May 14, 2009

Led astray down the Rhône

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Tonight was the first MNSC gathering of the year where scoring took place. Our host Kevin has chosen his favorite venue - Amber - where Chef Richard Ekkebus had put together a Rhône-themed tasting menu. While other guests were to sample this menu paired with the wines of Michel Chapoutier, we would of course be drinking something else...

As always we started with a glass of Champagne, this time the 1969 Veuve Cliquot Brut Rose. What a beautiful wine...the nose was at once both sweet and salty, which calls to mind immediately Chinese preserved plums (話梅). The oxidized nose was just wonderful, and the wine was nicely balanced on the palate in terms of acidity and sweetness.

The trio of amuse bouches included the signature foie gras Chupa Chups, a croquette with liquid center, and an asparagus soup whose flavor was dominated by the cream and chicken stock.

Smoked eel and foie gras ballotine, with first Rhône Valley Burlat cherries - this combination seems to be getting more and more popular. I guess this particular version was not bad, using the sweetness of the foie to counter balance the savory and smoky eel. The sweet cherries also worked well with the eel.

Pike quenelle inspired after "Mère Brazier's" recipe with yabbie crayfish & "bouchons" in Nantua sauce - the center is a poached mixture of pike and egg, which gives it an airy texture not unlike an île flottante. Crayfish must be in season as I'm having it here in Hong Kong, even after leaving France. They were really yummy though, as was the Nantua sauce. Everything was rich and I wanted to use soak it all up with bread, but I had already run out...

Bresse poularde with poached oyster and spring leek in albufera emulsion - the Bresse chicken is nice and soft, but I've always preferred it roasted like the way it's done at San San Trois. Not sure why it was combined with the oyster, though...

Short rib braised in Gigondas, purée of white onions, stuffed morels and "lard cul noire" - a lovely chunk of fatty short rib, possibly from wagyu, that has been braised in a nice Rhône red till it's tender. The onion purée was just delicious, too, and so much better than mash potato...

Rhône Valley cheese - Saint Félicien was runny, a bit nutty and acidic. Saint-Marcellin was very similar in taste, again with nutty taste. The harder, goat cheese was not too strong, but reminded me of the Chinese lotus seed paste (蓮蓉) one finds in moon cakes...

White peach from Rhône Valley, poached; vin de paille crème & Jell-O - this was really, really nice. The rice crispies looked and tasted like dried bits of chestnut mousse (à la Mont Blanc). While the poached peach slices were delicious, the real surprise was the crème underneath. The strong caramel, straw and oxidized flavors of the vin de paille clearly came through. It was also quite rich and egg-y. Yum!

Now the wines...The first pair of wines could not have been anything but Left Bank Bordeaux, but the MNSC members kept trying to bluff each other at the outset, mentioning regions such as Rhône due to tonight's menu. I chose to stick to my guns, though, and went with my guesses of Bordeaux.

1953 Pichon Lalande (Nicolas bottling) - sweet and grassy nose with smoke, lead pencil and green peppers. A very nice and elegant wine. 92 points.

1953 Grand-Puy-Lacoste - very sweet and grassy with a bit of smoke. 92 points.

The second pair was where we were totally led astray by our leader, although to be fair there was a bottle of Rhone here...inserted by our host as a ringer.

1959 Angelus - very sweet and concentrated, with a bit of forest and a hint of medicine. Orange notes emerged later.

1959 Chapoutier Hermitage - fruity, a bit of orange and smoked meats. The elements were there, but just a bit closed and weren't coming out. 94 points.

We continued to lose ourselves in the wrong region for the third pair, even though I thought the Las Cases should have been a Left Bank wine with grassy character... Guess I was too chicken to stick my neck out...

1961 Beychevelle - what a beautiful wine! Very farmy with big nose of bacon fat, smoke, a bit minty, a bit orange, peppery and very sweet. 97 points.

1961 Léoville-Las Cases - very vegetal and full of green peppers, with some cooked fruit and smoke. Sweetness emerged in the nose later. Dry and acidic on the palate. 88 points.



What more can I say about an evening of wonderful old wines? It is always a privilege to drink them, especially something as beautiful as the '61 Beychevelle...

2 comments:

Shermoo said...

the "chicken oyster" (Sot l'y laisse) connection?...maybe...

Peech said...

That would be really sad, because I'd actually prefer the sot l'y laisse over the combination of the oyster or the poulard...

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