Our 15th Anniversary Dinner

For our 15th Anniversary this past summer, Christina and I were in Seattle and kid-free, so we decided to celebrate at a wonderful restaurant in downtown Seattle called Mistral Kitchen.  We have been long time fans of William Belickis, the Chef and Owner, and have been visiting his restaurant since he opened up the original Mistral restaurant almost two decades ago.

We love French food and I have always enjoyed pairing it with our love for the French wines.  With this evening being a big anniversary, I knew I wanted to have something special.  I have always loved surprising Christina with a glass of nice mature older Bordeaux or Chateauneuf du Pape and not telling her what it is, just letting her take it in and trying to solve the riddle, “what am I?”  Christina is a very good sport with this little game I like to play.

Celebrating fifteen amazing years of marriage. Time has flown by!

For this evening, we had the eight course Chef’s table experience and I brought in some wine to go with it.  It was great to see William again, as he got us settled in at the table, he assured us that he had a wonderful evening in store for us.  We started things off with a bottle of the 2002 Krug Brut vintage Champagne.  Krug is my absolute favorite Champagne producer above everyone else, and they are also very singular in style.  The 2002 Krug was just released about three months prior and my mouth was watering in anticipation to see what the Masters at Krug had created.  Krug releases their Champagnes when they feel they are ready, so in this case the 2003 was released before the 2002.

The 2002 Krug vintage Champagne is expressive on the nose with grilled nuts, bread crumbs, white fruit, nutmeg and lemon zest.  The color was a slightly golden yellow color, which is a little darker than I expected, but I could not sense anything amiss.  In the mouth, the white pears, toasted whole wheat bread, grilled nuts, slight baking spices and lemon peel have a playful dance together in this full bodied package.  There is a refreshing streak of acidity that keeps everything in check and lively throughout.  The 2002 Krug has a very nice long white fruit, toasted bread and lemony finish.  This is an excellent Champagne and an excellent Krug, a definite step up from the 2003.  The 2002 Krug Champagne will have a long life ahead of it and I look forward to following its evolution.  (95+pts.)

Of course, we not only celebrated with the incredible 2002 Krug, I had to throw in a little jewelry to commemorate the occasion, courtesy of my company, Exact Gems.

The wine highlight of the evening was a bottle of 1990 Chateau Margaux.  I was excited to taste this wine, as I had never had it before.  I bought this wine on release and have been holding it, so that it would mature and we could have it for a special occasion.  This particular wine has been written up many times by various critics as one of the perfect 100 point wines of the 1990 vintage and on this night it did not disappoint.  The wine is still a dark red color and has a glorious nose of black plums, ripe red cherries and brown baking spices.  As Christina said, the nose was so captivating that we would have been totally happy just smelling it.  This is the reason why I (we) love mature Bordeaux wines.  It is the reason why we are willing to buy a bottle and hold it for 24 years before opening it.

In the mouth the wine was like a fine tapestry of different flavors all interwoven together, ripe plums, red Bing cherries, some black currants, a little damp earth, brown baking spices and with lively acidity.  The tannins are mostly resolved, but this wine has a long life ahead of it, as it is only at the beginning of the maturity plateau.  The long rich spicy dark fruit finish lasts for a minute after it is gone.  This is truly a beautiful wine and well worth the wait.  I just loved smelling the wine as it evolved and we enjoyed it over a three hour period. (100pts.)

Wish this bottle of 1990 Chateau Margaux was bottom-less!

There isn’t anyone on this planet that I would rather share/experience a wonderful wine with than my beautiful wife.  So to Christina, Thank you for being my partner, the love of my life and soulmate for 15 wonderful years.  I so appreciate you and I look forward to creating/sharing many more experiences with you in the world of wine and beyond.  I wonder what we will have for our 20th?



2016 Fete du Bordeaux

As we head into the new year, we were stunned to realize that it’s almost time for one of our favorite wine events!  Having made our New Year’s resolution to post more, we’ll start by catching up with an update from last year’s Fete du Bordeaux.

The Fete du Bordeaux always comes around in January just after the holidays.  It is not just a chance to taste the new releases from Bordeaux, but a chance to visit with the people who represent and/or own the Chateaux, many of whom we have gotten to know over the past ten years.  It is always good to catch up with them and hear about what is going on in Bordeaux.

Bob Watt, Christina Watt and Jean-Charles Cazes from Lynch Bages…our annual photo. Will be fun to look back on all of these one day!


There have been so many amazing changes that have taken place in the wineries throughout Bordeaux over the last 5 to 6 years and their wines are the better for it.  While there were many great wines produced in Bordeaux through the 80’s and 90’s, they pale in some respects to the quality that is being produced in Bordeaux today.  Today’s technology, like optical sorters and satellite imagery, were only dreams of the past.  Combine this with more rigorous vineyard management and  stricter quality standards, and the end result for consumers and collectors is consistently better wines – even in less than outstanding vintages.

This year’s Fete du Bordeaux was again held at the restaurant One Market in San Francisco and was a tasting of the new 2013 releases:

2013 Chateau Langoa Barton, St. Julien

2013 Chateau Leoville Barton, St. Julien

2013 Chateau Lynch Bages, Pauillac

2013 Chateau Ormes de Pez, St. Estephe

2013 Chateau Figeac, St. Emilion

2013 Petit Figeac, St. Emilion

2013 Chateau La Conseillante, Pomerol

One Market Restaurant in San Francisco.


Christina and I visited Bordeaux in 2013 during the harvest.  I can tell you that it was not ideal weather for the end of the growing season or harvest, with fairly frequent rain showers throughout the region.  Unfortunately, the wines of 2013 also show the difficulty of the growing season that the winemakers had to work with.  While the growing season of 2013 may have produced poor wines if they had been made in the 70’s or 80’s, today’s improved vineyard technology and winemaking practices produced some very pleasant wines.  The 2013’s are not the big blockbuster wines of 2005, 2009 or 2010, but you won’t have to wait as long for them to mature either.

Getting started!

The wine of the flight for the 2013’s was the newcomer to the group, Chateau La Conseillante.  Michel Rolland is the consulting winemaker for Chateau La Conseillante and the wine is made from 80% Merlot and 20% Cab. Franc.  This is a very nice wine for the vintage, medium bodied, with elegant dark fruit and fairly fine tannins on the medium long finish.  (92 pts.)

As we moved into the main dining room of the restaurant, we had a nice glass of Champagne from Franck Bonville – Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs NV.  I have had this particular Champagne on several occasions and I have always enjoyed it.  It reminds me of Salon in style, but slightly smaller in stature.  It is creamy in texture with good acidity, white fruit, green apple, lemon and a chalky mineral streak running right through the medium-long finish.  This is definitely a great QPR champagne at $35. (90 pts.)

To start the dinner off we tasted the 2014 Blanc de Lynch Bages white Bordeaux, which is produced in small batches.  I have always enjoyed this wine throughout the years, and it is one of my wife’s favorite whites.  It is very crisp with honey dew melon, green apples, lemon and a slight stoniness on the nice clean finish.  It is a perfect wine for summer if you can find it.  (92 pts.)

To go with our grilled calamari salad and roasted duck dinner, we had two flights of four wines:

2005 Chateau Figeac, St. Emilion – Dark red/black fruit with a slight green pepper nose.  Nice dark fruit with good acidity, a hint of spice, medium bodied and a medium long dark fruit finish.  (92 pts.)

