Monday, June 25, 2018

Badia a Coltibuono "Historical Vintages" Tasting.

On a recent trip to Tuscany, for Sunday, the 3rd June 2018, 11am, I had booked Catha & myself for a "Historical Vintages" tasting (i.e., old vintages of their Chianti Classico Riservas, private tour included, by pre-booked appointment only) at Badia a Coltibuono in Gaiole, Chianti. We were based in Montalcino at the time, so we had to get up a little earlier for the approximately 1&1/2 hours' winding drive northward. We made it in good time.

Originally built in the 11th century to be a monastery of the Vallombrosan Order of Benedictine monks, it was eventually bought in 1846 by wealthy Florentine banker Michele Giuntini. Passed down through the years to his descendants, now the Stucchi-Prinetti family (for lack of male Giuntini heirs at some point), one of whom, a lady, still lives there (but travels very often). I understand that she has a son; but he doesn't live there.

The estate's French styled gardens.
The estate's original Latin name was Badia a Cultus Boni, or, in English, "Abbey of Good Cult", alternatively, "Abbey of Good Agriculture/Harvest" - a testament to the fertility of its soil (the monks had to grow their own vegetables for sustenance after all).

The old well from which the monks drew their water.

Restored 16th century paintings and furniture line the corridors. These are still in actual use - one can sit in the chairs. In other venues, these would be just for display, cordoned off from use.

Down to the cellars where their wines are aged in varying sizes of oak barrels. The vineyards and modern winery themselves are 15 minutes' drive away; but the finished wines are brought to this estate for ageing.

In this part of the cellar are kept the estate's old vintages. It is from here that the bottles for the "historical vintages" tasting are taken. The very oldest bottles, of course, are not made available for tastings; but are kept by the family for historical purposes.

On the music lounge's ceiling is an old restored mural of the Vallombrosan order's symbol. The old abbey's original oratory was dedicated to San Lorenzo di Coltibuono who was martyred by being roasted alive over a grill - hence the grill with a crown. The hand on the right side holds a stick used for farming purposes, identified with the Vallombrosan order's founder, San Giovanni Gualberto.

Old restored mural of San Giovanni Gualberto.

The tour done, we settled outside for the tasting.

It wasn't one of those ubiquitous tastings during which one gets small pours of each wine. Four bottles of their Chianti Classico Riserva were open in our presence; and the bottles were ours to do as we wished. The older vintages that day were 1994, 1970 & 1969, with a current 2013 thrown in for comparative purposes.

The 1994's cork stuck stubbornly to the sides and would crumble in the middle when pulled; thus, necessitating straining into a decanter. Uncorking the 1970, 1969 and, of course, the 2013, presented no such problems.

The 1994 was the heftiest amongst the older wines, being a few notches over medium-bodied. It also came off as the most concentrated. I figured it would be the best for a meal. The 1970 was in notably good shape for a 48 year-old wine, presenting serene, contemplative soft fruit. The 1969 was comparatively the least in body, concentration, heft and ripeness, as we detected some greenness/stemminess, as well as drying tannins in the finish.

None of the older ones had particularly long finishes. Over-all, it appeared to me that the producer goes for a more old-school, classic, drier, acid balance lifted, elegant style as opposed to the richer, riper, lower acid modern style.

After the tasting session, Catha & I chatted with our guide (a very charming German lady who is married to an Italian) until a little before 2pm, then walked to the producer's nearby on-site restaurant for lunch; bringing along the rest of the older bottles (we left the remains of the 2013). Immediately above depicted is Catha's pasta course with squid, tomatoes, black olives and toasted breadcrumbs.

My pasta course featured braised duck sauce.

As we were to have dinner not too long from then, Catha didn't want a main course. Mine was the Braised Rabbit Leg en Fricassee. With it, I had mainly the 1994, and, thereafter, some of the 1970. The 1969 I poured a bit of to see if it would improve. It didn't. After a double espresso each, we drove back to Montalcino.

In all, the tasting and tour were quite enjoyable. The wines themselves were nice enough in varying degrees (well, except the 1969). I certainly wouldn't mind having their 1970 again; and am curious about their 1985, mid to late '90s and their 2001. We shall see.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Re: Young Tuscan Reds: Another "New Discovery".

