Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tasting 2000 Vega Sicilia Único et al. with Pintxos @ Terry's 2º Piso.

Last night, 15th March 2010, we gathered at Terry's 2ºPiso for JC's pre-release tasting of the 2000 Vega Sicilia Único Gran Reserva. I was supposed to join the Stockbroker (who couldn't join us later that evening due to an early meeting the next day) and J-Lab at PWX for a bottle before this event, but, unfortunately, I got stuck at the office.

For those not familiar, Vega Sicilia is a legendary producer from Spain's Ribera del Duero region and Único is their top label. Made from the fruit of older vines, matured in oak for at least 7 years and in bottle for at least 3 more before release*, the Único bottling is always grand reserva level. Único is not made every year, only when the harvest is deemed good enough in accordance with Vega Sicilia's perfectionist standards.

*for regular 750ml bottles; larger formats are released even later.

We were 9 in all that night; aside from JC, in attendance were the Doc, Eric, J-Lab, Rene, Keiichi, Paco, my wife and I.

Antonio (owner of Mabolo Flowers and JC's brother-in-law) was holding court at another long table across the restaurant that evening. My wife and I were happy to see him as it's been several months since we got together.

We started off with...

2005 Bastianich Tocai Plus (Magnum) - Doc's bottle. Very deeply-veined, somewhat creamy pear, herbs, very slight grassy/gooseberry nuance with undertones of oak and (unsweetened) almond paste bitterness. The round, soft, fleshy fruit is very, very ripe - like a vendange tardive almost - and has a touch of sweet-ripeness until past mid-mouth where the almond paste bitterness creeps in and continues to a nicely dry finish. Always good to try something new. The wine was well-received - there was nothing left of the magnum and people were looking for more.

The preliminary red was...

2004 Castillo de Villafranca Bierzo - JC's bottle, one from Bierzo, composed of pure mencía. j-lab's notes and mine are virtually identical - we certainly were smelling and drinking the same wine. It had a compelling aroma of dark fruit, rose petal, very slight toasty oak spice (bit of a cinnamon note), sweetish roasted herbs, thick/dark soy, nuance of roast meat. These were mirrored on the mouth in a smooth, medium body with a hint of caramel mixing with the unobtrusive toasty oak spice towards the back and in the finish. Nice and very easy to drink. Adequate complexity and notable balance. Available at Terry's Selection.

Next was the evening's raison d'être:

2000 Vega Sicilia Único - JC's bottle. As mentioned earlier, this bottle, yet to be released to the public (but it will be most likely lin the latter part of the year), was given to JC by Vega Sicilia owner, Pablo Álvarez when the latter was here over 2 years ago.

The wine was decanted for aeration for around 45 minutes before poured, was initially a bit tight, so I let it sit in my glass for around 20 minutes more. The aroma, though a bit shy (it is very young for an Único, after all),was graceful - of intricately woven notes of deep red cherry, black currant, violets, vague whisper of new leather, some raspberry and mild cedar. On the palate, minor strawberry, discreet dark minerality, licorice and underlying plum notes joined in. Dignified, understated and complex, it readily showed more weight than the preceding red and brighter lifting acidity as well. Still young of course, but already pleasurable. Admirable poise, balance and over-all elegance.

JC poured me a little more and J-Lab and I kept our bit of Único to see how it progresses. In sum, the wine opened/released sweetly in the nose, but remained pretty much the same on the palate when I re-visited it later in the evening. Another fine one from Vega Sicilia.

JC pointed out that the little design on the top of the cork is actually a micro-chip, there to make sure all corks are right side up, to enable the producer's name and wine's vintage to be printed horizontaly across the cork whereas all others (if printed at all) are printed vertically...

...ready to be examined once pulled from the bottle - another indication of the producer's obsessive quest for perfection. This is aside from the fact that Vega Sicilia has the most stringent standards in choosing the corks for this wine.

Little did we know we were to be treated to yet another wine from Vega Sicilia that evening.

