Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Dinner @ Ciçou with Southern France Value-for-Money Wines.

Last night, 29th June 2010, I was at Ciçou for, curiously enough, the 75th Anniversary Dinner of Lancôme (a French cosmetics MNC) upon the invitation of Terry Selection's JC de Terry who was sponsoring the wines for Lancôme's event. Dinner was by Cyrille Soenen at his Restaurant Ciçou.

The invitation said 6:pm and I wound up arriving at around 6:25 because of the CBD traffic. I was the first one there aside from the people setting up. Knowing that I wouldn't really know anyone at this event, I shuffled over to the bar - at least I could keep company with Cyrille and his staff who I have gotten to know well from my many meals in Ciçou.

Luckily, Cyrille saw me almost immediately, came out of the kitchen to chat, kindly poured me a glass of rosé and had me served some tapas while I waited.

Home-made Pork Pistachio Sausage, Baby Potatoes, Ravigote Sauce; Home-made Pork Rillettes on Pain de Campagne; and, Fresh Marinated Sardines with Goat Cheese on Rye.

2009 Les Jamelles Cinsault - Fresh, vibrant, forward strawberry, bit of red currant, slight meatiness, hints of herbs (lavender? thyme?). Straightforward, quite dry, good drive, solidly structured and hefty for a rosé, but very approachable and easy to drink a lot of. Good eating rosé, and I can easily imagine having it with some local main courses like adobo (snipes, pork and/or chicken). I believe this is around P500/bottle at Terry's.

I saw the staff bringing out all the evening's wines, and, it turns out, all of them were by Les Jamelles, an almost 20 year-old producer in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France headed by Catherine Delaunay - value-for-money wines all at under P1000/bottle if I am not mistaken.

The venue was filling up after around 20 minutes, and I actually saw someone I knew - Yvette Fernandez (who, along with her colleagues, were covering the event for Town & Country and other magazines), a long-time family friend of my in-laws who I first met in SF years ago through Sandy Klar who is a mutual friend.

We, together with several other friends, spent a long, long day in Napa and Sonoma Valleys back in May 2001 visiting some wineries and having a very long wine-filled lunch at the Culinary Institute of America's Greystone Restaurant.

JC then showed up and we had some more tapas and rosé at the bar with Cyrille and Anna. We were later on introduced to and joined by lyric soprano Ana Feleo who would be rendering some songs for us that evening. Apparently, she took this engagement at short notice.

When asked by JC what she had in store for us, Ana mentioned her last song would be the Habanera from Bizet's Carmen. I told Ana I really liked the way Teresa Berganza used to sing that song with such feistiness and "attitude".

JC was pulled away briefly for a television interview about the wines he sponsored for the event - he is, after all, a PhD in oenology aside from being a chef, restaurateur and former concert pianist. As far as I know, he is the only PhD in oenology in the Philippines and has deeper knowledge and passion about Spanish and French cuisine (and the histories thereof) than anyone else I know. I remember a French restaurateur once told me JC knows much more about French cheeses than he does.

We eventually were ushered into the main restaurant for dinner proper and the rest of the festivities. It turned out I was assigned to a different table from that of JC, and, though the latter tried to have me moved, the Lancôme staff were very hesitant to accommodate his request. I assured JC I'd be fine in another table, anyway, it was very near his and I could always come over every so often to chat.

After a brief welcome spiel...

...Ana Feleo regaled us with her numbers, finishing with a precise, powerful and flirtatiously sassy rendition of the promised Habanera à la Teresa Berganza - for which I made sure to thank and congratulate her.

Dinner with pairing wines were then served.

The Menu

Asparagus Shot Amuse Bouche

Tuna Wrapped in Kadaif, Pimiento d'Espelette, French Bean Salad, Lemon & Tomato Dressing

Duck Liver Ravioli Cooked in Chicken Broth Mushroom Soup, Truffle Cappuccino.

I remember this dish well; it was an absolute hit at our group's wine dinner at Ciçou on the 10th November 2009 during which we paired it with 2 Corton Charlemagnes and a Meursault Perrières. Last night, however, this was paired generous pours of 2008 Les Jamelles Viognier - One of the fresher and more focused viogniers I've had. Immediately pleasing, lightly floral (honeysuckle), correct & typical peach and yellow apricot flavors, with a smooth, languidly flowing, softly viscous texture. I've found many viogniers over-wrought and, at times, cloyingly sweet, but this wasn't. Good acid lift, dry, yet fruity - which made it food-friendly to me. Good match with the dish.