2005 Chateau La Conseillante, Pomerol – Very dark bing cherry and blackberry fruit nose.  Very dark fruit in the mouth, lively acidity, and very fine tannins.  Nice long dark cherry fruit finish.  This wine is already very elegant and still on the young side, with upside potential.  This wine has a long life ahead of it.  (95+ pts.)

2005 Chateau Langoa Barton, St. Julien – Ripe red cherries and some black fruit on the nose.  In the mouth, red cherries and black currant, decent acidity, but a little monolithic at this point on the medium long cherry fruit finish.  Maybe this just needs more time in the bottle.  (90 pts.)

2005 Chateau Lynch Bages, Pauillac – Dark fruit and a little autumn leaves on the nose.  Nice dark bing cherry, some blackberry and a little walnut in the mouth.  Very nice acidity keeps this lively in the mouth, while the dark fruit continues on to a nice medium-long finish.  While there is still a fair amount of tannin here to work out, the wine is still young and should be good for the long haul.  (94+ pts.)

2000 Chateau Figeac, St. Emilion – Ripe dark red fruit on the nose.  In the mouth, red currants and cherries, with slightly grainy tannins and not quite as concentrated as the 2005.  Finishes with nice red cherry fruit of medium length.  (92 pts.)

2000 Chateau La Conseillante, Pomerol – Black currants and blackberries on the nose.  In the mouth a mixture of black currants and dark bing cherry/blackberry pie.  Good acidity and some spice notes starting to show up.  Again the elegance comes through on the medium-long dark fruit finish.  Still young, but this wine is starting to show a little of what it has in store for the patient collector.  (94 pts.)

1995 Chateau Lynch Bages, Pauillac – Ripe dark red fruit and a little forest floor on the nose.  In the mouth, black cherries and red currants combine with roasted nuts and some spice.  Soft in the mouth with a little tannin still present.  Nice acidity and sweet dark fruit carry through to the medium-long finish.  (93 pts.)

1995 Chateau Leoville Barton, St. Juilen –  Nose of the night, with red and black fruit, forest floor and baking spices.  In the mouth, nice sweet dark cherries, red currants and some blackberry combine with grilled nuts and forest floor.  This has good acidity and is very silky in the mouth.  Very nice sweet dark fruit on the long finish.  (95 pts.)

For dessert, we had a pear brown butter tart and a wine to go with:

2007 Chateau Suduiraut, Sauternes – Nice and light melon, tangerine and a touch of honey on the nose.   Good fruit in the mouth, melon, pears  and some bees wax.  Decent acidity with a hint of spice on the medium-long sweet honey finish.  (92 pts.)

It was another wonderful evening spent with friends from afar.  While I may not be buying a large quantity of wine from the 2013 vintage, there were some good wines made that you could enjoy while you are waiting for the 05’s, 09’s and 10’s to come to maturity.

Next year, the wines of 2014 should be a noticeable step up over the 13’s.  We look forward to the next tasting in just a few short weeks!





19th Annual Champagne Party – 1st California Edition

It’s hard to believe we’ve been throwing our Champagne Party for 19 years now.  It’s morphed and changed a bit through the years, but one thing has remained the same – we’ve always hosted the Champagne Party in November.  We feel like it’s such a fitting kick-off to the holidays – it gets everyone into a festive spirit and as it falls just before Thanksgiving, everyone has time to find a great sparkling wine they want to bring to their holiday gatherings.

This year was a bit different for us though – we decided not to travel back to Seattle during the busy Thanksgiving season, so we threw the party for a whole new group in California.  It was bittersweet, for sure – we missed our die-hard Seattle Champagne Party fans – but it was really interesting to introduce a new set of people to this tradition – and see how the more things change…the more they stay the same.

Got so busy with our guests, forgot to take a picture until the candles had nearly burnt out!


This year the tasting consisted of 12 different Champagnes (technically 10 Champagnes and 2 domestic sparkling wines), ranging in price from $20 – $325.   As always, the wines are served double-blind to everyone, not even my wife knows what we are going to taste ahead of time.  By way of explanation, single-blind is when you know what all the wines are ahead of time, but not the order that they will be served in.  Double-blind is when you don’t have any idea what the wines are ahead of time.  To get a true opinion of what wines people like, I think it is important to serve them at least blind if not double-blind.  I have found that when you have single-blind tastings, sometimes people spend more time on trying to figure out which wines are which versus trying to figure out which wines they like the most.

Where the action took place – the day after.

We had a great group of people and more than a few were shocked at the results of tasting the wines blind.  Here are the Champagnes in the order that we tasted them in:

Roederer Estate – L’Ermitage  2007  ($50)

Laurent Perrier – Grand Siecle  MV  ($125)

Argyle – Brut  2012  ($25)

Ariston Aspasie – Carte Blanche  NV  ($35)

Dom Perignon  2004  ($170)

Armand de Brignac – Ace of Spades, Gold  NV  ($325)

Charles Heidisieck – Brut  NV  ($55)

Roederer Cristal  2006  ($250+)

Krug  2000  ($250+)

Costco – Brut  NV  ($20)

Franck Bonville – Blanc de Blanc  NV  ($45)

Veuve Clicquot – La Grand Dame  2004  ($145)


The full-line up.

This is how the group as a whole ranked the Champagnes from best to worst:

#1 – Charles Heidsieck – Brut NV  ($55)

#2 – Laurent Perrier – Grand Siecle  MV  ($125)

#3 – Roederer Cristal  2006  ($250+)

#4 – Ariston Aspasie – Carte Blanche  NV  ($35)

#5 – Armand de Brignac – Ace of Spades, Gold  NV  ($325)

#6 – Roederer Estate – L’Ermitage  2007  ($50)

#7 – Veuve Clicquot – La Grand Dame  2004  ($145)

#8 – Franck Bonville – Blanc de Blanc  NV  ($45)

#9 – Krug  2000  ($250+)

#10 – Argyle – Brut  2012  ($25)

#11 – Costco – Brut  NV  ($20)

#12 – Dom Perignon  2004  ($170)

Before everyone voted on the wines, I told the story of our very first Champagne party 19 years ago, when 26 out of 27 people voted the 1990 Dom Perignon as the worst Champagne in the lineup.  In that first year, we also had a bottle of the Charles Heidsieck Brut NV ($25 back then) and a bottle of the Argyle Brut 1992 ($15 back then).  The Charles Heidsieck Brut NV tied for 2nd place that first year, along with the 1990 Roederer Cristal.

In an interesting twist, our group of 22 this year also voted Dom Perignon as their least favorite.  And the Charles Heidsieck Brut NV was once again in top place – taking first place this time as an overwhelming favorite.  It was truly astonishing to see the results show up like this all over again – while Dom has traditionally placed lower in the line-ups, this was a whole new group of tasters, and again, it just wasn’t the preferred style of Champagne. (I can assure you the bottles were all sound.)

My own personal rankings are different than how the group voted, as I really have a strong preference for big masculine style Champagnes, but I can also appreciate the finesse and minerality of some feminine style Champagnes as well.  Here is how I ranked the Champagnes in order from best to worst:

#1 – Krug  2000  ($250+):  Very nice toasty nose of fresh baked bread.  Fine bubbles, full bodied and slightly yeasty, subtle lemony yellow fruit, very lively with great acidity.  This is very complex in the mouth, but everything is a little more subtle than I expected.  Very nice long lemony mineral toasty fruit finish.  I think this just needs some more time in the bottle to really blossom, but it is going to be a very good Krug, be patient.  (96+ pts.)

