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

Monday, August 11, 2014

Chateau Fieuzal at Soleil - tres magnifique!!


JULY 31 2014 - This was one of those unmissable IWFS functions - Soleil's excellent European style food being paired with Grand Cru Classe Bordeaux wine. And from a vineyard we had visited during our April 2013 IWFS trip to the region. And at the silly price of RM298 - no wonder all the original 40 places got snapped within a day. In the end the number topped out at 58 which raised some concern as to whether the place could cope. It did. Kudos to the staff and Yuhei and Effandie for marshalling their troops and Chef Evert for getting the food out on time and generally to everyone's satisfaction. 

Instruction was for jackets and medallions which I think most remembered - no one got pulled up about it. Though not sure anyone was taking too much notice. Later in the evening, one of the old members started to fondly reminiscing about when there was more fun and less formality - seems all the stiff back and shirt ideas came in when the IWFS KL got formalised, though whether it was a cause or not is difficult to gauge. Ultimately it is people who decide the tone of these things.

All those in favour...
It had been decided to hold an EGM to consider whether Joint Members should be permitted to exist in the KL branch. This had all come about thanks to resolutions being passed at the World Council level to allow premiums to be charged for non members accompanying members to international events. One had been charged for the upcoming Taiwan bunfight and the rumour was of a threat to impose a horrendous premium for the upcoming in Melbourne in 2015. Joint members was perceived as a way around paying such a premium whereby a spouse became a joint member of the branch and thus the IWFS and the premium payable gets marginalized. It also has the effect of instantly doubling membership at half the member price since joint members apparently enjoy all IWFS member rights and privileges, which no-one seems to have properly addressed or considered to my mind. Not that it seems to have mattered. Almost unanimously it got passed. Everyone got a free glass of wine for attending. O how cheaply the vote can sometimes get bought…

Dr Jag and Lenglui - oooh la la...
There was a downside - the meeting was rapidly concluded which forced us all to sit for about twenty minutes to let the kitchen catch up. And with no wine to slake the thirst which had been whetted at the meeting! Everyone was desperate. We had to talk to each other whilst sober. But time passed quickly and out came the same booze. The aperitif wine doubled as the first wine with the meal and went going down a treat. Though a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, the Fieuzal 2008 Blanc had a veritable burgundian feel about it. It was all toasted toffee apple and Christmas dates in honey and roaring fireplace in winter. Full and rich in the mouth, not quite opulent but aged enough to get a good hint of it. Lush and luscious. 

For the dinner we were being separated into upstairs and downstairs given the 57 that had been crowbarred into the Soleil. The tables all had names associated with Bordeaux. We were upstairs on Table Leognan with a few old friends. Dr Jag came late and ceremonially "broke thirst" and we were off. The perception was that all the senior committee had been designated to sit downstairs with the winemaker in the downstairs and so we in the upstairs got labelled as the outcasts (or upcasts as it subsequently became). So it goes. At least we didn't feel the need to be on best behaviour.

Squid and Shellfish in Escabeche
First out was the Squid and Shellfish in Escabeche which proved a lovely lemongrass and herb bite. The combo of cockles and squid felt a bit squidgy, but the broth was a seaside delight of salt and oil sea breeze scented with chive and rocket. The oyster with a dab of avocado puree worked nicely as a chew and slurp, and what felt like a slap of wasabi in the avocado puree was a nice surprise. The salt naturally made one want to drink (which we did) and the staff more than made up for the enforced delay with their generosity in the pourings. Match-wise the 2008 did well, though lacked that little tinge of acidity that might have set the seafood off a shade better. No complaints, though - a lovely wine paired with a well tasty dish.

Fennel and Apple Salad with Smoked Monkfish and Grapefruit Dressing
Second out was the Smoked Monkfish which, though indeed smoked, felt a shade over-firm and more ceviche in texture than smoked. As if the grapefruit dressing had leached out the remaining oil and diminished the overall balance in the flakes. Simple presentation of the fish slices on the apple salad bed with a dash of oil across the top. Nicely light crunch on the finely chopped apple salad and the fennel lent a liquorice undertone to the ensemble. I tried my neighbours fennel on its own with the wine and got a cute little pinch on the inside of the cheek for my trouble. Must try these things.

