February 28, 2008

Domaine Ponsot 2005 Tasting

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Last night I went to the eagerly anticipated tasting of the 2005 vintage from Burgundy’s Domaine Ponsot. The tasting was organized by the HK supplier Altaya Wines, run by my friend Paulo, and was held at the China Club.

2005 has been touted as a sort of “vintage of the century”, and the Domaine’s top wine – Clos de la Roche Vielles Vignes – earned a score of 99 points from critic Allen Meadows. Many of us present had purchased our allocation of these wines, but since we would likely not open them until the wines have reached maturity 10-20 years later, it was a rare chance to get a feel for the wines across the range.

We started with the 2005 Morey-St-Denis 1er Cru Clos des Monts Luisants. This is a monopole white made from old vines Aligoté, planted in 1911. Laurent Ponsot explained that many people do not know that in the old days, Aligoté made up a significant portion of the white wine production in Burgundy. The nose was a little "hot", with notes of pear and minerals. Acidity was on the high side, with a slightly bitter after palate. While Laurent is obviously very proud about this special wine, I think I would stay with Chardonnays in Burgundy...

Next up was a trio of village wines. The 2005 Chambolle-Musigny Cuvée des Cigales had a sweet grassy nose, with notes of strawberries. In fact it smelled a little like a new world pinot...The tannins were evident, while there was a lot of acidity. This combination should actually make for a good one in the long run.

The 2005 Gevrey-Chambertin Cuvée de L'Abeille was my favorite of the three, an opinion shared by others at the table. The nose was very sweet, fruity and forward, much more fragrant than the Chambolle. Compared to the Chambolle, the tannins here were much lighter. Overall this wine drinks much better now in its youth.

The 2005 Morey-St-Denis Cuvée des Grives - situated between Gevrey-Chambertin and Chambolle-Musigny - was not very attractive. The nose smelled a bit "medicinal" and the fruit only showed up much later in the tasting. Tannin levels were between those of the Gevrey and the Chambolle, and I could taste the significant acidity. On the palate it probably was the middle ground between Gevrey and Chambolle.

We then moved to the pair of 1er Crus. The 2005 Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Charmes was a significant improvement over the village wine. The nose was very intense, sweet with a hint of grass and a strong dose of iron and minerals. Here we have again a wine that reminds me of blood. Tannins were soft and the acidity was well-balanced. Very nice.

The 2005 Morey-St-Denis 1er Cru Cuvée des Alouettes was a very ripe and forward wine with an even sweeter nose. I tasted a bit of tannin but the wine was pretty well-balanced. Very enjoyable and significantly higher on the quality scale than the village wine.

The two grand crus from Chambertin were served next. The 2005 Chapelle-Chambertin  again showed a sweet, grassy nose with black cherries. The wine very very smooth, ripe but not "hot". There was a bit of acidity on the palate. Very, very enjoyable and again a notch above the 1er Crus.

The 2005 Griotte-Chambertin, which Laurent Ponsot described as the "lolita" readily displaying her charmes, was for me the wine of the tasting. It was a ripe and powerful wine, with an explosively sweet nose that blew me away. Drinking today, it showed a bit better than the Chapelle-Chambertin - the "lady" as Laurent would describe it.

Views were divided across the table as to which one performed better. The vines were planted with the same clone, and the harvest dates were almost identical. But the terroir of the wine showed through...

The last wine of the tasting was of course the 2005 Clos de la Roche Vielles Vignes. Everyone had high expectations, and I dare say that most were at least somewhat disappointed. The acidity was quite high, and the nose was very muted - I didn't get any fruit out of it. As Laurent said, this wine would probably reach maturity only in 20 years, so I guess we will wait and see.

1. Don't buy the village wines (which I did not).
2. 1er Cru is worth buying (bought the Chambolle-Musigny).
3. The two Grand Crus from Chambertin are better value than the Clos de la Roche VV (bought all of them, but my allocation on Griotte and Chapelle was smaller than the Clos de la Roche!)

