Saturday, December 6, 2014

Lièvre (Hare) à la Royale with Châteauneuf-du-Papes.

Last night, the 4th December 2014, some of the guys and I eagerly braved Metro Manila rush hour traffic to congregate at Brasserie CiÇou for Cyrille's Lièvre à la Royale (literally: "Hare in the Royal Style") - so named because (although many stories abound) it is said that the dish was concocted for France's King Louis XIV (a.k.a., Le Roi-Soleil or "the Sun King") when he, because of persistent dental abscesses, demanded a dish fit for a king that was easily chewed.

Anyway, whatever its true origins are, this is, indeed, a dish fit for a king; and, having had it several times in Cyrille's former Restaurant CiÇou in Makati, I knew it was fit for us.

I arrived a bit late from Makati, so the guys were already making headway into some appetisers (herein of foie gras) and Sanju's bottle of Yeni Raki - a very popular brand of raki, which is Turkey's version of the French pastis, the Greek ouzo, etc. It tastes pretty similar to me - a nice, bracing, easily intoxicating, liquorice/anise reminiscent apéritif.

Cyrille shares some photos...
...entertains questions...

...and animatedly elaborates on the ingredients and preparation of lièvre à la royale. In the meantime, the first 2 of 4 bottles of Châteauneuf-du-Pape ("CdP" hereinafter) had already been opened and poured:

2010 Ferraton CdP Les Parvis - Alex's bottle, ordered from the restaurant's wine list. Sleek, neat, a rather polished, medium-bodied, decently structured CdP showing nice grip. The middle is decent, and the persistence/length quite acceptable. Predominantly grenache judging from its colour, flavour (quite "grapey"), weight, and frame. Sparing pinches of lavender and thyme. There must be little mourvèdre and syrah in this blend, as the meaty/gaminess our group looked forward to with the wild hare was absent.

That said, there is good typicity in this. I cannot fault this wine in any significant way, but, that said, it  was a bit too light, polite and "correct" for the rich, earthy featured dish. Likely still way too young as well.

Alex & Sanju discussing the 2010 Ferraton CdP.
1999 Château de Beaucastel CdP - My bottle. This was more like it. Materially bigger and heftier than the previous wine, this showed more depth, ripeness of fruit, and complexity. Moreover, the meaty-gamey-sanguine-iron notes were there, with a dose of garrigue, but in good moderation (nb., at 30+% mourvèdre in the blend). Notable balance, concentration, and good length. Nowhere as big as its vintage 2000 or 2001, but that's not a bad thing at all for me. Good show.

After the appetisers, I alone had a soup course (the French Onion Soup, of course), and we went straight to the evening's raison d'être.

Initially served naked (sans the sauce).
Cyrille anoints the dish...
...with the requisite sauce.
J-Lab, rushing from a late meeting, caught up just in time.
Voila - Lièvre à la Royale!
I won't bother trying to discuss the painstaking, time-consuming preparation, the ingredients (other than that the wild hare's blood plays an important role, as do foie gras and truffles, among many others), not to mention the depth of knowledge and skill needed to make this dish. I will tell you, though, that it is a rich, indulgent, slightly gamey heaven of a dish.

There isn't much left at Brasserie CiÇou, so, if you've a mind to try it, best hurry - and make sure to bring along a nice Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage, or CdP while you're at it for maximum enjoyment.

2008 Clos des Papes CdP - Paul's bottle. Rich, somewhat heady, comparatively soft, somewhat creamy, sweetly ripened/raisined fruit, notable concentration, rather full-bodied. There seemed to be a bit of a maderised theme to it, and a somewhat chewy mouthfeel as well. Surprisingly open, precocious and giving at only 6 years from harvest.