2001 Vega Sicilia Tinto Valbuena 5º - Doc's bottle. He mentioned that there was no Único produced in 2001 and the fruit from the otherwise Único-designated vines went into the Valbuena 5º that year. Marginally leaner and not as deep than the Único and with strawberry and cedar making a relatively stronger statement. Firm structure and healthy acidity, tartish cherry and a hint of violets follow through in the moderate finish. Though nice enough now, I think this is still quite young and will show better with, say, 3-5 more years in bottle.

The pintxos (i.e., tapas) destined for Terry's 2ºPiso menu then started making their way to the table in succession...

...JC briefly introducing each dish to us with the depth and insight only he really manages to muster and verbalize.

Perfect for the summer, fresh clams with a shot of cool, re-invigorating gazpacho.

This was easily one of my favorites of the night. I'd pair this with a nicely chilled bottle of 2008 Laxas Albariño from the downsatirs deli.

Rillettes of Pork and, the other, Goose Liver. Though we loved them both, it seemed that a few more preferred the pork rillettes. I, personally, will always have them bothm but do slightly favor the goose liver rillette. I believe Doc's 2005 Bastianich Tocai Plus could have paired well with both.

Fresh local anchovy stuffed with tapenade en croûte with a fresh dill garnish. Another big hit with the group, another of my favorites of the evening. This is the first time I've had fresh anchovies with a dab of tapenade, the olives' flavor gave a good, earthy underpinning to the fish and, I believe the olive oil used brought a slight, complexing nuance of pepper to the mix. Superb. Again, thoughts of albariño came to mind.

JC always seems to be deep in thought despite us noisily devouring his new dishes - most likely he is already mentally orchestrating flavors for new dishes to delight us with.

Chistorra wrapped in a thin, crunchy potato crisp, perched atop a cube of Manchego. Nothing more need be said. My children will demolish several platters of this, I'm sure.

An hojaldrito stuffed chopped scallops with precise touch of savory bechamel-like sauce inside. Delicious. Nicely flakey outside, intensely flavorful and just slightly creamy inside.

Prawns wrapped in jamón de Teruel atop delicately fried risotto balls (the latter a.k.a., arancini). These went very fast.

I'm sure this will be a popular dish. Prawn, ham and risotto. What's not to love?

A couple more reds were opened.

2001 Bodegas Olarra Cerro Añon Gran Reserva - I ordered this from Terry's wine list. Though I've tried this before beside the '99 version, it was during a party at home during which I was cooking, so I wasn't really able to pay too much attention at the time though I did like it then. Always good to revisit a wine.

Though poured into a decanter, the wine didn't spend much time therein, so I let it breathe while I finished my share of the '01 Valbuena 5º. I committed the wine to memory, discussed it briefly with JC, re-read my previous notes, and they are consistent with my thoughts last night:

I finally get to try the currently available vintage of this favored Riojan producer. The flavors and scents are, of course, quite similar to the aforementioned '99 vintage, but this one is slightly less open (well, it is 2 years younger), the fruit seems a bit riper and, at this point, the dark fruit, licorice, hint of tobacco and slightly creamy oak hold sway over the red. Firm in structure, it comes off more masculine. Good wine. I'm sure it will age gracefully as well. Both were fine matches for the herb-encrusted roasted lamb racks.

This is a rare red in that it seems to easily pair with seafood. I recall that the first time I tried the '99 version, it was paired and married well with a Pan-Seared Scallop with Fricasée of Spring Vegetables in Cabernet Sauvignon Sauce. This time, both my wife and JC noted that the subject 2001 vintage paired well with the Gratin de Ostras en Crema de Manchego y Espinacas that we also previously enjoyed at Una Noche Riojana.

1996 Château Talbot - Doc's bottle. Pungent with a rather aggressive sweaty character, with scents of iodine, ammonia and blood - fading after a while but still there for sure. Now I'm respectably experienced with Bordeaux, and I do love Bordeaux and appreciate a touch of bretty meat, blood and animal in my rouges, but this was a bit too much for me. I also found it a bit difficult suddenly switching to St-Julien after 3 good Riojas. That said, in the mouth, it seemed quite properly dry, austere, with loamy blackcurrant, black cherry, faint iron (vaguely sanguine), old leather, pinch of tobacco, whisper of anise and, of course, gentle cedar. Rigid in the way '96 Médocs generally are. I couldn't quite get past the aggressive pungency, though I did eventually finish my glass. Judgment reserved. I'll have to try this again to be fair to the wine...

