Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Relaxing Weekend Wines with Family.

Saturday Dinner, 25th September 2010:

Dinner at my father's place for my brother's mom-in-law who was visiting from Tokyo to represent the Kozan School in the recently concluded Ikebana International 11th Asian Regional Conference at Shangri-La Makati. Dinner was Spanish fare, the wines also Spanish:

With appetizers of assorted cheeses, jamón Serrano, etc.

2004 Freixenet Cuvée D.S. Gran Reserva Cava - Bright, crisply dry, slightly floral white grapefruit, green apple, hints of sourdough and chalky minerality. One of the more complex cavas I regularly drink. I just wished my dad also served some chistorras to go with this. Available at Aaron's ADP Industries at P1800/bottle full retail.

With Chili-Garlic Prawns and Bacalao à la Vizcaina.

2009 Txomin Etxaniz Txakoli - Typical Getarian txakoli: bone-dry, light, fresh and minerally with tartish green apple and lime/citrus flavors, faint saline notes, healthy acidity and a slight appetite-enhancing bitterness. Excellent with the Bacalao and a fair match with the Chili-Garlic Prawns. Now available at Terry Selection for a mere P870/bottle at full retail.

With Lengua con Setas and Solomillo de Vaca.

1999 Bodegas Olarra Cerro Añon Rioja Gran Reserva - One of the last few bottles of this in my dad's cav. Perfumed nose of violets, cherry, kirsch, deep/ripe strawberries, vanilla bean and slight red spice. Slightly over medium-bodied, very smooth, bit of creaminess mid-palate, the scents mirrored on the palate. Very, very nice. Notable poise and harmony. The vanilla notes were a little too overt because I didn't decant it for aeration unlike other times I open these bottles.

My father and I purchased the last couple of cases of this from Terry Selection many months ago. There is no more of this vintage - but the one being sold now, the 2001, is an excellent Riojan vintage.

Sunday Lunch w/ Catha & the kids, 26th September 2010, @ Caffé Caruso:

With our usual Antipasti Caldi Platter, a Pizza Napolitana, Insalata di Rucola, assorted pastas (Spaghetti with Italian Sausage for me), Veal Scallopini and Veal Como.

2009 Bruno Giacosa Roero Arneis - Not locally available, Miguel got me some bottles of this last time he was in Italy. I love this stuff with antipasti and certain pastas ever since I tried the 2005 version from the Stockbroker over lunch at Pepato back in late January 2009. "Arneis" is the grape (a.k.a., nebbiolo blanco) and "Roero" is the hilly area in Piedmont (northwest of Alba) wherefrom hails this wine.

Slight hints of cool limestone and seashell infuse bright, vibrant, mild grapefruit, bit of pear, apple, citrus with an appetizing bitter-almond nuance. Nicely dry and very food friendly even with the Veal Como. Love it. The Stockbroker's PWX distributes Giacosa's wines (an excellent producer, by the way), but just the reds so far. I hope he brings some of their Roero arneis in as well in the future.

The Stockbroker also happened to be there for lunch with his family and sent me a glass of what I recall he said was a Napa cabernet sauvignon with a bit of sangiovese and syrah in it. I do not recall the vintage, but it was called Bacio Divino - Very lush, fleshy, I could even say opulent, full-bodied, lowish in acid, crème de cassis (emphasis on the crème), soft, dark, sweetishly-ripe red berries, bit of underlying damp earth and mocha, evident creamy vanilla (from new French oak barrels almost surely). Lavish, forward and eager to please, I expect this would be easily accessible to many. I don't know, though, if PWX carries this or it is from the Stockbroker's own collection.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Monday Night Wines w/ the Usual Suspects & Víctor Quinson @ Je Suis Gourmand.

Last night, the 20th September 2010, was back at Je Suis Gourmand with the Usual Suspects and special guest, Víctor Quinson. I've mentioned in my previous post that Víctor is the ambassador of Bodegas R. López de Heredia in Asia. Well, in addition to representing Rioja's bastion of tradition, he represents other highly-acclaimed Riojan producers, one of which is Bodegas Remírez de Ganuza. We were 9 in all: the Stockbroker (freshly back from running the Médoc Marathon), Víctor, Aaron, Arnie, Greg, J-Lab, Miguel, Rene and myself. Keiichi was supposed to join us, but, unfortunately, got stuck in Tokyo with office matters.