2004 Pierre Usseglio & Fils CdP - J-Lab's bottle. Wow, here we go, baby! I found this to be raunchy, profane, wanton, short, this was a bastos wine - and I loved how it gyrated with the wild hare. Meaty, sweaty, animal and old leather notes blended seamlessly with the fleshy, yielding ripe fruit. Big-boned, unabashed - like a wild boar running through the forest. At that point in the evening, a bit of kabastusan was, indeed, a welcome shift. This was my favourite wine to pair with the featured dish, shouldering my '99 Beaucastel aside unapologetically.

J-Lab contemplates the aromas as he mops up the last
of the hare's rich sauce with CiÇou's patented baguettes.
A couple of cheese platters with which to finish off the reds.

Dessert was, of course, Cyrille's iconic Kouign Amann with Salted Caramel Ice Cream. One cannot leave Brasserie CiÇou without having this for dessert - it's simply not done I tell you. Excellent as always. I've tried some other local renditions of this pastry (read: trying-hard, 5th rate copycats), but none even come remotely close. Truth is, even the "designer" kouign amanns in Paris do not please me as much as this does.

We also had some of Cyrille's signature mignardises, mandatory for my family and I whenever dining in Brasserie CiÇou. With them, a nice, and much needed, espresso.

Anna joined us later in the evening for some glasses of wine, marc, raki, and even a beer. We planned future dinners as well, including Cyrille's much awaited annual rendition of Babette's Feast. After profuse thanks to the Soenens, some of us (i.e., Alex, Sanju, & I) headed off to Elbert's Cigar & Whiskey Lounge for some puros and nightcaps...

...where we chanced upon a couple of friends/regulars catching some winks on one of the leather couches - prompting Alex to urge Elbert to charge them AirBNB rates for sleeping in the lounge.

Sanju, Elbert, Alex, & Jack
It was a wonderful evening all around, but, the flesh was weaker than usual. Thus, after just one double of my usual Tesseron Lot 53 XO Perfection, and a Partagas Serie D No. 4, I tore myself away and headed back home before I got too sleepy. Great night as always, guys! Until the next!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Quick Notes:1997 Domaine Faiveley Corton Grand Cru Clos des Cortons Faiveley.

With Saturday family dinner last night, 1st November 2014, at Champêtre, to pair with main courses (mine was Roasted Veal Tenderloin with Morel Sauce, and a side of fresh Chanterelles):

1997 Domaine Faiveley Corton Grand Cru Clos des Cortons Faiveley - The third bottle of this I've opened this year. All consistent - impressive, firm structure, big-boned, quite full-bodied, with good lift to its moderately spiced, well-ripened fruit. Mild sanguine and iron undertones. Wood is integrated rather well. A complete wine with notable heft, middle, finish, discreetly commanding palate presence throughout (no shouting here). Though still an adolescent, I believe this will continue to improve for many years to come. Enjoyable now; good ageing potential. I must find more of this.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Some Wines Enjoyed in Mamou Too!

I was at Mamou Too 2 days in a row a couple of weeks ago: lunch of Friday the 14th & dinner of Saturday the 15th March 2014, and had some pretty interesting wines.

Friday, 14 March 2014.

Late lunch with Alex and Paolo (Enki was out of town) after a hectic work week (well, they all seem pretty hectic these days), so much so that I didn't bother bringing any starting bubbly or white because I felt like just having meat and going straight to the reds (something that very rarely happens). I brought both bottles of red since lunch was my idea.

With some Dry-Aged US Prime Grade Rib-Eye...
...& Grilled Lamb Chops...

1985 Chateau Montelena Estate Napa Cabernet Sauvignon - Deep, nicely concentrated, mellow, soft dark fruit here on a neatly full-bodied frame. Good harmony and balance; this is what aged Napa cab should be all about, to my mind. Mainly moderately tobacco-and-loam-infused cassis, black cherry, and raspberry - the raspberry emerging more towards the back and trailing in a properly long finish, as do the cedar and well-integrated wood notes. Structure is good in this near 29-year old. Excellent with the indulgent meat dishes.