#2 – Veuve Clicquot – La Grand Dame  2004  ($145):  Nice toasty yeasty nose.  Fine bubbles and nicely complex, full bodied strong tasting yellow fruit flavors, with a stony minerality streak running through it.  There are some bright lemony citrus fruit flavors and bright acidity that keep the Champagne dancing in your mouth.  Nice long stony lemon fruit finish.  (95 pts.)

#3 – Charles Heidsieck – Brut NV  ($55):  Big toasty wheat bread nose (strongest nose of the lineup).  Medium-fine bubbles and full bodied, yeasty yellow fruit with whole wheat bread and good acid.  Long toasty fruit finish.  This was the most masculine styled Champagne of the evening and is a great value for the money.  (94 pts.)

#4 – Franck Bonville – Blanc de Blanc  NV  ($45):  Very floral nose.  Fine bubbles and very nice lemony white and yellow fruit, with a nice distinct chalky minerality running through it.  This Champagne screams Grand Cru Chardonnay, as it should.  Very nice acidity on the long lemony chalk mineral infused white fruit finish.  This is an absolutely wonderful Champagne for the money and more feminine in style than I generally prefer, but the quality is excellent.  (93 pts.)

#5 – Roederer Cristal  2006  ($250+): Very subtle nose of citrus fruits.  Small bubbles combine with white and yellow fruits that have a slight stony minerality to them.  Good acidity on the long citrus mineral finish.  I think this Champagne will show better with a few more years in the bottle.  Right now, I prefer the Franck Bonville Blanc de Blanc NV over the Roederer Cristal 2006, especially given the 5/1 price ratio.  Five to ten years from now the Cristal may win.  (93 pts.)

#6 – Argyle – Brut  2012  ($25):  Very nice lemony fruit nose.  Silky small bubbles and very nice white Chardonnay fruit in the mouth.  There is a noticeable chalky minerality and zippy acidity that combine with the sweet fruit on the long finish.  This is a very nice domestic sparkling wine.  Over the last 19 years, Argyle from Oregon, has done better than any other domestic producer.  For $25, I think Argyle is really hard to beat.  (92 pts.)

#7 – Dom Perignon  2004  ($170):  Subtle fruit and a strong burnt match (sulfur) nose, off-putting for a lot of people.  Fine bubbles combine with slightly chalky lemony fruit.  Nice long lemony mineral finish.  Burnt match nose never blew off, still present after 24 hours.  Over the last 19 years, Dom Perignon has not done very well, but with age they can be very nice Champagnes.  The 1996 Dom Perignon is an absolute rockstar and still young.  (92 pts.)

#8 – Ariston Aspasie – Carte Blanche  NV  ($35):  Slight toast and fruit on the nose.  In the mouth, fine bubbles and lemony yellow fruit, with a touch of chalky minerality.  Good acidity on the medium yellow fruit finish.  This is another nice Champagne for the money.  (91 pts.)

#9 – Laurent Perrier – Grand Siecle  MV  ($125):  Slight toasty nose.  Fine bubbles, good acidity combine with lemony white and yellow fruit in the mouth.  Nice medium-long mineral white fruit finish.  The Grand Siecle Champagnes are a blend of 3 different years and generally improve with further aging (3-5 years) in the cellar.  (90+ pts.)

#10 – Armand de Brignac – Ace of Spades, Gold  NV  ($325):  Slight lemony nose.  Medium bubbles combine with yellow fruit and decent acidity, but rather monolithic and unexciting.  Medium lemony yellow fruit finish.  If this had been a truly blind tasting for me, I would have guessed that it was a no-name $50-ish French Champagne, never a $325 prestige Champagne.  I would gladly take 2 of the Veuve Clicquot – La Grand Dames or 6 bottles of the Charles Heidsieck NV for the money.  (90 pts.)

#11 – Roederer Estate – L’Ermitage  2007  ($50):  Slight toast and yellow fruit nose.  Largest bubbles of the evening, combine with yellow fruit and bread crumbs.  Decent acidity on the medium length yellow fruit finish.  Nice but not exciting.  (89 pts.)

#12 – Costco – Brut  NV  ($20): Slightly fruity nose.  Medium-large bubbles combine with slightly sweeter fruit, decent acidity on a medium length lemony fruit finish.  This Costco wine is actually from the Champagne region of France and it isn’t bad for the money.  I placed this in last place because it came across as slightly sweeter than all of the other Champagnes, something I generally don’t prefer.  (86 pts.)

It was really fun to try this party out with an enthusiastic new group – will be interesting to see how the 20th year comes together!

Happy Holidays!



Better Late than Never: 2015 Bordeaux Fete in San Francisco

It has been a busy year!  We are so far behind in our blog, but have every intention of making up for lost time.

To start, here’s the recap we have to add from last January’s (gasp!) Annual Bordeaux Fete.  We need to get this down for the record before next year rolls around in a few short months!

Bob Watt, Christina Watt, Jean-Charles Cazes from Lynch Bages and Nancy Rugas from Chateau Suduiraut
Bob Watt, Christina Watt, Jean-Charles Cazes from Lynch Bages and Nancy Rugas from Chateau Suduiraut.

I was very happy to be able to go this year, as I missed last year.  This year, Christina and I attended the one put on by K & L Wine Merchants and the participating Chateaux in San Francisco, since we had just moved to the Bay area. The Bordeaux Fete was at One Market Restaurant and we tasted the new 2012 releases from:

Ch. Langoa Barton, St. Julien

Ch. Leoville Barton, St. Julien

Ch. Ormes de Pez, St. Estephe

Ch. Lynch Bages, Pauillac

Petit Figeac, St. Emilion

Ch. Figeac, St. Emilion

The 2012’s while not in the same league (or price) as the 2009’s or 2010’s, they are good in their own right.  The 2012’s are medium bodied with good fruit/acid/structure and will be good to drink while you are waiting for your 2010’s to mature in your cellar.  These wines will be a pleasure to drink in the near-mid term, particularly with food.

This is always a fun event to taste the new wines and talk with the Chateaux proprietors that we have gotten to know over the years.  This year in addition to Jean-Charles Cazes from Ch. Lynch Bages and Lilian Barton-Sartorius from Ch. Leoville Barton, the event included Chateau Figeac, with proprietor Hortense Odoine Manoncourt.  We had spent some time with Hortense at Chateau Figeac on our trip to Bordeaux and it was great to see her again.

The tasting format in San Francisco is a little different than what they do in Seattle.  In San Francisco, they set up three tables with all of the new release wines being poured by the proprietors and you get to taste them over an hour time period.  After tasting the new releases, we were given a glass of non-vintage Thienot Brut Champagne as we made our way to the dinner tables.  Once at the dinner tables, the older wines were poured to enjoy with the food courses.  Here are the other wines that we tasted with the meal:

 2013 Blanc de Lynch Bages – Tangerine, lemon mineral nose.  Very nice bright clean lemony white fruit, with a little stone mixed in.  Lively acidity, smooth mouth feel, medium-light body.  Nice long lemony energetic fruit finish.  This is a very nice white Bordeaux wine that is only produced in smaller quantities, so it may not be easy to find, but is worth the effort.  I will have to track some down for the cellar.  93 pts.

