May 27, 2007

Sarah McLachlan is an angel

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I bought a duplicate copy of Sarah McLachlan's Afterglow Live by mistake, and decided to play the DVD this afternoon. She is definitely one of my favorite singers, and I have followed her career since I bought her first album in college. She just has an amazing, angelic voice.

I know that many people's favorite is Angel from the movie City of Angels (a terrible remake of Wim Wender's Wings of Desire), but my favorite song is actually Fear from the album Fumbling Towards Ecstasy. This song brings back lots of memories.
Unfortunately I can't find any good videos of this song on the net so I've chosen to embed I Will Remember You instead, which is also a great song.


May 16, 2007

Harlan Estate and Screaming Eagle dinner

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My friend Paulo who is part of our MNSC tasting group invited us to a dinner last night with the teams from Harlan Estate and Screaming Eagle, arguably the top two Californian wineries of today. Paulo has been representing Harlan Estate and sister winery Bond for the last few years, and their recent association with the new owners of Screaming Eagle brought the two teams together for a joint tour of Asia.

The dinner was held at H One, one of the new establishments by HK uber-chef Harlan Goldstein, who is incidentally of no relations to Bill Harlan, the founder and owner of Harlan Estates. The food was quite good and removed my earlier prejudices against the chef. The menu was as follows:

Bruschetta Toscana Burrata Mozzarella, "36" Months Aged Parma Ham 

Risotto Arborio, Italian Forest Mushrooms, Braised Radicchio 

Charcoal Grilled Prime Rib Eye of Beef, Artichoke Frittata and Glazed Balsamic Onions 

H One's Dessert Surprise

The only issue I had with the food was that there was a lot of rosemary stuffed into the middle of the rib eye, and for me this detracted from the wines.

The Harlan team was represented by Bill Harlan himself, as well as Don Weaver, the marketing Executive Director and Will Harlan, Bill's young son who looked like he was being groomed to take over in the future. I felt quite privileged to meet Bill, who is often cited as a visionary and I think can be compared to the likes of Robert Mondavi.

The Screaming Eagle team was represented by Ursula Hermacinski, the famous wine auctioneer who apparently was lured to Screaming Eagle by the new owners, Charles Banks and Stanley Kroenke. Banks and Kroenke were part of the Asian tour, but had left yesterday during the day so did not attend our dinner.

The lineup of wines were quite interesting, and I believe that most of the guests had never tasted Screaming Eagle, after all the hubbab we had heard for the last 10+ years, so it was a rare treat for us.

El Alma de Jonata 2004 - "the soul", this was a smooth, easy-drinking Cabernet Franc

El Desafio de Jonata 2004 - "the defiance", this is their Cabernet Sauvignon that would be one of the stars of the vineyard. Much more tannic and concentrated than the El Alma

El Corazon de Jonata 2004 - "the heart", this was curiously a blend of every varietal from the vineyards, which include Cab Franc, Cab Sauv, Merlot, Syrah, Sangiovese, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, among others. The nose was quite funky since this is a jumble of both red and white grapes...I was left with the question: "What were you thinking?!"

La Sangre de Jonata 2004 - "the blood", this was a ripe, sweet and powerful Syrah which I think will do well Jonata is a project in the Central Coast owned by Banks and Kroenke, and the vines were planted in 2001 so they are extremely young.

BOND St Eden 2003 - this was clearly superior to the Jonata wines, and as well it should since the quality/price/target market is completely different. Much more complex and very open. BOND is the project Harlan started a few years ago in cooperation with several growers, and shares the same winemaking team and style with Harlan Estate.