1995 Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste - This was popped-and-poured, and followed the above wine, thereby, I believe, suffering a bit in comparison. Past '95 GPLs have been, to my recollection, generally fuller than this subject bottle, and have made more of a definitive statement on the palate (those were given material aeration time in decanter and glass). After the '85 Montelena, however, the subject bottle seemed a bit too lightweight, young, primary, and simple - but that's most likely my fault rather than the wine's. Pleasant enough, but not too interesting for me that day, in that setting.

Pecan Pie w/ Schlag & a double espresso after, as usual.
As we were sitting outside so I could smoke, we were informed that there would be 5 live Maine lobsters available the next day - so Alex and I immediately agreed to meet up again for dinner and reserved 2 of the lobsters. Alex treated Paolo & I to said lunch - thanks again, bud. Much appreciated.

Saturday, 15 March 2014.

Again, I brought no bubbly, but Alex did bring a white - and an excellent one at that.

2010 Paul Pernot Bâtard-Montrachet
Honestly, recalling a 2005 version of this same wine, from the same producer, that I had tried out a couple of years ago, I wasn't at all expecting this wine, young as it was, to perform a fraction as well/openly as it did. Initially, it showed as the 2005 did - rather tightly-wound, presenting more citrus and minerally crisp green apple more than anything - pleasant, though not that interesting...

...though it did go nicely with the 1st Maine lobster.
However, after around 40 minutes or so of aeration and warming down in glass, the wine, indeed, came into its own - like it became another wine altogether: materially and luxuriously fleshed out and much, much heftier, the initial tightly-wound fruit turned buxom, rich, well-ripened, with butter, moderate vanilla bean, ripe pear, just a hint of peach, some baking spice, whispers of nuttiness, and gaining a pronounced crescendo and a long, flourishing finish. Wow. Very impressive, especially for so young a wine. A beauty indeed...

...and, by then, a perfect match for the 2nd Maine lobster - this time, per Alex's special request, prepared with more butter, olive oil & garlic - reminiscent of Thanh Long's crabs. Loved it.

Each lobster came with an order of Lobster Rice, which was nice enough, but not exciting - until, as Alex recommended, I mixed in some dried pepper flakes. That made everything pop, and turbo-charged my appetite for it. Incredibly good.

Will this this lovely, young grand cru white close down? Maybe. Will it maintain and/or improve over the long haul? I think so, it certainly seems to have the structure for it, but only time will really tell. The only problem would be keeping one's mitts off it to allow it to age. Alex had bought out the entire remaining stock of Premium Wine Exchange's stock of this, and knowing him, the rest of his bottles of this won't last long. Time for some canvassing/searching on the net for more (especially since Catha loved it as much as I).

For the meat course, we, again, went for an order each of the Dry-Aged US Prime Grade Rib-Eye & the Grilled Lamb Chops, with which we had:

1989 Vieux Château Certan - my bottle. This is a deep, dark, serious, complex, typical, quietly and elegantly powerful Pomerol. Remarkable balance and finesse. Fine structure/backbone (the unusual for Pomerol cabernet sauvignon element, most likely). Everything is neatly in its proper place. I immediately ordered more bottles of this. Enough said, save that, a couple of days later, after I posted a photo of this on Facebook, Vancouver-based Vince Tan commented that he just had this at a 1989 horizontal dinner of the Commanderie de Bordeaux of Vancouver, and that it was his favorite Pomerol and wine of the night - even preferring it over the 1989 Latour.

1988 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chapelle - Alex's bottle. It's been quite a long time since I've had an Hermitage from the '80s, the last one I can recall offhand was a 1985 La Chapelle in sometime in mid 2009. This was a few notches over medium-body, very smooth, comparatively light-footed, and quite complex with roasted Provençal herbs, bacon fat, cedar, bit of gaminess, roast meat, bit of leather, hint of walnut skin seamlessy infused in its dark raspberry, strawberry and underlying black currant. Good, long finish. There could have been a bit more presence in the middle, but that's picking nits. A suave wine indeed.