2009 Figeac – Ripe black/red berry fruit nose.  This wine is lush with sweet black/red fruit, some spice and a little forest floor.  There is good acidity to the wine, medium-full bodied with lots of very fine ripe tannins (iron fist in velvet glove).  It is nice to taste a right bank right wine if a field of left banks, just for comparison.  This is a very nice wine from a great vintage.  93 pts.

2005 Langoa Barton – Subtle nose of red / black fruit.  In the mouth crunchy dark red and black berries, hints of forest floor and tobacco, with bright acidity.  Nice medium – long dark fruit finish.  91 pts.

2005 Lynch Bages – This wine has a suave nose of spicy dark cherry fruit.  In the mouth, the rich sweet dark black/red cherry fruit combines with baking spices and just a hint of leather.  The wine has very nice acidity and very fine ripe tannins.  The wine has great balance to it and a very long sweet spicy dark fruit finish.  This wine is still very young, but is just starting to show what it has in store for a very long future.  The 2005 Lynch Bages can be enjoyed now with air time, but will reward further cellaring.  It wine will gain even more complexity as it is still on the uphill climb to maturity.  Drink now or over the next three decades.  95+ pts.

2003 Figeac – Very ripe red and black fruit nose.  In the mouth, very ripe dark red bing cherry and black berries, decent acidity, with a very tannic fine grained structure.  Medium – long very ripe dark fruit finish.  Over the course of the evening, the wine seemed to lose some of it’s acidity that supported the very ripe fruit.  I would drink the 2003 sooner rather than later, over the next 10 years or so.  91 pts.

1995 Lynch Bages – Rich dark cherry fruit nose.  In the mouth, plush sweet dark red / black fruit combine with forest floor and baking spices.  This wine has good acidity, soft mostly resolved tannins and a long beautiful dark spicy fruit finish.  The wine is drinking really well now and will continue to do so over the next 10-15 years.  If you have some of the ’95 in the cellar, open one now and enjoy it.  94+ pts.

1999 Leoville Barton – Black cherry fruit and spice nose.  In the mouth, very concentrated dark black cherries, spices and a little forest floor.  Nice acidity, with some very fine grained ripe tannins still present.  The wine has a very nice sense of balance, with a very long dark sweet black fruit finish.  This wine is drinking really well right now, but I think it will continue to improve. 94+ pts.

2004 Suduiraut – Orangey-yellow in color, nose of very ripe fruit and butterscotch.  In the mouth, again very ripe tropical fruit, over ripe melon, honey and butterscotch.  This wine is too ripe for my taste, it doesn’t have the acid to back up the sweetness, so it comes across as heavy.  Medium length very sweet finish.  82 pts.

It just so happened that the same day as the dinner, the Seattle Seahawks made the finals for the SuperBowl.  Since Seattle was the next stop on the tour for our winemaker friends, we zipped into the city early to buy them a little something so they could show their support at their next dinner.

Jean-Charles Cazes of Cht. Lynch Bages, Christina Watt, and Lilian Barton-
Jean-Charles Cazes of Ch. Lynch Bages, Christina Watt, and Lilian Barton-Sartorius from Ch. Leoville Barton. They were very good sports about showing their Seahawks support!

Too bad the Seahawks didn’t pull through this year – but perhaps those hats will come in handy again next year! It will certainly be here before we know it…

18th Annual Champagne Party – ’04 Cristal Takes Top Honors

It’s truly hard to believe this was our 18th year doing the Champagne Party!  Unbelievable how time flies.  We are grateful to Jeanne and Will Hartmann, who offered up their beautiful home in Seattle to host the party this year.  Jeanne and Will have been long time Champagne Party-goers, and when they heard that we were moving to San Francisco, they said, “We’re really sorry to see you go, but what are we going to do about the Champagne Party??”  Fortunately for us, they offered to host in their house this year, so that the tradition could live on.

Champagne Party Invite, hand painted by Jeanne McKay Hartmann of idreamof.com
Champagne Party Invite, hand painted by Jeanne McKay Hartmann of idreamof.com. (Check out her blog for more pics of the party!)

The Champagne party is a double-blind tasting of generally 10 Champagnes, with a few sparkling wines from other regions of the world thrown in for comparison’s sake.  The Champagnes will range from the low-end around $15 – $20, up to the high-end of $250 – $450 per bottle.   After everyone has tasted through – and re-tasted to be sure of their choices – we take votes for the favorite and the least favorite wines of the night.  I always enjoy seeing what people like.

The beautiful table.
The beautiful table. I can never get enough of the food – I’m behind the bar all night!
But I do slave away in the kitchen (well, a little bit anyway) - the girls did most of the work!
But I do slave away in the kitchen (well, a little bit anyway) – though admittedly, the girls did most of the work!

Here is the order that we tasted the Champagnes:

Gosset – Brut Excellence  NV  ($40)

Frank Bonville – Prestige Blanc de Blanc NV  ($55)

Pol Roger – Brut 2004  ($110)

Ariston Aspasie – Brut 2008  ($50)

Krug – Brut 2003  ($250)

Roederer  – Cristal Brut 2004  ($240)

Billecart Salmon – Cuvee Nicolas Francois Brut 1999  ($120)

Launois – Cuvee Reserve Blanc de Blanc NV  ($40)

Gloria Ferrer – Sonoma Brut NV  ($20)

Charles Heidsieck – Brut 2000  ($110)

I found it much more difficult than normal year to pick out the best and rank them in order, as did the group.  Usually, there is a clear winner or two that stand out above the crowd, or something that is completely polarizing, but that was not the case this year.  This year almost all of the wines showed well, but some (Launois, Ariston & Pol Roger) could definitely use some more bottle age to show what they have to offer.

The champagnes, all ready to go.
The champagnes, all ready to go.

Here is how the group ranked the Champagnes:

1st – Roederer  – Cristal Brut 2004  ($240)

2nd – Billecart Salmon – Cuvee Nicolas Francois Brut 1999  ($120)

3rd – Pol Roger – Brut 2004  ($110)

4th – Frank Bonville – Prestige Blanc de Blanc NV  ($55)

5th – Ariston Aspasie – Brut 2008  ($50)

6th – Gloria Ferrer – Sonoma Brut NV  ($20)

7th – Charles Heidsieck – Brut 2000  ($110)

8th – Gosset – Brut Excellence  NV  ($40)

9th – Krug – Brut 2003  ($250)

10th – Launois – Cuvee Reserve Blanc de Blanc NV  ($40)

Professional taster?  Brian Flynn and Bob Watt.
Professional taster? Brian Flynn and Bob Watt.

We generally don’t repeat an exact same Champagne in multiple tastings, but we had the 2004 Roederer Cristal in the lineup last year and I included it this year as well, to test a theory.  Last year, the group put the 2004 Roederer Cristal in 9th place and I ranked it dead last in 10th place.  The Champagne was just totally out of balance, too sweet, not enough acidity with a very short unremarkable finish.  It was exactly what you don’t want for a Champagne, especially for the price.  I felt the Champagne just didn’t show well, but I really thought it should have fared better, so I decided to give it another go around.  It’s amazing what an extra year did for the wine.  The proof is in the votes, first place for the group and 3rd place for me.