Post Script: After the tasting, a few of us got together for dinner at Bonheur. Michelle brought a bottle of 1985 Guigal Cote-Rotie Brune et Blonde, which we drank happily. I have served the three single-vineyard Cote-Rotie LaLaLa's in an MNSC tasting 3 years ago, and was looking forward to tasting their cousin. It drank beautifully - especially for the price paid. It was a classic Cote-Rotie with the telltale perfumed nose from the viognier. Very smooth after more than 20 years' of aging, the tannins were soft and yummy.

I brought along a bottle of 2002 Pax Syrah Walker Vine Hill. This is from one of my favorite Californian Syrah producers, and it's basically a fruit bomb weighing in at 15.2% alcohol. We decanted the bottle, each had a couple of sips, and poured the wine back into the bottle. I will be having it tonight after 24 hours...

The food at Bonheur was good as usual. My starter of jamon iberico with raclette cheese was a good way to begin the meal. The main course of roast pigeon on asparagus risotto was excellent. The pigeon was yummy and the risotto was al dente - a very pleasant surprise. Finally, the croissant and bread pudding was a good way to end the meal.

The restaurant was packed as usual. I should make a point of going to Bonheur a bit more. Needless to say, I was very well toasted by the time dinner was done...

Duty Free Wine in Hong Kong!

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This is definitely the best news I've had in a long time! Hong Kong government revealed its 2008-9 budget yesterday. As the industry had expected, after intense lobbying for the last few years, the government has decided to abolish all duty on wine (and beer)! We have gone from an 80% duty 2 years ago to 40% last year, and now to 0%!

Those of us with large holdings offshore or in bond will now be shipping them back. This is the news that we have been waiting for years! It was only appropriate that I celebrated this news by attending a fabulous wine tasting last night... details in the next entry.

February 26, 2008

Off by 20 years

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The first MNSC dinner of the year took place tonight at Caprice in the Four Seasons Hotel. Alex played host and served up some fantastic wines.

We started with a bottle of 2002 vintage Champagne, a blanc de blanc from a house whose name I do not recall. Not bad although it's clearly a bit young.

Next we had the 2005 Marc Colin Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Caillerets. This was an amazing wine! Powerful and explosive nose of flint, minerals, sweet corn, butter and toasty oak. This was probably the wine of the evening. Very impressed and dying to get my hands on some.

Next up was a pair of reds. One of them was a bit off while the other was classic Bordeaux. They turned out to be the 1966 La Lagune - with nose of sweet fruit, sweet grass, green peppers and smoky, gravel - and the 1966 Calon Segur - madeirized with nose of stewed prunes.

The second flight of reds were a trio of Saint Julien - the 1966 Beychevelle, 1966 Leoville Poyferre, and 1966 Talbot. All three wines showed amazing concentration, with tell-tale grassy nose with a hint of green pepper. The wines were amazingly young and there was no way that we could have guessed that the wines were 40 years old! All of us guessed that the wines were from the better vintages in the 80's - '85, '86 and '88. Needless to say we were 20 years off the mark!

As usual the food at Caprice was excellent. We started with beef cheek samosa as the amuse bouche. Very yummy.

Next we had the noix de Saint Jacques en carpaccio with Périgord black truffle, cauliflower cream and Mache salad. The scallops were very tender and nice - a great pairing with the Chassagne-Montrachet.

We also had scrambled eggs with Périgord black truffle. This was classic with finely diced black truffle blended with the eggs, topped with a large slice of truffle. Yummy as expected.

The main course was milk-fed veal fillet with Brittany artichoke and black truffle in Albufera sauce. The veal was pink, juicy and tender - pairing well with the mushroom sauce. The deep-fried, breaded cubes of mushroom (chanterelles?) were full of flavor. Yum!

The cheese trolley was rolled into the room, and each of us picked out our own favorite selections. The 4-year old Comté was delicious as usual, although it was really, really salty. The 18-month Mimolette was also pretty rich. I also enjoyed the Munster. Caprice truly has the best cheese selection in Hong Kong.

February 21, 2008

Retirement Dinner

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A few of us gathered last night at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門) to celebrate the retirement of a friend. She has recently become a mother, and has decided to leave her job as the head of equity derivatives trading at a bulge bracket firm.