As with any civilized gathering, the evening started off with some bubblies...

Freixenet Reserva Real Cava Brut - Aaron's bottle. This line was created to commemorate the visit of King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia to the Freixenet winery in 1987. A blend of Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parellada, this fine cava is typically blended with a small percentage of reserve wines and aged at least 30 months before release. Quite champagne-esque in its fresh apple with slight white grapefruit, citrus and preserved fruit base flavors, it is complexed with notes of pastry, bit of brioche, white flowers, discreet fine minerality and a whisper of vanilla. Barely medium-bodied with a nice, slightly biscuity-creamy from the middle, its over-all depth and freshness definitely make it one of the more serious cavas I've had. Very nice indeed. Available at Aaron's ADP Industries.

1996 Laurent-Perrier Brut Millésimé - J-Lab's bottle, from an excellent champagne vintage. I immediately noted its heft, pronounced middle, depth of fruit and nice complexity. The fruit (apple, bit of apricot and lemon custard) had a general ripe, confited and slightly honeyed character to it. Alluring white flower, biscuit, brioche, candied ginger notes and a whisper of underlying coffee added to the complexity. Definitive strike, properly reserved crescendo and a medium-long, quietly confident finish. A joy to drink alone; it also went well with Marc's signature Terrine of Foie Gras and the Pork Rillettes.

There were so many bottles open, I didn't get to take photos of them all. Some of those were:

The Stockbroker's Mystery Wine - Served totally blind, we were to guess what it was as closely as possible. J-Lab to my right almost immediately said it was a Napa from the early '90s. The wine's initial pronounced minty topnote and very ripe, dark fruit and crème de cassis made me immediately agree that it wasn't Bordeaux. The mouth confirmed my initial guess because the fruit was way too soft, virtually no acidity and structure to speak of - the wine seemed to just fall off my tongue. However, the minty notes disappeared shortly, leaving, to me, an aged St-Estèphe bouquet with earthy-sweetish truffles, crème de cassis, bit of kirsch, leather and vanilla bean. The ripeness of the fruit made me think it was from 1990.

J-Lab then astutely noted to me that a St-Estèphe would have much firmer structure and I definitely agreed. However, from the nose and seeming weakness of the palate, I figured it couldn't be from Napa - and guessed that it was probably a less-than-pristine 1990 from St-Estèphe. It turned out to be a 1991 Dominus. Again, Dominus had me stumped. I've never been able to identify Dominus as a Napa when served blind. Perhaps I never will. I noted though that I've had this same wine from different bottles twice or thrice before - and that this subject bottle was nowhere near as good as the previous ones. Still, it was very generous, as usual, of the Stockbroker to share a wine such as this, and, of course, it was much appreciated.

2007 La Rosée de Pavie - Arnie's bottle. I asked if I could open it as I intended to order Marc's Trio of Lamb (Rack, Merguez and Loin with Couscous). Unfortunately, it is no longer on the menu, so I had this rosé with some Escargot à la Bourguignonne. This is probably the heaviest, most concentrated rosé I have ever had from anywhere. Red cherry, plum, bit of raspberry with a faint underlying blackcurrant nuance. I would have liked more freshness and brightness in the fruit. Still, I was thankful to have a rosé with this old JSG favorite appetizer.

2002 Château Lynch Bages - Greg's bottle; he doesn't really like drinking anything but Bordeaux, though he claims otherwise. Bordeaux's 2002 vintage is not really notable, generally viewed as one more for casual and early drinking. I've had a few, but never thought much of them. J-Lab liked this well enough for what it was, but I really couldn't get interested in it. Sure, the Pauillac traits of gravel, pencil lead shavings, bit of leather (as well as cedar and hints of charcoal) laced the dark fruit, but its middle was virtually non-existent - no crescendo at all. The finish was barely moderate, the structure was fair. Pleasant enough, but not interesting to me.

