Tuesday, February 26, 2008

“No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow.”

Yeah, spring is on us..........

I had plans of getting the Vespa out of the second bedroom this week and then we had more snow than we have all winter. I swear to god the birds are nesting though......

Anyway, my illustrious Herald career continues with a highly optimistic spring submission. Read it here.

This weeks drinking has included a Norton Sauvignon Blanc which was pretty boring. Showed all the SB characteristics and was completely uninspiring.
I had a completely unremarkable 2000 Margaux as well. I won't bother telling you the Chateau as I really don't want anyone buying it. Rubbish, rubbish Bordeaux which nicely indicated to me no matter how good the vintage you still need to be choosy.
The Tormenta Viognier mentioned in this weeks article is good but a bit much for me. Really is a punch in the face.
Shindong wines website shows they have a new arrival of Sherry which is exciting. I can't get over the idea of liking the stuff. Also Madeira has suddenly appeared. An almost indestructible wine, you can keep it open pretty much as long as you want, that makes superb gravy. I will be getting a bottle.

Folks with decent cable TV should be getting Alice channel, loads of pretty dull but informative wine programming on an evening.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

COEX Inter-Continental Lunch

Yesterday we had the excitement of going for two Michelin star rated food in Seoul. Previous attempts at fine dining here had seen us having to serve ourselves a starter from a buffet. Carpaccio looks pretty when arranged by a chef, when arranged by a cack-handed, half drunk northerner it looks like a pile of raw meat. That's why we have chefs.

Coex Inter-Continental is a pretty soulless hotel, very much the chain in a big old department store hotel but the lift was fast and the view from the Sky Lounge on the 30th floor was pretty good. River views, mountain views and Seoul traffic views. You can't ask for too much more.

It is a nice dining room set up to take advantage of the views, which seems a no brainer but you would be surprised how many places get it wrong. We have tables set with linen, we have nice crockery and glassware. All good.

Lunch had two menus, one at 65,000w, about £33, and one at 55,000w, roughly £28. The more expensive had the choice of lamb(!) or beef for the meat course with an additional course of saffron risotto. Saffron is pound for pound one of the most expensive foodstuffs around and anyone with half a taste bud knows it is minging. It is one of those flavours that could be so subtle as to be indistinguishable and I would still distinguish it. Hate the stuff. It once ruined a meal in Milan sat at the table next to Benito Carbone. Anyway, because of saffron I opted for the cheaper menu. Unusual for me....

First up was a glass of Piper Heidseck. Now, I should have learned from the £25 glass of Bangkok Moet but when you are out for a good meal it really is difficult not to start with Champagne. Isn't it? This was a reasonable 20,000w(£10) glass and was very yeasty and was to match up with the first two courses.

On to the food. First up was goose liver with scampi. A thin slice of rich, fatty goose liver topped with a langouistine/scampi/Dublin Bay Prawn. Call it what you like, I love em. The plate was topped with three big strawberries. The goose liver was Foie Gras, unethical and delicious, the scampi was everything a tiger prawn isn't and the strawberry worked really well to cut through the richness of it all Though three strawberries were excessive they made my pairing of the Champagne with the first two courses look inspired.

Next up was a Lobster Ravioli, three corn yellow ravioli served up with a nice chunk of pure lobster meat, three tiny cubes of beetroot. a fat oyster and a garish pink sauce/foam. This was pretty subtle and a touch disappointing. The ravioli were good, combining that lobster sweetness with a hint of the sea, the oyster was very good in a should I really be eating this fashion, the beetroot was pointless, give me a decent slice of the beets so I can really taste it, and the sauce really let it down. It was creamy and pink, possibly under-seasoned and dare I say it, possibly microwaved. I very much doubt this but there was evidence of a skin and it did come out very quickly.

The third course was the beef and this consisted of a beef tartare with beef and polenta. The plate is presented with a tower of tartare, ground raw beef topped with a tapenade topped with a tiny, raw quails egg yolk. To its right sat 2 slices of rareish beef and two diamonds of polenta in a rich brown jus/gravy. One polenta was topped with a tiny slice of truffle. I've never had a tartare before, my fair share of raw beef yes(Yukhoe was one of my first Korean dishes and is still one of my favourites), but never the classic tartare. This was good but the tapenade was a pretty strong flavour and masked pretty much everything else. I guess raw beef and raw egg yolk aren't exactly hammering home their flavours but it just seemed a touch over the top. The grilled beef to the right was everything a meat dish should be in a place like this, perfectly seasoned with a jus/gravy that really brings out the meatiness of it all. The polenta I didn't like. Give me potatoes over grain this just tasted a bit healthy for a plate like this. The truffle was earthy.