We started the evening with a roast suckling pig, which was done to perfection. The crispy skin was wafer-thin and deliciously crunchy. I munched on one of the piglet's tiny legs, and it was quite a treat. This place always knew how to get the piggy right...

We were then served the shark's fin soup(鮑魚排翅雞湯), where each of us received a very generous portion of the "noodles" in our bowls. The deliciously clear soup was boiled with chicken, abalone and whelk. I normally refrain from sharks fin because I disagree with the practices of obtaining the fins, but I decided that I couldn't pass it up tonight.

Next was a very unusual dish, one which I have had on a previous occasion at this restaurant (and with the same group of friends). We received a few pieces of deep-fried tofu on our plates. Once you bite into it, you realized that this was no ordinary tofu, as it had a creamy texture and was yellow in color. The deep-frying process imparted a nice flavor (and fragrance) to what, in reality, was chicken testicles tofu (炸雞子). Our Korean friend in attendance was not told before he partook in the dish, and he was not amused.

We also had the baked crabmeat in shell (釀焗鮮蟹蓋). The shell was full of fresh and delicious crabmeat, baked au gratin.

No meal at Fook Lam Moon would be complete without the fried giant pomfret. These pomfrets are not the normal ones you would see in your neighborhood market - they are gigantic. It's cut into vertical slices, then pan-fried with soy sauce so that the surface is crispy. Delicious on its own, even better with a dab of mayonnaise.

Next we had the salty chicken(咸切雞), which was nice but not spectacular (nor was it supposed to be, I suppose...).

We wrapped up with a plate of choy sum(菜心)and claypot rice with preserved meats (臘味煲飯). The rice was drenched in the oil from the meats, which included pork sausage(臘腸), liver sausage(潤腸), preserved fatty meat(臘肉)and preserved duck(南安腊鴨). The liver sausage and preserved fatty meat were particularly good, but I was a bit disappointed with the preserved duck. The flavors somehow were just not quite there...not sure why that was.

We were supposed to have toasted our friend with bottles of Champagne, but unfortunately these were left behind in the office by another friend who volunteered for this duty.

Instead we started with the 1995 Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, in a magnum that I brought along. This was fairly good with classic minty and sweet fruit nose. The wine was smooth on the palate, but had enough concentration to go with the meaty dishes like the suckling pig.

The next bottle was the 1997 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, which I also brought. This was a big disappointment for me - the nose was very green and vegetal, and my friend Eric and I were wondering if the wine was "off" or slightly corked. It revealed none of the characteristics that I was expecting from this wine.

Despite the mishap with the wine, this was a very, very good evening. I ended up carrying my tummy home, as usual...

February 14, 2008

Valentine's Eve Dinner

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Ed, Celine and I have talked about doing dinner for some time, and the original plan for last evening was to go to the Steakhouse at the Inter-Continental Hotel, where we could have nice, juicy steaks as well as share one of the hotel's famously expensive burgers - made from a mixture of toro and wagyu (real Japanese beef, not the American or Australian versions).

Unfortunately, the restaurant was booked out due to it being Valentine's Day Eve (?!), so we went to our standby San San Trois instead. We invited my colleague Fayez along, so I was dining out with 3 Frenchies (OK, so Fayez is actually Tunisian...but he's still French-speaking...).

We started with our usual trio of sushi - aburi toro (seared fatty tuna), aburi kama (seared neck of tuna) and foie gras. Both the toro and the kama were nicely done, where the searing liquified the fat and made the fish so tasty... The foie gras was a bit overdone, but I was still a happy camper. We were ready to order a few more rounds of these.

We then had the usual trio of main courses: grilled kama, roasted Bresse chicken, and slow-cooked ribeye. The grilled kama was as good as I've had it - juicy, tender with the full-bodied taste of fatty tuna. I actually prefer it "as is" and without the grated radish and ponzu.

The Bresse chicken was a bit disappointing. The chef rolled out the chicken in front of us, made his first slice, and immediately apologized for undercooking it. The bird was taken back to the kitchen for further processing. As one would expect, food that's cooked twice rarely come out perfect. While the chicken was still delicious and the skin crispy, the meat was just a tad overdone. 