From the outset, I had my eye on one red in particular.

1998 C.V.N.E. Imperial Gran Reserva - Miguel's bottle. Easily my favorite red of the night. This, though not old by Imperial Gran Reserva standards, seems to be transitioning to the Burgundy side (probably the vintage as I perceived the same in a 1998 Bodegas Riojana Monte Real Gran Reserva I had in early April this year). It possesses very good structure and acid balance in its gently balsamico-touched, deep, dark black cherry, ripe raspberry, hint of kirsch, underlying blackcurrant and leather, cedar, licorice, mere hints of cinnamon and vanilla. Good, smooth, moderately meaty texture. Notable complexity, harmony and balance in this. Lovely wine and a natural match with my Grilled Lamb Chops with Frites.

I also tried some of Arnie's 2001 Château Grand-Pontet - like the '02 Lynch Bages, this seemed to have a weak middle, virtually no crescendo to speak of, but the '02 Lynch Bages' structure was better. Dark plum, black cherry, underlying cassis, bit of loam, leather and cedar.

Víctor noses the next Riojan tinto.

2001 Bodegas Remírez de Ganuza Gran Reserva - Víctor's bottle. This was the last red I had that night, with some Tomme de Savoie and walnuts from the Cheese Platter. It had been in a decanter for around 2 hours by then if I recall correctly. Made of tempranillo and graciano from 60 year-old vines, picked after extended hang time. This wine was aged, as I understand, for 27 months in all new French barriques. I've only ever had one other wine from this producer: Doc's 2001 Remírez de Ganuza Reserva during Valentine's dinner 2009 at his place which I liked quite a bit. my notes of the 2001 Reserva were as follows:

2001 Remírez de Ganuza Rioja - The Doc had texted me that he was serving this late that afternoon, saying that it was a powerful wine. I knew nothing of the wine or winery and told him I'd never even heard of them. He told me to read up on it in Jay McInerney's "A Hedonist in the Cellar", but I neglected to. I actually expected a huge, super-ripe and sweetly over-extracted Parker gobful fruit bomb and was quite surprised at what it turned out to be.

Calm, self-assured, vaguely smoky, cedary dark cherry, very ripe strawberry over a thin stream of discreetly licorice-tobacco-and-leather-laced black fruit and dark plum. The red fruit/berry leads the strike, allows for a savory dark fruit dominated crescendo, and re-takes its position past mid-mouth and sees fit to ride the surface in the finish.

There is a woodiness, yes, but not in the ubiquitous, heavy creamy toffee - cinammon - toasty knockout combination I expected from old-style Riojas. Rather, it appeared more cedary, with the oak notes calm, relatively quiet and well integrated - just giving a nod of recognition in passing. Admirable balance and depth of fruit without shouting it out - a quiet intensity. It was more my type than I thought it would be. I'd guess this was made along the lines of the so-called "modern" (i.e., Bordeaux influenced wine-making style) that Marqués de Riscal began in Rioja in the late 1800s.

The subject gran reserva version was evidently denser, heavier, more viscous and more powerful than the immediately above-described reserva from the same vintage. The oak notes were more pronounced as well. Miguel, Greg and J-Lab noted that it struck them as quite modern, and I agreed. I think I liked it more than some of the others, but, honestly, I prefer the reserva version of this wine.

Víctor elaborates on the wine's elevage as the Stockbroker listens intently...

...as does the rest of the table. With dessert...

2003 Joh Jos. Christoffel Erben Erdenerer Treppchen Riesling Auslese - My bottle, a gift from fellow Wineberserker Clem Nieto. Moderate goutte de pétrole lines honey, peach, tangerine, ripe lemon, slight candied ginger, traces of white minerals and honeysuckle. Light, bright, clean enough with good focus. I expected more heft and concentration from an auslese, but J-Lab (the group's resident German wine expert) explained that it was typical enough a Mosel riesling auslese. Reminded me a bit of the 2006/2007 Sonnenuhr spätleses of Dr. Loosen, though not quite as pure or bright. I had this with my dessert of Tarte Tatin. A double espresso (decaf - I know, but with my sleep issues and all....) capped the evening for me.