In the meantime, l'Oreal Philippines CEO, Luc Olivier Marquet, took the stage, thanked JC for sponsoring the wines, acknowledged the presence of the French ambassador, gave a short talk about the company's background, presence in Asia and what we may expect from Lancôme in the years to come and offered a celebratory toast thereto.

The Eisma sisters with Alexis Ventura of Lancôme.

It was only then that I realized the French ambassador, H.E. Thierry Borja de Mozota, was around, so I went over to greet him. He is an honorary member of the Commanderie de Bordeaux Manila wherein I am a member as well.

Last time I saw him was at a dinner at the Vigneron's place late this past April during which I discovered that he is also a lover of fine tintos Riojanos like me and my friends and promised to invite him to our next Spanish wine dinner - a promise I intend to make good on as soon as his schedule permits.

Roasted Asian Sea Bass (a.k.a., "apahap") with Tarragon, Braised Cabbage & Crispy Bacon

With this was paired 2008 Les Jamelles Pinot Noir - from hotter climes than pinot noir's Burgundy stronghold in its comparatively riper, denser, warmer and lower-acid traits. It was very pleasant though - smooth, concentrated, just slightly jammy soft fruit (seemingly more black berries than red here), but not at all heavy or cloying on the palate. It had a slight earthiness to it as well and the touches of oak were both judicious and discreet.

Marinated US Beef Steak Sautéed, Potato Gnocchi, Asparagus & Confited Tomatoes

2007 Les Jamelles Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot Séléction Spéciale - was paired with the above-depicted main course. Much more cabernet sauvignon than merlot I'd say, due to its dominant crème de cassis over ripe black cherry, slight raspberry and dark plum fruit flavors. There are a lot of toasty oak related notes that permeate the fruit: underlying black coffee/dark chocolate, slight licorice, vanilla bean and cinnamon. Very concentrated, ripe and warming (typical for the area to my mind) on the palate; the fruit is also a touch jammy and the evident tannins are soft and smoothly rounded.

Dessert was Cyrille's Chocolate Fondant and Ice Cream Macaron "Sandwich" and mignardises of mini macarons and canellés - all of which I ate before remembering to take photos of.

The Wines


Saturday, June 26, 2010

Weekend Wines: 2 Grand Cru Red Burgs & Chianti Classico Riserva.

Friday, the 25th June 2010, the Stockbroker hosted an impromptu lunch at his Premium Wine Exchange for Doc and I. Our menu was relatively light - good thing since I ate unreasonably much the night before at La Tienda. Doc immediately mandated that he supply wines for the lunch as he wanted to try out a few of his new Burgundy purchases.

The Doc

Our Lunch

1993 Domaine Rossignol-Trapet Chapelle-Chambertin Grand Cru - Doc's bottle. This was singing from the glass: sous bois, whisper of ceps, perfumed raspberry, plum, bit of black cherry, quiet underlying blackcurrant, slight pine needles, cedar and violets. Mirrored on the palate (except for the ceps), this was elegantly medium-bodied, streamlined, nicely focused, with notable purity. Exceptional balance. Gracefully and femininely refined. The bouquet just kept getting sweeter and more perfumed. Lovely wine.

1999 Domaine Trapet Latricières-Chambertin Grand Cru - Doc's bottle. Evidently heftier, more intense, concentrated and riper than the preceding wine with a "meaty" aspect, yet this is no big bruiser. I hesitate to call it masculine, but I didn't find it quite feminine either. Beside the preceding wine, though, it seemed masculine - but in a somewhat effete, "pretty boy" way (I'm thinking the bumbling, love-struck characters Hugh Grant is known for portraying). Displaying pine needles, moderately sappy ripe cherry, raspberry, bit of blackcurrant, slight undertones of meat, dark minerality, with touches of cedar and violets. A few notches over medium-bodied. Not nearly as open, giving, graceful or refined as the preceding wine, but nice enough.