The dish was being paired with the 2011 Fieuzal Blanc which was way more lively than its older sibling. Full in the mouth and lively on the throat, this was a bright and breezy drinker made for chugging and cheering rather than the more contemplative 2008. For me, the 2011 would have been better if paired with the first dish to lend the necessary acidity and crispness demanded by shellfish. Equally, the Monkfish was a far better result when paired with the rich and buttery 2008 Blanc. The only reasons I can speculate on having the 2008 first are a) there was a lot more of it and b) better to continue with the same wine as the aperitif rather than go back to it after the 2011. So it goes. Everyone liked the 2011. 

Braised Duck and Crispy Veal Sweetbread with Mushrooms and Puff Pastry
Third out was the Braised Duck and Crispy Veal Sweetbread with Mushrooms and Puff Pastry. This was one of those dishes where the sum was better than the parts, though some of the parts were outstanding. The veal and the puff pastry were saltily magnificent and with the soft oily duck made for a textural breathtaker. Belter of a dish. Seeing the 2005 come out ahead of the younger Fieuzal reds was a bit surprising, though again one must presume there were reasons. The more youthful tannins in the later presentations would certainly have fought with the duck, and the 2005 was sufficiently lean and structured to pair well with pretty much any dish. Not a stellar pairing, but so nice to drink Bordeaux Grand Cru Classe wine here in KL. As said, lean and structured but with fair fruit and silky finish - life is good, man. 

left to right: IWFS KL President Dr Rajan, Chateau Fieuzal winemaker Stephen Carrier and
IWFS KL Secretary Wong Yin-How
Around this point, Yin How brought winemaker Stephen Carrier upstairs to say hello. Stephen looked different from the man I remember from our visit to Chateau Fieuzal in April 2013. Seemed like he had put on some weight, somehow got grey hair, and came across as less ebullient and lively. Though maybe he was just jetlagged. Certainly at a subsequent Chateau Fieuzal dinner at the Ribs a couple of days later, he was more the man I remember. The added weight seems to suit him - makes him look more the archetypal burly French winemaker and bon viveur and son of the soil. Champagne soil, too.

Lamb Eye of Short Loin with Pistachio Crumble, Vegetable Ratatouille and Eggplant Puree
The 2009 and 2010 came out together to pair with the choices of main dishes. I had the lamb whilst Lenglui had the beef. The lamb medallions were nicely presented on the plate, but texturally was a bit overfirm and somewhat dry to my taste. Other members asserted that their lamb was as tender as a teenage dream. Maybe mine had been waiting a bit too long somewhere. Maybe I am more used to lamb on the rack rather than the loin. The combo with the pistachio and puree was a cracker of nut crunch and light cream though I got a hint of red pepper and capsicum which did its usual repeat business. 

Pan Seared Black Angus Beef Tenderloin with Glazed Vegetables and Sarawak Pepper Sauce
Had a taste of the beef which was also firm, though more tender than my lamb. Interesting jus with the Sarawak pepper lending a sweet tea taste to the meat that complemented rather than overpowered. Very nice. Didn't get to try the fish. 

Serena Hiu and YC Yap
The wines were complete opposites in the way they presented themselves. The 2009 was massive fruit and big tannins though with enough alcohol to balance them out. This was a real Bordeaux, bold and sassy and well in your face. The 2010 was way more restrained and quite austere, with thinnish fruit and more elegance in its structure though the tannins were hugely prominent. Clearly being drunk far ahead of its time, though not sure how much time will be available. 

Paul and Ria Thomas
Whilst the brassy 2009 proved the crowd favourite, the better food red wine on the night was the 2005. It was classic with the beef and cut the firm lamb proteins and fats well enough to make for a pleasant pairing. Only downside was that the later red servings felt a tad stingy. Not so much that it made a difference - still got that muzzy morning after head that makes you want to bang it on the desk to clear the fog and wake up the brain.  Maybe it is a perspective thing that changes as one gets more inebriated - the volumes are actually the same, just that they feel less. But the white certainly felt more generous in the pourings.