The Barcelona boys pack up before calling it a night.

We said our goodbyes outside, promising to see each other again soon, whether in Manila, Spain or at the next Vinexpo in Bordeaux. Greg took a quick snapshot of Aaron, Víctor and myself with Aaron's camera - "Team López de Heredia Philippines" quipped Aaron. Great dinner. Thanks to everyone for sharing their wines and company. ¡Hasta la proxima!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Dinner @ Ciçou, 18th September 2010: Champagne, Pomerol, Rioja.

Last night's dinner at Ciçou was a two-fold event: a weekend celebration of our 2nd son's birthday, and, finally, with Aaron & Jo, meeting Víctor Quinson, Bodegas R. López de Heredia's ambassador for Asia. We had a dinner for immediate family at home for the birthday boy earlier in the week; and Aaron and I had been corresponding regularly via e-mail with Víctor from Spain (he is based in Barcelona and, incidentally, has family roots in Alsace - both places which I love).

Amuse bouche

Still on antibiotics due to a bad case of tonsillitis which brought with it a high fever, I actually was advised not to have any alcohol. For this dinner, however, I allowed myself a few glasses.

1996 Henri Abelé Champagne - Aaron's bottle, a champagne from Reims from an excellent champagne vintage. I've had this same bubbly from him on the 19th June 2010 at his birthday lunch for the Usual Suspects. My notes then were as follows:

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.
This bottle was consistent with the above notes, but, with added time in glass, opened up more, yielding added coffee and slight oxidation nuances, thereby showing more depth and complexity. Aaron said he and Jo didn't get these traits, but I note that I, amongst us, spent the longest time with the champagne. I liked this very much: light on the palate, good freshness, depth and complexity.

Jo, Aaron & Víctor

Being quite busy chatting and seated at a separate, albeit nearby, table from Catha and the boys (Aaron, Víctor and I had a bit of business to discuss), I wasn't able to photograph their appetizers of Cyrille's Home-Made Pork Rillettes; Marbled Terrine of Foie Gras & Unagi with Teriyaki Sauce, Lemon Confit and Red Cabbage Salad, and, their first course of Fresh Maine Lobster à la Nage with Cheese Ravioli & Parsley Sauce.

Aaron had graciously sent glasses of champagne to Catha and the 2 older boys.

For my main course, to pair with the wines, I again had the Australian Lamb Rack Coated with Fresh Herbs and Citrus, Served with Lamb Stew Raviolis Gratinated with Parmesan with Eggplant Caviar.

1990 Château La Fleur de Gay - Aaron's bottle. I've also had this from him before at the Usual Suspects' Christmas lunch 2009, my notes from the time being:

1990 Château La Fleur de Gay - Aaron's bottle, a generous treat for us all. Notably ripe, velveteen dark plum, black cherry, hint of kirsch, raspberry, mocha, smokey camphor, cedar, subtle dark minerals, underlying leather, violets. Nice concentration and extraction, but not over-done. The fruit is deeply-veined, indicating older vines. Admirable harmony, a bit low in acid but that, I find, is a vintage trait. Over-all balance superior. I enjoyed this wine a lot. Thanks, Aaron.
My impression from last night's bottle mirror the above from almost exactly 9 months ago, save for the added, entertaining, underlying dark chocolate and some creamy vanilla notes. It never fails to amaze me how many flavors can result from a single grape (100% merlot). Suavely masculine Pomerol power in this. Very nice.

For mains, Renzo had Cyrille's special Couscous Royale, Mauro the Boeuf Onglet (which Jo also had), Joaqi some Oeuf Cocotte and, Catha, the Boudin Noir.

In honor of the night's birthday celebrant, I opened a bottle from his birthyear:

1994 Bodegas R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva - I've mentioned before that R. López de Heredia releases its gran reservas only when they deem them ready to drink. This was released only in the first quarter of 2010 - and is yet only available at the wine shops of El Corte Inglés in Spain. It was through Víctor's intercession with the producer that Aaron and I were able to acquire limited stocks of these for ourselves and to make available to fellow aficionados of fine Riojan tintos.