If you know me, you know I’m a Krug lover, and while I did single it out as my favorite, I was still very surprised at how the 2003 Krug showed this year.  The group ranked the 2003 Krug tied for last place, so we had a run off and it barely beat the Launois.  Neither the Krug Vintage or the Multi-Vintage has ever placed below 4th position in the 18 years that we have done this tasting, so to be ranked tied for last place is unusual for this wonderful Champagne house.  I personally liked the 2003 Krug as a Champagne, but I have to say, I don’t think it will go down in history as a great Krug.  I think the 2003 Krug is the weakest vintage Krug going back through the 1985 vintage.  Even the 1998 Krug is better and neither compare to the 2000 Krug, which is, or will be, a great Krug.

You may ask why I ranked this Champagne in 1st place?  Bottle bias?  Perhaps, but in my opinion, the 2003 Krug has all of the telltale signs of what Krug is, which I absolutely love, but is just much more restrained and subdued.  Only myself and two other die-hard Krug fans picked the 2003 Krug for 1st place.  Even my wife, Christina, went a different direction, picking the 2000 Charles Heidsieck as her favorite, and she usually can pick out a Krug Champagne in the lineup if there is one.  I will be very curious to see how the MV Krug Champagne that is based on the 2003 vintage tastes in comparison to the 2003 Krug.  Being a blend of multiple vintages could be a plus in this case and give the Champagne more of the Krug character that I love.

For the record, here is how I ranked the Champagnes:

1st – Krug – Brut 2003  ($250) – (94pts)

2nd – Billecart Salmon – Cuvee Nicolas Francois Brut 1999  ($120) – (94pts)

3rd – Roederer  – Cristal Brut 2004  ($240) – (93pts)

4th – Charles Heidsieck – Brut 2000  ($110) – (92pts)

5th – Pol Roger – Brut 2004  ($110) – (91pts)

6th – Frank Bonville – Prestige Blanc de Blanc NV  ($55) – (89pts)

7th – Gloria Ferrer – Sonoma Brut NV  ($20) – (89pts)

8th – Launois – Cuvee Reserve Blanc de Blanc NV  ($40) – (87pts)

9th – Gosset – Brut Excellence  NV  ($40) – (86pts)

10th – Ariston Aspasie – Brut 2008  ($50) – (82pts)

You're all winners in my book.
You’re all winners in my book.

The Champagne party is always a great way to kick off the Holiday season.  As many know, Champagne is a passion for me, but too many people think of Champagne as just for celebrations and special events.  It is first and foremost wine (with bubbles), that pairs great with food and is an absolute must in any cellar.  Life is too short not to drink Champagne on a regular basis!

Now, what to have for our 19th Annual Champagne Party…stay tuned!



P.S. “Like” this post?  Let us know!  If you were at the party, tell us what you thought of the Champagnes…


We’re back…with a little Brane Cantenac and a trip to the Village Pub

Hi friends –

It’s been a long time – about four months since we’ve last officially posted.  In that time we spent a month in Europe and moved to California and basically re-invented our lives as we knew them.  It’s been an exhausting and exhilarating few months – we admit to being glad that things are slowing a bit from frantic to a dull roar.  We have so many great wine moments to share over this time – it’ll be a while before we get through the highlights, but thought we start out a little more simply.

When the kids were born over 10 years ago, my wife gave me a case of Bordeaux wine, three bottles each of 1996 Pichon Baron, 1996 Leoville Barton, 2001 Brane Cantenac and 2001 d’Issan.  The idea was to open a bottle every year for the kids birthday.  This year we had a bottle of the 2001 Brane Cantenac from the Margaux rejoin of Bordaux.  While we are still exploring and discovering things in the area where we have moved to, we found a nice little “French style” restaurant called Left Bank.  How fitting that we just happen to have brought a left bank bottle of Bordeaux with us for dinner, the 2001 Brane Cantenac.  Most of the 2001 Bordeaux wines that I have had have been open for business and this was no different.

2001 Brane Cantenac, Margaux – Very nice red/black berry fruit on the nose combined with forest floor and a little leather.  In the mouth, dark red bing cherry fruit with a little black berry, spice box, dried leaves, forest floor, slight bit of leather and a hint of dried herbs.  This wine has good acid and a nice smooth mouth feel.  The wine is medium-full bodied.  It has presence and persistence in the mouth, without the weight that you normally find in a new world cab/merlot blend wine.  The wine finishes with a long persistent dark cherry, spice and forest floor finish, with nice finely grained subsiding tannins.  This wine is drinking well today and will continue to do so over the next decade, enjoy them if you have them.  (93pts.)

For those of you looking for a nice Bordeaux wine to drink now, check out the 2001 vintage.  Many of the wines are drinking really well right now and can be had for a song compared to the 2000, 2003 or 2005 counterparts.  The 2001 vintage was really overlooked after the great 2000 vintage, but there are some really wonderful wines to be had – Lynch Bages, Montrose and Leoville Barton just to name a few.

Birthday Dinner at the Village Pub.
Birthday dinner at the Village Pub.

In other great wine moments, for my birthday this year in September, Christina and I wound up at the Village Pub in Woodside California, just north of where we live.  Don’t let the name fool you, they have a REALLY nice wine list and the food is excellent.  The Sommelier at the Village Pub is a very nice and knowledgeable guy by the name of Michael Acheson.  The Village Pub’s wine program was awarded the Wine Spectator’s Grand Award under Michael’s direction.  Michael has a great passion for wine and loves to help patrons explore the world of wine at the restaurant.  We had an excellent meal, unfortunately, the wine I brought for the occasion (2003 Domaine Pegau Cuvee Reserve) was corked.  Maybe I have been lucky, but I bring wine to restaurants all of the time and I honestly don’t remember the last time one of the bottles was corked, maybe 5-6 years ago.  Anyway, Michael was able to guide me through the wine list and offer nice suggestions once we had picked out main courses.  We ultimately had some very nice red Burgundy and Cornas wines with our meal.

During the course of the evening, we talked with Michael about all things wine related and mentioned that we loved Champagne.  Michael said there was going to be a great vertical Champagne tasting of Philipponnat Clos des Goisses, going back to the 1952 vintage from magnum at the Village Pub this October.  This Tuesday night (10/14) is the Champagne tasting and I am really looking forward to it.  Philipponnat is a great Champagne house and their Clos des Goisses is an absolutely wonderful Champagne.  If you like Champagnes that are on the masculine side like from Krug, Bollinger, Pol Roger or Vueve Clicquot then you should try the Champagnes of Philipponnat, and the Clos des Goisses in particular.  Champagne can age really well, but it’s fragile and has to be well-stored.  The oldest bottle of Champagne that I have in the cellar is from the 1975 vintage and it is drinking great (we had a bottle of it not too long ago).  I look forward to seeing what a 1952 will taste like – stay tuned for more…

O Solaia Mio

One of the things I always like to do when I can, is save special bottles that are given to me and open them with the givers.  I had been saving a bottle of the 1998 Solaia to drink with our dear friends Heidi and Angel Diaz, who gave me the bottle for my birthday several years ago.  Recently, we got to re-gift it to them. (It’s the best kind of re-gifting!)  Of course, the Solaia wasn’t the only wine we tasted that night.