Dr Stephen Hall, Dr Lee Su Kim and Ria Thomas
With only dessert to come, Lenglui and I decided to head downstairs to say hello to friends. Didn't get too far because their mains were just coming to the tables. Guess the kitchen had staggered the preparation so that upstairs got theirs together and downstairs had a bit more of a wait. Made sense. Good pragmatic way to cope with large numbers. Kudos. Our hails and hellos got cut short. 

Repairing back upstairs, we got greeted with demands for songs to be sung, so I was able to get my Tom Jones on. It's a great song to get people raucous and in a rabble rousing mood. Lenglui did her rapturously received New York New York and a request for me to do Proud Mary which for some reason proved a total home run. Final choice of YMCA was also a result, though it seemed a bit of an odd choice for IWFS members to request. There you go - never really know people, do we?

Dark Chocolate Cremeux with Caramel Banana Ice Cream
Dessert was a lovely combo of rich and firm Chocolate and the match with the Banana Ice Cream ended the night on a cool creamy chocolate note. The berries gave a rasping acid burn on the tongue which the ice cream cooled and the chocolate soothed. Perfecto. 

In all, it was a darn good drink we all had. As said, quite generous with the white, the red felt a teeny bit stingy, though not so as one could complain. Not at these prices. Great kudos to both restaurant and organiser Yin How. Excellent evening indeed. 

The Menu

First Course
Squid and Shellfish in Escabeche
2008 Fieuzal Blanc

Second Course
Fennel and Apple Salad with Smoked Monkfish and Grapefruit Dressing
2011 Fieuzal Blanc

Third Course
Braised Duck and Crispy Veal  Sweetbread with Mushrooms and Puff Pastry
2005 Fieuzal Rouge

Main Course
Pan fried Atlantic Cod with Zucchini and Mussels in Saffron Broth
Lamb Eye of Short Loin with Pistachio Crumble, Vegetable Ratatouille and Eggplant Puree
Pan Seared Black Angus Beef Tenderloin with Glazed Vegetables and Sarawak Pepper Sauce
2009 Fieuzal Rouge
2010 Fieuzal Rouge

Dark Chocolate Cremeux with Caramel Banana Ice Cream

The Wines (Makers Notes)

2008 Fieuzal Blanc 
Straw-green with golden highlights. Rich apricot and peach aromas are complemented by sweet caramel and waxy nuances. Rich and plump in the mouth, with flavors of caramel-coated candy apple, ripe tropical fruits and a semillon-typical waxy quality. This round, full-bodied wine leaves a downright glycerol mouthfeel and enticing lingering notes of citrus fruits and herbs. (Tanzer 88-91, Parker 90)

2011 Fieuzal Blanc 
Bright, pale straw.  Complex aromas of white peach, vanilla and white flowers on the enticing nose.  Bright and fresh on the palate, with juicy acidity lifting the ripe citrus and mineral flavors.  The finish is long and pure, with rising but noble tannins.  A very refined white wine. (Tanzer 90-93, Parker 89)

2005 Fieuzal Rouge 
Smoke, black truffles, crushed rock, and leafy notes combined with earth, fresh mushrooms, and cassis result in a complex set of aromatics for the dark ruby/purple-colored 2005 Fieuzal. Medium-bodied with crisp acidity and high tannin, this serious wine is closed, but promising. (Tanzer 88, Parker 90)

2009 Fieuzal Rouge 
A terrific, classic Graves with notes of subtle smoke, black raspberries, black currants, graphite and unsmoked cigar tobacco, this full-bodied, deep, concentrated de Fieuzal is far more generous and deep than most vintages of the past. There is also a wonderful freshness and length to this somewhat oversized de Fieuzal while it still maintains its elegance and class. (Tanzer 92, Parker 92)

2010 Fieuzal Rouge 
Good deep ruby-red.  Dark berries and spicy, cedary oak dominate the nose.  Supple and broad but a bit less creamy in the early going than is normal for this wine.  Sexy, soil-driven flavors of plum, tobacco, cigar box and spices show good energy.  Firm tannins clamp down on the finish without introducing any dryness.  A rather classically styled Fieuzal with good mid-term aging potential. (Tanzer 91, Parker 90)