I had tried this twice before - bottles I purchased in Barcelona this past April at the Corte Inglés near Miguel's house - the last bottle I opened was during a dinner at Boozze & Margarita's place on the 31st May 2010.

Last night, after being decanted for aeration for around 45 minutes or so, the bouquet was as entrancing and complex as ever with sweetish balsamico, cedar, violets, dark cherry, raspberry, slight strawberry, with mere hints of licorice and leather. A few notches over medium-bodied, very neat, refined, elegant and remarkably balanced. Notably more open than the last time I had this, it is, indeed, a pleasure to drink now, especially with good lamb rack, though this has many, many more years ahead of it. Loved it. I am very proud of this wine.

My family being quite full already, they just ordered the Kouing Aman Cake and a Maracaibo Dark Chocolate Ganache with a Macaron-Ice Cream "Sandwich" (the latter my youngest was too full to eat so Jo kindly helped him out with it). Of course, Catha and the kids had to have their petits fours of Cyrille's Cannelés and Macarons as well. Cyrille, however, wasn't through feeding the boys yet...

...as he sent the celebrant a surprise birthday dessert.

A double espresso (decaf for me) and several stories later, we all got up to leave. Víctor had, after all, just flown in to Manila that day from late night meetings in South Korea and, surely, needed a good night's sleep. From the photo on the right, it looks like he wasn't the only one.

Many thanks again to Cyrille for yet another excellent meal. I hope to try his Couscous Royale very soon. Until the next!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Manila Gentlemen's Club: 2nd Dinner by Chef Carlo Miguel.

Last night, the 10th September 2010, was at Aled's place with the Manila Gentlemen's Club ("MGC") for a dinner by Chef Carlo Miguel who is again available for private dinners. The MGC is a small wine, food and tobacco appreciation club that holds only black tie/formal attire dinners. This was actually Carlo's 2nd dinner for the MGC, the first one being held at Premium Wine Exchange back on the 23rd February 2007. Carl is an old friend/golf buddy of mine and some other MGC members used to dine fairly regularly in Mezzaluna and Sala Restaurant, so we pretty much all know Carl and are quite familiar with his cuisine.

Mike shows Carl a copy of the latter's menu from our February 2007 dinner.

Cocktails began with gin & tonics and beers as we waited for everyone to arrive. Thereafter, with the pass-arounds of...

Chorizo and Manchego Fritters with Paprika Alioli...

...and Herb-Crusted Tuna Carpaccio with Mustard Dressing, we enjoyed a few bottles of...

2004 Freixenet Cuvée D.S. Gran Reserva Cava - I've recently written about this a few times, so my last notes are as follows:

So named after Dolores Sala, a former president of the giant Freixenet conglomerate, this special gran reserva cuvée started being produced in 1969 and is made only in exceptional years. The 2004 is only the 17th bottling of Cuvée D.S. since inception. This cava displays a very fine, persistent mousse, more and readily apparent depth to its fresh, dry white fruit and has a notably firmer structure as compared to most all other cavas I've had. There is also a good deal of complexity to this, all the while maintaining a bright, fun and exuberant personality. This is locally available from ADP Industries, the exclusive Philippine distributor of Freixenet.

I could drink this all night - and we actually did - through the pica-picas, with the soup, salad, fish course - switching to reds with the meat course - and returning for more after dessert.
The Chorizo-Manchego Fritters, served hot, were mildly spicy, robust, slightly crunchy on the outside and juicy on the inside, while the Paprika Alioli was nicely creamy and had a nice garlic and red spice kick. The Herb-Crusted Tuna Carpaccio was very fresh, clean and the mustard dressing gave a nice zing to it. Both pass-arounds paired very well, I thought, with the cava, the latter a brightening, cleansing acid contrast with the first and a hand-in-hand lively freshness with the second.

Robert, Aled, John, Mike and Richard.

We eventually seated ourselves for dinner proper and the first course was then served.

Seared Prawns with Vanilla-Scented Corn Pudding and Red Pepper Salsa

Discussions on this dish touched on, among others, the robust vanilla flavors in the rich, creamy corn pudding, the seeming resurgence in the local Tiger Prawn industry and the general group preference for the Tiger Prawns used in the dish. With this dish, we continued with a third bottle of the gran reserva cava.