...though Keiichi didn't perceive any flaws in it and favored the subject wine that evening. I brought and offered to open my bottle of 1995 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 890, but it was decided that it would be saved for our next get-together at 2ºPiso; so we segued to...

..savory, fruity roquefort with membrillo from Jumilla, paired with a bottle of 1997 Château d'Arche (file photo) - Keiichi's bottle, ordered from Terry's wine list. I've had this a little over a year ago during the Alabang group's dinner by Ian Padilla, paired with Salt-Cured Torchon of Foie Gras Vegetables á la Greque, Port Reduction, Muscat Jelly.

This is a mid-weight Sauternes that looks to be fully mature in color, though it is not old at all by Sauternes standards at just under 13 years from vintage. Lighter on its feet than I recall the last bottle, it is moderately sweet with an orange rind base. This spurred a brief discussion with JC on the old politics of Sauternes and Barsac and the basic differences between the 2 areas' respective wines.This is not a bombastic, "Hey, look at me"or "Get a load of this!" type of sweet wine; it is svelte, honest, with an air of wistfulness.

Thereafter, we had little pastries filled with real-deal, pure marzipan; so good that we gobbled them up before I got a chance to take a photo of it. I recall JC saying that the Doc's white would have been a good match (most probably because of the dry almond-paste notes of the latter with the moderately sweet marzipan of the former).

Thereafter, we were pretty much done, finishing up with a light, fresh, dry, yeasty, palate-cleansing-and-rejuvenating
Masachs Cava Brut Nature NV that J-Lab ordered from the list. After a couple of pours, I felt I could start drinking all over again. But we prudently stopped there and called it a night.

Thanks to all for the excellent food, fine wines and stellar company! ¡Hasta la proxima!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Crab, Clams & Txakolí.

After lunch at Toki, we continued with seafood for dinner at my dad's house last night (Sunday, the 7th March 2010). We were 10 in all, including the kids and, CJ, one of my youngest sister's colleagues in her Reading Clinic. After some white wine with the usual pica-picas of assorted cheeses, chorizo, Parma ham, olives at the lanai, we moved to the dining room for dinner proper.

Steamed Diwal (a.k.a., Angel Wing Clams).

Steamed Crabs.

L-R: Humba - (a local dish of Pig's Trotter (or Pork Belly) Braised in shaoxing, white vinegar, palm sugar, soy sauce, with garlic, preserved black beans, banana blossoms, etc.; Pinangat - a version of laing from my dad's hometown of Daraga, Albay (essentially, a "package" of pork wrapped in layers of young gabi (yam) leaves cooked in fresh coconut cream with long, green chilis).

With the crab and Angel Wing Clams, I opened a bottle of...

2008 Bodegas ItsasMendi Nº7 Txakolí - I've gone through probably 4 or 5 bottles of this over the past 6-8 months, ever since Miguel brought me back some bottles from one of his trips to Spain. My last notes were from a lunch at La Tienda with him, Keiichi and Jean d'Orival in early October 2009.

2008 Itsas Mendi 7 Txakolí - My bottle, from a batch that Miguel brought in for me from Spain. Txakolí is a traditional Basque wine (made of hondarrabi zuri grapes) from the D.O. Bizkaiko Txakolina, particularly from Guernica (or "Gernika" as the Basques spell it). The only other txakolí I've tried was the 2008 Txomin Etxaniz (24 June 2009, lunch at La Tienda). Of the 2008 Itsas Mendi 7, this is the second bottle I've opened, the first one very recently at Miguel A's (why are so many Spanish-mestizo friends named "Miguel"?) 12 September 2009 dinner at Elbert's Steak Room. My notes of that bottle, still applicable, are as follows:

Txakolí is a very dry, light, vaguely spritzy white wine that is meant to be enjoyed casually and young. This particular one was not as spritzy as the Txomin Etxaniz of the same vintage and was notably fruitier, with a more pronounced and rounded middle. The dominant flavors are bone dry ripe grapefruit, green apple, bit of citrus with nuances of fresh grass and white seashell. There is a lip-smacking faint bitterness towards the back and in the somewhat abrupt, dry finish that makes me want to take the next sip as fast as possible. Very recommendable as an apéritif with, I imagine, fresh shellfish.