Again, some Pecan Pie w/ Schlag, followed by double espresso.
Love eating at Mamou Too! The fine wines certainly don't hurt either. I made sure that they give me advanced notice next time live Maine lobsters are available - they're like gold in these parts. To go with them, I have some 1989 Louis Latour Bâtard-Montrachet & Corton-Charlemagne (im)patiently waiting. So, until the next!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Bon Voyage Dinner for Clem Nieto.

Dinner of Thursday, the 27th February 2014, was one to bid OC, California-based wine buddy, Clem Nieto, bon voyage on his trip back home. Upon Alex's suggestion, we held it in the venerable, old Tivoli of the Mandarin Oriental Manila, catching the tail-end of visiting Michelin-starred chef, Richard Toix's, week-long stint there. We were six in all: Clem, Alex, J-Lab, Sanju, Apa, and I.

Mandarin Oriental Manila's ever-charming Director of Communications, Charisse Chuidian, kindly made our reservations for us; and dapper F&B Director, Peter Pysk, took great care of everyone, to the extent of personally managing our bottles' chilling, decanting, service, and recommending the sequence for pairing with Chef Toix's special dégustation menu.

We started off with a couple of champagnes:
Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Brut NV - Sanju's bottle. Notable freshness, focus, vibrancy, and purity of fruit in this - green apple (mainly) and citrus. Healthy acidity makes this quite bright on the palate. Some time warming down in the glass added the needed bit of heft/body in the middle. I made a mental note to have this with some fresh oysters next time.

2002 Moët & Chandon Dom Pérignon - Alex's bottle. I've gone through so many of these the past year or so. Though young, it is already extremely enjoyable. To my mind, DP really hit it out of the proverbial park in 2002 - wonderful balance, body, fruit, creaminess, everything. I was so disappointed when the 2002 vintage eventually disappeared from local shelves. Though, as earlier stated, I did buy a lot of these - they weren't enough; and, sadly, I simply couldn't keep my hands off them, and, so, drank them all. Unless some distributor here brings more in (I'm hoping, but not holding my breath), I'll just have to bring in my own from abroad.

Clem (with his bottles lined up) and Sanju listen intently to the description of the night's special dégustation menu, which all of us, save for Apa, went for.

I continued with the 2002 Dom for the amuse bouche
of Oyster & Beetroot Jelly...
...and the Chaud-Froid of Young Vegetables & Shellfish.

With the Potato & Black Truffle Croustillant, we moved to the 1996 Domaine Coche-Dury Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Enseignères - Clem's bottle. My glass of this had been sitting/warming for quite a while before I got to it with this dish, though I did give it an initial sniff and sip after it was first poured (I, typically, have always proceeded much more slowly with my meals/wines than most everyone else - which most always holds everyone else up during evaluative blind tastings - but that's how it is).

Indulgent on the palate, but with proper progression from attack to finish, good crescendo, fine middle, a refined, polished, complete white. Everything is properly in place here. Slightly honeyed/spiced ripe/baked apple, ripe pear, bit of peach, little yellow apricot past mid-mouth, the butter note emerges in the middle and follows neatly through the finish. Remarkable balance, the acidity kept everything interesting - no flabbiness here. Lovely, lovely wine.

With the same white, I continued with the sweetishly-savory Chestnut Velouté. J-Lab felt this cream-enriched soup course was too sweet for the wine, but I felt that its richness and ripeness, together with its acid balance made for a good, though admittedly particularly indulgent "running-with-the-ball" pairing.

Remise en bouche: Mushroom, Bacon Ice Cream, White Chocolate.
The night's reds (photo by Sanju)...
...all meticulously decanted and served by Peter Pysk.
Served first was 1978 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande - My bottle. This was a particularly expressive, masculine bottle, presenting a confident bouquet and flavors of typical, warm gravel, pencil lead shavings, mushrooms, dark fruit, and cedar. Meaty, almost (but not quite) chewy mouthfeel, soft, mellower on the palate than in the nose. Over-all, it could have had better focus, but that's picking nits - this was a fine aged Pauillac. I've had very many of this vintage, and this was a very good specimen - one of the better ones, really - but was, to me, overshadowed by the two other reds.