On Thursday, the 7th June 2018, I was back for dinner at Cibrèo, this time, instead of their more formal ristorante, at their more casually chic caffè across the street (Caffè Cibrèo) because this is the only Cibrèo establishment that serves their (deservedly) highly recommended bistecca alla Fiorentina (melt-in-your-mouth, moist, served off the bone, with butter involved, etc.). It shares a kitchen with the ristorante, by the way.

Almost immediately after I was seated (with Catha, as Apple Lazaro-Villadolid and Bernadette Ofiana-Davis caught up after a few minutes), the ristorante's sommelier passed by, recognized me from the other night, and stopped to say "hello". We chatted briefly and I asked her what wine on the caffè's list would go best with the steak. She responded by saying that she'd bring me the ristorante's wine list from across the street. After a few minutes, list in hand, I glanced at it for a couple of minutes and said: "Please choose our red for us, and a starter white as well; after your great recommendation the other night (see: 2014 Fontodi Flaccianello della Pieve immediately below), I'm happy to go with whatever you decide."

After a vividly crisp, refreshing, zippy, appetizingly dry 2016 Fattoria Naní Origini Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC Classico Superiore to go with our many starting dishes...

...with the steak, we had the 2015 Il Tagliato Balze d'Istrice. This is a Tuscan IGT (80% sangiovese, 20% merlot, production typically only 1000 bottles per year) from producer-owned vineyard high in the hills of Greve in the Chianti Classico region. The producer's name, "Il Tagliato", means "The Blended"; and the bottling's name, "Balze d'Istrice", means "Cliff of the Porcupine" (hence, the drawing of the porcupine on the label). Big, full-bodied, notably/lushly ripe and generous. Rich dark red fruit, plum, cherry, cola, chocolate, vanilla (must see some new oak in the barrels), quite concentrated and dense; but, with decent freshness, adequate lift, it somehow, remains in balance. Comes off quite modern. That all said, it was more than a decent pairing for our indulgent steak main course.

If one somehow comes across this wine (may be tough if one is not in Florence or elsewhere nearby in the Tuscan region given the small production), it's definitely worth a try as it is moderately priced (around 65€ on the wine list). Well worth a go, in my book.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

An Eye-Opener on Young Tuscan Red.

I normally shun young reds unless for academic tasting. For meals, I go for wines with at least a bit of maturity; but, a recent experience during a recent trip to Tuscany just might change that. During dinner at Ristorante Cibrèo (Florence) on Tuesday, the 5th June 2018, I asked the sommelier about two '95 IGTs on the wine list. She gave me information thereon, then recommended to go with my main course of...

...a night's special Chianina Carpaccio with Fresh Mushrooms...

...the very young (and materially less costly) 2014 Fontodi Flaccianello Della Pieve. I told her I prefer aged reds; but she gently urged me to try this out instead - saying she prefers aged reds herself; but that this is an exception. I decided to follow her advice, and I'm very glad I did.

I found it to be an irresistibly lovely young wine. After time in the glass, it opened up and presented clean, fresh, vibrant berries with notable purity and neat lines. Slightly over medium-bodied, nicely rounded/ripe tannins. Very smooth. A joy to drink. My wife loved it too. Excellent stuff. Days later, while wandering around the old part of San Gimignano, I happened across a wine shop with only one bottle of this for sale (moderately priced at 70€). Without hesitation, I bought it to bring back to Manila. Around 2 days later, back in Manila, I bought a couple of the 2013 vintage from Premium Wine Exchange. I've yet to try the 2013; but I plan to do so soon. I learned something new, and that's always good.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Clem in Manila 2016, Part II: Burgs at Champêtre.

The next evening, Friday the 26th February 2016, was a more wine-centric dinner at an old favorite brasserie, Chef Marc Aubry's Champêtre. We were only 6 in all this time.

L-R: Alex, Clem, me, Catha, Richard & Aaron.
Alex starts opening the bottles... does Richard. Some corks broke in half, but we managed.

I had earlier reserved a few orders of Moules de Bouchot, prepared à la Marinière; the relatively smaller, tender, succulent, delicately and distinctively flavored AOP mussels flown in live from France.

With the moules, we started with a bottle of 2001 Domaine des Comtes Lafon Meursault Clos de la Barre - Alex's bottle. Properly dry and reserved; it presents its precisely minerally, slightly nutty fruit on a medium-plus body. Notable depth and firm structure. Patrician, yet decidedly masculine; like a gentleman farmer.

