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Hong Kong 2005 Tasting Dinner

Friday, 11th November 2011 by Jo Purcell

What a couple of weeks it has been in Hong Kong! With Christmas racing towards us, November is a busy month anyway, but in Hong Kong it’s Wine and Dine Month. We have Burgundy week, West Kowloon Wine Festival, The Hong Kong Wine Fair and “Wine Futures”. The city has been flooded with winemakers, château and domaine owners and their representatives, as well as critics. E-mail boxes have been overflowing with tempting wine dinner and tasting invitations.

Decanting and table set up

Our Hong Kong office was delighted when we learned that Neal Martin would be one of those in town this week. Whilst our London office has been fortunate to have Neal participate in many events with them before (most recently a 25 vintage Château Angelus tasting that Stephen will be reporting on soon), this was the first time for us in Asia. The venue was one of our favourites: Amuse Bouche, whose staff always look after us so well. The theme was the 2005 Bordeaux vintage.

As you may have heard, another famous critic was in Hong Kong this week, tasting the magical 20 of the 2009 vintage, so we thought having a tasting of another “vintage of the century” would be good timing and produce an interesting comparison.

On a very drizzly evening, the guests headed to Amuse Bouche. As any local knows, in Hong Kong rain = no taxis, so we set off on foot, tram and MTR. On arrival we received a warm reception from the staff, our umbrellas were swiftly whisked away and replaced with glasses of refreshing 02 Dom Perignon – what a fantastic champagne, still so young, but approachable now. What amazingly clean and crisp acidity, white flowers – gorgeous and in summary everything fine champagne should be.

The 2005 Line Up

The 2005 vintage, still far too young to drink really, is just starting to become approachable and, with decanting, the wines reveal some of the potential they will deliver in years to come. We decided to double decant the wines around 4 hours prior to the dinner. Neal’s selection included four wines from Pauillac – Châteaux Grand Puy Lacoste, Lynch Bages, Pichon Baron and Pontet Canet; two wines from Pomerol (a region very close to Neal’s heart) – Château l’Evangile and Vieux Château Certan; one wine from St Emilion – Château Pavie; and, to finish off, something sweet with a little bit of age (yet still a baby) – 1996 Château d’Yquem. (As you may know Neal is the Wine Advocate’s official Sauternes expert.)

The last time Neal was in Hong Kong was in 1994 on a hop and quick getaway from his, then, posting in Japan. His visit to the city this time was a far cry from back then – New Year in Lan Kwai Fong with lots of alcohol of a very different quality to that being served tonight. Maybe with thoughts of his last visit in his mind, we started the evening by all standing and toasting with the local “Cheers” – “Gambei” – however, he, and his audience, politely took a sip rather than necking the glass.

Neal Martin introducing the 2005 Dinner

Our slow cooked quail and goose liver terrine was served with the first two wines. We decided to do the pairing semi-blind – knowing what the two wines were, but not in which order. The first wine, which was Lynch Bages, had a distinctive earthy, cedar and smoky aroma with lots and lots of dark ripe fruits. On the palate there was an excellent balance of tannins and acidity, black cherries, hints of minerals along with a beautiful cedar character. Delicious, serious, yet still charming. We’re off to a fantastic start!

Wine two should have been Pichon Baron, however the table had very discerning palates and you could hear many mutters around the table saying how this wine was almost “Pontet – like” in style. It turns out the palates were quite correct – there had been a slight mix up with the bottles, and it was indeed, Pontet Canet. As Neal said during the tasting, this estate has done an amazing job since Alfred Teseron took charge and is really focusing on good terrior, with the results speaking for themselves. Deep, rich, concentrated blackcurrant fruit, spice and vanilla on the nose. This wine is concentrated and powerful on the palate – lots of fresh mint, black cherries and minerals, very complex.

Next course, roasted scampi and Hokkaido scallops - delicious! This was served with Grand Puy Lacoste – fresh, slight beef jerky on the nose yet still maintaining a clean and classic aroma. The wine was still rather tight, incredibly chic and elegant with refined power – lots of licorice, minerals, cassis fruit and dark chocolate. This wine performed superbly, evolving throughout the evening and became one of the favourite wines of the night (possibly influenced by how good value it is at GBP 750/cs!) Then the Pichon Baron – this time much more like Pichon Baron in style! Lots of vanilla and cassis on the nose, with rich, deep, concentrated black cherries, tobacco and wood-smoke. It’s a very strong and masculine style of wine with beautiful length on the finish.

We then moved to our wild mushroom tart with stewed snails paired with L’Evangile and Vieux Château Certan. Neal has a passion for Pomerol, having spent the last few years researching its history. Be sure not to miss his new book which will be out in the New Year and which will reveal a realm of information that may be new to many of us. L’Evangile was almost Pauillac like in character – on the nose toasted , roasted coffee, slightly smokey with hints of cocoa. It was velvety and voluptuous with lots of dark cherries, berries and chocolate – beautiful. The Vieux Château Certan was a contrast in style – dark, restrained, ripe red cherries and black fruits, lots of vanilla. On the palate it was super-concentrated dark ripe black fruits, slightly medicinal, coffee beans – with such structure it’s hard to believe this is a wine with 80% Merlot.

Iberico Pork surrounded by the 2005 wines

Our next wine, Château Pavie needed something big to be paired with (we had a choice of either US rib of beef or Iberico pork short rib and cheek). Wow, the colour of the Pavie was dense. On the nose there were sweet confectionary aromas, lots of vanilla and cream, black and slightly raisined fruit. The wine had firm tannins, lots of licorice, wood, tight fruit, tobacco and toffee licorice. This is a big wine, but it doesn’t come across as over-extracted.

Finally, we cleansed our palates with a glass of 96 Château d’Yquem. There was a gorgeous nose of honeysuckle and floral aromas. On the palate, there is fresh acidity which cut through the sweetness of the honeyed baked apples based in cinnamon. The crèpe Suzette was a perfect partner!!! In conclusion, all the wines shone during the dinner. 2005 has made some stunning wines which will provide not only delicious, but also serious drinking in the future. The release at en primeur was not cheap, in fact the most expensive en primeur release of all time, but that situation has changed with 09s and the 10s. The 2005 prices (after weakening with the financial situation in 2007 and 2008) have regained their stability and now, compared to the other vintages, are looking like good value. If you have these wines in your cellar you are not going to be disappointed, if not, maybe it is time to lay a few down…

Corks and Capsules from the 2005 bottles

Our thanks must go to Amuse Bouche and the staff for looking after us so well yet again and to Neal for his insight and comments, and for making this evening so special – please don’t leave it so long before your next visit to Hong Kong!

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