September 26, 2013

Dinner with prince charming

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I'm not a celebrity gawker, nor am I easily impressed by the titles carried by aristocrats and royals, but I was most happy to accept an invitation to dine in the presence of a prince tonight.  My gracious hosts were Sotheby's and Domaine Clarence Dillon, and the dinner was meant to be a warm-up in advance of next week's auction featuring a parcel of wines shipped directly from the Domaine.  While there were undoubtedly some guests who were most excited about meeting a prince, for me the real stars tonight - with all due respect to Prince Robert of Luxembourg - were the wines.

It was certainly a privilege and honor to be able to taste ex-château stock of Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion, especially from some of the best vintages from the last century.  I had been looking forward to attending this dinner ever since I found out from the Specialist that an invitation was forthcoming.  It would, in fact, be the high point of my social calendar this month.

I arrived at the appointed hour and mingled with members of the Wine Department as well as other guests whom I know socially - steering clear of Prince Robert, who undoubtedly was entertaining the more important guests of the evening.  Dinner would not start for a while, and despite being a little hungry, I decided to be a good boy and refrained from nibbling on the canapés.  When it came time for us to take our assigned seats, I was a little embarrassed when Prince Robert came around to shake my hand… apologizing for not having had a chance to speak with me earlier.  Now I felt like I was being anti-social and rude… a street urchin in contrast to my gracious host - who displayed all the marks of a well-mannered aristocrat.

2011 Clarendelle Blanc - very ripe, very aromatic, with lots of oak, vanilla and citrus.

Alaskan crabmeat tower, green beans, potatoes - I am most curious about the composition of the foam on top of the tower, because it pretty much stayed intact for a long time… from before everyone took their seats through to the introductory remarks by Prince Robert and Serena Sutcliffe.  I do have to say, though, that this was reasonably yum.  A good start to dinner.

2009 La Clarté de Haut-Brion - a very big nose with toasty notes, sweet, buttery corn and lemon.  Rich and fat, very ripe and hot on the palate.  Pretty enjoyable, actually.

Marinated tuna with haricots verts and sorrel - I wasn't expecting a bloc of raw tuna this size, but it turned out to be very tasty.  The garnish on the side was especially flavorful.

2009 La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc - opened for 3 hours prior to serving.  A very big wine but much more elegant compared to the first two wines.  Seemingly thinner at first, with a fragrant nose showing citrus notes, nice and buttery, toasty, almost a little pipi de chat from the Sauvignon Blanc, a little sweet around the edges.  A beautiful and complex wine.

2009 Haut-Brion Blanc - much more showy than its sibling, displaying citrus, more pipi de chat thanks to a greater proportion of Sauvignon Blanc in the blend, petrol and muscat grape.  Very ripe on the palate but with good acidity balance.

Baked pigeon pastilla on mushroom sauce - not quite the pastilla that I was expecting, but this was nevertheless reasonably tasty, with classic chopped almonds and Mediterranean spices among the diced pigeon and mushrooms.  The aubergine sauce on the side was nice, too.

2009 La Chapelle de la Mission Haut-Brion - double-decanted for 6 hours prior to serving.  Really sweet, almost a little jammy, with a hint of smoke.  A very delicious wine that is somewhat ready to drink, but obviously this was a little young…  I would love to revisit this wine in another 10 or 20 years.

Roasted pork belly with peas and lettuce - I honestly can't remember the last time I had pork belly… and relished this rare opportunity in the middle of my diet.  I can't even begin to describe my level of happiness as I cut up the bloc into slices and shoved each piece into my mouth, applying pressure with my teeth and tongue until liquid fat started oozing out…  A little chunk of heaven.

2000 La Mission Haut-Brion - double-decanted for about 3½ hours prior to serving.  Ripe on the nose and a classic claret on the palate.  A little mineral, savory like black olives, with animal and grilled meat notes.  Delicious.

1990 La Mission Haut-Brion en magnum - double-decanted for about 3½ hours prior to serving.  Definitely prominent notes of brett, very savory with lots of black olive tapenade, earthy, mineral, cigar notes, but still have some of that sweet fruit core underneath it all.

Slow cooked wagyu beef cheek with red wine raisin sauce - soooo yummy… Tender and yielded to the knife just like buttahhh!  The raisin and pumpkin mash worked so well with the beef cheek…  This disappeared from my plate in no time.

1989 Haut-Brion - what an amazing wine!  The ex-château stock was so incredibly young, and so clean and pure.  A little savory, meaty, smoky, dried herbs and cedar, with good amount of sweet fruit.  But this youngster wasn't yet fully open and showing 100%, although there was absolutely no question that this was, in fact, a perfect wine.  What I wouldn't give to be able to taste another example of ex-château stock of this wine in… oh, another 20 years!  Like Serena I, too, noticed that the wine's got some damn good "legs"…

1982 Haut-Brion en double magnum - obviously more mature despite the larger format.  Showing notes of cedar that was just so fragrant, so sweet, with just a hint of brett, savory black olives and leather saddle.  This wine was drinking beautifully tonight, and I stuck around towards the end and got myself a second pour… and probably should have asked for a third pour, too…

French apple tart - no, this ain't no tarte tatin… but still reasonably yummy.

Clarendelle Amberwine - not exactly a complex sweet wine, but nevertheless showed classic marmalade, pineapple and botrytis.

I had a wonderful time tonight.  To be honest, I didn't have much expectations for the food tonight, but could find little fault with the catering from the Hong Kong Jockey Club.  The wines, of course, were in perfect condition and simply stunning.  I must thank my gracious hosts for the privilege of attending the dinner.

P.S.  Although I did not have to opportunity to meet them, it was heartwarming to see two representatives from Médecins Sans Frontières among the guests tonight.  Prince Robert has teamed up with Linley of London to design 15 beautifully-crated limited edition cabinets capable of housing 8 bottles of wine along with silverware.  These cabinets are being auctioned off over the years to benefit MSF, and the one slated for the upcoming auction will contain the 1935, 1945, 1959, 1961, 1975, 1989, 1990, 2009 vintages of Haut-Brion, and the auction lot will also contain 6 bottles each of 2010 Haut-Brion and 2010 Haut-Brion Blanc.  In fact, all of the 8 remaining bottles of 1945 Haut-Brion that have never left the château will be auctioned off as part of these cabinets.  That is quite amazing, and I salute Prince Robert for supporting such a worthy charity.

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