John, who is involved in agricultural feed distribution, gave us the lowdown on the local tiger prawn industry's apparent resurgence.

Carl then came out to introduce the next course...

Sautéed Foie Gras and Caramelised Apple Mille-Feuille, paired with...

2006 Domaine Bott-Geyl Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Sonnenglanz Vendanges Tardives* - From the members comments, this was clearly the wine and pairing of the night. I found this to be a particularly unctuous late harvest wine. Presenting a moderately viscous, slightly oily mouthfeel, this is a few notches over medium-bodied (its grand cru climat speaking most likely) with its rich wild-honeyed, mildly spicy lychee, very ripe cling peach, slight apricot, orange blossom and rose notes. Botrytis notes are apparent making me think this is at least halfway to being a sélection de grains nobles. Very rounded, especially mid-palate, acid balance is just enough to keep the wine bright and stave off being cloying and resultant palate ennui. Lovely, lovely wine.

Robert, a very experienced fellow wino, expressed great admiration for the wine, the dish and the pairing. He also noted that while gewürz is, indeed, a traditional Alsace pairing with foie gras (as is Sauternes) and that the wine and foie gras was served in traditional French sequence, having a vendanges tardives or SGN at that point in the meal makes it a bit difficult to switch to reds thereafter (i.e., the botrytis richness primes the palate to rich sweetness). Mike suggested that a well-chosen sorbet between the foie and main course would probably help bridge the transition.

*This is bottle was sourced from Jerome Philippon's Sommelier Selection, Domaine Bott-Geyl's Philippine distributor. The wine is from a special stock. Though not currently listed in Sommelier Selection's linked website, it is, in fact, readily available at P2870/bottle (500ml).

Spice-Roasted French Duck Breast
with Plum Chutney and Carrot Coriander Purée

Sorry, I forgot to take a photo of the bottle.

2002 Louis Jadot Nuits-St-Georges 1er Cru Les Boudots (Domaine Gagey) - From premier cru vineyards owned by the family of André Gagey (past Jadot managing director for almost 30 years), which vineyards are under long-term contract with Jadot. Enjoying the conversation, company, dishes and wines so much, I completely forgot to open the bottles to let breathe - much less decant them as needed. As a result of my negligence, the wine was just popped-and-poured and was initially a bit tight, inexpressive and over-powered by the duck.

After around 20 minutes, however, it did start opening up, showing relatively ripe, moderately deep, rustic black cherry, dark raspberry, some underlying blackberry, hint of violets, oak spice and loam. I felt that in another 25 minutes or so, it would have been much more deep and expressive. Unfortunately, I had already finished my glass. I'll try this out again and let it aerate properly next time. Available at Bacchus International.

Following this wine was a trio from Bodegas La Rioja Alta:

File photo

I've written about these wines from a tasting of Premium Wine Exchange's (the Philippine distributor of La Rioja Alta) pre-launch tasting at Terry's 2º Piso. Last night, the 2000 La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Reserva was, by all accounts, the clear star of all the evening's reds. I found this comparatively the most expressive and giving - presenting immediately captivating aromas of sweetish balsamico, cedar, bit of a minty topnote, well-ripened and concentrated loamy black cherry, hint of kirsch, dark raspberry, bit of blackberry, slight cinnamon, vanilla and licorice. Robert and Richard also commented that this was their favorite red of the evening.

I had also intended to serve the 1997 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904, but, unfortunately, it was already all sold out (together with the 1995 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 890). Hopefully, PWX will re-stock these wines soon.

Dessert was, as Carlo described, a typically Aussie Fresh Fruit Pavlova. There was a bit of discussion on the problems the night's particularly humid weather presented in making a pavlova, but we were all agreed how well Carl pulled this dish off. This light-footed, delicately creamy and sweet dessert was brightened and freshened by the fresh fruits. All our generously filled bowls were made short work of.

