Monday, April 30, 2012

IWFS "Arias" Tuscan Event @ l'Opera.

Dinner this past Thursday, 26th April 2012, was at l'Opera for the Tuscan event of the International Wine &  Food Society Philippines Branch ("IWFS" or the "Society"). L'Opera had been a favorite restaurant of mine for many, many years, but, for some reason, I had not been back there since Oscar's Tuscan dinner back on the 13th June 2008. Organized by new IWFS president, Oscar Ong, the event, dubbed "Arias", had the added feature of a local tenor to serenade diners.

The meal started off with Assorted Amuses Bouches & Canapés paired with Montelvini Prosecco Asolo Superiore NV DOCG - a non-vintage Prosecco Asolo Superiore DOCG (since 1 April 2010) made up of 100% glera (a.k.a., the prosecco grape from the hills of Montello and Asolo falling within the specific DOCG limitations). This is a remarkably approachable, fresh, and floral prosecco with unusually fine bubbles (for a prosecco) and mousse . Acacia flowers and bright apple/pear flavors in a mildly creamy, leesy medium frame. Very pleasant and dangerously drinkable especially on a warm summer's eve.

This was followed rather quickly by De-boned Crab "Veneziana Style" w/ House-Marinated Salmon &  Grilled Zucchini, paired with 2008 Castello della Sala Cervaro della Sala Antinori (Umbria IGT) - Predominantly composed of chardonnay (hence it being an IGT), I remembered vividly the 2005 vintage of this wine which I had during one of many fine Italian wine lunches at Gaita Forés' now-defunct (and badly missed) Pepato, which 2005 version I found overly fat, rich, ripe, buttery, (new) oaky, and low on acid.

The subject 2008 vintage is, however, much different, and all the better therefor, in that its apples and pears were not exceedingly baked, over-ripe and slathered in butter and new oak. On the contrary, it was in balance. The oak was still quite evident mid-mouth and onwards, but, unlike in the 2005, one is not beaten over the head with it. Further, towards the back and through to the finish, it presented a nicely dry, appetite-enhancing almondy bitterness (from the minor grechetto component no doubt).

This was a very pleasant and welcome surprise; it showed enough palate-presence, weight, focus, freshness, and cut for the marinated salmon. I asked for a second pour.

Robert Burroughes and Jimmyton Araneta talk wine and craft beer.

Luciano Zanirato, who helped conceptualize this night's event, gives a short talk.

Alex Tiu and Markus Ruckstuhl.

IWFS Philippines President Oscar Ong presents the IWFS Cebu Branch's official certificate....

...and hands it over to IWFS Cebu President Dondi Joseph.

The pasta course was Home-Made Ravioli filled w/ Duck in White Truffle Sauce, paired w/ 2001 Antinori Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva - My last notes on this wine were from a dinner by Ian Padilla (then still working at Taillevent) for the Alabang Group on the 6th February 2009, to wit:

2001 Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva - My last notes on this wine were made barely 2 weeks ago at Sunshine and Rob's latest Gourmandise Dinner and are still consistent: 
The 2001 Badia a Passignano (100% sangiovese, my winner in our Blind Non-Bordeaux Challenge II) is as I remember: fullish bodied, nicely rounded and extracted, broad, showing well-knit, earthy dark fruit, kirsh/cherry, bit of raspberry, underlying espresso, with minor notes of roasted meat, mushroom, olive and violets. Nice depth. This time, though, I noticed more toasty oak/vanilla and a slight chocolate nuance.
I add now that, probably because this wine was open and breathing for at least 3 hours by the time we got to it, the roast meat notes had emerged further as noted by B and seconded by Tonj and Ken.
At the subject event, a little over 3 years after, my above notes still seem to ring true, save that I say now that it is now softer in fruit, better integrated, legitimately full-bodied, the chocolate notes are more apparent, and the wine had a general loamy character. Quite rich and concentrated in fruit, a bit low on acid. If I had any more bottles of this (which I don't), I'd drink them up every opportunity I'd get.

Oscar then poured Catha, Jim, and I a bit of the above-depicted 2009 Podere San Cristoforo Carandelle Sangiovese which was one of the candidates for pairing with the duck ravioli. It was more focused and with a more old-school, generally more food-friendly cut, but, to me, it didn't seem to possess enough stuffing to stand up to the creamy white truffle sauce.

Immediate Past President and still incumbent Wine Master Bernie Sim talks about the evening's wines... everyone pays close attention.

L-R: Oscar Ong, Lucy & Bernie Sim, Othmar Ober, and Freddy Pio de Roda.

