May 12, 2011

Cristal clear evening

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So I was definitely, positively asking for it. I’m spending a third evening out with the Specialist in the space of a week. She-who-only-drinks-French-because-they-are-the-best-and-please-don’t-bring-any-Californian-or-Australian. Of course, we were going to a wine dinner presided over by Michel Janneau, Executive Vice President of Champagne Louis Roederer... which could only mean an evening full of French wines!  ...and she wouldn't have to scoff at my wine selection...

Dinner was arranged at Golden Leaf (金葉庭), one of my preferred hotel Cantonese restaurants in town.  There was a full range of wines paired with a 10(!)-course dinner... I knew we were in for a long evening.

I arrived and immediately found myself with a flute of Louis Roederer Brut Premier in my hand.  The first whiff was very yeasty, to the point I thought I was drinking bread!  Mineral, flint, toasty oak and a little sweet on the nose.  Turned very acidic together with the vegetable roll in my mouth.

Golden Leaf deluxe appetizers: mixed vegetables roll, shrimp ball, jelly fish, pork roll (金葉四小碟) - the jelly fish was great; the shrimp ball a little gimmicky and made a mess; the veggie roll was good; and the pork roll was like a 蒜泥白肉, except the garlic bits on top were fried.

2004 Louis Roederer Blanc de Blancs - very acidic on the nose, with minerals and toast.  Surprisingly not that acidic on the palate, and very drinkable.  Made from the "leftover" Chardonnay after deciding the blend for Cristal...

Steamed fresh crab claw with Chinese rice wine and ginger (薑茸米酒蒸鮮蟹拑) - seems like everyone's doing this dish nowadays... The claw was nice and fresh, and the egg white was decent, but I didn't get much of the rice wine flavors... perhaps they were covered up by the ginger - which I thought was completely unnecessary given how fresh the crab was.

2004 Louis Roederer Cristal - Michel talked a little about the history behind this famed cuvée, and elaborated on the origin of the shape and appearance of the bottle.  It's always been one of my favorite Champagnes, and the bottle of 1990 I drank last month blew me away.  The current vintage showed toast, minerals, was a little sweet and caramelized.  Actually this was very well-balanced on the palate, and I was pretty surprised to find that in a wine this young.  This was the wine of the evening for the Specialist.

Double-boiled bamboo piths soup with brassica and Chinese mushrooms (竹笙菜膽燉北菇湯) - interesting to see mustard greens being referred to by its scientific name of "brassica" (actually it's brassica juncea)... kinda like referring to humans as "homo"...  Anyway, the soup was lovely and just what I would expect.

1997 Louis Roederer Cristal - this may not be the best vintage around, but I have a soft spot for older Champagnes...  The age difference is obvious and I just loved that caramelized nose, with prominent notes of sugar cane, straw and a bit of citrus.

Steamed fresh spotted garoupa (清蒸東星斑) - flawless execution.  I did have to fish a few pesky bones out of my mouth, though...

Sautéed prawns stuffed with ham in two flavours (山楂川汁鴛鴦玉簪蝦球) - the prawn without the sauce was a total disaster, and in fact one of the worst prawns I've had in a while. There was so much baking soda used here, and the prawn did not taste fresh at all.  Zero. 零分!  The prawn with the Chinese hawthorn sauce, on the other hand, was pretty tasty.

2000 Pichon Lalande - purchased in 2006 by Champagne Louis Roederer from the iconic Madame de Lencquesaing.  The Specialist and I were very surprised to see Sylvie Cazes manning the Pichon table at the UGC 2008 tasting a couple of months ago, and even more surprised to see her handing out her new business card.  I was curious enough to ask Michel regarding how they came about recruiting her, and Michel very kindly shed some light on the backdrop.  Very interesting indeed.  The nose was very alcoholic, with lots of oak, a little sweet, coconut and smoke.  Very hot and spicy on the palate.  Actually I was a little disappointed as I found the palate a little flat afterwards.  After spending more time in the glass, the wine died horribly and tasted like bleach.

Sautéed shredded beef with asparagus in X.O. sauce (X.O.醬露筍牛柳條) - this was not bad.

Stewed twins vegetable with sliced ham (雲腿扒雙蔬) - the veggies were good, but the Yunnan ham was the real star.

2009 Domaine Ott Rosé Cœur de Grain Château de Selle - I have always liked the wines from Domaine Ott, and this was an easy-drinking wine.  Loads of floral notes, with white flowers, a hint of toast, a little white pepper.  Slightly bitter finish.  Michel, ever the ladies' man, charmed the Specialist by quoting her remarks ("I feel like I walked into a garden") in front of the entire room.

Roast crispy chicken (脆皮吊炸雞) - very well done.  Skin was perfect.

Golden Leaf fried rice (金葉庭炒飯) - very tasty, and a nice touch with the flattened pine nuts to introduce more texture to the mix.

2006 Louis Roederer Brut Rosé - nice, lovely mousse with lots of red fruits.

Chilled sago with fresh grapefruit and mango (楊枝珍珠露) - we have gweilos in the room!   Bring out the mango dessert, quickly!  OK all joking aside, this is actually one of my favorite Cantonese desserts...

1982 Ramos-Pinto Port - very nutty, a little sharp, a bit herbal, sweet, exotic Asian spices, a little mineral and savory on the nose.

Chinese petit fours (美點映雙輝) - the osmanthus jelly was lovely and fragrant, while the walnut cookie was also pretty perfect.

Good food, great wines, Michel working his magic and charming the pants off of everyone in the room... This had been a very lovely evening, or so I thought until I reached the restaurant entrance... when I was stopped by the waitstaff and presented with the bill.

Now, I'm not one of those spoiled bloggers who expect to get freebies from everyone.  I'm used to paying for my own meals, especially wine dinners.  In fact the cost of tonight's dinner was very cheap when you consider the quality of the food as well as the wines.  It was in fact a real bargain.

But from the first email invitation received by the Specialist some weeks ago to the email reminder this morning, there was never any mention of the cost of the dinner.  I think I've gone to enough wine dinners organized by merchants, and have certainly received a lot more invitations than I've accepted.  One common aspect of these wine dinners is that the cost is disclosed upfront.  This enables the customer to judge for themselves whether the dinner is one which they feel comfortable attending given the cost.  I don't bother with most of the wine dinners out there because many of them are not good value for money, especially since I have the exact same wines in my cellar, in many cases.  If I find the wines interesting and the cost reasonable, I'll sign up for the dinner.  In reality many of these wine dinners even require payment upfront.

On those occasions where I was invited to a wine dinner and there was no mention of the cost, it was always because the dinner was free.  The merchants were promoting certain wines to their customers, and the cost comes out of their marketing budget.  Therefore I had assumed - in hindsight incorrectly - that tonight would be a complimentary evening.

Again, I have no problems with paying for a dinner with good food and wine, but I would have liked to have been informed of the cost ahead of time.  What happened tonight was like walking out of one of those saloons in the Wild West after a few rounds, slightly buzzed, only to be smacked in the face by one of those swinging double doors...  The door hitting you didn't hurt that much, but you are just a little shocked that the door swung back and hit you at all...

Finally, since the bill was presented outside the private room we were dining in, I had not seen others who left early pay for their dinner.  It then begs the question whether everyone else had to pay for dinner, or was the privilege reserved solely for the Specialist and I...

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