We then all moved poolside, lit up our cigars, chatted with Carl until he had to leave and took care of some club business over the rest of the wines and, for some, pours from Aled's bottle of Macallan 18 year-old Single Malt Whisky.

Very enjoyable dinner indeed. Many thanks to Carlo for preparing our delicious meal*, Aled for hosting us at his home and all the other MGC members for sharing their company. I look forward to the next!

*Those interested in booking Carlo for private dinners may contact him at 0928 502 3069 or via e-mail at chefsmiguel@gmail.com.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Dinner @ Ciçou with the Nietos.

Dinner last night, the 8th September 2010, was at Ciçou to finally meet Clem & Loidy Nieto from O.C., California. Clem and I "virtually met" each other around a year and a half ago in Wineberserkers, the fastest-growing USA-based internet wine community founded by Todd French. Clem and I are two of less than a handful of Filipino regulars and so immediately had a lot in common besides a shared passion for fine wines. Though we've been conversing about wine for quite a while, we'd never met in person until last night.

Around a week ago, Clem sent me a message on Facebook informing me he and Loidy would be in Manila this week and asked if we might have dinner. Clem generously wanted to share some very fine bottles from his cellar that he would bring over for his short trip. I, naturally, agreed and, after some schedule coordination with Clem, last night's dinner took place. We were 6 in all; aside from Clem & Loidy, Catha, Miguel, Rene and myself were in attendance (the Stockbroker and Vigneron are in Bordeaux now and Doc, though he said he'd try his best to join, got stuck at the hospital). Due to lack of material time to prepare a special menu, I asked Cyrille to prepare only one off-the-menu dish for us. We ordered the rest of our dishes from his regular menu.

The evening's reds.

Though Clem had brought along a 1995 Champagne Pol Roger Cuvée Winston Churchill, another fine vintage bubbly had already been opened to start the evening off...

1998 Champagne Billecart-Salmon Cuvée Elisabeth Salmon Rosé - Rene's bottle. Though initially a little tight, a bit of time in the glass opened up this subtle and elegant fresh strawberries,  red currant, light citrus and, past mid-mouth, overtures of freshly baked biscuit. Graceful medium body, lots of finesse in this, with precise balance as well. Lovely way to start an evening.

L-R: Clem, Loidy, myself, Catha, Rene & Miguel.

Due to the age of 2 of the reds and not wanting to take any chances with crumbling corks, I requested Rene to take charge of opening the bottles.

The old Riojan's cork came out cleanly (almost surely re-corked at the bodega judging from the looks of it); but the old Pauillac's broke in half down in the neck. Rene, however, deftly and cleanly eased out the remaining portion...

...and carefully returned the bottle to the service table.

Prawn Croquette amuse bouche

Cyrille explains how he prepared our off-the-menu first course.

Marbled Terrine of Pan-Seared Foie Gras and Unagi with Teriyaki Sauce, Salad and Lemon Confit, paired with...

1997 Rolly Gassmann Gewürztraminer Oberer Weingarten de Rorschwihr Sélection de Grains Nobles - My bottle. This is a luscious, sexy beast of a full-on botrytised gewürz that I picked up at Terry Selection a couple of months or so ago at around P5700/bottle (appx. US$127). Full, quite hefty, incredibly rounded honeyed, spicy lychees, peach, bit of orange rind underneath, notable depth of fruit, nice lilt of slate/white minerality. There is just enough acidity to keep it from being cloying. Rip-roaring wine, and well that it was as it needed to stand up to and complement Cyrille's luxuriously rich and indulgent dish (an absolute hit, by the way, at the last Commanderie de Bordeaux Manila dinner).

The pairing was incredibly good, if I do say so myself - and it was but natural as Alsace produces a lot of foie gras where it is normally paired with its local vendanges tardives or sélection de grains nobles gewürztraminers.

My Lamb Rack main course, très rosé as I ordered it. With this I had the 2 old reds.

Clem pours.