~ oOo ~

Dinner at home tonight (Saturday, the 26th June 2010); my father-in-law and youngest brother-in-law (in the background right) joined us :

Roast Rack of Lamb, Pilaf and Cherry Tomatoes, Button Mushrooms & Basil.

1997 Fattoria di Felsina Berardenga Rancia Chianti Classico Riserva* - Decanted for 1½ hours. Broad, expansive, full-bodied, concentrated, quite extracted, rich, very ripe cherry, raspberry, tobacco, bitter chocolate, bit of licorice, leather, violets. Funnels past mid-mouth to a somewhat rustic licorice/leather/violet touched sour cherry finish.

Tannins are quite noticeable but not bothersome; healthy acidity, giving good balance. Structure firm enough. Nice wine. Very good with the roast lamb rack of lamb.

*Sourced from the Stockbroker's collection since the locally available ones I found too young.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Pintxos, Chuleton, Cava, Albariño & Tintos Riojanos @ La Tienda.

Dinner on the 24th June 2010 was back at La Tienda for more of Chef Javi Lecumberri's pintxos and, naturally, some chuleton. As usual, Miguel organized the menu with Javi. We were 3 couples in all: Mig & Ria, Matt & Chinkee and Catha & I. Unfortunately, Aaron, Jo and J-Lab couldn't make it.

Catha, Miguel and I arrived early and, being thirsty from a long day at the office, we ordered some chistorras, boquerónes and popped open the first bottle of cava. Javi joined us briefly for a quick glass.



Freixenet Elyssia Gran Cuvée Brut - My bottle. Good thing this is again available locally as Aaron's ADP Industries' new shipment thereof just hit the market. Consistently good as always, this is undoubtedly my favorite cava, which, incidentally, was a hit with the Alabang group at our last get-together:

By the giant Freixenet firm, this is a méthode champenoise sparkling wine which tastes and feels much more like a champagne blend than the usual cavas I encounter in that it is comparatively heftier, creamier, rounder on the palate and not "grassy", sharply minerally or acidic. The dominant, dry fresh apple, crisp pear and second-tier lemon/orange flavors have a very subtle white chocolate undertone mid-mouth and the merest hint of almond bitterness towards the back (but not in the finish)....


Matt and Chinkee followed shortly. We were already running very low on pica-picas and cava, so I ordered another round of the former and popped open a second bottle of the latter. Ria arrived after a bit, so the serious eating began. Though Javi had a new set of pintxos lined up for us, I couldn't help but request a repeat performance of his...

Salmorejo - An Andalucian (particularly Córdoban) version of gazpacho, made out of tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, vinegar, etc. No cucumbers and other vegetables that gazpacho ordinarily involves. Javi's salmorejo is adorned with an incredibly and sweetly fresh prawn lightly cooked in vinegar. Love it. Perfect for the warm Philippine weather as well.

Having almost gone through our 2nd bottle of cava, and since most of the pintxos involved seafood, we moved on to a nicely chilled bottle of...

2008 Laxas Albariño - Chinkee's bottle, and our group's favorite locally available albariño (available at Terry Selections). I've written about this refreshingly dry, fruity, precisely ripe, pleasingly plump, discreetly minerally albariño so many times, I need not elaborate further. An old favorite especially with seafood dishes, it gave a nice, crisp cut to the following pintxos:

Boquerónes con Pâté de Olivas

Salmón Confitado con Pisto

Bacalao al Ajoarriero con Gambas

Escalivadas con Anchoas

Brocheta de Solomillo y Bacon con Arroz Cremoso, Foie Gras y Salsa de Oporto

This last, meaty one reminded me of the pintxos morunos Catha and I had at Café Irvña in Bilbao a few months ago - only this was of beef tenderloin and pork belly instead of lamb, more elaborate and complex. Excellent dish, the creamy rice, foie gras and port sauce married perfectly - all in harmony, nothing over-powering anything else. With this dish, we moved on to the first red of the evening.

1973 Bodegas Berberana Rioja Gran Reserva - My bottle, the last of 5 I purchased from the cellar of a good friend who moved back to Germany. The cork was slightly depressed, broke in half and was a bit crumbly, but I managed to extract it without any parts falling into the wine. Left open (without decanting) for around 30-40 minutes.