Bob Watt and Heidi Diaz with the re-gifted Solaia.
Bob Watt and Heidi Diaz with the re-gifted Solaia.

The main course for dinner that evening was Italian inspired and something of my own creation.  It has been named by some friends of ours “Bacon on Bacon”.  It is essentially a prosciutto wrapped pork tenderloin and is fairly simple to make (see recipe below!).

With Italy being the main theme, we started the evening off with white burgundy, then a dry rose, followed by the Solaia, a Flaccinello and a Crongnolo.

Great friends, great wines.
Great friends, great wines.

2011 Olivier Leflaive – Bourgogne Les Setilles, France – Very bright lemon mineral nose.  Strong lemony stony fruit that is very clean with bright acids.  This just makes your taste buds sing in the mouth on the nice medium length finish.  I really liked the 2010 version of this wine, but I think the 2011 beats it.  This wine is young, vibrant and could age if you can keep from drinking it.  (90 pts.)

2013 Julia’s Dazzle – Pinot Grigio Rose, Horse Heaven Hills, Washington – Bright copper color, with sweet/tart fruit nose.  In the mouth, the wine is slightly off-dry as the sweet melon and strawberry fruit comes through with decent acidity.  The wine finishes with a sweet strawberry note on the clean, but slightly short finish.  I liked last years 2012 vintage slightly better, because it had higher acidity and a longer finish, so it didn’t come across as quite as sweet as the 2013 does.  I also noticed that on the 2012 bottle, it stated on the back label that the wine was made by the Long Shadows Winery in Walla Walla Washington.  On the 2013 bottle, the name of Long Shadows isn’t on the bottle, but on the back label in really tiny print it says the wine is produced by Dolan & Weiss Cellars.  I am not sure what happened or what the difference is.  Maybe the wine was being made in partnership or it was sold or something.  Anyway, it was my first rose of the year and will be a good wine for the summer.  (88pts.)

1998 Marchesi Antinori – Solaia, Italy – Beautiful nose of dark black fruit and baking spices.  In the mouth deep dark red and black fruit, baking spices, burnished wood and a hint of tobacco.  There are still some tannins, but they are fine-grained and unobtrusive.  The beautiful sweet dark fruit and spice carries through to a nice long, slightly tannic finish.  This wine is still young and only at the beginning of the maturity plateau.   There isn’t any rush to drink these.  Well stored bottles will continue to improve for another decade.  This is a wonderful wine.  (95 pts.)

2001 Fontodi – Flaccianello Della Pieve, Italy – Dark red and black fruit with a little spice and a freshness on the nose.  In the mouth, sweet dark red and black fruit, spices and a damp earthy aspect (but in a good way).  Very good acidity makes this wine lively in the mouth.  Nice sweet dark fruit and spice on the long still slightly tannic finish.  This wine still has some slight tannins to shed, but it is drinking really well right now and has a good decade or more of life ahead of it.  Flaccianello is a benchmark wine for what Sangiovese can achieve.  This is a beautiful wine.  (94 pts.)

2007 Tenuta Sette Ponti – Crognolo, Italy – Sweet dark blackberries and red pie cherries on the nose.  In the mouth, the black fruit and red pie cherries combine with a slight bit of coffee and very good acidity.  The wine is still young, with tannin to shed, but the sweet dark berry fruit comes through on the medium finish.  Given time, I am sure there will be more secondary nuances that will come through.  This is a nice Italian wine to pop and pour.  (91 pts.)

It’s always fun sharing some good wines with our great longtime friends – especially when the evening ends with a rousing game of ping-pong and a little karaoke (sung by the kids, thank goodness!).  Here’s my savory pork recipe now – it’s not very precise, but you’ll get the picture:

Bacon on Bacon

Finely chop a bunch of sage and rosemary.  Add several heaping tablespoons of country mustard (with the seeds), and mix in the sage and rosemary.  Add a fair amount (several tablespoons) of olive oil to make the mustard and herbs not so dry and pasty.   Then salt and pepper the tenderloin to taste on one side and spread the mustard/herb mixture over the tenderloin.  Spread capers and pine nuts over the tenderloin as well.  Now cover the top of the tenderloin with two pieces of prosciutto and spray it with olive oil.  You will want to spray the bottom of the dish you are working in as well, otherwise the prosciutto will stick to it.  Turn the tenderloin over and repeat the process.

Heat a large oven-proof frying pan and sear the prosciutto and tenderloin on all sides (approx. 2 minutes per side).  Once the searing is done, put the tenderloin in the oven and bake for 30 minutes at 400 degrees.  After 30 minutes, pull the tenderloin out of the oven and remove from the pan to rest for 10 minutes.  The tenderloin will continue to cook from the internal heat.

While the tenderloin is resting, add some cheap Madeira to the pan (Full and Rich if they have it, but Rainwater will do), approximately 1 cup.  Use the Madeira to deglaze the pan you cooked the tenderloin in, so you are scraping all of the little brown bits off of the bottom.  Add one piece of torn up prosciutto to the pan as well.  Reduce down the Madeira so you end up with only 1/4 of the liquid, approximately 10 minutes.  Cut up your tenderloin, put it on the plates and then spoon some of the Madeira sauce over the tenderloin and serve.  I prefer to use Madeira over red wine; because it has a much higher acidity that works well with the oil/salt content of the prosciutto.

Bon appetit!

Double-Blind Tasting – Bordeaux from 1990 and Prior

Just when you thought we were done posting about Bordeaux for a while, I thought I’d throw in a review from a couple months back when my wine group did a double-blind tasting of Bordeaux wines from 1990 and prior.  My wine group of eight guys has been meeting monthly for about nine years now.  The host picks the wine theme and most of our tastings are double-blind.  This time, our wonderful host, Bill Schallert, invited the wives to join the group, so my wife, Christina, was happy to come and taste some swill.  Since we had just returned a month prior from our two week trip to Bordeaux, we absolutely loved the idea of being able to taste some more mature Bordeaux wines, as most of the wines you get to taste at the Chateaux are on the younger side.

I have always really liked tasting blind, or better yet, double-blind.  For those that don’t know the difference between blind and double-blind:  a blind tasting is when you know the wines that are being served, but you do not know the order.  A double-blind tasting is when you don’t know what wines are being served, but they may meet a category (Bordeaux 1990 and prior), and you also don’t know the order.  I like blind tastings because I consider myself a perpetual student of wine, and I don’t want my opinion to be potentially swayed by any labels.

See? You can tell we tasted them blind by the brown wrapping still hanging on to the bottle of Palmer.
See? You can tell we tasted them blind by the brown wrapping still hanging on to the bottle of Palmer.    A good night!

Here are the wines and the order that we tasted them in:


2003 Chateau Raveneau – Monts Mains, Chablis – Nice melon fruit a little sea breeze and oyster shell minerality on the nose.  In the mouth, ripe melon, white peach and a little spice, with  limestone and oyster shells.  Good acidity for a 2003 Chablis, that keeps everything lively on the medium-long spicy white fruit and ocean air finish.  Raveneau makes some absolutely wonderful Chablis, even in a hot year like 2003.  This was a great way to start. (93 pts.)

This is always an excellent white producer.
This is such an excellent producer of Chablis.

