December 6, 2012

Lil' chapel on the hill

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I was very honored to have been invited by the Specialist to a very special wine dinner tonight.  Ahead of this weekend's auctions, Sotheby's held a dinner featuring the wines of Paul Jaboulet Aîné - specifically, Hermitage La Chapelle.  Named after the little chapel of St. Christopher that sits on top of the hill above Tain l'Hermitage (which, incidentally, is also home to Valrhona), La Chapelle is one of the most iconic wines of the northern Rhône.

1961 La Chapelle is absolutely my dream wine.  I had wanted to buy a bottle or two around 10 years ago, but on the advice of someone whose opinion I trusted, I instead bought bottles of 1978 at 1/10th the price and aged them myself…  Years later, I still don't own a single bottle of the '61, but prices have of course tripled…

The dinner was held in a private function room at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, with the food coming from the kitchen of Man Wah (文華廳).  I have never cared much for the food here, and despite the Specialist's efforts (she had sampled the menu a few days ago), the end result wasn't all that surprising to me…

The 3 different starters made up the appetizer platter:
Marinated fresh abalone (鹵水鮮鮑魚) - interestingly flavored with lemongrass.

Shanghai style smoked codfish with five spices (五香薰鱈魚) - this was not bad.

Sesame flavoured jellyfish (麻香海蜇花)

Pan fried scallop, crab coral sauce (珊瑚煎帶子) - the scallop was still soft in the center, but somehow a little dry on the outside.  The sauce with crab roe was OK.

Roast Peking duck (北京片皮鴨) - FAIL.  The aircon was too cold in the room, and the way this was sliced and served meant what we had on our plates were barely lukewarm pieces of duck wrapped in pancakes that were so cold they seemed to have come out of the fridge.  WTF?!  A few of us were so upset we complained to the staff on the spot.  This is inexcusable. My friend sitting next to me simply refused to touch what was on his plate.

Braised pork belly, Shanghai style (王府紅燒肉) - I can't say no to pork belly, so I happily ate this.

Wok fried wagyu beef, wild mushroom, black truffles (黑松露野菌煎薄和牛粒) - this was OK, although the 3 different types of mushrooms were probably better than the beef…

Braised rice, duck meat, assorted fungus (雜菌鴨粒燴飯) - definitely the best course of the evening.  Fragrant with plenty of flavor, the moist rice glistened under the light.

Caramelised apple, poached osmanthus pear, mochi (拔絲蘋果,桂花梨,糯米滋) - the apple and mochi were pretty yummy, but the pear was a little odd as the osmanthus completely overpowered any natural flavors of the fruit itself.

As I kept telling people tonight, I didn't come for the food… The wines were the stars, and Jean-Luc Chapel - prestige account manager from the domaine - was present to introduce the wines.  Naturally the wines served tonight - as well as those in the auction - were all ex-domaine so there was no question regarding their condition.

2005 Louis Roederer Brut - nose of cotton candy, oak and flint.

2010 Paul Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle Blanc - a little floral, toasty oak, very ripe with an interesting finish.  Second pour showed sugar and nutty notes.

2006 Paul Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle Blanc - much riper than the 2010, nose more open, with acetone, pineapple and marmalade notes.

2009 Paul Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle Rouge - opened 6 hours and double-decanted 4 hours prior to dinner.  Pine forest, ripe fruit, almost jammy, with a little sulfur, and vanilla.  Very tannic.

2004 Paul Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle - slightly jammy, green peppercorn indeed, a bit of smoke.  Still slightly tannic

1990 Paul Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle - the biggest disappointment of the evening, as the pristine condition of the wine meant it was simply too young and did not show, despite having been opened more almost 7 hours and double-decanted 4 hours prior to dinner.  Nose was very muted, a little dusty and chalky.  Nice acidity balance on the palate.

1988 Paul Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle - beating the 1990 hands down tonight.  Open and beautiful nose of leather, a little smoke and forest.  Acidity slightly higher.  An opulent wine.

1978 Paul Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle - the wine that I looked forward to the most this evening.  Pristine condition meant the wine was still very young, and felt a little restrained tonight.  Big smoky nose, with lead pencil, cigar box and ever so slightly medicinal.  Definitely more concentration here on the palate.  Happy with this but wish the wine could have been more opulent tonight.

1964 Paul Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle - possibly the wine of the evening.  Nose was very open, with obvious leather notes, sweet and lovely, surprisingly a little sharp, coffee, nutty, a little savory like black olives.

This was a wonderful evening, and I'm very grateful for Sotheby's and Paul Jaboulet Aîné for this opportunity to taste the wonderful wines tonight.  

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