L-R: Michael & Shiela Whiting, Jen & Robert Burroughs, Jim, & Catha.

L-R: Jun Sison, Noel Laman, Edwin Ong, Hans Brumann, Mike Aguas, & Jerome Philippon.

Front, L-R: Lawrie Martin & Bill Stone.

The meat course was Angus Beef Fillet embedded w/ Foie Gras Slivers in Truffle Sauce, paired with 2001 Antinori Tignanello (Toscana IGT) - my last notes on this were from an IWFS dinner at Tosca (at the Dusit Hotel, Makati) back on the 5th July 2007, as follows:

Then came the grilled Australian lamb chops served with fresh goat cheese and eggplant tartare, paired with the 2001 Antinori Tignanello. Simply put, I found the lamb excellently cooked: so juicy and yielding inside and with a nice, not overly done crust on the outside (over-done crust from a heat too high makes the herbs bitter and is usually accompanied by an inside too mushy near the bone). 
Before I could analyze the wine, someone said that he thought it was declining and another commented that it was too gamey for his taste. Knowing that their wine was poured from a different decanter, I sniffed and sipped mine and theirs as well. Theirs was definitely gamier than mine, while mine was noticeably more fruit forward and open. My wife, who overheard us, tried them as well and agreed with my assessment (her wine was poured from the same decanter as mine was). 
In my personal opinion, the wine is not the least in decline, but there was a definite difference between the two bottles. Since I like my reds with a touch of gaminess, I gladly switched with one of them, and we were both happy with the trade. 
The Tignanello was noticeably heftier, deeper, more pungent, woodier, more complex (notes of tobacco, licorice and espresso), marginally more focused and had bigger bones and a more "inherent" gaminess to it. 
No gaminess at the subject event, the minor cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc show in the wine's readily apparent, firmer structure (vis-à-vis the 2001 Badia a Passignano) and underlying, discreet, and well-knit cassis note. Olives, black coffee, licorice, bit of well-integrated cedar, and violets in the dominant sangiovese. Masculine, notable focus, structure, neatness, and comparative purity. Confident finish. Very nice alone and with the foie and truffle flavored filet.

L-R: Alex Lichaytoo, Robbie Delgado (flanked by his lady guests), Alex Tiu, & Markus Ruckstuhl.

Tenor Conrado Calnea Ong, III very capably rendered some better-known arias, broadway tunes and even some Philippine songs - contributing several high notes to the evening's enjoyment.

L'Opera founder and owner, and now Sommelier, the dapper Paolo Nesi, makes his appearance.

Dessert was l'Opera's signature Panna Cotta w/ Acacia Honey & Piedmonte DOP Hazelnuts, paired with 2005 Fattoria Le Pupille Elisabetta Geppetti Sol Alto Maremma Toscana - this wine I had a very difficult time getting a handle on - closest I can call it is a forwardly aromatic, moderately spicy late harvest (sweet) white that shows ripe cling peach, candied apricot, lychee, candied orange peel, and, in the nose, a hint of roses. Adequate acidity keeps it light-footed and entertaining. Good focus too.

Oscar, Bernie, Markus and Luciano present Paolo an IWFS Certificate of Appreciation & Recognition.

The kitchen crew is introduced and thanked with a round of appreciative applause.

L-R: Alex, Markus, Luciano, Mike, and Marnie Ong.

Clockwise from front-middle: Johnny Revilla, Jerome Philippon, Oscar Ong, Edwin Ong, Lucy & Bernie Sim, Othmar Ober, & Freddie Pio de Roda.

It was yet another memorable dinner with the IWFS. Congratulations to all who made it happen, and many thanks to those who shared their precious company. At evening's end, Catha, Alex, Jim and I moved to nearby Craft for some of Jim's newest craft beers - but that is another story. Cin cin, and, until the next!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Tintos Riojanos w/ French Cuisine? ¿Y por qué no?

Dinner of the 24th January 2012 was back at Brasserie Ciçou in Greenhills. We were six in all at the little get-together: Aaron & Jo, Matt & Chinkee, and Catha & I. Aaron had earlier suggested that we take the opportunity to test some bottles of red (sent by the respective producers) from Rioja to see if we should bring them in (nb, Aaron and I are partners in small-scale importation of traditional tintos Riojanos - we bring in only the wines/vintages we like and would/do drink ourselves).