Flight #1

1989 Chateau Pichon Lalande, St. Julien – Classic stinky feet Bordeaux nose with a little bit of Band-Aid jumps from the glass, sweet dark berry fruit, dry leaves, forest floor and baking spices.  Medium-full bodied, with good acidity, resolved tannins and a nice long dark fruit finish.  This is a classic mature Bordeaux, that is drinking very well right now.  The ’89 Pichon Lalande is on a faster track and drinking more mature than most of the other 89’s that I have had.  I would venture to say that it will not last nearly as long either.  While a lot of the 89’s will continue to improve through 2020, I will probably finish off my ’89 Pichon Lalande before 2020.  I don’t see it getting any better than where it is at present. (94 pts.)

1990 Chateau Prieure Lichine, Margaux – Darker berry nose with a little Band-Aid again.  In the mouth, darker small berry fruit, black currants, slight bit of spice, decent acidity and surprisingly assertive tannins.  Medium-full bodied and a long dark tannic fruit finish, that doesn’t have the sweetness of fruit the first wine had.  This is a big and dark wine, but it doesn’t give you the pleasure in the finish. (89 pts.)

1981 Chateau Gruaud Larose, St. Julien – Dark earthy red/black berry fruit nose, with just a hint of green bell pepper, but not in a bad way.  In the mouth, deep dark red bing cherry and earthy blackberry fruit, baking spices, slight bit of forest floor and still fairly tannic.  Full bodied and a long sweet dark tannic fruit finish.  This is a big wine that is surprisingly youthful and still drinking young.  I could not believe that it was from the ’81 vintage when it was revealed, it tasted more like a ’96.  (93 pts.)

Flight #2

1982 Chateau Palmer, Margaux -Very nice spicy dark fruit and dark chocolate nose.  Very smooth in the mouth, small ripe dark bing cherries and blackberries, lots of baking spices, slight bit of forest floor and resolved sweet tannins.  Full bodied, sweet/spicy dark red/black fruit just singing on the very long fruit filled finish.  This wine is drinking very well today and even beat the ’83 Palmer that I had about a year ago.  I don’t see this wine getting any better than it is today, so no reason to wait, but no hurry either if well stored.  (96 pts.)

1989 Chateau Angelus, St. Emilion – Very dark cherry fruit and chocolate nose.  In the mouth, ripe black bing cherries and very dark bittersweet chocolate, good acidity and with just the slightest hint of baking spices.  Full bodied and a nice long very dark chocolate fruit filled very tannic finish.  This wine was very tannic and seemed a little closed in on its self, it just was not singing.  You could see the huge potential, but it was begging for another decade in the cellar to really show its stuff.  I know the person who brought the wine bought it on release and it has been well-stored since, so maybe it just needed a lot more air and/or more years in the cellar.  (95 pts.) now with upside.

After tasting the 1989 Angelus, I mentioned to my wife “This wine tastes like a wine we just had in Bordeaux,” it just seemed so distinct.  The others at the table heard me mention this to Christina, so they asked me what I thought the wine was.  I said I didn’t know the vintage, but the characteristics of the wine reminded me of the ’05 and ’06 Chateau Angelus we had a month ago.  I was shocked to see it was an ’89 Angelus, but glad to see that my flavor memory recall was working.  I guess I learned something on that trip (and practice makes perfect, right??).  The ’05 and ’06 Angelus wines were some of the highlights of our wonderful trip.

1989 Chateau Lynch Bages, Pauillac – Dark cherry and bitter chocolate nose.  Smooth in the mouth, with dark black cherries, bitter sweet chocolate and some spice.  Good acidity and still very tannic on the long dark fruit finish.  This wine must have been resting in a very cold, dark cellar and is in need of another 5+ years to show what it has to offer.  A very nice wine, but will not give up what it has right now.  (93 pts.) with upside.

1983 Chateau Magdelaine, St. Emilion – Dark cherry fruit and spice with some dark chocolate on the nose.  Very smooth in the mouth, beautiful ripe dark bing cherries, lots of baking spices and a little forest floor adds to the wonderful complexity.  Fully resolved tannins, medium-full bodied and an absolutely beautiful long sweet dark spicy fruit finish.  This is my first time having wine from this producer and they knocked it out of the park with the ’83.  This is a gorgeous wine today, so if you own it, open a bottle.  You won’t be disappointed.  (96 pts.)

2005 Chateau Rieussec, Sauternes – Sweet pineapple, some melon and honey on the nose.  Very sweet pineapple in the mouth, with some spiced honey and decent acidity.  The very sweet finish is long but the honey aspect is just a little too cloyingly sweet for my taste.  It is a nice, well-made wine, but I would prefer a little more acidity to counter the sweetness.  (92 pts.)

All in all, it was a very nice evening with a great group of guys (and girls).  Wouldn’t mind repeating it again soon…!

Day Eleven Dinner, The Last Supper: Restaurant Hostellerie de Plaisance

After our hours-long cooking class, we were wishing we could’ve stayed in St. Emilion for the night, but it would’ve put us even farther from the airport bright and early the next morning.  So instead, we spent the rest of the afternoon shopping in town until a driving rain forced us into the hotel lounge two hours before dinner, where we happily played backgammon, drank cocktails and soaked up the beautiful atmosphere of the hotel (we have a running score tally on backgammon that goes back years!).

Bob making a serious move.
Making a serious move.
Christina in the beautiful lounge.
Christina in the beautiful lounge.
I took several pictures of this room...
I took several pictures of this room…Christina said her designer friends would appreciate it.
View looking back towards the bar.
View looking back towards the bar.
The view looking out onto the terrace.
The view looking out onto the terrace.

At one point, we thought we might have dinner on the spectacular terrace of the hotel in the evening, but the on-again, off-again rain that day pretty much nixed that option.  The main dining room of the hotel was quite a sumptuous and posh affair.  From our vantage point, we admit, we also had a great people-watching view.

We booked the reservation thinking we'd be eating out here on the terrace.
We booked the reservation thinking we’d be eating out here on the terrace.
It would've been great to look out over this view.
It would’ve been great to look out over this view.

But the best views were probably of the waitstaff.  Clearly, this establishment takes its service seriously – you could tell by the level of attentiveness and attention to detail.  We went easy on the wine that night – all the activities of the day and the long drive back to our hotel made that an easy decision, though somewhat bittersweet, as it was our last night of the trip.

The formal dining room.
The formal dining room.

The food was meticulously prepared and delicious, though we do have to say, it was as expected, but nothing we had that evening seemed to elevate our dining experience in any transcendent way. Bordeaux 2013 3577 Bordeaux 2013 3579 Bordeaux 2013 3582 Bordeaux 2013 3583 We had three different wines from their pairing menu with dinner:

2012 Chateau Turcaud Bordeaux Blanc – Very bright lemony white fruit that is very clean and fresh.  This is a nice dry wine with a long stony white fruit finish and brisk acidity keeping everything lively in the mouth.

2007 Chateau Milens, St. Emilion – Dark blackberries, dark chocolate and subtle minerality.  Good acidity but slightly drying tannins in the mouth.  Medium bodied and a medium length black fruit finish.  This is a good inexpensive red Bordeaux wine with a lively finish, but it just lacks the polish of the better classified Chateaux.

