Friday, March 16, 2018

Memorable Wine (and Dine) Night

When our friend T and A were so kind to offer to share their prized bottle of Chateau Petrus with all of us, we turned this into an evening of even more bottles to match, with everyone contributed to this extraordinary wine flight. For a few previous occasions I have enjoyed the outstanding ambiance and food and wine service at my another friend Mr Y’s business venture Hip Cellar/AnOther Place, so this time I again booked one of the private rooms for a Saturday dinner to go with our wines.

Single bottle tasting for a big group (16 people) with such variety of wines (over 16 different bottles) was tricky to organize, but I could always rely on the professional advice from the Hip Cellar team to work out the tasting order and dinner menu after a few exchanges of emails. We started early as everyone arrived at the venue, located inside an industrial building near Fortress Hill, just around sunset.

Before the first dish was served, we had a warm-up tasting of a vertical flight of Chateau Palmer across 4 different vintages in the 80s and 90s accompanied by sourdough bread we got from Bakehouse (yeah, we did the other kind of BYOB - Bring your own bread - too). It’s always fun to compare side-by-side and see how each bottle aged and evolved over the years. Both the 1986 and 1995 were on the fruity side, with the former more of black fruits (ripe black cherry and blackcurrant) and the latter cassis and plum. The 1991 still stood up well, smooth, earthy and with nice tannins and a full body, more profound on the nose than on the palate. The 1996, the “youngest” of the four, took a little longer to open up after poured into the glass (we only decanted the bottles for an hour or so before tasting), but it’s probably the most powerful of the flight, with aromas of oak and smoke, and good black fruit characters on the palate. My favorite of the night was the 1995 vintage but thought the 1996 could improve.

We went for the 4 course menu created by Chef Ken at Hip Cellar’s restaurant arm AnOther Place, plus a cheese course at the end. I think this evening the dishes were better than I expected, both in execution and creativity, and I think everyone felt the same. Over the champagne (Cristal 2009), we began with the amuse-bouche of crabmeat tempura with a light potato puree, followed by the chilled edamame soup with blue prawn tartare and caviar cream. The soup was creamy and flavorful, garnished with ribbons of lightly-pickled cucumber and edamame beans, and the prawn tartare and caviar provided the double punch of umami flavor. Went well with the rounded and rich Cristal, with some pear and tropical fruits on the palate and wheat-y.

We then moved to a side-by-side wine tasting of France vs Spain. On one end was the Chateau Petrus 2004, one of our star bottles, and on the other, Unico the flagship of the iconic Vega Sicilia winery made from mostly Tempranillo and then some cab and merlot from the 1996 vintage. Both were exceptional, as you could imagine. The Petrus was kept in great condition, well rounded and complex, first with cherries and later followed by a hint of earthiness, and the ripe red fruit after-taste went on forever. Robert Parker mentioned “Chinese tea” in the tasting notes for the 1996 Unico and I did think there’s a hint of the mellow pu’er tea somewhere, along with an attractive bouquet, fresh red fruits on the palate and good smooth tannin that will probably further improve over time. Going head to head, I think it’s too close to call.

Secretly I was a bit worried of the pairing of such exquisite wines with our next course of braised octopus when I first saw the menu, but turned out it’s brilliantly done. The octopus was slow-braised with a touch of paprika. On the side what looked like beef tartare at first glance turned out to be a wakame and oyster pesto salad, with two types of cured seaweed (green from Japan and purple from Spain) tossed with chopped oyster. It was amazingly delicious. Didn’t get a lot of cured flavor from the cubes of watermelon (I would have compressed it to intensify the flavor) but they were refreshing, providing some texture contrast to the rest of the dish. The richness from the octopus was just of the right level to the richness of the wines, which were powerful yet not the in-your-face type.

Our main course of steak bavette with crispy fingerling potatoes and gravy was a simple one but cooked well (with generous portion too) Coming from the skirt area with firm texture and super meaty flavor, this piece of beef could be challenging to cook but Chef Ken did well, seared for the crust outside and cooked sous-vide to tenderize the meat and for the right medium-rare done-ness. One piece I got was on the edge and it got a little dry and chewy but the rest were great. I thought the fingerling potatoes were a little bit heavy on the salt, but again it didn’t affect the overall taste much.

