a Sauternes) in its honeyed, moderately tangy apricot, candied lemon, canned cling peach and lightly creamy oak/vanilla notes. Good acidity, not at all cloyingly sweet. Medium-bodied, good enough focus and a user-friendly character to it. This has many years to go but is already enjoyable, especially when juxtaposed with the cold, creamy bombe.

At P3200/bottle for a 2005 Sauternes, it seems a fair price; after all, a 750ml of Sauternes, for me, is good for up to 14-15 persons - so that comes to roughly around only P214-P230 per pour at full retail. Not bad at all.

Gene then called out his kitchen crew to receive our thanks.

I recall Greg particularly wanted to meet the one who made the lamb course. I could well understand as the lamb was my favorite dish of the evening as well.

Gene then offered us all a bonus eau de vie as a digestif...

2000 Torres Aqua d'Or - Gene said something about something in this wine being extinct. Having consumed a number of glasses by the time, though, I really didn't catch exactly what that was which is extinct - whether the bottling, the process or a grape used therein. A quick check on the web shows that it is an eau de vie (a.k.a., agua de vida), particularly a spirit somewhat similar to grappa except that the former is distilled from white wine (instead of leftover skins and pips), the grapes of which are folle blanch*, moscato d'Asti and trebbiano.

This is a lightly sweet spirit (sweeter than any grappa I've had, anyway), very accessible, with a comfortable warmth. Quite nice actually. As far as I know, however, the only bottles of this in the Philippines are in Gene's cellar.

*Curiously and tangentially, I first got to know about this grape in an e-mail exchange early last month with Garikoitz Rios, the Agricultural Engineer and Technical Director of Bodegas Itsasmendi Upategia (Gernika, Bizkaia in the Basque region). Though it is a grape typically used in Cognac and Armagnac, Gari said it is considered "de muy poco valor enologico" in País Vasco.

Night deepened, encroaching on the day, most others had already taken their leave, with J-lab, my wife and I lingering with Gene over the Aqua d'Or and old stories. It was another fun evening with the WSCP thanks to Aaron and Gene. As always, until the next.

Final Commanderie Lunch Meeting.

The final lunch meeting for the Commanderie de Bordeaux Manila inaugural dinner took place this past Tuesday, the 24th November 2009, at the Bacchus Kitchen. The guests from Bordeaux, Hong Hong, Jakarta, Singapore, etc. would be arriving in a few days for the event and Alex wanted to put the finishing touches on everything. We also had to fit the ceremonial robes we were to wear during our induction. Aside from Alex and a F&B representative from the Manila Peninsula, the Stockbroker and Oscar were already there when I arrived.

Discussions started with yet another beautifully crisp salad (with artichokes this time) and a report on the number of people attending.

We got to pick and choose our own dressings from a choice of 3.

Initially, it was planned that the inaugural dinner was to be for 100 people, but we wound up expanding to around 120, more-or-less, with a reported 30++ person waiting list. All of us who had committed a table of 10 each two meetings ago had already delivered and paid up. The Vigneron had delivered a lot more.

There was some nice, earthy pasta on the table, as well as a platter of seared corned beef slices. Alex offered to cook everyone up some burgers, but I declined. The foregoing was more than enough for me.

Having over-indulged in wining and dining the past couple of weeks, I was happy with a relatively light lunch and was, actually, a bit relieved to see no open bottles of wine. I figured, at least this way, we would surely get more work done and quickly....or so I thought.

Alex couldn't help himself and started breaking out more goodies from his Rockwell Epicerie for us to try, starting with some smoked salmon and smoked salmon belly. I accepted just a tiny bit, just to see the difference - the smoked salmon belly was a lot creamier, yet delicately flavored.

My personal favorites were the melt-in-your-mouth Smoked Magret de Canard...

...and the sinfully good seared-then-roasted foie gras. The latter, is, as I understood, a relatively new product they are selling at the Epicerie - a lot of individual single, serving-sized cuts of foie that are blast frozen and come in a resealable bag. Thus, one doesn't have to thaw and cook a whole foie every time serves it at home (like I have always done). Incredibly convenient. Easy to cook as well since you don't have to carefully slice up the foie and risk crumbling the stuff.