To start off, we had a bottle of 2007 Agustí Torelló Mata Gran Reserva Cava - sent to Aaron by the producer. Fresh, effervescent, dry white grapefruit, slightly yeasty bread, green bean, lime, slight lemon. Light and lively. Not bad at all while picking at the starters of, among others,...

Fresh Mackerel Cooked in White Wine, w/ Salad Greens...

...Cold Cuts on Black Tile...

...Escargots à la Française...

...and Tartare de Boeuf.

Matt & Chinkee take their shots.

For our main courses,...

Boudin Noir, one each for Catha & Chinkee (photo by Chinkee);...

...and, US Grilled Certified Angus Rib-Eye (500g) w/ Potato and Squash Fondant, Garlic and Shallot Confit, & Bearnaise Sauce (Aaron & Jo split one, while I, typically greedy-eyed, got my own but shared it with the others). I recall Matt had the Boeuf Onglet for his main, but I wasn't able to take a photo of it. With the mains, we had the reds under review (all from 2001, an excellent vintage for Rioja):

2001 Bodegas R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Reserva - excellent fruit with notably pure, ripely sweetish black cherry, dark raspberry and dark strawberry with hints of new leather, violets and discreet/seamless wood spice. Evidently more rounded and heftier than their vintages 1999 and 2000. Excellent balance, precise acidity and notable structure. López de Heredia really hit their reserva out of the ballpark in 2001. My favorite of the evening. We didn't need to re-taste this, we will definitely be bringing this in.

2001 Bodegas Riojanas Viña Albina Gran Reserva - Beautiful aromas, best nose of the three reds. Reserved, proper Rioja and with notable Bordeaux-esque poise. Firmly structured. Very neat. Not a hair out of place. With around 15-20 minutes breathing, it fleshes out and gains slight meaty notes but maintains its poise. Impressive. This will age and evolve for decades in my estimation. Great potential for complexity in the years to come.

2001 Bodegas Riojanas Monte Real Gran Reserva - deep, meaty/sanguine fruit, supple, soft, rich velvet texture, plush, complex (oak-related) vanilla and red spiciness. A crowd pleaser for sure as it is comparatively more approachable at "only"/barely over 10 years from vintage. Nice layering. Thanks to Nicole for the photo as I forgot to take one of my own.

Less than 2 months later, during re-tasting of the above-mentioned 2001 Viña Albina and Monte Real Gran Reservas during a dinner at Terry's 2º Piso, it was very well-received by even more Rioja aficionados. The final decision was then made, we will be making this available in Manila as soon as we can.

Kouign Amanns all around for dessert!

Mignardises for our coffees and espressos.

¡Salud y hasta la proxima!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Friday the 13th Wine & Craft Beer Lunch @ Elbert's Steak Room.

Today's boozy Friday the 13th (13 April 2012) lunch was called by Aaron; Miguel handily made all the needed arrangements at Elbert's Steak Room. We were just four in all: Aaron, Jim, Miguel, and I (Edwin was supposed to join us but got waylaid at work). Both Jim and Mig had dinners to attend later on, so we laid down the rule of "reasonable drinking" for the lunch. As I was working at my Makati office today, I just walked over to our lunch when Aaron texted that he was already nearby.

As always, we started off with some good vintage cava: 2004 Freixenet Brut Nature P. Ferrer Bosch Gran Reserva Cava - from Aaron, of course, as his family's ADP Industries is the Philippine distributor of Spanish giant Freixenet. Named in honor of Pedro Ferrer Bosch, who, with his marriage to Dolores Sala Vivé, founded Freixenet, which, as I understand, is still family-owned, the 10th largest privately-owned wine company in the world, and the world's largest producer of sparkling wine.

I actually visited Freixenet in Sant Sadurni d’Anoia (under an hour's drive from Barcelona) with wine journalists from Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea on the 24th March 2010. The cellars are so huge one has to ride a tram just to get around. Amazing.

In any event, the subject 2004 Freixenet Brut Nature P. Ferrer Bosch Gran Reserva is a notably complex, vinous bubbly with freah, bright, rounded, dried fruit flavors of yellow apricot, citrus, sultanas and a bit of lime. Not as toasty or creamy as their Reserva Real (a cuvée made to commemorate the King's visit in 1987), but it does seem creamier than most other cavas I've had. This vintage gran reserva cava is aged for four years before release. I just am not sure if Aaron actually sells this or if he imports it exclusively for personal consumption. Definitely good stuff, which went perfectly with...

