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.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Chateau Rauzan-Segla at Chambers - Hmmm....

May 24th 2016

Not sure what I was expecting from this one. Perhaps a little something more, though not exactly sure what at this point. Something felt…   missing. Possibly alcohol. And a bit of romancing. And maybe less subdued lighting. The somewhat austere setting somehow reflected the wines and the seemingly meagre servings thereof. It would end up somehow not as convivial as other events. Perhaps my having been recently wowed by the Ornellaia outing elevated my expectations. Maybe it was all of this. It just all felt… odd, and not somehow complete. Strange...

Got a Whatsapp from Chambers Bobby advising of the dinner and the early bird price of 20% discount and quickly got a confirmed seven of the various gang members for the dinner. It looked good - a vertical of four Chateau Rauzan-Segla vintages being paired with Chambers food for RM336 after the discount. It gets so difficult to say no when the deals look this good. 

We arrived at the KL Hilton having snagged a lift from some table guests and got welcomed by the waiting staff and a friendly glass of fizz. Little bit of chatting at the lounge area with familiar faces and staff before getting ushered into the restaurant. Seemed to be a little bit of confusion at the front desk in deciding where it was we were to be seated, but with Lenglui sighting a table set for seven we planted ourselves there before anyone could say different. We know.

Bobby tried to get everyone's attention but ultimately failed thanks to one table of particularly boisterous and apparently (judging by the accents) native Frenchmen who refused to quiet down. Bobby introduced a Mmselle who was apparently from Rauzan-Segla Chateau (didn't get the name and didn't get an introduction from the Milawa people) to say a few words. And they were indeed few - possibly less than fifty which were to prove the only ones these ears would hear from her, which kind of begs the question as to why she got invited in the first place? Though Mmselle was later seen to be engaged in serious conversation with the Frenchies. And it was her first time in Malaysia, so possibly she had not been briefed on the expectations and niceties of saying something about the Chateau and the wines to the expectant public (could this not have been explained to her in advance? Market the Rauzan by romancing its fans? Feels like a big opportunity got missed here). 

Half of the wine
Maybe this was part of the dampener on the evening - expecting a decent run down on the wines and why we were having these particular vintages, given that this was serious Bordeaux and decent vintages. Kind of like expecting answers to why were we drinking them and why were they being paired with the particular dishes? Cigku Lim questioned the order in which the wines were being presented (in this instance, youngest to oldest) rather than in Parkerian ranking. My guess was that this was probably at someone's insistence - older is always better, n'est-ce pas? - and that such thinking ultimately prevailed. I might have juggled the earlier wines a bit and had the 2005 after the 2001 and 1998 but there you go. We all agreed it was a privilege just to be sat there drinking them. 

Château Rauzan-Ségla is a wine property in the Margaux appellation of France's Bordeaux and the name of the "Deuxièmes Cru" (Second Growth) red wine produced by this property. Originally part of a vast estate owned by Pierre de Mesures de Rauzan in the mid-17th century, the 51 hectare estate is presently owned by the Wertheimer family of Chanel (acquired 1994). Since this time, the winemaking has remained under the oversight of David Orr and John Kolasa (both from Chateau Latour) and anecdotally the wines have seen continuous improvement. 

The other half...
Lenglui and I had actually visited Chateau Rauzan-Segla as part of our 2013 trip to Bordeaux with the IWFS (excellently organised by fellow Committee member and wine restaurateur Yin-How of Vintry and Stoked fame) and it was one of our favourites. Located up a winding road through fields of the vine, we entered through an arch and got off the bus in a gravel crunching courtyard which led into a delightfully appointed property. As said, the Chateau is currently owned by the same group that owns Chanel. I remember a well ordered and neat Chateau in perfect spring sunshine with a smallish cellar and a lot of history posted on the walls and parked around the wine making area. 