We drank a Chianti Classico with this and despite being a 2005 and my fears of it being too young it was a very modern cherry rich glass with a smell of the sweaty leather in there. A good match to the cooked beef, the tapenade herbiness messed with it a bit.

Pudding/Dessert was an apricot thingamybob. It is hard to describe fancy puddings. There was a sorbet whose flavour I couldn't distinguish atop a set vanilla cream atop some poached apricots atop a spongey, biscuity fella. Served with a fantastic, I mean really fantastic, black fruit compote and three cubes of apricot jelly stuff. Like I say, it is difficult to describe fancy puddings. It was good though.

All in all it was a pleasure to be eating in that manner in Seoul. Fine dining is not something that seems to be easy to come by here and I will be honest, I miss it. I don't eat like that often for sure but as an occasional treat there are few more pleasurable ways to spend ones time. Tokyo has just been showered with stars in its first Michelin review. I simply cannot see that happening here. You can eat incredibly well in Korea. Incredibly well. However at the top end of things, when we move out of the peasant, homely cooking that is the basis for all cuisines into the subtle, well presented and exciting, there seems to be nowhere to go. This is a shame. There is food here that could be elevated into the sublime at the hands of a truly skilled chef.

Tables that came in after us all went for the most expensive menu and all had lamb. We need to start seeing lamb here!!!

Christ, that was long. Spring feels like it is coming and I have gone white wine crazy. Wednesday is the next Herald article and it is going to be on a white theme I reckon. Sauv Blanc, Viognier, Chardonnay and Semillion. I just need to find a cheap bottle because everything I have bought recently has been over 20,000. A sign of inflation or something else?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Tyke That!

AHHH! hahahahahaha




Thursday, February 14, 2008

Thursday's Herald

That chap above is the Italian 2 Michelin Star chef Gaetano Trovato. Why is he sitting up there stacking crockery? Because he is coming to Seoul to cook for a couple of weeks. Details here. I am not going to miss the chance of eating Michelin rated food here and so have a table booked for the final Saturday. I believe on the Friday he is doing a menu paired with some pretty tasty looking wines but 150,000w is a bit steep for me this month. The lunch is a more palatable 55,000w. No doubt they will try and rob me of my money with the wine list, it is a fact that us drinkers subsidise non-drinkers in restaurants, but I will not be weak. The price I paid for 2 glasses of Champagne in Bangkok has taught me a valuable lesson.

Today sees the third exciting installment of my Herald articles. It can be read here. I'm not going to bother posting it below, I think the editing went well this time with the exception of the "er" before the "they are convenient". I don't use er.
I'm not sure why it has appeared in Thursday’s edition.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

SS Wine of the Month Club, DP 96 and a Port as Old as Me.

First off I just want to give a nod to the SS Wine of the Month Club, that's SeoulSteves not Waffen. I missed the tasting of these but it looks to me to be the best of the mixed cases that they have had on offer so far and well worth checking out. So check it.

It was my birthday last month and so I decided to crack open the Dom Perignon 1996 that I had bought in Lotte Department Store, Jamsil, last year. I have a compulsion to buy as much Champagne as I can and I do find it very difficult to resist vintages like the 96. I hadn't intended opening this for some time yet but we had a bottle at Christmas that went down very nicely and Jancis was raving about how well it was drinking and it was my birthday after all so what the hell. Right?

So having cleansed my palate of the Paris Baguette cake I had been shoveling into my face we got stuck into the booze.

It is a fairly deep colour with a persistent mousse that is not that fine, certainly nowhere near the bublleage of the Krug. The nose is knockout, intense honeyed green apples with a yeasty, nutty aspect. A real powerhouse bouquet this.
Just like the Krug this is an incredibly fine, elegant glass of wine. It is full bodied and intense with smooth honey balanced by good acidity and with brilliant length. The finish has apples and an almost creamy vanilla bread sweetness. Jancis calls this 'a caress of a wine' and who am I to disagree.
If you see it, buy it.