Richard had opened a 1983 Robert Sarrau Pouilly-Fuissé - Unfortunately, the wine was way past its time, showing disturbingly mushroomy, sherry-ish notes. While it did pull a slight Lazarus towards dinner's end, it was really just too far gone.

The '01 Lafon Meursault Clos de la Barre went very well with the afore mentioned moules, the immediately above depicted Escargots à la Bourguignonne...

...and, especially with Marc's signature Terrine of Foie Gras d'Oie with Brioche and Berry Compote. This, for me, is, without doubt, the best terrine of foie gras in the country. I've yet to try anything here that even comes close.

With the goose foie gras terrine, I also greatly enjoyed Clem's 2000 Champagne Krug - Broad, rich, impressively round and long, opulently creamy, nutty, with butter & baking spice lacing its dried fruit base. Lovely champagne.

For main courses, Clem had the salmon (of which I have no photo); while Catha went for her usual...

...Roasted Veal Tenderloin with Morel Sauce.

By then, we had begun on the night's reds; beginning with Alex's 2003 Domaine Prieuré Roch Grand Cru Clos de Vougeot - this precocious, muscular, youth already shows notes of iron, meat & slight Burgundy decay in its deep, concentrated, tannic, sweetlishly ripe (bordering on jammy) dark fruit. Big-boned and full bodied. Intense, heady stuff. Very long. Clos de Vougeot on steroids...

...which easily stood up to my hearty, perfectly cooked & juicy Grilled Lamb Chops.

With our main courses, we also enjoyed my bottle of 1997 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches - Still notably fresh with good acidity, which cuts nicely through the hearty lamb. Notable grip. A notch or two over medium-bodied; sappy dark red berries over plum base, with good earthiness, focus, and definition. More than decent length; nicely rustic. I had my share of this before finishing off the other two reds, as, comparatively, this was the lightest in body.

Clem's 1988 Joseph Drouhin Grand Cru Charmes-Chambertin was ample, richer and more concentrated than any other Charmes-Chambertin that I can remember having had. Notably ripe, but not over-ripe or jammy, with precise intensity. Good balance and harmony in this relatively stylish Charmes-Chambertin. Lovely stuff.

We finished off the mentioned bottles...
...with a shared platter of assorted French cheeses...
...Marc joining us as the evening's service wound down.

We had started on dessert, the first of which was a Dark Chocolate Nelusko Cake (the remains of which are on the red platter immediately above), which got Marc and I in a discussion about desserts that were popular in Manila in the late '70s to early '80s. Marc then began sending us more desserts:

Melt-in-your-mouth Tarte Tatin
Superb Baba au Rum with Fresh Strawberries.
Excellent "Pithivier" of Pears with Frangipane Sauce.

Our conversation about de rigueur desserts of the past, Marc then sent us the new Champêtre Mystere, his take on Baked Alaska (which was the rage in '70s Manila) - dried figs & Cointreau ice cream, coated in meringue and roasted almonds...

...served flambée, naturellement.
Aaron then noted that none of the bottles he brought were yet opened. Though the rest of us were already quite full by then (and most of us had had a lot to drink the previous night), some suggested we open his wines next we meet. Richard, however, was still a bit thirsty, so...

...Aaron immediately offered up his bottle of 1994 Harlan Estate - Very impressive. Deep, intense, concentrated, full-bodied, distinctively Napa, but remarkably refined (more than other vintages I've had). Good restraint, though undeniably rich. Well-knit, streamlined, with notable acid balance that keeps things interesting. A class act of a Napa cult.

Seven wines for six persons - a very reasonable wine dinner. Alex clamored for more, stronger stuff, and invited everyone to his place for cognac, single malt & gin with Cuban cigars, but, as most of us already had a lot the previous night, we were constrained to decline his generous offer (but that certainly didn't stop him from having a few himself at home).

Thanks for setting aside time for us, Clem! Great seeing you as always! Until the next!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Clem in Manila 2016, Part I: Bar Pintxos, Tapas y Más.

February the past several years has been marked by California-based fellow wino's, Clem Nieto's, annual visit to Manila. This time, Clem had only 2 successive free nights in Metro Manila, so some of us Usual Suspects made sure to have dinner with him both those nights; the first one, the 25th February 2016, being at Miguel & Tinchu's Bar Pintxos, Tapas y Más (which everyone just calls "Pintxos").