I have had a soft spot for the Rauzan wines ever since I got bowled over by a 1997 I bought at Heathrow Airport in my early wine drinking days and which got drunk at home with Dr Gan circa 2004. That boy was sleek, fragrant, elegant, and with a lean understated power that seared to the soul. Again, perhaps because this wine holds such a special memory for me meant that my expectations were above normal. As memory serves, the wines we had at the Chateau were a bit on the reedy side, though one was the 2012 EP and the other was circa 2009 and a bit young on the day.

All the wines had been decanted and the staff were doing the rounds, being gingerly careful as to not to overpour the precious juice. I had earlier counted twenty opened bottles and about 38 people. Part of me silently prayed for a miracle along the loaves and fishes line.

Chicken Liver Parfait - yum
Foodwise, the Chicken Liver Pate (sorry, Parfait) was excellent with the softly crunchy Brioche and the Poached Pears (poached apparently in Rauzan-Segla wine if I heard right) gave a sweet sourish hit to the whole. Great salt and texture on the Pate, real sense of the countryside with this. Can't beat being parked somewhere with a chunk of bread, a hunk of butter, a slab of pate and a jug of wine - little slice of heaven on earth. The 2005 was clearly young, though full of firm forest fruit and everything else in very good balance. Good vintage and a well made wine. Hope I'm still around in ten years time to be able to try it. Can never take any day for granted. 

The Potato and Truffle soup felt a bit gunky and under-seasoned and though we could smell the truffle as it made its way to the table it seemed to have evaporated by the time the spoon hit the (pleasingly) warm bowl. Cigku took a spoon of soup and poured a couple of drops of the wine into it. Monkey seeing, I naturally had to try and found it gave a pleasant vinegar hit to the gunk. The onions were also apparently prepared with some of the wine, though the whole came over as sweet. This made for good contrast with the potato, though as expected the soup numbed whatever friskiness there was in the wine into total submission. And there was indeed little friskiness in the 2001; it was more the Rauzan I remember from that first sip of the 1997 lean austerity and teeth shearing tannins. Wonderful. Whilst the rest of the table seemed to prefer the more approachable and more forgiving 2005, Cigku and I were lost in the fierce demands of the 2001. Totally classic lean Margaux.

From under-seasoned to marginal over-seasoned, the Beetroot Tart was a great array of textures - walnut, arugula and cheese all fusing together to form a softly crunchy salty fired up salad goo that nicely prickled the tongue and cheeks. A good mix of salt and sweet with the beetroot, but as said a shade over salted for my taste and tolerance (which is admittedly low). 

The first impression of the 1998 was "wow" - big fruit on the nose, austere in the mouth with lean chewy tannins and a sucky dry kind of grip on the gullet leading to a full blown finish. Excellent balance, though perhaps at its peak with the fruit showing less prominence and a question for me as to whether there is sufficient for long term storage. Though I must confess to not knowing too much about wines aged more than 20 years - in fifty this will probably still knock socks off. Very nice at this time though. 

Beetroot Tart with St Maure Cheese Gratin
The Cheese seemed to give a metallic shock on the teeth, a bit like getting a quick layer of enamel removed, but otherwise a bit of a miss match-wise with the food. Which was not unexpected. This kind of lean Margaux Bordeaux needs lamb or something less complicated to work its magic. I had a 2001 Chateau Margaux (my first!) with Cigku Lim the previous Friday at Cilantro with some amazing beef and it sang La Marseillaise with a wagyu whack - brilliant wine. The Rauzan would equally have sang with a hunk of decent beef (though perhaps more Maurice Chevalier than Edith Piaf). Not enough fruit in the wine to square off with the salty cheese and acetic beetroot. 

The Cranberry granite did a sound service in cleaning the throat and the mint leaf remains continual genius for a pop of mouth fresh ahead of the course de resistance the Wagyu Beef Cheek. Equally out in the decanter was the vin de resistance for the night, the 1996. 

O lovely the wine. Power, elegance and balance in a glass. Imagine a 20 year wine with a 5 year mouth. Delicious wine and the total business. Hong Kong price on Winesearcher was about RM450 (excl tax) which seems a deal if anyone is going there. The 1996 still has tremendous power and class and elegance, and seems ready for another ten years in the bottle. In contrast, the 1998 felt fading and maybe has another couple of years though it may already be peaking. The 2005 is full and potent and at least another ten to twenty years, though a question mark over whether enough fruit to sustain. The 2001 is probably ready to drink up.