Probably due to its fruitier and rounder character, Javi opined that it resembled an albariño and, noting that Itsas Mendi is located in inland Guernica, explained that txakolí is traditionally made in areas closer to the sea - such as in the case of the aforementioned Txomin Etxaniz (located in seaside Getaria, D.O. Getariako Txakolina, which, incidentally, is a mere 30-35 kilometers west of Javi's hometown of San Sebastián). I could easily be wrong, but perhaps the inland terroir of Guernica gives less stress to the vines and, hence, makes the Itsas Mendi fruitier and rounder? I'll have to consult PhD in Oenology JC de Terry (expert in all edible/drinkable things Spanish) about this.

Well, Javi obviously favored the Txomin Etxaniz over the Itsas Mendi. I thought it was maybe because the Getariako Txakolina wines are "closer to home"? Well, I know Jancis Robinson thinks Txomin Etxaniz is the best producer of its area, for whatever that is worth. Personally, I agree with Javi in that the fruitier Itsas Mendi 7 resembles an albariño, but think that it is more easily approachable for it. I do like both, though. Problem is, Miguel and I have no more of the Txomin Etxaniz.
Last night, however, the wine came off notably less fruit-forward, a bit firmer and even drier than before. There also seemed to be a bit of a saline note to it. Closer in character than before to the 2008 Bodegas del Palacio de Fefiñanes Albariño de Fefiñanes, but not quite as dry, acidic or minerally. Very good pairing with the clams, even more than with the crabs (but good enough with the latter). Nice. I have just one more bottle of this, so I'll probably save it for some fresh oysters.

Desserts were:

A cake from Bread Talk, from CJ. I forgot to ask what it is called.

Brazo de Mercedes

Our cups of coffee were accompanied with snifters of...

Camus XO Cognac, with which Tad, Chako and I moved back to the lanai for a few cigarettes. After an hour or two of chatting (the children had already been sent home earlier since the next day is a school day), we called it a night.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Toki with the Kids.

There was no Sunday lunch at my in-laws' today, so, as usual, we took the boys out to lunch. My second son wanted to try out Sushi Kappo Kobikicho since he saw my post on the recent Usual Suspects lunch there. Unfortunately, it is closed on Sundays - thus, we went to old reliable Toki Japanese Fusion & Fine Dining. We've taken the boys here before, but, this time, they all tried different dishes.

Sanshu Sashimi No Carpaccio Toki Style

Unagi Bou Sushi

Sashimi Nanasu Moriawase

Our youngest ordered a plate of California Roll as well, he took this photo himself.

Nasu To Tofu No Agedashi Yasai Ankake

Ebi Tempura

The boys ordered their individual main courses: 2 Una-ju Sets and 1 Tempura Udon. I also got an Osuimono (Fish and Clam Clear Soup) for me (sorry, no photos). I had the bowl of Hot Udon that came with the youngest's Una-ju Set since he didn't want it.

With these I had no wine - well, no wine from grapes anyway. I did have an order of Kikuhime Yamahai Junmai - I've had this at my last Kaiseki dinner at Toki, with the Manila Gentlemen's Club. Dry, a hint of citrus, with faint undertones of cocoa/carob/toasted rice towards the back. Served cold, it was very pleasant for a hot summer Sunday and as a pairing for all the raw fish dishes as well as the ebi tempura.

There were a few bowls of fresh fruit for dessert, but I don't think anyone touched them. Nice, relaxing Sunday lunch out with the family.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Friday Lunch: Burgundy, Bordeaux, Etc.

A few days ago, J-Lab called me for lunch today (Friday, the 5th March 2010) with Bodjie at Pepato. The Stockbroker would catch up. Bodjie wanted to share some bottles he picked up at a recent trip to Singapore. I arrived half an hour late and came upon them already starting on their appetizers of Roasted Bone Marrow and Tempura-Fried Squash Flowers...

...with an already decanted...