L-R: Rene, Sanju, Clem, me, Alex, Cutie, & Catha.

For purposes of efficient drinking, we started early at 6pm; kicking the early evening off, as usual, with a couple of bottles of Ayala champagne, both courtesy of Alex:

NV Champagne Ayala Blanc de Blancs (no photo, unfortunately) - Edgy, nervy, appetizingly dry, racy; a rather linear, light-bodied champagne dominated by notably pure, keenly focused green apple & citrus, infused with a Chablis-esque white minerality.

2002 Champagne Ayala Cuvée Perle de Ayala Brut - Similarly pure, focused, crisp, vibrant and racy as the immediately above mentioned NV Blanc de Blancs, but obviously heftier, creamier, with more of a pronounced middle, creamier texture, and added notes of nuts and brioche.

Both bubblies were enjoyed with the first few pintxos of:

Fresh Tuna, Guindillas & Anchovy.
As we know Clem prefers lighter seafood dishes over heavier meat-based fare, almost the entire menu revolved around seafood.

Salmorejo with Scallop & Crisped Jamón Accent.

By then, a few of us had started on Alex's bottle of 2008 J-M Brocard Chablis Premier Cru Montée de Tonnerre which presented good freshness in its cold limestone & seashell laced green apple and Korean pear. A shade or two lighter than medium-bodied, with a nice roundness to the fruit.

Next was a platter of Miguel's more recent creations: Pintxos of Boquerónes, Uni (flown in fresh from Japan) & Caviar.

Clem then opened and shared his bottle of 2002 Champagne Piper-Heidieck Cuvée Rare - A broader, more expansive, riper style of bubbly compared to the two previous Ayalas, featuring creamy, softly-baked apples and pears with a touch of almond paste. Good complexity and heft. This went very nicely with the following heftier...

...Pintxo de Bacalao con Crema de Ajo, and...
...Gambas a la Plancha.

The Besugo a la Oriotarra bears special mention - a recipe taught to Miguel by our Basque friend, Javi Lecumberri (a.k.a., Xabi Lekunberri), who hails from San Sebastián. The fresh besugo is cooked in the style of Orio, a fishing village a short drive west (following the coastline) from San Sebastián (towards Getaria), its western perimeter on the river Oria. Incredibly succulent, moist, gently laced with olive oil, a bit of cooked vinegar, garlic and a bit of chili. Simplicity at its best. Loved it.

Moving on to more substantial fare, we had a few orders of Huevos Estrellados con Patatas y Chistorra. This is one of the typical comfort dishes I favor in Bar Pintxos...

...and it went great with the delicious bottles of Russian River Blind Pig IPA that Clem brought along.

Bar Pintxos partner, Tinchu, proudly serves... of two huge dry-aged Chuletónes, served, as is traditional, with sides of fries and confited piquillo peppers. The beef was from Carnicería Asensio in San Sebastián, flown in for us by Xavi during his previous trip to Manila.

Clem looks a bit intimidated by the chuletón's size.

With the hearty beef course, we had some 2003 Bodegas López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Reserva (care of yours truly) - Notable riper, denser, lusher in fruit and fuller in body than the usual Viña Tondonia, the unusually hot vintage weather is obvious indeed. It is still quite primary, with just the merest hints of balsamico and the producer's distinctive oxidative style, but, to my mind, already enjoyable with a big, juicy steak.

I note that many other producers went a bit wild in oak exposure in this vintage (maybe because they figured the fruit could take it), but, in López de Heredia's case, it maintained its judiciousness as far as oak goes.

Meanwhile, Sanju had already opened his bottle of Sipsmith London Dry Gin, with which we had as many Gin-Tonics as the bottle allowed. I also shared a bottle of Monkey 47 Gin, but I forgot to take a photograph of it. Both bottles were gone by the evening's end.

The gang with chef-patrón Miguel (4th from right). ¡Salud!

Dinner done, we refused to call it a night; so, 5 of us intrepid imbibers made our way back to Alex's place (very near where Clem, Sanju & Cutie stay) for some Cuban cigars, cognac, single malts & more gin-tonics. I vaguely recall Clem got pretty smashed, so I made sure to get him back to his place before 2am (barely), so he could recuperate well for the following dinner.

Great night; great to see Clem again. Until the next (night)!