Slow Braised Wagyu Beef Cheek
The Beef Cheeks disappointed. Notwithstanding good texture, the table was pretty unanimous in saying there was "no taste" and most of us left it pretty untouched. It felt…  a bit dried, perhaps over braised? Or perhaps just a bad bit of cow. Whatever, it was all piled onto one plate for take home for the dogs. Or the cats. Bit of a sad fate for a Wagyu cow when you think of it… In contrast the Spinach was total Popeye the Sailor Man iron greens and the potato was firm and butter pleasant. As was the creamy cold and mint chocolate crunch of the Pecan ice cream and Brownie that ended the evening's dining. We all seemed to leave pretty quickly after dessert - didn't feel like any real reason to stay. The Rauzan-Segla lady didn't much make it past the French boys table and seemed to be fully engaging with them and evidently not likely to make it to us at any time soon. Given also that the booze had clearly finished, it became allons mes braves et va bien! 

Chocolate Brownie, Pecan Ice Cream - very good!
In sum, a fair but ultimately somewhat disappointing evening. In comparison to the Ornellaia at the Graze upstairs, this was dull. Foodwise, winewise, ambience and the hosting - all dull. Some of the wines were magnificent, others very good, though none of them seemed to stay well in the glass through the night. They all got a bit thin and reedy, with the fruit evaporating to leave austere tannic sips. The aromas disappeared very quickly. 

Same with the food - some dishes were good and some okay only. The beef cheeks were well textured but ultimately lacking taste. With the benefit of hindsight, part of me wonders whether the decision to use the Chateau Rauzan-Segla wine as an ingredient in the various dishes was a good idea. Whilst I recognise the wow factor in cooking with the wine of the Chateau, I'm not entirely sure it did either the food or the wine any favours in their respective regards. Had, for example, the jus with the beef been a shade meatier from omitting the wine then perhaps it could have been saved? 

And the real absence of any romance or occasion on the part of the host and the venue let the evening fall quite flat. Even the normally ebullient and irrepressible FBQ was unusually quiet. I think some of us expected a bit more across all the departments. So it goes.

Notwithstanding, it must be said that wine-wise for the money this was still a good deal at RM336 to be able to taste top end Bordeaux with serious food. Well, it would have been had there been more booze. Seems these bottles had come straight from the Chateau, so I guess that they may be looking to unload them at some near future time. As said, I counted twenty uncorked bottles on show, and with 38 people in for the dinner this pans out at about half a bottle per person. WAY way not enough. 

Bobby says they are looking to grow the KL Hilton wine dinner business. Not sure if this is going to work long term - same chef and venue often means similar food at each event which gets a bit repetitive month after month. And if the wine serving is going to be as parsimonious as it was on this occasion, I am definitely going to have to bring an extra bottle or two to get my crowd through the night. We are a very thirsty bunch.  Salut!

Chateau Rauzan-Segla Wine Dinner
24th May 2016 Chambers Bar & Grill, KL Hilton

Chicken Liver Parfait, Charred Brioche, Chateau Rauzan-Segla Poached Pear
Chateau Rauzan-Segla 2005

Potato and Truffle Soup, Ciabata, Chateau Rauzan-Segla Onion Confit
Chateau  Rauzan-Segla 2001

Beetroot Tart, Gratinated St Maure Goat's Cheese Gratin, Arugula Balsamico di Modena, Chateau Rauzan-Segla Pickeld Walnuts
Chateau  Rauzan-Segla 2001

Cranberry Granite

Slow Braised Wagyu Beef Cheek, Yukon gold Mash, Baby Spinach, Chateau Rauzan-Segla Jus
Chateau  Rauzan-Segla 1996

Warm Chocolate Brownie, Butterscotch Sauce, Pecan Ice Cream

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