2007 Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair Vosne-Romanée - Bodjie's bottle, a village level wine from Vosne-Romanée. I've mentioned before that I spent several days in Vosne Romanée with my wife in early October 2007, staying at Anne Gros' Maison La Colombière and taking in a lot of the sleepy little town packed with the most famous vineyards of the Côte de Nuits. I remember walking past the Domaine Comte Liger-Belair during one of our almost daily afternoon walks. The village level vineyards of the subject domaine lie on the far western part of the appellation, west of the town's Place de la Mairie.

Vosne Romanée's Place de la Mairie (the town hall)

The subject wine was very fresh, exhibiting medium-weight, sappy black cherry and raspberry over dark plum, some dark oak spiciness but not obtrusive, nuance of pine needles and a bit of violets. Sweet tannins, acidity is very bright. Good balance. Clean. Well-made wine, comes of very natural, if a bit simple and straightforward. In all, impressive enough for a young village level Vosne-Romanée, and definitely gave good cut to my main course of Rack of Rosemary Lamb.

I recall Bodjie had some Salmon on Lentils, while J-Lab and the Stockbroker (who had since arrived) had a nice looking pasta.

It looked to be/smelled like a Tagliatelle al Nero with Tarragon Cream & Seared Scallops. J-Lab commented it was just slightly bland and the Stockbroker agreed. I handed him the little dish of sea salt, but the staff remedied the situation almost immediately with what looked to me like fresh salmon roe. Now that's service.

We also had a bottle of Bordeaux...

2000 Château Cantenac Brown - My bottle, a 3rd growth "branch" of the old Boyd-Cantenac estate in Margaux, from a highly-touted vintage nb: this vintage was still under the watch of J-M Cazes as head of AXA's wine portfolio). Both J-Lab and I had tried this many years ago and were both curious how it was doing now. Bodjie, who joined us for lunch the first time, likes big, forward Napa Cabs and is just starting to more deeply explore the wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy. Thus, knowing this wine to be rather big, concentrated and extracted - I chose this to bring for him to try out.

Vaguely smokey cedar, dark minerals, bit of tar over dense ripe, blackcurrant compote and crème de cassis in its aroma. Notably concentrated and quite extracted on the palate, it mirrors its scents richly with notes of iron, licorice, black cherry, violets and a bit of animal and blood surfacing past mid-palate and onto the finish. A decidedly masculine Margaux (as also noted by Bodjie). J-Lab said he detected a note of burnt rubber which I didn't get. Full-bodied, fairly mouth-filling, admirable heft. Long, strong finish. Balance was fair; I found it slightly top-heavy, a bit over-wrought and almost clunky. Not bad, pleasant enough; but not really my style.

After complimentary servings of delicious Fresh Mango-Topped Panna Cotta and some espressos, we headed off to Premium Wine Exchange and proceeded to one of the Stockbroker's personal cellars that houses a little over 4000 premium bottles. Bodjie hadn't been here before, so the Stockbroker showed him around...

...then proceeded to open a bottle of...

2001 Penfolds RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz - The Stockbroker's bottle. Thick, very/sweetly ripe, concentrated, full-bodied, high-alcohol Aussie shiraz with tell-tale, dense toffee, cinnamon notes towards the back of the mouth. I did note, though, that this is lighter-footed, better balanced and not as overtly hot or oaky as many other Aussie shiraz wines I've tried before. I'm no fan of Aussie shiraz myself, but this was better than most I've tried.

Another of the Stockbroker's bottles followed. "We're back to the region you love", said he.

1996 Château Langoa Barton - Another 3rd growth Médoc, this time from St-Julien. Moderate bouquet of cedar, blackcurrant, bit of new leather, asphalt and gravel, hint of violets. In the mouth, it is firmly structured, clean-cut and very neat; classically cut, precisely mirroring its bouquet in a slightly over medium body. Good balance, notable focus and precision. Still very firm at almost 14 years from vintage, I do not think this will become "soft" any time soon, if ever. For those who appreciate old-school Médoc.

As 5pm neared, we took our respective leaves, the Stockbroker staying behind for a meeting with his PWX partners.

Very pleasant lunch and casual afternoon of drinking. Until the next.