Saturday, November 14, 2009

Blind Burger Pairing Challenge at Elbert's Steak Room.

Around 2 months ago, Keiichi posted on WSCP about a special burger he had at Elbert's Steak Room - "handchop high-quality beef, add bone marrow and onion, grill it and serve it with brown mushroom sauce", he reported. Thus, during J-Lab's birthday wine lunch at Toki, the Usual Suspects decided to try out this special burger and hold a blind burger-pairing challenge at the same time. The point would be to see who could bring the wine that best pairs with a good hamburger.

Miguel organized things with Elbert and, yesterday, Friday the 13th November 2009, 7 of us (Johnny was out of town and Aaron was busy) gathered at the Steak Room's private dining room for our little event. Unfortunately, since the special burgers are made of steak trimmings, there wasn't enough to make special burgers for all of us, and, since it was a wine-pairing challenge, we all had to have the same kind of burger. Thus, we all ordered the set burger lunch - a great deal, mind you - at only around P600 all-in, one gets a really nice, filling burger, fries, as well as a choice of soup or salad.

Mig and Greg were the first ones to arrive, the Stockbroker following shortly. Once we were complete, orders made, we settled in and started pouring and sniffing our wines. We couldn't really start drinking since we had to pair the wines with the burgers. I didn't take a single sip until they were served, but did write down my notes on their aromas.

L-R: Miguel, the Stockbroker and Greg

L-R: Arnie, J-Lab and Keiichi

I had to take a short break from nosing my wines when the salad arrived since the smell of the sesame oil in the Asian dressing interfered.

Excellent salad it was, though, the greens impeccably fresh, crisp, clean, the dressing lightly sweetish and balanced nicely with vinegar, the sesame adding a nice touch of savory-nuttiness.

The Burger

It took some will-power not to gobble it down in a trice as I had to save at least a bite for each of the 7 wines to be able to properly judge the individual pairings. This took some time, and since I eat and taste more slowly than most everyone else, everyone was done way before me, so I had to rush my pairing evaluation. As a result, I was not able to write complete tasting/pairing notes on everything.

J-lab collected and tallied the votes. Having forgotten to bring paper and pen, I borrowed a pencil and scribbled my notes on an extra brown paper bag. J-Lab and some others found it funny-looking and had a good laugh over it.

As J-Lab was computing the results, the Stockbroker, who always brings a special bottle for everyone after a tasting such as this, set off a roar of laughter when he threatened to withhold his special bottle and take it home with him if his wine gets voted last place.

Between his staccato bursts and Greg's booming laughter, it's a wonder anyone's eardrums made it out intact.

As J-Lab was about to announce the rankings while the Stockbroker simultaneously unveils the wines, Keiichi, for some reason, rubbed his hands in gleeful anticipation. "He must have brought a dynamite wine", I thought to myself.

The Results Announced in Ascending Order:

7th Place: 2008 Ferrand Beaujolais Nouveau - Keiichi's bottle. During the evaluation, most everyone found it to be strange, light and watery - most likely way too light to pair with the burger. I think the Stockbroker, Arnie and J-Lab nailed it as gamay/Beaujolais. My notes just say it had a "resiny smell with pine and cherry fruit". Three cheers for Keiichi for his audacity and temerity in bringing last year's Beaujolais Nouveau to this event!

Some kidded him that he'd still be invited to our lunches, though, but solely because he is such a fun fellow to be around (obviously a joke, of course, as Keiichi, like the Stockbroker, is more than generous in sharing his rarefied wines - once, no less than a 1997 Domaine de la Romanée Conti Grands Échézeaux).

6th Place: 2004 Antinori Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva - My bottle. I'd never had it before, but went through many of their excellent value 2001 vintage. Personally, I voted this my 3rd best pairing with the burger. My notes were "Nose of barnyard, pine, cedar, raspberry, cherry, grapey. Mouth: Broad and chocolatey."

5th Place: 2006 Orin Swift "The Prisoner" - The Stockbroker's bottle, a zinfandel. My notes state, among others: "Sweet, somewhat hot nose, brambly cherry fruit, tinny, pepper topnote. Syrah? Sweet candy."

4th Place: 2005 Alvaro Palacios Remondo Propiedad - Miguel's bottle. I voted this 2nd best pairing with the burger, briefly noting its aromas as: Toasty, creamy/oak, crème de cassis.

