March 16, 2009

An excursion down the Rhone

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The MNSC members finally gathered again tonight for the first time in 2 months. This tasting format was different from our usual in that each member contributed a bottle of wine that fit the general theme, without knowing what the others brought to the table. We would be drinking wines from the Rhone, excluding some of the familiar producers which we tend to rely on.

The venue was Golden Leaf (金葉庭), where some of the earliest MNSC dinners were held. It's good to be back here, as the food is good and the pricing is pretty reasonable after the discounts one can get.

We started with a few appetizers, including a deliciously tender char siu (叉燒) with nicely caramelized fat; sautéed diced beef with spicy salt (椒鹽牛柳粒); pan-fried mixed vegetables rolled in dried bean curd skin (上素腐皮卷); sliced pork rolls with cucumber and garlic sauce (蒜泥白肉卷); nice, refreshingly crunchy jelly fish tossed with spring onions and sesame oil (浙江海蜇頭); and deep-fried diced bean curd with garlic salt (蒜香椒鹽豆腐粒).

What came next was the roast Peking duck (北京填鴨). This was very, very delicious and looked absolutely beautiful when the waiter brought it in.

A mis-communication saw us each try to down a bowl of braised supreme shark's fin with crab roe (蟹皇海虎翅), which was simply too rich. We were pretty much done after this bowl...

We each got an individual serving of baked sea whelk stuffed with diced seafood, abalone, chicken and onion (鮮鮑焗釀響螺). Nice presentation, and tasted good, too, with curry powder and black pepper spicing it up.

I was too full to take in some of the dishes, but did manage to get a taste of the spicy eggplant with minced pork (魚香茄子), which was interesting because it was made with strips of fish cake.

The shallow-fried crispy chicken (金牌吊炸雞) had paper-thin crispy skin while the meat was very juicy and tender, but what does "shallow-fried" mean?

I finished with some veggie (上湯芥膽) and the signature fried rice (金葉庭炒飯), with crab meat and pine nuts.

The wines were supposedly arranged in order from lightest to heaviest by a sommelier that was brought in. All except one sat in decanters and we tasted them blind.

1989 Clos du Mont-Olivet Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Cuvée du Papet - nose was a bit alcoholic, with some fruit and grilled meats. A bit muted and slightly pruny, minty and spicy. A full-bodied wine. 90 points.

1995 Henri Bonneau Châteauneuf-du-Pape Réserve des Célestins - nose seemed a bit more interesting, with pronounced forest and bacon notes. I still felt that the nose wasn't as open as I would like. Concentrated and full-bodied. Still a young wine. 94 points.

1989 Henri Bonneau Châteauneuf-du-Pape Réserve des Célestins - the nose didn't smell like a Rhone at all...and we all would have guessed this was a Bordeaux in a true blind tasting. Nose was grassy, a bit earthy, really sweet and minty. Very full-bodied and even a bit tannic. I liked it even though I didn't know I was tasting the bottle that I brought. Unfortunately the group thought the wine was off, which I can't really argue with. 93 points.

1986 Henri Bonneau Châteauneuf-du-Pape Réserve des Célestins - wow! Nose was totally lychee like there's no tomorrow... A bit of iron and minerals in the nose, with some coffee notes. Seemed very young and vibrant with an awesome long finish. My wine of the evening at 96 points.

1990 Jaboulet Crozes-Hermitage Domaine de Thalabert - huge nose of ham/spam, animal and smoked meats. A bit spicy with forest notes. 94 points.

1989 Jamet Côte-Rôtie - nose was a bit medicinal and smoky. Very concentrated and clearly a Northern Rhone. 92 point.

Who would have expected there to be three vintages of the same wine this evening? It was truly a treat to drink 3 bottles of the Celestins side-by-side, even though the '89 was a little off. I'm now really looking forward to our next meeting, which will be a tour of Bordeaux in a few weeks' time...

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