Harlan Estate 2000 - this was not a particularly good year in California but Harlan felt that this was one of the wines of the vintage. Still very closed and tannic

Harlan Estate 2001 - this is one of the wines Robert Parker rated 100. This is still very closed today but you can see the potential for this wine to go to great heights

Harlan Estate 2002 - this was one of the wines of the evening. Robert Parker also rated it 100, and I can see why! This is very ripe and forward, and already drinking very well compared to the 2001

Harlan Estate 2003 - this was also very forward and ripe, although some in the crowd quiet complained that it was too ripe and again the comment of being "madeirized" The highlight of the evening was no doubt the

Screaming Eagle 2003, which was quite interesting. It was clearly very ripe and the nose was very sweet. Fairly concentrated as it is still a very young wine. I would not say that this was the best Californian I have ever tasted, but it is nevertheless a very good effort. Whether I would pay the USD 500 release price from the winery...well, I can probably turn around and flip it in the market if I didn't like it enough.

 I think most of us appreciated the chance to finally drink Screaming Eagle, but I don't think any of us were really wowed...not at these prices. The similarly-rated 1998 vintage is now being offered on for USD 1,100 - before premium and taxes. For that price, I can think of many, many legendary wines in the world I would prefer to drink...

Nouvelle Vague in HK

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My friend Ed introduced me to Nouvelle Vague, a French band that exclusively does covers of 80s new wave hits - bossa nova style. When I found that they were coming to HK as part of the Le French May festivities, I decided to get tickets and check them out. We were seated 4 rows from the stage, pretty much smack in the middle, so were in perfect position.

The Frenchy expats were out in force to support their countrymen, and just as well they should because these guys were really good - much better than I had anticipated. The list of songs they performed as as follows, not necessarily in order but the opening and ending songs are correct:
  • Echo and the Bunnymen: Killing Moon
  • Buzzcocks: Ever Fallen In Love
  • Lords of the New Church: Dance with Me
  • Billy Idol: Dancing with Myself
  • Blondie: Heart of Glass
  • New Order: Blue Monday
  • Bauhaus: Bela Lugosi's Dead
  • Visage: Fade to Grey
  • Depeche Mode: Just Can't Get Enough
  • The Clash: Guns of Brixton
  • Dead Kennedys: Too Drunk to Fuck
  • XTC: Making Plans for Nigel
  • The Cure: A Forest
  • The Undertones: Teenage Kicks
  • The Specials: Friday Night, Saturday Morning
  • Depeche Mode: Just Can't Get Enough (alternate version as part of encore)
  • Joy Division: Love Will Tear Us Apart (encore)
It was very interesting to see the very different styles of the two singers. Melanie Pain's voice was a bit more child-like, a little raspy and squeaky, almost Lolita-like. Her stage persona was also veering towards the cutesy, girlish side. Phoebe Killdeer, however, had a deeper, more forceful voice, and she had a bit more jazziness. Her stage persona was more wild, at times gothic although nothing in her make-up and dress indicated this. Voice-wise, I preferred Melanie since hers was the voice that drew me to this band. But Phoebe definitely was the better stage performer, as she rolled around the floor during the long rendition of Too Drunk to Fuck and slowly descended to the floor during Bela Lugosi's Dead.

What was interesting was that the band drank alcohol on stage. I first noticed the tumbler with suspicious brown liquid, which Melanie sipped from on stage instead of water. Then sometime during the act, Phoebe addressed the crowd and asked for Champagne. The organizers quickly brought out a bottle along with a few flutes, which Phoebe and Melanie shared with the band as well as some members of the audience. When the first bottle was finished, a second bottle was produced and that disappeared in a hurry also. While this may not be a big deal at rock concerts elsewhere, it's certainly the first time that I've seen it in HK.

Anyway. I think Nouvelle Vague is a very cool band and they are extremely good performers. I would highly recommend that you catch them live if you can.

May 12, 2007

A Week of Memorable Wine Dinners

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Last week was amazing as far as wines regular group, MNSC, had two tasting dinners within the same week, including a 40th birthday celebration.

Monday Paulo hosted his tasting in the private area of his gourmet shop, Classified. We had a number of interesting and delicious dishes, but the real story, of course, was the wine. Here's what we had:

1967 Gaja Barbaresco - this was OK but we were not impressed, scoring it below 90 points.

1967 Latour - this was slightly better but again not a great wine.

1953 Marques de Riscal Riserva - most of the others complained about this being "Madeira-ed" and felt it was off, but I, being a great fan of Madeira, actually really loved it. By popular demand we excluded this from our normal scoring.