Per Alex and Clifford, you simply take from the bag as many slices you want each time, sear each side over medium heat until caramelized (approximately 1-2 minutes per side) and pop in a 350º oven for another minute or two. Voila - instant foie gras. The Stockbroker bought a whole bag for his wife right then and there. It is very good quality, and most convenient to have at home.

By that time, Bernie and Gaita had arrived; Bernie breaking out 3 bottles - 2 reds and a sweet wine (the latter for the foie and dessert) while Alex commenced fitting Gaita for her robe for the event. Since Gaita is quite petite, I think her robe was the only one that really needed any work. For those of us "robust" individuals, well, the robes were just fine as-is. I recall Gaita updating the group regarding the floral arrangements, table set-up, etc. which Maja was also attending to.

I gave a run-down on the inductees' individual resumés that I had already received and assured the group that I could write up all the introductions before the event for Felicia and I to read.

In the meantime, Clifford arrived and the wines had begun to pour...

...starting with...

1998 Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon - I think this is the first time I've tried an Aussie red from Bernie, and am sure this is the first time I've heard about this producer (not that I know much about Aussie wine). Bernie and the Stockbroker told me that it was a very Bordeaux-esque wine and could possibly be mistaken for one if tasted blind.

It was, to me, at first blush, more concentrated and extracted than a typical Médoc (that which I am used to anyway), with a pronounced, rich, sweetish, ripeness - but not over-the-top. This, with a marked fruit-forwardness indicated "new world" to me, but, then, it wasn't served blind. Well-integrated, moderately toasty oak permeated crème de cassis, dark plum/fruit compote, sweet pipe tobacco, toffee, licorice and dark minerality. Bit of smokiness as well.

Quite a long finish with a somewhat dense, indulgently round and soft, mouthfeel. The alcohol is evidently on the high side, but, noteworthy is the good acidic balance in this wine. In all, this was clearly the best balanced Aussie cabernet sauvignon blend I've ever tried.

Bernie had one of Alex's burgers as his main course. What does a 6-term president and wine master of the International Wine & Food Society have with his burger, you may ask?

1997 Château Pavie Macquin - I do enjoy trying out so-called "off-vintage" Bordeaux from good makers - relishing finding ones that thumb their noses at professional reviewers' sweeping vintage assessments and, occasionally, precipitately dismissive notes. One such less than a year ago was a forgotten 1997 Château Lascombes that I found deep in my father's cav late last December. For notes on a dinner featuring other good off-vintage wines, click on this.

This is yet another good wine from 1997. It has a charmingly rustic character to its fleshy, well-concentrated, molten dark plum, black cherry, underlying cassis/blackcurrant, violets, dark minerals, hints of leather and tobacco ash and well-integrated oak. Halfway between medium and full body, with notable structure considering the vintage. Notable depth. Efforts like this in a vintage considered weak by most surely helped in the producer's promotion to the rank of premier grand cru classé in the 2006 St-Emilion re-classification.

With the above-mentioned foie gras and as dessert, we enjoyed...

1989 Domaine André Ostertag Pinot Gris Sélection de Grains Nobles - Opulent, thick, luxuriously lush and rounded (it is botrytised after all), spicy-and-floral, sweet/honeyed kumquat, super-ripe peach, confited pear and pineapple with hefty, well-integrated vanilla/oak. Acidity was pretty much adequate, keeping the wine from being too cloyingly sweet. Very nice with the foie and well-suited as dessert in itself.

Work done, the Stockbroker and I lingered a while longer with Clifford. Good meeting; we looked to be pretty well prepared for the coming Commanderie event. Thanks, as always, to Alex for the food, and, of course, to Bernie for the wines. If anyone is wondering where to purchase any of the ingredients/products that composed our repast, they are readily available at Bacchus' Epicerie in Rockwell.