Mission: To respond thoughtfully and responsibly to my experiences of drinking and dining at restaurants with regard to the quality, service, preparation, presentation and overall experience received thereat. The standpoint is one who respects the crafts of the chef and sommelier and who seeks to understand their choices in the kitchen and cellar and grow in knowledge. In this, I will seek to be fair, reasoned, direct and constructive and aim to keep my ego in check on our mutual journeys through the worlds of food and wine.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Chateau Fieuzal at the Ribs - good, hearty fare

Ribs interior
Another chance to chug on the Chateau Fieuzal wines being offered at a dinner by Yin-How at the Ribs by Vintry could not be passed up. Grand Cru wines and winemakers don't often come to this part of the world and it is a truth universally acknowledged that consumption of the wines that they bring must be maximised. Yes. Must get in before others sup them up. Dog eat dog in the world of food and wine. Or maybe that should be dog drink dog...

As said elsewhere, we had previously had the great pleasure of winemaker Stephen Carrier's hospitality at the Chateau during a trip to Bordeaux in April 2013 and it was one of the most memorable evenings of my life. The food had been catered into the vineyard and we were all sat around a large slab of wood that was a table where the food and the wines kept coming and flowing. Very few photos of the night, but the blind tasting we enjoyed was magical. If all we do in this life is make memories for some God, I hope he or she enjoyed that one. For darned sure, I did.

Our recent IWFS dinner with the Fieuzal wines had perhaps too many people for comfort, but one could not refuse the members the opportunity to sup on the Grand Crus. Well, maybe you could but you'd get whacked for it. The hope was that this one at the Ribs would be a bit more cosy. It was, though for some reason the atmosphere didn't quite develop into something like the memory of drinking the man's wine in his own cellar. There you go. Some memories are just too wonderful.

Some Pizza for you?
Dropped off the Lenglui and parked up the road apiece. Got welcomed on arrival with a belated glass of the 2008 which, as with the Soleil Dinner of two nights previous, was being offered as the aperitif. A blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc and witn six years in the bottle gave this one a definite rich creamy mellow soft fruit and burgundy feel and was a most pleasant partner to the Foie Gras canapes, cheesy kebab bites and squares of pizza that were coming around. Any remaining tart in the wine was well softened by the proteins in the food.   

Not so many familiar faces at this one, though a couple of the IWFS were in attendance and some members of our Pork Luck Club. We were to be seated with the Doc and my old mucker David. Texas and the FDQ were also on our table. FDQ spent most of the night as usual taking photos of all and sundry and uploading them for the Facebook Universe to see and presumably like. Okay, I guess. Doesn't make for stimulating company at the dinner table though. 

We got sat and Stephen got introduced by Yin-How. He talked a bit about Fieuzal being owned by an Irish couple and the methods used in making his creations. Never knew he was born and raised in a Champagne vineyard. There you go. 

Ribs owner Wong Yin-How and Chateau Fieuzal winemaker Stephen Carrier
Stephen shared that Château de Fieuzal is in the Pessac-Léognan appellation south of Bordeaux city and is ranked in the Premiers Crus in the AOC Classification of Graves (apparently 1953 and 1959, according to Wikipedia). Wikipedia also says de Fieuzal was originally the property of the La Rochefoucauld family, it became known for its wine under the management of one Erik Bocké of Sweden. The winecellarinsider says the Chateau was named after one of the earlier owners who managed the estate in the early 1800s and subsequently owned by the Griffon family who had connections to Pope Léon XIII in Bordeaux and got called on to stock the cellars of the Vatican. Also that it was once in the portfolio of the Ricard family. All agree that in 2001, Château de Fieuzal was acquired by Lochlann Quinn, the Irish entrepreneur and philanthropist. 

Enjoy my wines!!!
The vineyard area consists of 39 hectares of red vines (60% Cabernet Sauvignon with 33% Merlot, 4.5% Cabernet Franc and 2.5% Petit Verdot) and 9 hectares of white (50% Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc respectively). Total annual production is 13,000 cases of red wine and 4,000 of dry white. 