The second bottle for review here, and probably the last from my Christmas drinking, is the Quarles Harris Port from 1977, just one year my junior.
Good Port is one of life’s great pleasures I reckon. Vintage Port is one of those wines you really do have to sit on for quite some time, they are hugely tannic and acidic in youth and mellow into a smooth and decadent glass of wine.
After a typical struggle with a cork of this age, half of which was dug out with my mams best cutlery, we decanted and poured a glass of ruby with a cherry, brown tinged rim. Still looking fairly youthful then.
The nose was not fantastic, slightly nutty, slightly fruity with some cherry and cranberry and also ever so slightly vegetal.
To drink it was a delight though. Very fresh cherry/strawberry fruit smoothed over with caramel and a long nutty finish. It was also blessed with a floral quality like Charbonnel et Walker Rose and Violets. After 24 hours it had developed a fantastic dried fig aroma and all in was a very good wine.

So, the end of the Christmas write ups. I bought a 5th growth Bordeaux from 2000 in Hong Kong airport last week in the hope that the 2000 vintage was as good as they say and it is drinking now. I'll let you know.

Monday, February 11, 2008

D'Yquem, Expectations and Tasting Equipment

Chateau d'Yquem, 1988 Sauternes, France Price: No Idea.

He is a nice bloke my old man. We had been in discussions about the Christmas wine and I had spotted a Sauternes at Majestic wine that I thought was going to be pretty spectacular. It seemed the rest of the UK thought so too and so they sold out of the Rieussec before we got chance to pick up a bottle. Not a huge problem, we had plenty of other good bottles to get through and he had picked up some cheaper Sauternes from Marks and Spencers that Jancis had recommended. I was happy enough.
A couple of days after Christmas he is a bit excited and shoots off to another room only to return with two bottles, a Chateau Climens Barsac 1989 and a d'Yquem 1988! Wow! A proper surprise and a really exciting one. The internet reveals Parker points of 90-95 and 99(!) respectively and we start planning when to drink these wonder bottles.

The thing about tasting wine is you need frames of reference. This is why you drink as much as you can and you take notes, they act as an aide memoir and allow you to make comparisons much more easily. The other thing about tasting wine is very often there are many factors that will influence your experience of a bottle. Mood, setting, expectation can all change your experience of a wine. A cheapy Touraine Sauvignon tastes so much better with the sun on your face in a small French town than it does in a flat in Bethnal Green in February.

On opening the d'Yquem I had 2 problems to contend with then, no real frame of reference, I had only ever tasted 2 standard Sauternes before then and expectation, I think I was expecting angels and horns and fruit footed fairies to dance on my tongue. I can confirm now that this did not happen and will so have to wait until I drink a 1945 Chateau Mouton Rothschild.

So, despite that, how was it? Good!
It was a fairly deep gold, much much deeper than the one year younger Barsac and actually looked a little like Irn Bru. Obviously it clinged to the glass like a new born and really was very pretty. The nose has a real burnt caramel character with obvious honey and apples. It is ever so slightly nutty and had a hint of citrus peel, more orange than lemon. It wasn't very tropical at all and smelled nowhere near as fresh and sprightly as the other, younger Sauternes I had experience with.
This is an incredibly smooth glass of wine, luscious and unctuous it is a real caramel honey drink, I would recommend it if you have a sore throat. Much better than a Locket. I was expecting it to have much more acidity but this could be an example of really well integrated acidity to the extent that I missed it. I have described the length as reasonable, not great but that doesn't seem accurate now, I remember it had a nice pineapple finish and also had a fairly obvious brown apple thing going on. You know, apples that have been cut up and left to oxidise a bit.

My notes are actually really short as I got a bit annoyed with trying to concentrate so much on the flavour I forgot to enjoy the drink. I spent far too long looking into space concentrating on my cheeks. Not a good look. It really did open up and evolve in the glass as well but I just stopped taking notes.

Let's get one thing straight this was an excellent wine and we all really enjoyed it. I suspect it had no chance of living up to my expectation and so the only solution is for me to get another bottle with my expectations lowered suitably. Now all I need to do is raise my bank balance suitably as well.