1953 Canon - we could tell that this wine was fully mature as well, and scored it a bit above the '67 Latour.

1955 Inglenook Cab - none of us had any idea what this was and we all guessed it was Spanish...

1955 Cheval Blanc - this was certainly the wine of the evening! We gave it an average of 95 points

1969 Charles Noellat Romanee Saint Vivant - it's always nice to drink a very old Burgundy, especially one from a great vintage such as '69. Surprisingly the color was not as light as I would expect. This property was subsequently sold to Domaine Leroy.

1969 Paul Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle - this is the oldest La Chapelle I've ever had, and very enjoyable.

Kevin hosted his big birthday dinner for 60 of his friends at Azure, and brought a few of his cult Californian wines to share before dinner. I arrived late and missed most of it, but did manage to taste the Fisher Millenium (vintage 1997 released for 2000) as well as the 1997 HL (Herb Lamb Vineyard, the source for Colgin's first wine). Both were quite interesting and kinda made up for the 1996 Harlan Estate, 1997 Dalla Valle Maya, 1997 Araujo Cab Eisele Vineyard...that I missed.

During dinner, Kevin served the Mer Soleil Chardonnay, followed by both the Cab and the Merlot from Blankiet Vineyards, all from magnums (don't remember the vintages). To top it all, there was an imperial of 1988 Mouton-Rothschild. I must say I much preferred the Blankiet to the Mouton...

This was the much-anticipated dinner, as Kevin pulled out all the stops for his 40th. Dinner was at Caprice and the food was excellent as usual.

The white asparagus and crayfish fricassée with quail egg au plat, arugula salad in yabby jus was a nice way to start.

The Mediterranean frog's legs and tomatoes a la vierge with light fennel purée was simply delicious!

The lightly breaded frog's legs were great to nibble on.

The warm duck foie gras with red berry panache, pistachio nuts and young spinach salad was very yummy, followed by the very interesting morel mushrooms fricassée with roasted gnocchi and sorel emulsion.

The main course was baby lamb rack with poivrade artichokes, barigoule vegetables and natural jus and was very, very tender.

Cheese was delicious as usual, including the nice Comte.

The dessert of black and white chocolate geometry with tonka bean sauce and coca sorbet was devoured in a hurry.

But what about the wines?! The bottles were all wrapped in tin foil, all Bordeaux-shaped, and opened just prior to serving. We knew they were going to be old, and were pleasantly surprised at what they were:

1945 Grand Puy Lacoste - a very good wine from this stellar vintage, and demonstrates why GPL holds such a special place among lovers of Bordeaux

1945 Beychevelle - also a wonderful wine and we scored it slightly higher than the GPL

1947 Margaux - we knew this was a step up from the last flight, and really enjoyed this pair. I noted the hint of grass in the nose so I was able to guess that this was a Margaux

1947 Palmer - as enjoyable as the Margaux

1953 Figeac, ex-chateau - this was an awesome wine and all of us loved it. Wine of the evening for the group as a whole with an average score of 97 points

1953 Angelus, ex-chateau - I thought this was even better than the Figeac and gave it 98 points. These wines just taste incredibly fresh and you would never guess they are 50 years old

1981 Sassicaia - I thought this was an awesome wine with lots of rich, sweet fruit. I never would have guess this was an '81...and scored it 98 points

1985 Sassicaia - I was glad to have finally tasted the legendary '85, which is now going for around GBP 900 a bottle. As delicious as this was, I actually rated the '81 better! And to think that the '81 cost less than 1/10 of the '85...guess I'll be buying lots of the '81!!!

Kevin certainly outdid himself and lived up to the standard set by Paulo at his 30th birthday tasting. I guess the next big one (in terms of birthdays) will be mine in 2010...


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