2009 Chateau Lyonnat, St. Emilion – Black in color with a red rim.  Deep rich dark blackberries and black currants, with a little minerality coming through.  Medium bodied and good acidity, with noticeable but very fine tannins.  Silky smooth in the mouth, with a medium-long black fruit finish and a snap of acid and tannins at the end.  This is a very nice wine that is lively in the mouth and still just a baby.  I would imagine that you could find it for a bargain of a price, especially compared to the other 2009 classified Bordeaux wines.

Turns out there were two table-side experiences offered here in a way we hadn’t seen presented before.  In addition to the ubiquitous cheese trolley, this restaurant also had the most fanciful dessert trolley with enormous lollipops and glass cylinders full of candies in every color of the rainbow – our kids would have swooned over it.  My wife wound up falling in  love with the tea trolley, however.  I can honestly say that I have never seen a tea trolley to this extent before – you could have used the trolley as a duck blind.  They offered a variety of fresh herbs, which they picked from pots on the trolley and brewed at the table.  Her lemongrass tea was pretty fantastic, I admit.

The kids would've loved this candy cart.
The kids would’ve loved this candy cart.
Christina loved this tea trolley.
Christina loved this tea trolley.

All good things must come to an end, I suppose.  So, for now, this is the end of our Bordeaux travel tales.  But of course, we have another adventure close at hand – we look forward to telling you more about it very soon!  In the meantime, there’s plenty of wine to drink and fun experiences to share here at home…

A beautiful place to spend our last evening in Bordeaux.
A beautiful place to spend our last evening in Bordeaux.

Day Eleven: Cooking Class at Chateau Soutard

Authored by Christina

We admit, when we pulled up to Chateau Soutard, we were pretty impressed with the size of the Chateau.  A cooking class here?  Sign us up!  Alas, due to the renovations, we found ourselves in the car on a winding road following a member of the staff to another smaller chateau owned by the estate where we would be cooking that day.  Truly, it was a charming place, and we warmed up to it, and Chef Phillipe, right away.  It didn’t hurt that the sun had suddenly come out, and the whole kitchen was bathed in a golden yellow glow.

A smaller home on the estate, where we did our cooking class.
A smaller home on the estate, where we did our cooking class.
Pretty grounds.
Pretty grounds.
The sunlight streaming into the kitchen.
The sunlight streaming into the kitchen.

Chef Phillipe was a former restauranteur in Paris at some very notable places, and most recently has begun training other chefs and restauranteurs in how to run a successful food service business.  He also teaches some cooking classes on the side to fortunate folks like us.

Bob Watt and Chef Phillipe Scandrol.
Bob Watt and Chef Phillipe Scandrol.

A good-natured and efficient man, Chef Phillipe made us feel at home in the kitchen right away.  Almost too much so in the beginning though.  After pouring us a glass of wine, he pulled out a device that he said he found on a trip to the States.  He saw it on a TV infomercial for $19.99, and found it to bring home to France.  Sometimes known as a “slap chop,” he started by demonstrating that we could cut vegetables using this device with different blades to ensure uniform sizing and quick dicing.  I have to say, he would make a wonderful spokesperson for the tool.  While we were a little taken aback at first (“What is this? I thought we were here to learn to cook?!”), it didn’t take long before we saw the genius of the device.  I admit, we did buy one back at home, and, well, I used it last night!

The famous "slap chop" device.
The chop wizard.
Beautiful fresh produce - perfect for perfecting our "slap chop" skills!
Beautiful fresh produce – perfect for perfecting our “slap chop” skills!
Delicious farm-fresh goat cheese.
Delicious farm-fresh goat cheese for the tartare.

All of that said, it was a funny ice-breaker, and we did go on to use our knives plenty.  As a starter we made a fresh fish tartare, which he filleted with skill. We used a variety of ingredients to mix our own sauces, and wound up in a taste test to see whose concoction was best.  (We’ll call it a tie.)  We formed the tartare into molds and put the finishing touches on a simple salad to accompany the tartare.

Glad this wasn't my job!
Glad this wasn’t my job!
Whose tartare recipe wins?
Whose tartare recipe wins?  There WERE subtle differences.
The finished product in molds, ready to be put in the refrigerator to set up.
The finished tartare in molds, ready to be put in the refrigerator to set up.

For the main course, we cut chicken breasts in half, coated them with this delicious spice rub, Epices Poulet Roti  and stuffed the breasts with walnuts.  (French friends, if you get me more of this spice rub, I would be so grateful!  Friends in the States, if you know where I can find it here, let me know – I’m almost out of what we brought back!)  We then wrapped the chicken breasts in sheep’s stomach to hold them together for cooking.  That was a first for us…!

Sheep's stomach to be used as the binding for the chicken.
Sheep’s stomach to be used as the binding for the chicken.  Not as bad as it sounds…
Epices Poulet Roti - I need more!
Epices Poulet Roti – I need more!

Chef Phillipe had pre-made a divine red wine reduction sauce to go over the chicken, and we stuffed mushrooms with tomatoes and sauteed baby carrots to accompany the chicken.

Work in progress.
Work in progress.

While we waited for the chicken to cook, we retired to the salon and enoyed a snack that Chef Phillipe had prepared.  The chorizo on toasts was just perfect.  The drizzle had just the right touch of spice – we were both eyeballing the last one and each other – we split it.

I'll fight you for the last one.  Toasts with chorizo and goat cheese.
More please. Toasts with chorizo and goat cheese.

Pretty soon, we sat down to lunch.  Despite our begging and insistence, Chef Phillipe would not join us at the table, so we enjoyed his creations and his company while he and his assistant kept busy prepping more food. The tartare was super-fresh and light and flavorful, and the salad was a perfect side.  We also had two different vintages of Chateau Soutard with the meal.

2003 Chateau Soutard – Sweet dark red/black fruit, medium bodied and smooth in the mouth.  Ripe blackberries with a lot of secondary flavors coming through, like spices and earthy forest floor.  This wine has a medium-long fruit finish and seems to be fast evolving.  I would drink this wine in the near term.

2005 Chateau Soutard – Nice perfume of flowers and dark red fruit.  Tastes like a warm dark blackberry and black currant fruit pie.  Slightly rustic flavors of dry leaves coming through in the mouth.  Smooth and medium bodied and slight tannins present on the medium-long dark fruit finish.  While enjoyable and good food wines, in general, the wines of Chateau Soutard don’t seem to have the elegance and polish that a lot of the other classified growth Bordeaux have.  But now that Michel Rolland is on the scene, we’ll be interested to see how these wines evolve in the future.

Fresh fish tartare with a simple side salad.
Fresh fish tartare with a simple side salad.

The chicken, though simple, was superb – I have actually made it several times at home now.  The wine that accompanied the chicken dish in particular was a great match – they had clearly thought through this pairing well.

The chicken was deceptively simple and delicious.
The chicken was deceptively simple and delicious.

As if this wasn’t enough food, Chef Phillipe had prepared not one but FIVE desserts for us to sample.  NOW we know what they were working on while we were eating away.  Ooh la la, but they were good.

You have got to be kidding me!  So good!
You have got to be kidding me! So good!

At this point, it was nearly 3:00 pm, it was very humid, and we were basking (and baking!) in the sun from the open window in the kitchen.  Admittedly, we were wondering if we could wander upstairs to one of the bedrooms for a nap!  Instead we said our merry goodbyes and headed back into town, where we whiled away the afternoon doing one of our favorite things…