Tuesday, May 14, 2013

An American in Burgundy - Domaine Dublere Wine Dinner

We love winemaker dinners. First and foremost, often it represents great value for money with the amount of wines they serve and also for some of the rarer finds from the winemaker's own collection that they sometimes bring along. And second, just like how people enjoyed reading the director's interview about making of a movie, we like hearing stories from the winemakers themselves on the philosophy of their winery, what they do with their grapes and their wines and to feel their passions and pride in the wines they made. That's much better than any critics' reviews or marketing campaigns.

Well we went to one last Saturday at the Grand Hyatt Steakhouse. Interesting enough, it's hosted by Blair Pethel, the owner and winemaker of Domaine Dublere, who as an American from North Carolina and a former journalist, somehow made his way to the great land of Burgundy and became a farmer - as he called himself - and founded Domaine Dublere (a Francophone twist of his first name Blair) about 10 years ago. Turned out Blair was also a fellow Washingtonian - spending a good amount of time in the capital during the Clinton Administration as a political journalist - and we went to the same school (he did his graduate degree and I did my undergraduate's - but at different time). What an interesting coincidence!

Our dinner was held at the private dining room at the Steakhouse, which took up the space of the former Club JJ's (and later the short-lived Thai Grill place) at the Grand Hyatt. The private room was on the second level of the restaurant, decorated with dark wood furniture, a faux library and leather couches and lounge chairs next to the dining table. It's cozy and more than sufficient for 10 of us who joined the dinner this evening. I reckon it's a perfect venue for private functions. It's our first visit to the restaurant, and as we walked in and took a glance, the restaurant's main dining area looked impressive too with good space, high ceilings and elegant ambiance (except the 70's and Broadway music playing non-stop at the background all evening long)

From my vague memory it's the first time I tasted wine from Domain Dublere and I must say their wines were quite special and honestly, much better than I thought - given it's a niche winery and Blair only started making wines in 2004. We started our evening with the 2010 Les Millerands Bourgogne Blanc, which is a generic, entry-level Bourgogne but it tasted like a fine Burgundy village wine. I would probably have mistaken this as a Meursault, which was just adjacent to this lot. Rich but crisp, and some acidity to show forth - which makes it a great wine to start, with or without food. It's of excellent value too - some mass production Australian chardonnays would have cost the same.

We moved on with more whites with progressing complexity - I love the enticing honey aroma of his Meursault "Les Crotots" 2009 which was the first one we tasted as we moved towards the dining table and when food began to be served. Supposedly the best of the evening was the Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2008 from the more prestigious vineyard, but I personally preferred the Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru "Les Chaumees" 2009. Perhaps it just took less time to open up and I love its fresh green apple nose - reminds me of springtime. Both were served with our second course - which were either the crab leg or spring chicken - both were rich enough to be of excellent match with the big chardonnays.

We also tried two of his red wines poured from magnums - a Morey St Denis and a Nuits St Georges from the 2010 vintage. Both were very decent with good red fruit characters and lovely long finish. All together we have tried seven of his wines - more than generous in one dinner setting. Well, one that we didn't get a chance to taste was his Chablis, which I was told by some at the dinner table as outstanding (he has a Chablis Grand Cru vineyard at Les Preuses) - maybe I should find one and try next time.

Blair Pethel held dear to his philosophy that the most important aspect of excellent wine-making started with terroir and grapes - that's why he insisted on growing his own grapes predominantly, instead of taking the less risky route of buying from others as negociants or be a "backseat" owner and let others do the day-to-day work. He spoke with passion every lot of vineyards he owned and the wines he made, which I am sure reflected well on the end product - that is the bottles we drank. We enjoyed the conversations with him and other dining companions at the table much.

The food. Let's just say I expected a "little" more from a restaurant of this caliber - ok, who am I kidding, a lot more actually. The dinner was a 4-course menu with choices for all 4 courses and corresponding wine pairings, so it may be a bit different than their normal offerings from the a la carte menu. We started off with a generous portion of seared diver scallops with bacon and tomato salsa - it's well balanced in flavors and perfectly cooked to the right doneness. But it basically went downhill from there. Somehow they chose to bake the crab legs instead of poached or steamed, and it's way overcooked. I have had better in any of the dinner buffet table elsewhere - that summed up my verdict.

Our main course of steak was another major disappointment - to start, again, it's way overcooked. I mean, my medium rare strip loin turned out to be more like medium well, with only traces of pinkish meat inside when I cut it up. If it's not they made a fuss of putting a stick marked "M Rare" on the steak I would have thought they must have misheard my order. Nonetheless, the quality of the steak is decent and with good flavors - that I gave the credits to them - though I prefer more fat even from a strip loin, especially they described that as being the one with better marbling (instead of the other choice of tenderloin which was supposedly to be leaner) Actually I had a bite of the tenderloin which our friend chose and it fared a bit better. And they did serve the steak with the full set of condiments including a wide variety of mustards and sauces, which was a nice touch.

The dessert of black forest sundae was okay - well just. Apparently they took pride of their soft-serve ice-cream which was featured in many of their dessert items, something I don't quite understand why. Soft serve ice cream was hardly glamorous - just think McDonald's sundae. Their version was not bad per se - it's a swirl between chocolate and vanilla flavors - but I do have more a problem with the brandied cherries which look like coming from a ready made jar and the bits of chocolate cake tasted like they have been aged in brandy since the end of prohibition. If they want to bring such contrast between the tasteless cherries and the cake with too strong a repellent alcohol flavor I must say they did just that in flying colors. I am usually very forgiving when it came to ice cream but this time, I left almost half on the table.

Well I guess I was a bit harsh on the food - I probably would think it's alright for a random Soho chain restaurant, but for a steakhouse in a 5-star hotel, this is definitely not enough. There are many fine dining outlets in this hotel with rave reviews, but seems like we had little luck in any of them. Oh well, it could be just us.

Beside the somewhat forgettable food, it's still a lovely evening of great wine, cozy venue and good company. And certainly great value for what we have paid - even if it's just for the wines and ok food - that's for sure.

When? May 11 2013
Where? Grand Hyatt Steakhouse, 1 Harbor Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Pan-fried Diver Scallops with Tomato and Bacon Salsa
Domaine Dublere Bourgogne Blanc "Les Millerands" 2010
Domaine Dublere Meursault Village "Les Crotots" 2009
Domaine Dublere Savigny les Beaune 1er Cru "Les Vergelesses" 2010
Domaine Dublere Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru "Les Chaumees" 2009
Domaine Dublere Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2008
Domaine Dublere Morey St Denis 1er Cru "Les Blanchards" 2010
Domaine Dublere Nuits St Georges 1er Cru "Aux Bousselots" 2010

(Domaine Dublere) http://www.domaine-dublere.com/en
(Bacchus Club - the HK wine distributor who organized the dinner) http://www.mybacchusclub.com
(Grand Hyatt Steakhouse) http://hongkong.grand.hyatt.com/en/hotel/dining/GrandHyattSteakhouse.html

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