Finally, each of us sampled a small piece of slow-cooked ribeye (300g shared among 4 of us). As usual, it was quite a tasty morsel but I'm not sure that Fayez got enough of it. However for me it was just right, since the chicken was not a small bird.

Of course we did have wine with dinner. We started with the 1999 Kaesler Old Bastard, which is made from 110-year old shiraz vines. Kaesler is an Australian winery whose main shareholder is Ed Peters, the head of our Asian asset management arm and ex-head of Asian equities. As a result I've always wanted to try this wine. It was unfortunately a little disappointing. It was neither a classic, powerful Aussie shiraz nor a syrah in the Rhone style. Somehow it just didn't open up well.

The second bottle of the evening was the '01 Kistler Pinot Noir Kistler Vineyard. The wine performed reasonably well, with a nose full of black cherries. However it was not as powerful as I imagined it would be. Perhaps the wine needs more time to age.

We left the restaurant with very full stomachs, and all looking forward to our next visit.

February 13, 2008

Casual neighborhood dining

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Last night I got together with some friends for a casual dinner, since we haven't drunk wine together for a few weeks. The location ended up being Benson's, which is just across the street from my apartment in Happy Valley. I had only been to Benson's once in the year or so since moving to Happy Valley, which is an indication of my regard for this place...

There were 7 of us, and we had brought along a few bottles to taste. The main event was to be a showcase of 3 Grand Cru Burgundies, and we started off with the '97 A.-F. Gros Richebourg that Kevin had brought along. It was naturally smooth but a bit on the weak side due to the vintage, and faded quickly in the glass.

The bottle was accompanied by the starters - parma ham and melon, and sauteed clams. Both of these were quiet decent.

Next bottle was the '06 Araujo Viognier Eisele Vineyard, which was also Kevin's contribution. This is quite a rarity, since the grapes are grown to be blended with the winery's Sauvignon Blanc as well as co-fermented with the Syrah. The bottling of the Viognier only occur in vintages where there are excess grapes, and apparently only 30 cases were made. This was very interesting - very Californian - and the nose was a bit sharp with a hint of tropical fruit.

We then moved on to the '97 Dominique Laurent Charmes Chambertin, the bottle that I brought. I had opened this in the office, and the wine had more than a hour of breathing time when we got around to it. This was classic grand cru Burgundy, and much more powerful compared to the Richebourg. Nose of five spice and smoked meats. Given the weak vintage I was satisfied with the performance.

Last of the Burgundy trio was the 2000 Prieure-Roch Chambertin Clos de Beze from Riz. This was a couple of years younger, and it was easy to sense the youthfulness of the wine, and the black cherries in the nose was also a lot more obvious. Overall it was pretty good.

Now that we have finished with the Burgundies, it was time to move on to the single bottle of Bordeaux, Chateau du Terte. Unfortunately I don't remember the vintage, but the wine performed better than I expected. It was, after all, a Fifth Growth Margaux that I had never tried before...

Now, a word about the food. I had ordered roasted duck breast for my main course, which was served as many thin slices on a plate. This was actually not bad, with the right level of tenderness in the meat.

Kevin, however, suffered a different fate with his food. His ribeye steak came much too well done for his taste, so he sent it back and asked for crab meat pasta instead. When the pasta came, he discovered only a few morsels of crab meat among the pasta, and a complaint was lodged with the waiter. A few minutes later, an apologetic waiter returned with a small plate of extra sauteed crab meat for added measure. But it is fair to say that it would be some time before Kevin would return to Benson's...

My offer to run across the street and procur a bottle of dessert wine was declined, and Kevin pulled out yet another bottle to finish off the evening. The final bottle turned out to be the '01 Lokoya Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain, an estate that Kevin used to like. Surprisingly this was not as "Cali" as I expected, and the alcohol level as well as concentration were more in line with Bordeaux classed growths of recent production. Very nice indeed.

After enjoying 6 bottles of wine among the 7 of us, I found myself quite inebriated at the end of the evening. Fortunately I didn't have to travel far to reach home...


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