...the assorted Spanish deli that Miguel brought along. Clockwise from the left: Vela de Lomo, Osborne 5J Jamón Ibérico de Bellota, Smoked Duck Breast Ham, & Joselito Jamón Ibérico de Bellota. In the center was some spicy sausage Mig brought in from Italy (Milan?). We had 2 platters of this for the four of us.

Naturally, we also had to have some red, and, with the Spanish deli in mind, I brought along a bottle of 1998 Bodegas Riojanas Viña Albina Gran Reserva which I decanted for aeration for around 30-40 minutes before serving. As Aaron and I import this wine, as well as the 1998 Bodegas Riojanas Monte Real Gran Reserva, among others, I am constrained (out of delicadeza) to remain silent (but you can read my notes when Aaron and I tested this here and here). Suffice it to state that Aaron and I always try out each wine we intend to import at least twice, and bring in only the wines we personally like and would (and do) drink ourselves.

In any event, we are all sold out of this, so there is currently none to be had in the Philippines aside from our personal stashes. Besides, at this lunch, Jim noticed I wasn't drinking much red wine, and I replied that, during hot Philippine summer lunches, my preference strays more towards bubblies, whites and good beers.

A platter of Fresh Garden Salad for each of us (para healthy).

The guys all ordered the day's special Umami Burger. I didn't taste it, but it certainly looked great. I had the large size Roast Prime Rib with Fries (which I forgot to photograph).

Jim brought a bomber of the powerful and refreshing Rogue XS Imperial India Pale Ale (which his Global Beer Exchange distributes locally). Loved it with my roast prime rib. This hoppy, powerful, full-bodied and full-flavored yet smooth and refreshing Imperial IPA (a.k.a., "American Double IPA") is currently my craft beer of choice for steaks and specialty burgers. I'd have them with some nice, juicy ribs or grilled bratwursts and sauerkraut too. Can't seem to get enough of this. I had this just this past Monday at Mamou Too! and loved it with the Dry-Aged US Prime Bone-In Rib-Eye. My notes then were as follows:

From Jim, some excellent Rogue XS Imperial IPA. Powerful, macho, bright, hoppy, orange peel, citrus, with discreet underlying tobacco which continues on to its long, confident finish. Love the stuff; it also reminds me of the terribly hard-to-source Pliny the Elder by the Russian River Brewing Company (also an Imperial IPA) that Jim introduced me to. Definitely this is my type of ale. Jim intended this for the steak, but I liked it so much I virtually finished off my share of it before any food arrived.

Elbert's Jefe de Cocina, Adrian Cuenca, checks in on us.

It's not only I who takes photos of food and drink porn.



We then moved to the smoking room and continued with a bomber of Ballast Point Sculpin India Pale Ale from Miguel. Jim also distributes this, and explained that India Pale Ales must be consumed as fresh as possible, preferably within (as I recall) 6 months, more or less, from production. I've been enjoying this mouth-wateringly dry, hoppy, citrusy ale since I first tried it from Jim almost a year ago at The Tasting Room. As I wrote back then, when nice and fresh:

The Ballast Point Sculpin India Pale Ale is an exuberantly fresh, fruity (peach, mango) but dry, slightly floral, very hoppy pale ale with a long fruit finish with appetizing bitterness trailing. Nice brightness; smooth, it goes down very easily and is perfect for summer drinking. Easy to drink a lot of, and, at a mere 7% or so abv, one can slug it down all day at home, in a bar or at the beach.

From Elbert's drinks list, we also had a couple of bottles of St. Rogue Red, one from Rogue that I'd not had before. Bright, a light touch of hops, a roasted malt middle with a discreet red cherry nuance that stretches into the finish. This comes off clean, neat, and, after the Rogue XS Imperial IPA and the Sculpin IPA, comparatively on the lighter side. Nice enough, but I should have tried this before the inherently fuller-bodied and powerful IPA and Imperial IPA.

Got to enjoy another of Jim's India Pale Ales, the Victory Hop Devil IPA (brought by Miguel). I first had this on the 14th December 2011, briefly noting that: "This Victory Hop Devil IPA was surely a step up in strength, hoppiness and intensity, but still maintained a lot of refreshing character and good balance. Definitely my kind of IPA." This, together with the Victory Hop Wallop and Golden Monkey sold out very fast. Good thing Jim's next shipment is coming very soon as I'd like to have more of these for summer*.

That Jim is a good friend and regular drinking buddy does not affect my judgment on the beers he sells. I do, in fact, buy, drink and enjoy a lot of his beers at home and when out and about, and so do my teenagers - the eldest having shunned San Mig Lite ever since he got his first tastes of the craft.

Until the next!