May 11, 2010

Twenty years of Araujo

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I was honored tonight to be in the company of Daphne and Bart Araujo, who decided to spend the last night of their Asian tour with us.  It also happened to be the 20th anniversary of their purchase of the famed Eisele Vineyard, so this was indeed a special evening.

My friends at Altaya Wines organized the dinner at the Summer Palace (夏宮), which is apparently the first wine dinner with Chinese food for the Araujo wines.  I haven't been to the restaurant in a number of years, and took this opportunity to revisit the cuisine. 

We started the evening with a flute of 2000 Pol Roger Brut, which went down very quickly...I didn't even bother writing down any notes.

Baked stuffed crab shell (焗釀鮮蟹蓋) - this was very, very of the best crab shells in town, probably on par with the one from Fook Lam Moon (福臨門).  There was enough veggie inside to balance out the crab meat and not make the whole thing too heavy.

2009 Araujo Estate Sauvignon Blanc - lots of green apple in the nose, on top of minerals, sweet vanilla and tropical fruits like bananas.  This is actually made with both Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Musqué - a more perfumed clone of Sauvignon Blanc - with a little bit of Viognier.  Daphne says they only use around 25% oak, and the oak is not toasted but immersed in water.  This is an awesome wine, and one of the best values around I believe. 

Braised bamboo fungus with vegetables (竹笙扒時蔬) - interesting that this veggie dish should be served at the start of the meal.  Very ho-hum...

2004 Araujo Estate Syrah Eisele Vineyard - exotic tropical fruit, sweet and very ripe fruit, a little smoky with forest and pine needle notes.  Still reasonably tannic but starting to soften and becoming silky.  The Viognier is co-fermented with the Syrah, as Guigal does with its La Mouline. 

Sautéed Japanese pork fillet with supreme fungus (榆耳百合香炒黑豬肉) - this was OK, with sugar snap peas and lily bulbs providing sweetness to the dish as well as crunchy texture to the soft fungus and pork. 

2005 Araujo Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Eisele Vineyard - Wow!  I never expected a wine this young to be so elegant, silky and ready to drink.  A little smoke and cedar and forest in the nose.  Sweet on the palate with a lovely finish.  Towards the end there were coconut butter and tea leaves notes.  Such a pleasure to drink...  but my last two drops - after about 3 hours - saw the wine dive off a steep cliff and died...  I guess the wine can stay in glass for only so long...

Sauteéd Australian beef fillet with garlic (蒜片澳洲牛柳粒) - I always find garlic a little distracting in terms of wine, but the dish itself was fine.

2002 Araujo Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Eisele Vineyard - nose of roast duck, really ripe and sweet...even a little chocolate?  Some eucalyptus later.  It's from a big and hot vintage, and you can still feel the tannins but you know it's just going to get better with age.

Roast Peking duck (北京片皮鴨) - this was not bad, although with a table this big, we only had one slice of duck in each of the two pancakes... too "dainty" for me as I usually stuff a couple of slices in for more of that game meat flavor.  I added some sauce but left out the raw scallions, as it would have completely killed my palate for wine...and I wasn't gonna show the Araujo wines any disrespect!

1997 Araujo Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Eisele Vineyard - initially a huge nose of menthol, with Asian spices, game meat and smoke.  Very, very smooth now, with a wonderful acidity balance.  I've always known that Araujo wines are elegant, but for a wine from this blockbuster vintage this has to be an outlier.  I do remember that my last bottle drunk in NYC more than 3 years ago was also really elegant and understated.

Fried rice wrapped in lotus leaf (飄香荷葉飯) - a pretty good way to end the meal.  I must have been hungry, because I pretty much inhaled the bowl of rice in about a minute or less... I was wondering whether this particular dish (with soy sauce and some seafood ingredients) would be a good match for the wine, but I need not have worried.

1992 Araujo Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Eisele Vineyard - my favorite wine of the evening.  Initially some star anise, with sweet fruit, cedar/sandalwood, pencil lead and mint/eucalyptus.  What a wonderful wine, and more elegant and open now than the '97.  Acidity is higher on the finish, but soooo lovely.  What a great effort for the winery's second vintage!

Chilled mango pudding (芒果凍布甸) - lots of mango chunks inside.

Araujo Estate Grappa - not being on Araujo's mailing list, I never heard about the existence of this.  I asked Bart about it and he simply said that he loves grappa, so they decided to make one.  I've had some pretty rough grappas out there, but this was very, very smooth.  Nose of pear, a little medicinal and white grape raisins.  Very enjoyable to drink.  Gotta get myself a couple of bottles, and re-evaluate my opinion of grappas altogether...

This was such an enjoyable evening.  Needless to say the wines themselves were a pleasure to drink.  Daphne and Bart are just a lovely couple...very gentle and affable.  I remember first reading about them in Wine Spectator's article on Californian "cult wines" (April 30, 2000 issue), and in all the press photos they always appeared as a couple together.  I also like that their business card says "Bart and Daphne".  In the end I wasn't enough of a groupie and didn't ask to take a picture with them, which I do regret a little...  I hope to have a chance to spend some more time with them in the future!

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