Brick red, the edges were tinged with amber. Medium-bodied, very smooth and relaxed, red fruit elixir, balsamico, underlying leather, hints of ceps, meat and compost, violets, refined spiciness. Seamless stuff. Nicely complex, notable harmony and balance. Very nice. Without the balsamic notes, I imagine I could have mistaken this for a Burgundy if served blind. Probably the best of the batch. Too bad it was my last one.

We were all getting quite full by this time, so Miguel asked Javi to hold off with the main course for around 15-20 minutes to give us time to recover and have a quick smoke. Outside, Miguel thought to ask Javi to make our order of chuleton smaller and actually went inside to talk to him. Chinkee then said our main course was surely already prepped and asked me to tell Javi to just proceed as planned, stating: "Ako na bahala sa chuleton!" I, thus, followed Miguel inside and assured Javi we could handle the large order.

Chuleton, cooked to perfection.

Javi stops by to see how we are doing. Matt looks overwhelmed with the food.

With this beef-fest, we had 2 more reds, both from a much more recent, but excellent vintage for Rioja:

2001 Bodegas Muga Prado Enea Gran Reserva - My bottle, a gift from Miguel for my last birthday. I've had this twice before within the past 6 months: the first time from Rene at the Usual Suspects' 2009 Pre-Christmas Lunch at La Tienda, and, the second during lunch with Catha at 3-Michelin star Restaurante Arzak in San Sebastian. This is still rather young, so I decanted it for aeration at the evening's outset - so it had been breathing for around 2½ - 3 hours by the time I got to it. Despite this, the wine hasn't seemed to have budged an inch. My notes from this past April are still very much applicable:

2001 Bodegas Muga Prado Enea Rioja Gran Reserva - deep, rich, ripe, well-concentrated and extracted cherry, kirsch, raspberry, underlying blackcurrant, meatiness, infused with a hint of ceps and a healthy dose of oak and related spice notes. There is good push on the palate, the fruit is generous, but the firm structure and good acidity holds the wine in indulgent balance.

Already a treat to drink now, I believe it will gain a lot more complexity over the next 15-20 years. Very nice indeed.

2001 Bodegas Marqués de Murrieta Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial - Miguel's bottle; I don't know how long it was opened before being served. Also quite young, this came off as comparatively/slightly lighter in body (I'd call it halfway between medium and full-bodied at this point) and not as open, but better in focus and purity than the preceding 2001 Muga Prado Enea Gran Reserva. Notably more streamlined too. Ripe cherries (slightly tart at the finish), raspberries, bit of strawberry over blueberries and blackcurrant, slight hints of black coffee, tobacco leaf, cedar and mild vanilla/oak. I'd give this at least 3 or 4 more years before revisiting.

We had a few more bottles left (an Alvaro Palacios Pétalos from Bierzo, some Itsasmendi Nº7 Txakoli from Gernika and another bottle of Freixenet Elyssia Gran Cuvée Brut,) but these were saved for another day. Dessert was then served.

Torrijas con Helado de Arroz con Leche

Torrijas are, basically, the Spanish version of pain perdu, otherwise known as French toast. Of course, there are countless spins thereon. I think this is the 3rd version of this dish that Javi has made for us, and I've loved every single one - especially this one since it combined the flavors of arroz con leche which is another favorite of mine. The generous dusting of chocolate powder certainly didn't hurt either.

Excellent dinner, thanks to Javi. Great wines and company too. Many thanks to all who made this possible! Until the next!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Aaron's Birthday Lunch @ Café Ysabel.

Lunch on Friday, 19th June 2010, was hosted by Aaron at Café Ysabel in belated vinous celebration of his birthday featuring a menu designed by Chef Gene Gonzalez. We were 7 in all including Aaron, the Stockbroker, J-Lab, Miguel, Rene, Greg and myself. As usual, everyone brought good bottles to share, with a notable step up in celebration of Aaron's birthday.

J-Lab was there by the time Miguel, Rene and I arrived; the rest followed within a few minutes. As the first of us waited, J-Lab requested a change of stemware and a couple of decanters. I asked Rene to take charge of opening the older bottles, which he did with perfect results.

We then started off with some bubblies:

Miguel pours.