With a wish for Bon Appetit and to enjoy the wines, the 2011 Blanc got served. A lot more intense than the rounded 2008, giving off grass and gooseberry in quite a youthful and nicely exuberant mouthful. 

First out was the Cod Bouillinade, or Cod baked in a thick and rich saffron and seafood jus. The broth was lovely - herby with dill and parsley and lemon with loads of butter and potato chunks. And most generous with the chunks of cod swimming in the jus. This totally rocked and the Broth supercharged the 2011's finish, giving a crisp flinty graze on the throat and tongue. The 2008 was more fish friendly, though the cod somewhat overwhelmed the crisp burgundy apple for my taste. 

Cod Bouillinade Cod baked in a thick and rich saffron and seafood jus
Yin-How was following the same wine order that he had decided for the previous Soleil dinner, with the 2005 Rouge being presented first. 

Nearly ten years in bottle and supposedly a stellar year for Bordeaux, my notes say that the 2005 was… okay. Clearly a Bordeaux and with a big nose of berries and cassis, this one felt a bit austere and somewhat steely. Which was odd since we know Stephen gives it good time in oak at the vineyard. Good structure across fruit, tannin and alcohol, it just seemed to lack a little… character. Felt like it needed a bit of life or vim to elevate it into something really memorable.

And yet this wine was the star of the night at the Soleil two nights previous. There should have been no difference - same wine, same temperature, though the red wines at the Soleil were decanted as memory serves. I can't remember if there were decanters at the Ribs, and the photos don't show anything. The only other difference was the ambience and the people - Soleil ambience is a shade more warm with earth tones whereas the Ribs is somewhat more rustic with wine racks and brick and white walls. It is said that decanting and ambience impacts the experience of the wine and food - certainly seemed to do so tonight.

The 2005 was being paired with the Terrine of Pork with duck liver and rocket salad with a sherry balsamic reduction. The presentation was delightful, with flowers and dabs of sauce across the plate. "Strolling in the garden of food," was how David put it. Bastard. Wish I'd said it. Good turn of phrase has our David.

Terrine of Pork with duck liver, and rocket salad with a sherry balsamic reduction
In taste and texture, the Terrine was reminiscent of Cornish Pasties we would get years ago from Cardiff Central Market, though way more refined. All lovely crumble pastry but with a crusty butter bite and encasing smooth as silk lean meat and fat bound with egg. The meat had a pulled pork feel about it, which just melted in the mouth. Total result. Total Yum. Love it when food takes me back to the tastes of my childhood.

Learning from previous eating and drinking emperience, I had reserved a little of the 2008 and 2011 Whites left to try with the pork. The 2008 got a bit overwhelmed whilst the 2011 fared slightly better with the terrine taming the slight frisky finish. But they did not really pair with the food. This Bordeaux white style didn't seem to fare so well with the lean meat, which is not unfair given the varietals. The 2005 Rouge went quite nicely though it didn't really feel like a total match. Bordeaux seems to benefit better when paired with poultry and beef, whereas pork increasingly seems to need Alsatian white or Pinot grape based wine to amplify the juices and firm meat. Or so my tastes and palate seem to be moving toward. But it was a fair attempt by the 2005. And it is just so, so good to drink darned good Bordeaux wine, whatever the food.  

Both the 2009 and 2010 Rouge came out at the same time to get paired with the Duck and Pork Sausage Cassoulet stewed with garden vegetables and white beans. 

The 2009 was exactly the same as Soleil, all big berries and big nose of brambles and plum. Massive full body, a lovely chugging wine but with enough meat and firmness to satisfy. Bold crisp tannins, large alcohol content of 14%.

Equally, the 2010 felt as strangely ordinary as it did on the previous occasion. Minimal fruit and liquorice nose, lean body, bit austere with firm tannins. Interesting to see the difference between the years and the vintages - big 2009 and tight 2010. A supposedly stellar year for Bordeaux, but couldn't quite see too long a life here - not too much big fruit to carry it through, compared to the 2009 which has fruit, tannin and alcohol in abundance. Though perhaps the tannins are not as much in evidence in the 2009 as they are with the 2010. But we'll see. The beauty of wine is its ability to surprise on the upside, and when it does the delight is so sublime. Still, the 2009 feels a lot longer in the bottle, with its big fruit and even tannins. The 2009 was our buy for the night, along with the 2011 Blanc.