1966 Château Latour - Clem's bottle, a generous treat indeed. Rene, Miguel and I commented on how healthy and robust it looked for a 44 year old wine; we weren't too surprised though given Latour's aging capabilities. It carries its incredible depth and complexity matter-of-factly on its solidly structured full body. Earthy cassis, walnuts, bit of truffle, violets, slight midnight cherry, cedar, whisper of warm asphalt and a pinch of rich Cuban tobacco. Very masculine, discreetly powerful, has a somewhat smoldering character. Wonderful. Profound. It's recent flight to Manila didn't seem to affect it badly in any way. Excellent harmony and balance.

1964 Bodegas Faustino I Gran Reserva - My bottle, one of those that came straight from the bodega's own cellar and flown in from Spain by Miguel. We had one of these around 3 weeks ago at Mig's birthday lunch. This bottle was every bit as sublime: graceful, balsamico, cedar,  vague nuttiness, old violets and faint ceps lace a silken, seamless, bottle-sweetened, lightly red spiced black cherry, darkly ripe raspberry and plum elixir underpinned by worn leather, with the merest whisper of oloroso at the finish. Ethereal. A wine of old romance. Very refined, elegant, and, belies its 46 years with lovely balance, good push and precise acidity that made for a natural cut-and-counterpoint to the lamb. Loved it then, love it now.

Before main courses were finished, Rene noted we were running low on reds and summoned a Cheese Platter for the next bottles.

1993 Château Mouton Rothschild - Clem's bottle, one bearing the original label depicting Balthus' barely clad young lady in languid repose (sorry, I forgot to take a solo shot of the bottle). I've had a few of bottles of this in the distant past, way before I started my blog. My first bottle of this I opened sometime in May 2002, during dinner with Catha at the old Melo's in Greenbelt 1. I've had it twice since then, but didn't take any notes on them. The last I remember opening was at my dad's place one Christmas - probably in 2004 or 2005. In my notes of 2002, I opined that this would drink well through 2005. Judging from Clem's bottle, though, I obviously underestimated this wine at the time.

It's drinking well now, but after the 1966 Latour, it simply had to suffer in comparison. However, albeit the typical luxuriously textured, rich, concentrated, creamy, very ripe, chocolate-touched dark fruit and formidable palate presence of Mouton Rothschild presented dialed down several notches in this wine, it was still an admirable effort given the vintage. It did seem in much better shape than the '93 Haut Brion I opened this past mid-April.

1995 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande - Rene's bottle. I recounted to them that at the IWFS Pichon Lalande vertical dinner I attended a couple of years ago at Old Manila, I rated this wine my favorite over the PL '96, '89, '86, '75, etc. (there was no '82 PL at that event). This is a stylish, plush PL with more of a masculine slant like, say, the '85 and '89. Cedar, violets, cassis, ripe plum, black cherry, bit of raspberry, mere whisper of truffle, bit of new leather, pencil shavings, underlying loamy notes. This is bright and quite open (certainly one of the more open and enjoyable top growth '95 Médocs I've had at this point), but, to my mind, still too young. Though it undoubtedly is already pleasurable to drink, I believe this will gain a lot more depth and complexity over many more years. Nice now, but with a lot more in potential.

Dessert was another of Cyrille's new additions to his menu: the sinfully good Kouing Aman Cake from France's Brittany region - another of the big hits at the last Commanderie dinner linked above. I find it difficult to describe and not just gush mindlessly about. Just try it out yourself - it is one of those rare desserts that has a somewhat light palate feel/texture, but is incredibly rich in flavor without being cloying or tiring. Wonderful stuff.

2000 Château Dereszla Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos - Clem couldn't help but open yet another of his bottles for us. I actually tried to dissuade him as we already had quite a bit, but to no avail. Just about medium in weight, it showed typical honeyed, dried apricot, peach, bit of candied orange rind and vanilla bean. Acidity was on point, lending brightness and light feet. Quite nice, but I was already stepping into overload so had only one pour of this.

Cyrille joins us for a glass of Mouton Rothschild.

Truly a great pleasure to finally meet Clem, and, of course, Loidy, in person. A million thanks for the enchanting company and wines so generously shared. It is a pity they are here for so short a time, and with so busy a schedule at that. We only hope that our new friends come back soon and spend more time in Manila so that we may reciprocate properly. Maraming salamat, Clem! Hanggang sa susunod.