2004 Freixenet Casa Sala Gran Reserva Cava - Aaron's bottle of course, a bottling named after and in honor of the producer's very first brut nature cava: frothy, brightly dry, toasty, yeasty white fruit, white grapefruit, citrus (including slight lime at the finish). A bit tight since this shipment just recently arrived from Spain. Will probably unwind and even put on weight with a few weeks' rest. Very lively and energetic on the palate.

A birthday toast to Aaron.

With a Salad with Rillettes & Cheese was poured...

1996 Henri Abelé Champagne - Aaron's bottle. Rounded, ripe, slightly creamy flavors of pear, yellow apricot, Japanese plum, bit of lemon, brioche with slight cinnamon and vanilla notes. Vibrant, fresh, quite pleasant and nice with the pork rillette and cheese portions of the salad.

Miguel, Aaron & Greg.

Next was French Onion Soup with which I had no wine.

This was followed by a Roast Chicken atop Mashed Potatoes and Vegetables. Two aged Pauillacs were poured with this:

1982 Les Forts de Latour - Aaron's bottle. On the lighter side of full-bodied, this showed well with cassis, black cherry, minor dark plum, violets, cedar, slight licorice, underlying ceps and leather, notes of asphalt and graphite. Strong structure with piercing acidity, a masculine, challenging wine. A fitting "little brother" of the 1982 grand vin.

1989 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande - The Stockbroker's bottle. I've always enjoyed this vintage of Pichon Lalande and always thought of it as one of the more masculine vintages thereof (the 1985 is another). Fain truffle laces the sweetly cedared bouquet of earthy cassis, cherry, plum, raspberry, clean, well-worn leather, graphite and violets. Mirrored on the palate on a slightly lighter frame, this was comparatively softer and curvier than the preceding wine and came off as slightly feminine beside the 1982 Les Forts de Latour. This was an elegant wine.

With the hearty main course of Rabo de Toro...

1988 C.V.N.E. Imperial Gran Reserva - My bottle. Austere in character with rigid structure and firm acidity, this displayed vegetal notes, sour cherry, raspberry, some darker berry underneath infused with notes of balsamico, leather, slight licorice, violets and cedar. This seemed to be Bordeaux-ish to me. Alone, it was a bit too severe for me, but, with the rich, flavorful, gelatinous rabo de toro, the wine came into its own - cutting the richness, cleansing the palate for the next bite and playing well with the main course. I thought it was the best pairing with the nicely earthy and comforting rabo de toro.

2000 Château Le Bon Pasteur - Rene's bottle. Lush, big, full, stylish, notably powerful but not over the top very ripe, mildly smoky plum, black cherry, hint of kirsch, crème de cassis, unsweetened chocolate, moderate vanilla/oak, licorice, leather, cedar and an underlying suggestion of loam. Violets emerge towards the back and into a confident, long finish. Still a bit young, but already nice.

1995 Dominus - Greg's bottle, purchased from Bacchus Int'l. Unfortunately and clearly corked. The TCA was unmistakable in the slightly musty cardboard and vaguely plastic-like scents that wrapped the wine. Too bad.

Dessert was a flaming Baked Alaska, presented with a flourish at the table before being portioned out. With this was paired...

2006 Rolly Gassmann Riesling - The Stockbroker's bottle. Its svelte peach, ripe apricot, slight lemon drop and white minerally flavors over mild orange rind and very slight petrol notes seemed off-dry/sweetish enough to virtually be a vendanges tardives, though the label bore no indication as such. Bright acidity though. A little under medium-bodied. A rather simple wine, but easily pleasing.

NOE Pedro Ximenez Muy Viejo Jerez (30 Años) - J-Lab's bottle. Very approachable, smooth, comfortingly warm molasses, raisins, hints of herbs, some underlying chocolate, vanilla, slight licorice candy. Not as thick, tongue coating and intensely dense as many PXs I've had - which is not a bad thing. Nice one. We enjoyed sipping this and pouring some over vanilla ice cream.

Of course, the good-natured teasing began almost from the outset about Aaron's age in relation to Greg's... the recent, stunning loss of Spain to Switzerland at the World Cup...

...which had us all in stitches until the Stockbroker, Miguel, Rene and I left for home at around 4:20pm as the others stayed on.

It was a very fun lunch. I hadn't laughed that hard in a very long time. Thanks, Aaron, for the lunch, wines and bringing us all together anew after quite a while - and, of course, happy birthday again. Many, many more to come!