Toru-san and, er, Mrs Toru-san
On first blush, the Cassoulet felt a bit thin and in need of some ooomph. It was full in content terms - lots of meat and potatoes - but maybe just a bit low in body. Kind of like an Irish Stew without cojones. Not knowing much about Cassoulet, I assumed that this was the standard style. But apparently not -  someone on the table asserted that it should indeed be thicker and that what was in the bowl was not a Cassoulet. This observation was not made sotto voce and fortune would have it that it was made just as the room went quiet for Stephen to speak. Which meant that the whole assembled group of foodies and wineheads heard it and equally exactly who said it. Oops. But no-one said anything - too polite to comment, I guess. Well, no-one except me. I said to the individual "Well, I guess we all heard that." Which also happened to be loud enough for everyone to hear, so they would know precisely where the comment came from. I have a mean streak which enjoys an occasional airing. Bad man. 

Duck and Pork Sausage Cassoulet stewed with garden vegetables and white beans
But on second blush the delightful and delicate broth of rosemary and fennel started to shine and this herb quality helped to soften the austerity of the 2010. Here the wine showed its class - structure, deftness, not quite sleek but a good firm finish without being robust. The duck did the same, letting notes of dark forest fruit and plum come out in the wine. The 2009 just whacked everything with its massive fruit and mouth and didn't really do much for the dish, though as a wine it was big, bold and beautiful. Like Brigitte Bardot or Pamela Anderson with a baseball bat. Both the Cassoulet and the 2010 grew on me, though Lenglui found the 2009 more to her taste and preference. So it goes. The lack of starch and abundance of fresh ingredients and deft touch of the salt shaker in the Cassoulet suggested that chef likes to let the food do the talking. Very tasty indeed. 

Some on the table felt that to have cut the sausage into slices was a mistake since it released too much oil into the broth. Others felt they would have reduced the broth more to make the taste more intense. Well, and maybe. There was indeed oil in the broth and the texture was not "brothy" in the rich and sloppy sense of the word. But I thought it was lovely. Chef clearly had his reasons for his choices and for me they worked well. 

Dessert was very rich. Date, cake and cognac gave a gagging syrup mouth nicely tamed by the ice cream and firmed up with the nuts. Lush, swish and firm, not unlike a Christmas pudding in body, content and texture. Ho Ho Ho indeed.

Cognac Spheres covered in crushed almonds and drizzled with coffee sauce, served with Earl Grey ice-cream
In all, a very good night. Generous with the pourings, and good matches of well tasty food and darling Bordeaux wines. It did revive a memory of our Bordeaux group getting dropped off at the Chateau Fieuzal from the bus and enjoying the cool evening in the grounds of the Chateau whilst the caterers got their act together inside. Which was good - memory is all we have sometimes, and some of us get to lose it way too soon so best to totally enjoy it whilst we have it.  Didn't get much of a chance to chat with Stephen since everyone was very eager to get a piece of him. He looked a lot less stressed than he seemed two nights previous, so the jetlag presumption seemed correct. It was very good company being opposite David for the night, though I think the Doc was a bit miffed with FDQ being opposite him and  absorbed with the camera and phone all evening. As said, FDQ not really offering much in the way of conversation. Other than the Cassoulet observation. Think he enjoyed the wines, though. For darn sure, I did. Again. Cheers!!

A well excellent evening!
2nd AUGUST 2014, 7.30PM

Trio of Canapes 
Chateau Fieuzal Blanc 2011

Cod Bouillinade Cod baked in a thick and rich saffron and seafood jus
Chateau Fieuzal Blanc 2008

Terrine of Pork with duck liver, and rocket salad with a sherry balsamic reduction
Chateau Fieuzal Rouge 2005

Duck and Pork Sausage Cassoulet stewed with garden vegetables and white beans
Chateau Fieuzal Rouge 2009 
Chateau Fieuzal Rouge 2010

Cognac Spheres covered in crushed almonds and drizzled with coffee sauce, served with Earl Grey ice-cream

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