And the dish was perfect for the four wines poured – a pair of Solaia and a pair of Opus One, both Bordeaux-like blend with cabernet sauvignon being the dominant grape varietals used. The 2007 Solaia – which I pulled out from my cellar space just next door right after I arrived – reminded me of sweet Christmas cake at first sip with ripe black cherries, molasses and a hint of citrus peel. Definitely worked well with rich food like steak. Meanwhile the 2008, just one year apart, was more about spices and tannins, but once given time to breathe, it turned into something much softer and feminine with the fruits on the palate coming out. The pair of Opus One, 2005 and 2010, was the most expressive reds of our flight tonight. Both beautifully made, full-bodied with the typical new world cab characters, big on nose and on the palate. I would say I prefer the 2010 with more complexity – ripe black fruits, with hint of leather and sweet spices and rounded tannin.

I moved the dessert course before the cheese (instead of the other way round) because I think this worked better with our wine order. The deconstructed tiramisu was beautifully presented in a bowl, with the coffee shortbread, creamy mascarpone and the delightful chocolate ganache with Tia Maria liqueur. It’s rich and of the right sweetness.

We had a pair of sauternes to match. The 1989 Chateau d’Yquem was stunning – quite alcoholic at first sip but the botrytis taste soon took over, with honeysuckle and orange marmalade on the palate backed by good acidity. Quite possibly the best sauternes I have tasted. It’s hard to give the bottle of d’Yquem a worthy companion to taste alongside with, but I attempted with a bottle of old Suduiraut (1970) so we could compare both with similar geography but made decades apart. Always a toss of luck regarding wine of that kind of age, but this one did surprisingly well, base-neck fill with an even deeper golden color on the glass (than the d'Yquem), purfumic and floral on the nose and well balanced. Probably not with enough acidity to stand against the sweetness as I would have wanted, but it’s delicious.

I asked the Hip Cellar/AnOther Place team to let us arrange our own cheese course because I wanted something specific to go with the bottle of port to end our evening with. We got the cheeses from this lovely fromagerie in Wanchai called La Cremerie and they were outstanding, and went along with more bread (walnut and fig sourdough and soft pretzels) we got from Bakehouse. The soft and creamy Brillat-Savarin paired great with the leftover sauternes still in our glasses, and the Brie Le Fougerus was a clear step-up to the usual Brie de Meaux that we are more familiar with. I wasn’t that into the gamey goat cheese, but the log of Saint Maure de Touraine covered in a thin layer of wood ash was more about the creamy texture, aromatic and the salty taste than being being pungent and gamey. And the Comte and Mimolette, both aged for 24 months, rounded up our cheese platter. The limited release of 1966 single harvest port from Taylor’s has a light brown color with rich fruity taste, of dates and tobacco. I wouldn’t have guessed this has been aged in the barrel for 50 years and I am happy to drink this any time as digestif.

Such a memorable night – you know, not every evening I could tell myself I got a little too tipsy from the bottle of Chateau d’Yquem, after the Palmers and the Petrus and more… and with awesome food and company. It will be an evening we would likely talk about for a long time to come ("remember that night we had that 16 bottles of fancy wines?")

When? March 3 2018
Where? Hip Cellar/AnOther Place, 5/F, Block C Sea View Estate, 2-8 Watson Road, North Point, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Grilled USDA Prime Bavette 10oz with crispy fingerling potatoes and house-made gravy
Champagne Olivier Bruno et Christiane Brut NV (en Magnum)
1986 Chateau Palmer, Margaux
1991 Chateau Palmer, Margaux
1995 Chateau Palmer, Margaux
1996 Chateau Palmer, Margaux
2009 Champagne Louis Roedered "Cristal" Brut
2004 Chateau Petrus, Pomerol
1996 Vega Sicilia "Unico" Ribera del Duero
2007 Marchesi Antinori "Solaia" Toscana IGT
2008 Marchesi Antinori "Solaia" Toscana IGT
2005 Opus One Napa Valley
2010 Opus One Napa Valley
1970 Chateau Suduiraut, Sauternes
1989 Chateau d'Yquem, Sauternes
1966 Taylor's Very Old Single Harvest Port

Hip Cellar:
AnOther Place:

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