1997 Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé Grand Cru Musigny - Alex's bottle. Oh my, but this was a beauty from the get-go. Ripe and ready, precocious at a mere 16+ years from harvest, it presented a fresh, perfumed nose of sweetly-ripe dark berries, whispers of sous bois and truffles, dark flowers - no Burgundy decay (yet) detected - but, then, this is but a teenager - and I imagine that will develop eventually. Lovely texture, youthful, nonchalantly sexy curves. Though acidity is a bit lowish for me, it is extremely difficult not to gush over this wine. Unanimously and almost immediately proclaimed the wine of the night. Will it age gracefully over the next, say, 20-25 years? Maybe, I think so, but, if I had any of these of my own right now, it would be virtually impossible to keep my hands off them.

The main course was Nori Crusted Lamb Loin. This is the first time I had a nori-encrusted lamb dish, and its flavor was quite evident - a bit strange to me at first, but it grew on me. More interesting than anything, but, then, at this stage, I am quite set in my ways. I liked it, but, for meals such as this, I'd stick to the "usual" herb crust - but that's just me.

1995 Château Lafite Rothschild - Clem's bottle, one he generously decided to bring to share when I much earlier mentioned that, of vintage 1995's 1855 classified first growths, Lafite Rothschild's was the only one I hadn't had yet. Muchisimas gracias, Don Clem. Definitely still young, but this shows its pedigree - a patrician red, it is a few notches over medium-bodied, but presenting an elegant, self-possessed character. Minty topnote to its properly reserved, fresh nose of dark berries, violets, and cedar; it is still primary, but remarkable depth, harmony, and balance are pretty obviously there. It is a "total package" to me, albeit a youthful one. Already lovely, but will definitely improve through many years in the future. A keeper, for sure.

J-Lab as cameraman & lightsman all at once.
With the pre-dessert Cauliflower-Basil Sorbet...

 ...and the dessert course proper, Chef Toix's spin on Black Forest, we had glasses of 2007 Tamellini Recioto di Soave Vigna Marogne de Costiola - J-Lab's bottle. Moderately intense/sweet, light-footed, this was a neat, sweet white showing honeyed sultanas, preserved golden apricots, and a mild, underlying suggestion of orange rind. Good acid balance. The acidity keeps things fresh and light. Very charming wine.

Meanwhile, Peter had joined us for some glasses of the reds, and discussed each dish with Sanju. In the foreground, on the right, are two more bottles of red that were handed suspended sentences: Clem's 2001 Guigal Côte Rôtie La Landonne & my 1985 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.

Cheers! Us with visiting Chef Richard Toix & Mandarin Oriental
Manila's F&B Director, Peter Pysk (photo from Apa).
However, after my usual post-dinner espresso...

...Clem offered up a closing bubbly: 2002 Champagne Philipponnat Clos des Goisses Brut - Laser-focused, steely lines of bracingly vibrant, white grapefruit and citrus. Edgy, racy acidity, this may have fleshed out and gained heft had we allowed it some time, but the toasts were quick as we hurried downstairs to Martinis to catch the sets of...

...The Blue Rats...
...while enjoying some stiffer drinks and Cuban cigars.

I was also able to catch up with longtime buddy, Johnny Besa, in between sets (Johnny plays the bass, and, occasionally does back-up and lead vocals for certain songs), over some doubles of Macallan 12-year old single malt.

Thereafter, during the final set, upon Alex's "persistent suggestions", we moved to Kipling's (the hotel's whisky and cigar bar) for more single malt (from Alex's stash there), cigars, and stories shared. I don't recall what time we finally called it a night, but I got home past 2am. It was a great night, certainly a lot of fun, and, if I may say so, a fine and fitting send-off for Clem. Until the next!