3rd Place: 2003 Alvaro Palacios Bierzo Moncerbal - J-Lab's bottle, actually tied with the next wine but relegated to 3rd place as the latter was less expensive. "Grapey, pepper, herbaceous, sweet red fruit, resiny, raisiny fruit" scents noted. Though I love this pricey high-end Bierzo of Alavaro Palacios, I noted that the burger pairing gave the wine's back-end and finish a strange "rusty" note.

2nd Place: 1999 Château Poujeaux - Greg's bottle, from a cru bourgeoise Moulis producer long and widely considered over-performing in its category and price range. I recall one IWFS blind tasting of 1996 cru bourgeoise and 2nd wines of top growths - the 1999 Poujeaux was a landslide winner. Back on topic, though, I did not find it (though I was clearly in the minority) a good pairing with the burger. "Very reticent nose, little sweet red fruit/berry".

1st Place: 2000 Ninquén - Arnie's wine, a top bottling cabernet sauvignon blend of Mont Gras, as I understand. Everybody voted this the best pairing with the burger, except the Stockbroker and J-Lab who voted it second best pairing. My notes were: Nose: pine, resin, sharper/better defined fruit, coffee, sweet topnotes. And so it came to pass that Arnie was crowned the group's official Burger Pairing King.

A few more bottles were opened thereafter - one was a very refreshing, nicely dry, bitterish berry Oregon beer named Rogue Juniper Pale Ale that Elbert told Keiichi and I about. I initially didn't want to mix my wine with beer, but couldn't resist trying something new. Now I'm no beer drinker, far from it, but this I found very nice and certainly wouldn't mind having again.

There was another one Elbert told us about and recommended it to pair with his steaks. I forgot its name, though, and neglected to take a photo of it.

In the meantime, the Stockbroker had opened his bonus bottle of...

2000 Château Pavie Macquin - A good year in general for Bordeaux. The Stockbroker didn't seem very happy with this particular bottle for some reason. I thought it was ok though - a bit restrained in its moderately earthy, dark, ripe plum, cedar underlying blackcurrant, cassis and leather, and nothing really memorable, but definitely nice enough. I guess having such nicely aged top second growth Médocs from our lunch at RED the day before primed his palate to expect too much.

2008 Navarro Vineyards Muscat Blanc - Arnie's bottle, I had this in lieu of the dessert. In the nose, a fresh, sweet, forward, open grapey scent, joined by notes of mango and suggestions of passionfruit, bit of toasty oak in there definitely, but the acidity gave it an over-all refreshing lift. Though I'm not a fan of muscat blanc wines, this was pleasant, charming, if simple, wine.

Blandy's de Madeira Malmsey 15 Years - J-Lab's bottle. Moderately sweet toffee, raisins, Turkish coffee, with hints of burnt caramel and muscovado. Nice mid-palate, but funnels rather thinly to the finish. Pleasant enough, but the finish threw me off a bit. I think J-Lab agreed with me. Still, I'm happy to have been able to try this.

Thanks, everyone, for sharing your wines and company. I thought it was a very fun lunch indeed, one I hope to repeat soon. That burger is a really good deal, but I'd still like to try the special version. The only damper of the day was that Greg's car got towed away for being parked past the 3-hour limit, but Miguel kindly drove him to the nearby station and Greg quickly got his car back. No harm done.

Until the next burger!


Miguel said...

I must say, the food pictures are excellent. Might be a good idea to just keep the camera and not return it.

Had a lot of fun during the lunch, as seen in the pictures..

Anonymous said...

For notes written on a paper bag, these aren't bad! Minor correction, I voted the Ninquen (note the final letter is n not m)my #2 wine. My #1 was the Orrin Swift. My notes will be up by Monday.


Noel said...

Mig, thanks, I'll certainly try to keep it! Heh heh. Now that I'm starting to learn a little how to use it...let's see how that works out....

J, thanks. Heh heh. Wala kasing ibang papel na magamit. Thanks too for the corrections, I've revised the post accordingly.

Best to you both,


Chinkee said...

Hi Noel! Interesting notes, as usual. Based on the little knowledge I have about wines, I would have assumed that the zin would do well with this pairing. Why didn't it work out?

Noel said...

No idea about the others, Chinkee, but I thought it was too sweet. J-Lab voted the zin as his best pairing though.


Anonymous said...

Hi Chinkee,

Yes, the zin was sweet but I thought it was the only wine which had the power to stand up to the flavor of the burger. I thought the other wines were subdued by the meat. In our pre-lunch discussion, we alked about ideal pairings and Coke and rootbeer came up. The zin was the one mot like a soda so that's why I guess I chose it #1. My notes to follow shortly.